Antonia Pantoja

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Antonia Pantoja
Antonia Pantoja (1996).jpg
Dr. Antonia Pantoja
Born September 13, 1922
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Died May 24, 2002
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Nationality Puerto Rican
Occupation educator, social worker, feminist and civil rights leader
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996

Dr. Antonia Pantoja (September 13, 1922 – May 24, 2002), educator, social worker, feminist, civil rights leader and founder of ASPIRA, the Puerto Rican Forum, Boricua College and Producir.

Early years[edit]

Pantoja was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico where she received her primary and secondary education. She was later able to study at the University of Puerto Rico with the financial help given to her by her wealthy neighbors. There she obtained a teacher's certificate in 1942. In 1944 she moved to New York City, where she found a job as a welder in a wartime factory. She subsequently won a scholarship to Hunter College in Manhattan, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1952. She then studied at Columbia University's New York School of Social Work, where she earned her master's degree in 1954.[1][2][3] In 1973, she earned her Ph.D. from Union Graduate School (now Union Institute & University) in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1957, Pantoja founded the Puerto Rican Forum (originally the Hispanic American Youth Association or HAYA), which served as an incubator for organizations and programs promoting economic self-sufficiency. This organization is now known as the National Puerto Rican Forum and is headquartered in The Bronx.[1][2]


In 1961, Pantoja also founded ASPIRA (Spanish for "aspire"), a non-profit organization that promoted a positive self-image, commitment to community, and education as a value as part of the ASPIRA Process to Puerto Rican and other Latino youth in New York City. ASPIRA now has offices in six states, Puerto Rico and has its headquarters, the ASPIRA Association, in Washington, D.C.. It has provided approximately 50,000 Latino students with career and college counseling, financial aid and other assistance, and is today one of the largest nonprofit agencies in the Latino community. In 1963 Dr. Pantoja directed a project of the Puerto Rican Forum that resulted in the establishment of the Puerto Rican Community Development Project (PRCDP), funded by the federal War on Poverty.[1][2][3]

Reformation of New York's educational system[edit]

In 1964, Dr. Pantoja shifted her emphasis from self-help programs to the reformation of the educational system and in 1967 she served on a mayoral committee, convened by the then Mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, that recommended the decentralization of the school system.[1][2]

In 1970, she established the Universidad Boricua, which is now known as Boricua College (with three campuses in NYC) and the Puerto Rican Research and Resources Center in Washington, D.C.. In 1973, she earned her Ph.D. from Union Graduate School in Ohio. She joined the faculty of the San Diego State University's School of Social Work in 1978, where she became the Director of the Undergraduate Program in Social Work. Later, she would become the co-founder of the Graduate School for Community Development, a private free-standing educational institution. This School taught community development, economic development and leadership skills to people in communities around the United States and Puerto Rico.[1][3]

In 1972, ASPIRA of New York, under the direction of Dr. Mario Anglada and with the support of Dr. Pantoja, filed a civil rights lawsuit in the Federal court demanding that New York City provide classroom instruction in transitional Spanish for struggling Latino students. ASPIRA signed a consent decree with the NYC Board of Education in 1974, which is considered a major landmark in the history of bilingual education in the United States. Although Dr. Pantoja is credited with bringing this landmark lawsuit, she was actually no longer with ASPIRA at the time and was not directly involved.[1][2][3]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Among Pantoja's numerous awards and recognitions are the following:[1]

Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996

In 1996, President Bill Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first Puerto Rican woman to receive such this honor.[1][3]

In 2012, she was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display which celebrates LGBT history and people.[4]

In 2015, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the 2015 LGBT History Month.[5]

Later years[edit]

After 1984, Pantoja moved to Puerto Rico for health reasons, where she established Producir, an organization which provides economic assistance to small businesses, and Provivienda, which works to develop housing for the needy. In 1998 she returned to New York, concluding that she was clearly now a Nuyorican, given her negative personal experiences in Puerto Rico.[1][2][3]

In 2002, Pantoja published her autobiography, Memoir of a Visionary: Antonia Pantoja. In her memoirs she alluded to being a lesbian and discussed her decision not to go public before then with her sexual orientation.[6]

Dr. Antonia Pantoja died of cancer in Manhattan, New York on May 24, 2002. She was survived by her longtime partner, Dr. Wilhelmina Perry. Filmmaker Lillian Jimenez of the Latino Educational Media Center in New York City is completing a documentary on the life of Dr. Pantoja.[1][2][3]

Sometime around 2003-2004, a branch of the BPS (Buffalo Public Schools) system, PS 18, was renamed after Pantoja, in Buffalo, New York in 2003-2004.[1]

Written works[edit]

  • "Memoir of a Visionary: Antonia Pantoja", Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2002
  • "Puerto Ricans in New York: A Historical and Community Development Perspective", Centro: Journal, Vol. 2, No. 5, Spring 1989, pp. 21–31
  • "A Guide for Action in Intergroup Relations", Social Group Work: Selected Papers from the National Conference on Social Welfare, 1961
  • "A Third World Perspective: A New Paradigm for Social Science Research", Research: A Third World Perspective, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 1967, pp. 1–17
  • "Community Development and Restoration: A Perspective and Case Study", Community Organizing in a Diverse Society. Edited by John L. Erlich and Felix G. Rivera. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998., pp. 220–242
  • "Cultural Pluralism, A Goal to be Realized", Voices from the Battlefront: Achieving Cultural Equity. Edited by Marta Moreno Vega and Cheryll Greene. New Jersey: Africa World Press Inc., 1993, pp. 135–48
  • "Social Work in a Culturally Pluralistic Society: An Alternative Paradigm", Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Social Work Practice. Houston: University of Houston, 1976, pp. 79–95
  • "The University: An Institution for Community Development", Coming Home: Community-based Education and the Development of Communities. Washington, D.C.: Clearing House for Community-based, Free-standing Educational Institutions, 1979, pp. 28–33
  • "Toward the Development of Theory: Cultural Pluralism Redefined", Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare IV, 1976, pp. 125–46

Notable ASPIRA alumni[edit]

Among the ASPIRA of New York's prominent graduates (known as "Aspirantes") are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Our Founder". ASPIRA Association. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Louis University
  3. ^ a b c d e f g NASW
  4. ^ Victor Salvo // The Legacy Project. "2012 INDUCTEES". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  5. ^ Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Retrieved 2015-08-21.
  6. ^ Pantoja, Antonia (2002), Memoir of a Visionary: Antonia Pantoja, Arte Publico Press, p. 197, ISBN 1-55885-385-5

External links[edit]