Dra. Antonia Pantoja

This biographical sketch was written by Tito Rodriguez.

Dra. Antonia Pantoja was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She studied at the University of Puerto Rico where she obtained a Normal School Diploma in 1942. Upon graduating, she worked as a schoolteacher for two years in Puerto Rico where she cultivated a profound interest in education and addressing the needs of disadvantaged children. In November 1944, she arrived at New York City where she got a job as a welder in a factory making lamps for children. During these years, which involved long hours of hard work, Dra. Pantoja was awakened to the harsh experience of racism and discrimination against Puerto Ricans and how this community lacked the knowledge and political power to overcome these and other challenges in the United States. She became an activist in the factory, providing information to other workers about their rights and how to organize a union. These were the most formative years of her life. But within a few years, the women who welded pieces of filament for submarine radios would rise to weld together a fragmented community, a community much in need of leadership and vision.

After great personal initiative that included doing extensive research on academic scholarship, Dra. Pantoja received a scholarship from Hunter College, City University of New York, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952. She went on to acquire a Master of Social Work in 1954 and was bestowed a Ph.D. form the Union Graduate School, Union on Experimenting Colleges and Universities in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1973.

Her most profound contribution to the Puerto Rican community in the United States began in 1958 when she joined a group of young professionals in creating The Puerto Rican Forum, Inc. which paved the way for the establishment of ASPIRA in 1961. In 1968 ASPIRA became a national organization with associate organizations in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, with its National Office in Washington, D.C. ASPIRA was Dra. Pantoja's dream, but was not the only organization she help build for the Puerto Rican community. In fact, as early as 1953, Dra. Pantoja, then a graduate student at Columbia University, joined a group of students and created the Hispanic Youth Adult Association, which later became the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA). In 1970 she wrote a proposal and secured funds to establish the Universidad Boricua and the Puerto Rican Research and Resource Center in Washington, D.C. and in 1973 became its Chancellor. For health reasons, Dra. Pantoja moved to California in 1978 to become an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, San Diego, an institution that served communities and neighborhoods throughout the nation. She became the President of this organization, devoted to imparting people with knowledge and skills necessary for problem-solving and restoring their communities. In 1985, Dr. Pantoja moved back to Puerto Rico to launch a project called PRODUCIR to help a rural community create its own cottage industries that generate employment and provide social. In addition, the organization was able to create a Credit Union that help economic stability in the community. Dra. Pantoja was involved in a variety of community and professional organizations, all working toward the goal of building stronger Puerto Rican and minority communities, including the Ford Foundation, the National Urban Coalition, the Museo del Barrio, the National Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education and several other groups and organizations. Today Dra. Pantoja is working with ASPIRA and other organization to develop models for economic independence. She is also working in the area of social work, health and with issues such as AIDS and violence.

In 1997, Dra. Antonia Pantoja, legendary for her role in the education and leadership development of Puerto Rican Youth in the United State and Puerto Rico, received the highest honor the nation bestows on a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to Dra. Pantoja "education is always political, its methodology, its curriculum and the arrangements it uses to administer its product". Is use by ruling class or ruling powers. "This is why we have fought so hard for community control of schools and for representation of our communities on local school boards as administrators and as trustees". "I see myself as an Educator, not as an activist". Dra. Antonia Pantoja is committed to the struggle to eliminate social, political and economic injustice.

Information on organizations Dra. Antonia Pantoja founded.

Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA) - 1953

Social service institution that dedicated most of its resources to work with children in adoption, foster care and bilingual nursery. It also offers services for leadership development and works on women's issues.

Puerto Rican Forum - 1958

Community development programs, including securing funds and loans to start small business in the community.

ASPIRA - 1961

Community organization devoted to the education and leadership development of youth in the city of New York.

ASPIRA - 1968

ASPIRA became a national organization.

Universidad Boricua - 1970

Bilingual University

Puerto Rican Research Center - 1970

Organization devoted to the collection of data and to create policy based on research.


Community organization in Puerto Rico that helped a rural community create its own cottage industries that generated employment and other services.