Maria C. Sanchez

Maria C. Sanchez
"One of the reasons why I'm with the Democratic Party is to see what can be done for those of us who are here that are suffering the consequences of the decisions that are made without consulting the 30,000 Hispanics that live in this city."
- Maria Sanchez

Induction Category:
Politics, Government & Law

Born: 1926

Died: 1989

Inducted: 1994

Town: Hartford

Affectionately known as la madrina (the godmother) of the Hartford Puerto Rican community, Maria Clemencia Colón Sanchez served the city as advocate, listener and mentor and earned tremendous respect citywide. She advocated for bilingual education in public schools and served on the Hartford Board of Education. In 1988, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Connecticut General Assembly.

In 1954, at the age of 28, Sanchez boldly left her parents, her five siblings, and her native home of Comerio, Puerto Rico, and came to Hartford, Conn. Though she only had an 8th-grade education, Sanchez was determined to create a better life for herself. In Hartford, Sanchez found a new family and the new life that she sought. When she arrived in Hartford, Sanchez found work where she could – including in the tobacco fields – to earn money for herself and her family back in Puerto Rico.

Eventually, she was able to open her own storefront, “Maria’s News Stand,” on Albany Avenue, which doubled as an office space for much of her political work. By the late 1950s, the Puerto Rican population in Hartford was sizeable, and members of the community felt their rights were not being respected, and their voices were not being heard. The storefront served as a home base for community members to congregate and give voice to their concerns. The social unrest continued to grow in the 1960s, and on August 10, 1969, the Comanchero riot erupted between the Puerto Rican and French Canadian communities. By this point, it was clear from the work done at her store that Sanchez could mobilize communities. Not only was she able to quiet some of the rioting, but the community leader also used the fight as an opportunity to bring city members together to discuss their worries. Finally, the voices of the Puerto Rican community were being heard.

As an activist, Sanchez founded the Puerto Rican Parade Committee in 1964 and co-founded La Casa de Puerto Rico, the Society of Legal Services, the Spanish-American Merchants Association, the Puerto Rican Businessmen Association, and the Community Renewal Team. Along with her extensive work in community activism, Sanchez is most closely associated with education reform, an issue about which she was extremely passionate. In 1971, along with Edna Negron Rosario, Sanchez led the fight for mandatory bilingual education in Hartford. She recognized the right of children with limited proficiency in English to be taught in their native language and took this right seriously. Though opponents feared that a bilingual school would compromise traditional American ideals and encourage complacency in Puerto Ricans who had not yet become comfortable speaking English, La Escuelita opened in 1972, becoming the first bilingual school in the state of Connecticut. The following year, Sanchez took her education reform efforts to the next level and ran for a seat on the Hartford Board of Education. She won and served on the Board for 16 years, taking on additional bilingual and bicultural education challenges during her tenure.

In 1988, Sanchez became the first Hispanic woman elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. She served in this position until her sudden death on November 25, 1989. To honor her memory and recognize her valuable contributions to Hartford’s Hispanic community, the Maria C. Sanchez Elementary School on Babcock Street was dedicated in September 1991. On October 14, 1993, Maria C. Sanchez was commemorated along with other distinguished Hartford citizens in the Hartford Public Library’s Plaza of Fame.

During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice