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Dr. Antonia Pantoja was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1922 and studied at the University of Puerto Rico where she obtained a Normal School Diploma in 1942. Upon graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, 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.

She arrived in New York City in November 1944 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, Dr. 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 scholarships, Dr. 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. from 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. ASPIRA was Dr. Pantoja's dream, but it was not the only organization she helped build for the Puerto Rican community. In fact, as early as 1953, Dr. 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, DC and in 1973 became its Chancellor.

For health reasons, Dr. Pantoja moved to California in 1978 to become an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, San Diego State University. There, in collaboration with another successful educator, she founded the Graduate School for Community Development in 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. She 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.


For more information about Dr. Pantoja's remarkable life, see the video in the adjacent column.




Pantoja Young.jpg


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“Somehow I learned that I belonged with my people and that I had a responsibility to contribute to them. I will participate in changing the situations of injustice and inequality that I encounter because they deny people their rights and destroy their potential.” – Dr. Antonia Pantoja

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