Dr. Antonia Pantoja was born in 1922 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Born out of wedlock, Pantoja grew up in the hands of the grandparents. They later moved to Barrio Obrero where the workers never paid rent but annual tax. This helped them cut down their monthly expenses. She was a teacher, a social worker and an advocate of the society. Her life was an uphill task that saw her overcome many obstacles. All her life was submerged in helping others and serving her community in Puerto Rico. Her services were not only felt in her community but also in the entire United States. (Pantoja 2-4)
Acculturation is the process in which people of different cultural background come together and form a culture different from their original culture. Similarly, assimilation is a process in which individuals acquire and adopt culture from other individuals and incorporate the acquired culture as their own. Dr. Antonio Pantoja who was born in Sun Juan moved together with her grandparents to Barrio Obrero where there was an integrated culture. There in Barrio Obrero, she met people from different cultural background. In fact, she says, “We were a people of many colors and many shades.” (Pantoja 25). In fact, the mother to Dr. Antonio’s grandfather was a white while her grandmother was black. Despite the fact that she and the family came from a Negroid background, she blended well with the diversified culture in Barrio Obrero. Also during the summer vacations, her mother would organize for her to visit her step father in Loiza. During these visits, she met her step brothers who were from a different cultural background. She says even the type of food they ate there was different. They also spoke a different language with different accent. However, this never troubled her since she was eager to learn and adopt new culture. This is a clear indication of how well Dr. Antonio adapted to a new cultural environment in Barrio Obrero. This is an aspect of sociology that many people fail to attain. Cultural difference is a bone of contention that many people fail to come into terms with. The kind of description that Dr. Pantoja accords to the cultural fusion in Barrio Obrero is very unique and encouraging. Myself I find it very integral and it really gives a meaning to what a society should be like. (Karol 164)
During her visits to Loiza, Dr. Pantoja had an opportunity to experience a different culture. There people Spanish with a different accent from hers. She says there was a lot of difference in the culture of the people in Loiza. First the kind of food was different, how people addressed one another was different from that of Barrio Obrero. Again, she observed that there were ceremonial rituals mainly performed by men. Another instance that portrays an element of acculturation and assimilation is when she moved to New York she finds a very different environment. (Pantoja 35)
Dr. Pantoja first attended school in her Barrio Obrero neighborhood where she would walk to and back home. To be precise, she began schooling as a day scholar. Dr. Pantoja found learning a bit easy because her how to read and write aunt used to teach her while still at home. She says that at early stages of her life, she was careful of the games she played. She never engaged in dangerous games which could expose her to dangers. Dr. Pantoja had no interest in non-academic activities and therefore put more effort in reading because she liked it. In spite of the economic hardship, Dr. Pantoja managed to complete her eighth grade. Through determination and support from her uncle, Dr. Antonio she enrolled in Central High School where she graduated after completing her high school education. Later, as a teacher, Dr. Pantoja realizes her passion to serve for long hours. This trait greatly contributed to her success in this field. This success not only boosted her career but also changed lives of many learners.
Dr. Pantoja’s quest for education never ended her teaching career. After teaching in Puerto Rico for two years, she went to New York in late 1994 where she secured a welding. This is where she had her first encounter with racial segregation against the Puerto Ricans. However, she never lamented against this but resorted to seek the best solution from education. I personally find this approach very y interesting. Dr. Antonia’s method of fighting racism is one of its kind that was also beyond reproach. She never focused only on herself but consider racial discrimination a matter of the whole Puerto Rico community. Her agenda therefore became the community rather than an individual. Reviewing Dr. Pantoja’s academic life automatically show that she went for higher education not to enrich her profile but to liberate her community and the entire society. (Karol 106)
Dr. Antonia Pantoja was born and raised in a poor family. Firstly, she looked like a child who never had a family. Judging from her experience in family life, it is easy to deduct her feeling about her family. She found it hard to answer her teacher’s questions concerning her parents. This is because her mother bore her out of wedlock and she ended up growing up in the hands of her grandparents who were not economically well off. Therefore, she attended a neighboring school. She went to that school on foot since it was a walking distance. From her early school days, Dr. Antonio went through hard times as a student. In Barrio Obrero, Dr. Pantoja lived with her grandparents in a company house where her grandfather was working. The company exempted her grandfather from paying rent. She also talked about the kind of life the workers were leading. They would meet in her grandfather’s house to complain about their pay and to look for a way forward. This shows that the grandfather, being one of the workers, was also underpaid in the tobacco factory. Although she loved her wooden house in Barrio Obrero, Dr. Pantoja says in autobiography that it was a small house with a small garden. Dr. Antonio says it was not easy to distinguish her from other students but admits she was of lower economic class than other students. After completing her eighth grade, Dr. Pantoja got enrolled in Central High School. She would spend most part of the evening looking for cardboard to cover the holes in her shoes. (Karol 54)
It is worth noting that Dr. Pantoja worked in a cafeteria at school to get money to buy food for her family. She could not attend social activities at school because she never had good shoes or dresses. In fact she missed a chance to perform in music since her teacher only chose students of social class. Many students would not go out of their way to fend for their families. It is something very challenging especially to the fact that Dr. Antonia Pantoja was is a lady. Today, many girls resort to easy cash that they obtain through unjust means such as prostitution, drug trafficking or crime conspiracy.
