City remembers legendary Latina leader, Maria Sanchez
December 03, 2008
She didn't look imposing, but looks are so often deceptive. When the chips were down in the Hartford political game, there wasn't a tougher, shrewder player than the grandmotherly Maria Colon Sanchez. Those who underestimated her did so at their peril. When she didn't appear to be paying attention, she was counting votes.
Ms. Sanchez, who died in 1989, used her political skills to advance her fellow Puerto Ricans and other Latinos who settled in Hartford. On Tuesday, the city dedicated a street in her honor in the Clay-Arsenal neighborhood. It was there, from Maria's Newsstand, her tiny store, that she worked her magic.
Ms. Sanchez came to Hartford in the early 1950s, in the first wave of Puerto Rican migration to the city. She was the first Puerto Rican member of the Democratic town committee and the board of education, and the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the legislature. She was a founding member of numerous organizations including the Puerto Rican Parade, the Spanish American Merchants Association and the Community Renewal Team.
When bounced from the town committee in 1988 by state Rep. Abe Giles, the 6th District boss, Ms. Sanchez came back and defeated the seemingly invincible Mr. Giles in a primary and took his seat.
She brought thousands of Latinos into the political mainstream, and was the mentor for many of the younger Puerto Rican leaders, including Mayor Eddie Perez. In the dedication ceremony, Mr. Perez praised Ms. Sanchez as a "giant," and rightly so. Were it not for Maria Sanchez, there most likely would not be a Puerto Rican mayor today.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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