Working To Improve Life for Latinos

Dr. Agnes Quiñones, born and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, has dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for the Latino communities in Connecticut and beyond.  She was recently appointed to the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission by state Sen. Donald E. Williams Jr.  With this new position, she plans to address health, educational, and economical issues that surround Connecticut’s Latino communities.
 Can you please introduce yourself and explain your connection to the Latino community?
I am an education professional, born and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, the birthplace of one of the most prominent education figures of Latin America; Eugenio Maria de Hostos. Known as the Citizen of Americas and “Teacher of Youth”, Hostos’ work and quest to achieve parity so that women have access to education, inspired me to embrace his ideology and to fight to ensure our Latino youth have access to equitable education. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I understood the value of having a family and having goals and aspirations for the future. Getting an education was a must. The expectation was that I attend college, graduate and be successful in my chosen career. My work in the field of education since the early 90’s has emphasized equity and social justice to improve the quality of life of Latino students and their families. How can you not stay connected to your community? You are the community! Having opportunities to join boards and participate in professional development opportunities in and outside of Connecticut has provided me access to information and to others as ways to share the richness of the diverse cultures and talents. It is that vision of integration where all talents can coalesce that keeps me connected to my community.  Knowledge of other languages is an important factor that I promote in all of my roles encouraging bilingualism and learning of more languages and cultures to broaden our knowledge of the world and its rich possibilities.
 How has your past inspired you to become involved with the Latino community?
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was exposed early on to altruism, modeled by my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I experienced first-hand the meaning of belonging to a community and understood the responsibilities associated with belonging to a community. I learned about helping others in efforts to make the world a better place. Having lived in Connecticut for the last 20 years, I have continued to model what I learned at home. However, I have seen  the language and educational barriers in the Latino community and feel compelled to change this paradigm. Through media and education (teaching and engaging students in community work) we can help to make the shift.
 What advice for success do you have for Latinos?
Connecticut’s Latino communities have become an increasingly dynamic and influential voice in the political and social arenas. We need to build capacity within the Latino community to enhance and strengthen community organizations and leadership. Additionally, we need to jointly formulate strategies and execute them in a coordinated fashion to connect the diverse Latino communities across the State of Connecticut. I feel it is my ethical obligation to advocate for the Latino community and to advise all stakeholders on all matters affecting the Latino population.  Knowledge gives you access to power. Understanding our surroundings and the norms of our different contexts can make a difference in the quality of our lives–I have experienced this and seen it in schools across the state, in my community, neighborhood and among family and  friends.  As people improve their education, their language skills, as they travel and learn about other perspectives their life opportunities increase as do those of their children and loved ones.  We need to be aware of what we model for others, especially younger generations. I love to see more Latinos get past the goal of simply learning English and to obtain degrees and eventually become leaders in their fields. We need more Latino administrators in higher education, in K-12 schools, in local and state government and more in boardrooms and mainstream media. As Latinos we have a rich, diverse and powerful history dating back thousands of years. Let’s not forget it .We must continue to educate ourselves in the broadest sense of the word, strategize and unite to be empowered and contribute to decision -making in the US. Don’t forget where you come from, your language, your heritage and your history, but most importantly you must pass it on!
 What are you going to be involved with the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission?
I’m going to be working to enhance the quality of life in the Latino community by addressing health and wellness, educational and career success, economic development, housing, social services and safety issues.

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