Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federation of Puerto Rican Teachers (FMPR), spoke recently at Attallah College’s Centro Comunitario de Educación. In addition to detailing current events, she gave a short history of the FMPR’s many year struggle to prevent the closure of community schools and its fight against the privatization of public schools.
Due to the prolonged debt crisis and declining enrollments, more than 150 community public schools were closed in 2017. The islands’ troubles only deepened following Hurricane Maria, and another nearly 300 schools are slated to be closed this summer. This could mean the release of 6,000 teachers and school employees and the displacement of thousands of school children. Martinez explained the teachers and parents of Puerto Rico have led protest efforts to save their community schools, and teachers are ready to strike again if necessary.
“The needs prior to the hurricane are same as they are now: fund the schools, pay the teachers what they should be paid, give materials to the teachers, provide the children the courses that they need, respect the autonomy that the teacher needs, and reinforce community schools. The community knows what the school and children of the school need. It’s been a long fight,” said Martinez.
Martinez said the goal of her trip was to build solidarity bonds, not only with teachers but with universities, such as Chapman.
The FMPR connection to Chapman grew out of Attallah College Professor Anaida Colón-Muñiz’s trip to Puerto Rico this past January. Together with Martinez, Dr. Colón-Muñiz visited remote schools on the island to deliver money raised by the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women to support the schools’ recovery efforts.
“Anaida has been great. When she went to Puerto Rico, she helped a lot of school communities, a lot of teachers and students. It’s not just about charity; it’s about solidarity and building bonds that will last,” said Martinez.
As part of this trip to California, Martinez also spoke on two panels at the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) delegate assembly. She hopes that teachers in Puerto Rico and California learn about what is happening elsewhere and share their experiences. In her time as president, she’s also met with teachers in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Colorado.
Dr. Colón-Muñiz said how important it is that Martinez was able to speak with the Chapman community: “Mercedes is so passionate. She is very informed about all the things that are happening nationally, in the United States and in Puerto Rico, as well as internationally. She is connected with educators all over Latin America who are involved in education struggles.”
Ultimately, Martinez had a message for the Centro audience: “We are in this together. We are fighting the same fight.” She continued, “We are committed to social justice, and it has to start with education.”
This speaking engagement was presented by Centro Comunitario de Educación, Attallah College of Educational Studies, and cosponsored by the Paulo Freire Democratic Project and the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, Southern California Chapter.
Display image at top (from left to right): Dr. Cathery Yeh, Elena Vilches (MAT ’18), Dr. Anaida Colón-Muñiz, Mercedes Martinez, and Dr. Lilia Monzó