June7, 2002

Statement of Bob Chase, President, the National Education Association on the loss of Latina Trailblazer Dr. Antonia Pantoja

“Educators everywhere are saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Antonia Pantoja, a Latina trailblazer of the first order, whose enormous contributions to education as the means by which to empower the nation’s Hispanic community have been seminal, far reaching, and profound.

“Our hearts go out to Dr. Pantoja’s friends and family who lost her on Friday, May 24 in New York City. We hope there is comfort in the nation’s acknowledgment of the indelible mark she made on our history, particularly on behalf of her Puerto Rican compatriots.

“I had the pleasure of sharing with Dr. Pantoja just last spring. This slight, but powerful woman started her career as a teacher in Puerto Rico. She overcame many barriers after moving to New York City, and wore many hats as a political and civil rights activist, community leader, Latina role model, and organization founder, but above all else, she remained an educator.

“Dr. Pantoja received a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, a master’s degree from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from the school of life. In addition to teaching at Columbia University and California State University in San Diego, she helped found and build the Puerto Rican Forum, Inc. which paved the way for the establishment of ASPIRA, the leading organization dedicated to the education of Puerto Rican students.

“ASPIRA means aspire in Spanish. On behalf of the entire Puerto Rican community, Dr. Pantoja aspired to great heights and achieved many, including becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to receive the Presidential medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon civilians by the United States government.

“With Hispanics now the nation’s largest minority group among children under age 18, we need so many more individuals to honor her memory and continue her path. The National Education Association believes, as Antonia Pantoja did, that every child in America deserves a quality teacher and a quality public education. We will continue to travel on the road she so singularly created to ensure that this national aspiration is achieved.”

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