MERIDEN — Jose and Catalina Rivera moved to Meriden in the 1950s, not knowing more than 60 years later they would be sharing scrapbooks of historic newspaper articles and documents covering their years in the city.
A 1987 article announced the appointment of Gladys Labas as assistant principal at Maloney High School, pointing out she was the first Hispanic administrator of a Meriden school. Last year, Labas joined the state Department of Education as director of equity and language.
The couple also has a collection of letters of appointments and endorsements from the local Democratic Town Committee, in which Jose Rivera was involved.
Jose Rivera, 86, moved from Puerto Rico to Meriden in 1953. While in Puerto Rico, he worked in the town of Aguada, where he became friends with Luis Ramos. Ramos moved to Meriden one year before Rivera.
It was never Rivera’s dream to live in the United States, but when Ramos wrote to him about life in Meriden he decided to check it out.
Soon after Rivera moved to Meriden, he started visiting a Puerto Rican restaurant on Pratt Street and heard about a dishwasher job at a diner in Hartford. He started working there from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., earning 75 cents per hour.
That same year Rivera started working in manufacturing. He was the first worker for the Meriden Manufacturing Company and also worked for Pratt & Whitney. In 1998, he retired from Meriden Public Schools, where he worked for 18 years in the maintenance department.
Rivera said he became an active member of the Democratic Town Committee in 1957. He was also on the Commission on Human Rights and worked as a justice of the peace.
He wanted to to help the entire Meriden community, including Latinos.
“If I’m Puerto Rican or Latino, I have to watch for my people,” he said.
Catalina Rivera, 84, moved from Cuba to Meriden in 1956 with her parents and siblings to join her uncle who already lived in the U.S. She only knew of two other Cuban families in Meriden when she arrived.
The couple met through common friends that got together for house parties with lots of dancing. They danced together, started a relationship and got married at the start of 1957.
Catalina worked for sewing companies and had her first child in December 1957. They had a second child a couple of years later and purchased their home on Old Farm Road in 1991.
In addition, the couple owned a sewing company that was operated by Catalina from 1985 to 1992 on Pratt Street. After that, they ran the business from home until 1998.
Rivera bought the Record-Journal and its forerunners each day. When he got married, his wife started to cut out articles that were of interest to them. Those articles reflected the achievements of the local Latino communities and other historic events happening in Meriden.
Catalina Rivera said she enjoys the scrapbooks because they help her and her husband remember things they might have forgotten about.
When they were asked what they enjoyed the most about living in Meriden, they both answered “everything.”
For Catalina Rivera, being able to interact with other Latinos was important.
“We worked hard, a lot of hours with effort and everything, but we received the reward,” she said.