A Brief History of Latinx Students at Princeton, 1880s-1990s

Although we are always continuously learning and expect to have more to say on this topic in the future, in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month we are presenting this brief history of Latinx students at Princeton University prior to this century.

It’s never clear who the “first” person of a given demographic might be, but here are some early records we have for Latinx students:

Pedro Rioseco, Class of 1888. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP12.

  • Pedro Rioseco, Class of 1888, was born in Cuba, where his father had been a cigar manufacturer. Rioseco attended secondary school at Fewsmith’s Academy in Philadelphia. At Princeton, he helped start a Spanish class and was known as Peter.
  • Harold Medina, the son of a Mexican immigrant father and a mother of Dutch and Swiss descent who banned Spanish from their home, came to Princeton in 1905 to join the Class of 1909. Medina struggled to fit in at first, but eventually found a robust social world on campus, joining the fencing, gun, and water polo teams and securing a position on the editorial board of the Princeton Tiger. Medina later had a long career as a federal judge as an appointee of the Truman administration, ultimately sitting on the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1951-1980.
  • A Puerto Rican student, José Vicente Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón, better known as  José Ferrer, was a member of the Class of 1933. He was born in San Juan, but his family moved to New York in 1914. At Princeton, Ferrer was involved in a few different aspects of show business. He directed an orchestra that played for student dances, the Pied Pipers, and Triangle Club gave him some further training for his future career as an entertainer. Ferrer became famous for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway and later on film, for which he won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, making him the first Latinx recipient of an Oscar. In 1985, Ronald Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Arts.

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