Cover image for Memoir of a visionary : Antonia Pantoja


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E184.P85 P36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Antonia Pantoja's memoir is filled with descriptions of her life as a factory worker and lamp designer, to acclaimed social worker and principal engineer of the most enduring Puerto Rican organizations in New York City, including Aspira, the non-profit organization devoted to the education and leadership development of Puerto Rican youth.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Puerto Rican activist Pantoja was awarded the prestigious Medal of Freedom in 1996 in recognition of her work in organizing Puerto Ricans to challenge the barriers of poverty, increase political involvement, and promote economic development. In her memoir, Pantoja recalls a youth of poverty and a family that sparked her passion and commitment to improving conditions for her neighbors and other Puerto Ricans. She recalls her early years of striving for a better education, teaching in rural areas, and getting a glimpse of the powerlessness of Puerto Rico in relations with the U.S. She moved to New York in the mid-1940s and was initiated into U.S. racism and color differences far more pronounced than in Puerto Rico. While working in factories, she earned a degree in social work, but she was much more interested in community organizing and eventually developed ASPIRA, a nonprofit organization devoted to nurturing education and leadership among Puerto Rican youth. This is an inspiring look at a community-spirited individual and the development of a grassroots organization. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born in Puerto Rico in 1922 to an unwed mother, Pantoja was a young teacher on his native island before immigrating to New York in 1944 and becoming one of the most important Puerto Rican organizers and activists in thei city. A winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, Pantoja has crafted a sincere and politically illuminating autobiography that sticks to ways and means, and the complex encounters and emotions that accompany them. Beginning as an assembly-line worker in a wartime electronics factory, and soon moving over to designing lampshades for a local manufacturer, Pantoja moved from her room uptown to Greenwich Village and lived an artist's life. A job at an east 110th Street community center led her to a Hunter College bachelor's degree and to founding and becoming chair of the Hispanic Young Adult Association. After doing political and union organizing work and completing an M.A. in social work at Columbia (rare for a minority woman at that time), Pantoja was a charter member of New York's Commission on Intergroup Relations, one of the first multiracial task forces, in 1958. In the 1960s, she helped found the influential Puerto Rican Forum and ASPIRA (the Spanish imperative for "aspire") and helped implement Johnson's War on Poverty. Never playing up more sensational aspects of her life (such as helping a friend smuggle guns to the Haganah in the mid-1940s), she focuses primarily and with incisive commentary and insight on her political work. If her prose is clinical and dispassionate, her accomplishments are anything but. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Forewordp. ix
Editor's Notep. xi
Introductionp. xv
Part 1 Toward a Clear Identity (1922-1944)p. 1
Grandfatherp. 4
Grandmotherp. 7
Aunt Maguip. 13
Other Family Membersp. 16
My Mother and the Unknown Fatherp. 18
Growing Up Poor in Barrio Obrerop. 24
Vacations in an Enchanted Different World: Another Culture, Another Racep. 35
Establishing a Home and Becoming a Teacherp. 38
The War Years in Puerto Rico--1942-1944p. 45
Teaching and My Departure from Puerto Ricop. 47
Part 2 I Take a Leap Over the Sea and I Land on My Feet (1944-1949)p. 50
The Trip Across the Ocean into a Frightening Worldp. 50
Arriving in New York Cityp. 56
Employment in the Cityp. 58
I Become a New Yorkerp. 62
The Years of a Bohemian Lifep. 64
Part 3 A Builder of Institutions (1950-1960)p. 72
I Discover My Leadership Abilityp. 72
A Graduate Studentp. 79
Working at the Commission on Intergroup Relationsp. 83
Part 4 The Puerto Rican Forum (1957-1964)p. 90
ASPIRA, The Most Important Work of My Lifep. 93
The Second Institution: The Puerto Rican Community Development Project and the Study on the Poverty Conditions of Our Groupp. 109
Learning the History of My Country While in Exilep. 121
Part 5 Leadership in the Overall Society (1965-1969)p. 125
A University Professorp. 125
A Delegate to the New York State Constitutional Conventionp. 127
A Member of Mayor Lindsay's Bundy Blue Ribbon Panelp. 132
Reflections and Ruminationsp. 133
Part 6 Return to Puerto Rico and Return to New York (1969-1983)p. 139
Returning Homep. 139
A Research Center and a Universityp. 147
Californiap. 158
A Professor Againp. 160
We Teach Community Developmentp. 164
Part 7 I Return to Puerto Rico to Retire (1984-1998)p. 180
Living in the Rain Forestp. 180
PRODUCIR, a Community Economic Development Projectp. 186
Third Emigration: The Return to New York Cityp. 193
Epilogue: Reflections and Ruminationsp. 194
Bibliographyp. 198