By Karen Cortés
Dr. Julio Morales Jr., Professor Emeritus of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, is chronicling the story of his upbringing in his just-about-complete book, So Many Marias.
The day before Morales’s eighth birthday in 1950, his parents sent him from their home in Vieques, Puerto Rico, to live with his grandmother in Manhattan. The move was part of a mass exodus of families from Vieques as the United States military built an economy-crushing presence on two-thirds of the island.
Within a year, his parents and and three siblings joined Morales and the family settled in a tiny apartment in Harlem, which was transitioning from an Italian neighborhood to Spanish Harlem. Families from Puerto Rico were the first wave of Latinos to settle in New York, and Morales faced discrimination at school from both classmates and teachers.
Opportunity for Puerto Rican students was still a reach by the time Morales entered college. “At the time I graduated, Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, was free to students with high SAT scores who excelled academically, ironically, since these students generally were solidly middle class and their parents could afford to pay tuition at a private college.
“Being the first person in my family to attend college was a challenge. There were only four other Puerto Rican students at Hunter when I attended,” recalls Morales.
So Many Marias has been six years in the making as Morales has interviewed surviving relatives and others with stories to share; yet the chronicle of his family’s forced migration was not the one he had intended to tell. “I wanted to write about being a single gay man raising two kids in the 1970′s,” he says. That changed when Morales returned to Vieques as part of the exchange program directed through the UConn School of Social Work. “I knew the stories, but I had never heard peoples’ voices,” says Morales. “I owed this to the people of Vieques.”
Morales has been actively involved in furthering social justice for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community. He has been a firm advocate for same sex marriage and established and served as president of the board for Connecticut Latino/as Achieving Rights and Opportunities (CLARO).
He has received numerous fellowships and grants, from both the private and public sectors, for school dropout prevention projects related to Latino/a youth, for diversity training, and for recruitment and retention of Latinos in professional education programs.
By Karen Cortés