Considering Dr. Pantoja’s life experience, I get encouragement from her experiences since my life has been more or less the same as hers. I went through difficulties in life. First, my mother raised me in a single parent family. My parents divorced when I was young. My education has been an uphill task because of socio-economic background. My dream of going to the schools of my dream was shuddered at some point in my life. Having such a poor background would have deterred Dr. Pantoja from achieving this remarkable success. Many people, particularly students find difficult to overcome challenges that are brought by poverty. In fact, sharing a class with student who can afford nearly all the necessities in school life is a very big challenge to cope up with. When I look at my own situation today, I realize that I am even better off the Dr. Pantoja during her school life. This has always been a source of my encouragement and I always pledge to fight on to the very end. (Pantoja 78)
Another key inspiration from Antonia’s poverty background is the way she sought for help to successfully completes her education. For instance, she attained her Masters Antoinette Cannon and John Hay Whitney Foundations through financial aid. She went on to the Columbia University School of Social Work with very clear intensions of serving the community. This strong educational base simply reveals she wanted to serve her community and the society with knowledge and honesty. The fact that she sought help from her uncle is an indication of one who is ambitious and determined. Again, the fact that she managed to successfully compete with students who lacked almost nothing is motivating. I find this a very good consolation to my own situation. In fact, during my hard times in school, I recall how she never gave up. Rarely do people convert their hard won degrees into serving the community. However, to many people Dr. Antonia Pantoja remains an inspiration and a true indicator of a passionate service to the society. (Karol 98)
During her early days in the teaching career, Dr. Pantoja rode to school on a horse back. Unlike other teacher who would afford to drive school, this poor and traditional means of transport never hindered her from performing her duties at school as a teacher. She went ahead to enlighten the lives of disadvantaged learners. As expected, teachers who use such poor means of transport to get to their work stations are very inefficient in discharging their duties. They come to school late and do complain a lot about work load, weather or other excuses that would cover up their incompetence. But for the case of Dr. Pantoja, she managed to overcome any challenges that come with such poor means of transport. Her love for the children drove her to give them the best despite the obstacles on her way. Indeed, this is a unique character that everybody would wish to emulate. It is not common to find a lady engaging herself in such job as welding. This is a great step for a lady to meet life challenges. Her determination to touch other people’s life drove her to form the Hispanic Youth Association. This Association was aimed at inspiring the youth and to decrease the high rate of school dropout. It was also aimed at addressing the socio-economic challenges that faced the youth. She later helped to create jobs to the youth who were living under the difficult life situation. (Pantoja 56)
The way in which her work was recognized from the small Puerto Rico village to the United States is a motivation to me. In fact in her first few lines of her book cum autobiography, she wonders whether she deserved it or not. Her poor back ground looms in her thought but she soon comes into terms with herself and goes for the award.
In conclusion, Dr. Antonia Pantoja was a visionary leader who excelled in various fields. She is a social worker who marshaled youth and the old alike. She defied the forces of poverty, racism and prejudice to scale higher than people would imagine. Pantoja remains an inspiration to many people who seek to know the value of society. She developed numerous proposals that secured funds for various community projects. She was a very energetic woman who relentlessly worked with her community to improve their situation. She inspired many to overcome life hurdles and become successful in life. Dr. Pantoja was a determined lady who gave herself fully to achieving full. She unreservedly got involved in activities that touched on the lives of others despite the fact she grew up in difficulties. It is also worth mentioning that Dr. Antonio bagged many awards due to her excellent interaction with the society.
Karol, Irvine Vicki L. Ruiz and Virginia Sanchez. Latina Legacies : Identity, Biography, and
Community: Identity, Biography, and Community. New York: Oxford University Press,
Pantoja, Antonia. Memoir of a Visionary: Antonia Pantoja. Houston: Arte Publico Press , 2002.