(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2020
One of Hartford’s schools is named the María C. Colón Sánchez Elementary School. It opened in 1992 in the South End of Hartford. The school’s website says,
We dedicate our school … as a reminder of how local people can work hard and serve their communities. We hope that our children will follow María’s example and become involved in their neighborhoods and communities.”
From Puerto Rico to Connecticut
María Colón Sánchez was born in 1926 in Comerio, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. Sánchez moved to Connecticut in 1954 when she was 28. She moved because she wanted a better life. Many people have moved to Connecticut for the same reason.
At first, Sánchez lived with her aunt. She worked many jobs, including in Connecticut’s tobacco fields. She sent money to her family in Puerto Rico. She saved money, too. When she had saved enough, she opened a small store that sold newspapers and other items in Hartford.
Many people from Puerto Rico moved to Hartford during this time. Sánchez listened to them. She wanted to solve the problems her community was facing. One of the first things she did was to help get a Spanish-speaking priest for her church.
Leading her Community
Sánchez became a community leader and social activist. She registered to vote. She helped people who would help her community get elected to the city council.
Sánchez was a peacemaker during a fight in Hartford in 1969 between Puerto Ricans and French Canadians. She got the city to meet with her community to hear their concerns. From this, La Casa de Puerto Rico, the community’s oldest social-service agency, was formed.
Sánchez believed that everyone had a right to an education. Sometimes language differences made it hard for children. She felt schools needed teachers who could speak more than one language. She also helped open La Escuelita, one of Connecticut’s first bilingual schools.
Running for Office
Sánchez was elected to the Hartford Board of Education in 1973. She was the first Hispanic (Latina) person elected to a public office in Connecticut. She was elected a state representative, the first Hispanic elected for this position. She was serving in this role when she died in 1989.
The María C. Colón Sánchez Elementary School was dedicated in 1992. She is also honored in the Hartford Public Library’s Plaza of Fame, and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
This article is adapted from “María Sánchez: Godmother of the Puerto Rican Community” by José E. Cruz, Connecticut Explored, Summer 2003.