He did not intend to be a civil rights activist. He just wanted the same rights as everybody.
After more than four decades as an advocate for social justice for all minorities in Jersey City and Hudson County, Perfecto Oyola is not looking back at what he has done; he is looking ahead to the work that remains to be done.
“We are here for social justice and to protect and ensure our rights,” Oyola said last week. “We should never stop trying.”
At the small headquarters of the Puerto Rican Association for Community Organization (PACO) on Manila Drive in Jersey City, Oyola goes to the office everyday to serve as a counselor, assistant and mentor to current PACO director and county freeholder candidate Eliu Rivera. At PACO, the organization he founded in 1970, Oyola’s initial mission was to help improve the quality of life for Puerto Rican’s in the county. His focus has changed through the years. PACO now helps all people, regardless of race and age.
PACO is a non-profit organization funded through state and federal grants.
Aguas Buenas, P.R.
Oyola was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico on July 11, 1930. In 1948 he joined the U.S. army and was stationed in Puerto Rico, Panama, and Germany. In 1956 he moved to Jersey City adopting it as his second home. During his time in Jersey City, Oyola fought against unemployment, tenants’ rights, lack of bilingual employees in government jobs and hospitals. Oyola also concentrated his energy on fighting discriminatory practices in the city’s public school system, the police and fire departments.
“Officers were brutal to Latinos when I first came here,” he said. “They were really insensitive to our needs.”
In 1962, Oyola became president of the Aguas Buenas Social Club and member of the Selective Service Recruitment Board 23. Five years later he served as editor of the Boricua newspaper, as well as president of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Then, from 1969 to 1971, Oyola was a member of the Jersey City Model Cities Planning Council, the Title I of the Jersey City Education Board, the Urban League of Hudson County, vice-president of Paulus Hook Community Housing Corp., and the Grand Marshall of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
“I knew we needed to organize and become involved,” he said, smiling. “I led by example and I brought as many people with me as I could.”
After a couple decades of pioneering and spearheading a political movement in Jersey City, in 1987 Oyola decided to step down from the executive director post at PACO and focus on a private venture. He continued to speak out and rally support for Hispanic candidates, but he was now behind the scenes. A few years later he retired and moved back to Puerto Rico with his wife.
In April 19, 1997, Mayor Bret Schundler and members of the council decided to reward Oyola for his hard work and dedication through the years. As a result, they named the Hispanic branch of the Jersey City Library after him. The Perfecto Oyola Biblioteca Criolla and Cultural Center is located on 280 First St.
In 2000 Oyola decided to move back to Jersey City. A few days after settling down, he went to the PACO headquarters and met with Rivera. The two talked about their concerns of the city, and soon after that, Oyola became a regular in the office. He currently serves as the top adviser to Rivera.
“PACO is doing great things for the community, and we want it to help more people,” Oyola said.
As for Rivera, he is happy to have Oyola back in the office, and he values his opinion greatly, he said.
“He is the old man who started the whole thing,” Rivera said. “This guy is a fighter and gets things done.”
Rivera, a former deputy mayor under Bret Schundler, has political aspirations of his own. He is running for a freeholder seat in the county.
Oyola said he does not appreciate the media’s coverage of the current political state of the county. If people see two Hispanic candidates running against each other (as Nidia Davila-Colon and Rivera are for freeholder), that should not be taken as a split among the people, but rather a way to ensure the Democratic process, he said.
“Latinos have the same right as any other cultural group to run against each other politically,” he said. “It is only logical to have differing political points of views within the Hispanics.”
Things haven’t slowed down for Oyola. When he is not helping Rivera, he focuses on the current poor people in the neighborhood, and how he can help them overcome poverty.
According to Rivera, PACO currently offers elderly, youth and summer programs, day care, housing assistance, health and substance abuse education, and weatherization and energy assistance.