Antonia Pantoja was born in 1922 in Puerta de Tierra, Puerto Rico. Like Belpré, Pantoja also attended Central High School in Santurce and also enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. In Pantoja’s case she completed a two year normal school diploma at the U.P., going on to complete her four year B.A. at Hunter College, and later an M.S.W. and a Ph.D. She first migrated to the U.S. in 1944 during World War II to New York City where she built a career as a community activist, leader and academic.
Within Puerto Rican communities Antonia Pantoja is best known as a founder of ASPIRA (1961), a Puerto Rican youth organization that sought to support the positive development of Puerto Rican youth in New York City and to improve their educational experiences in the New York City Public Schools. Pantoja first became active in New York community affairs in the 1950s and her moment of ascendancy in leadership and community activism occurred simultaneously with the period of the Great Puerto Rican Migration, a period marked by significant social upheaval for the masses of Puerto Ricans who migrated, the majority to New York City. If we view Pantoja as a woman who came of age at the height of the Great Migration, then the consolidation of her identity as a leader in New York’s Puerto Rican community occurred during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Pantoja was an early student, practitioner and teacher of community organizing. In 1996 Pantoja was recognized with a Presidential Medal of Honor for her work with ASPIRA.

 


Pantoja is the author of several academic articles on community development. Her first and only book, Memoirs of a Visionary, The Autobiography of Antonia Pantoja, joins a small but growing corpus of autobiography by U.S.-based Puerto Ricans. Similar to Colón, it is expected that a second book co-authored by Pantoja will be published posthumously, a history of ASPIRA. Thus, by 2006 there will be two books in print by Pantoja, an autobiography and a historical book.

*Pantoja’s co-author is Dr. Felix Matos-Rodriguez, co-director of the present project proposal.


 
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