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Hartford Street Commemorates Puerto Rican Leader
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Maria Colon SanchezA street in Hartford now commemorates the first female Puerto Rican lawmaker in the Connecticut General Assembly. 

Three dozen people gathered at the corner of Williams Street and Albany Avenue to see the unveiling of a sign that also names Williams Street: Maria Colon Sanchez Way.

Sanchez is remembered as an advocate for Latinos and for residents of the city's Clay Arsenal neighborhood. City Councilman Luis Cotto describes her as the godmother of the Puerto Rican political movement in Hartford.

"She had her small news and candy store one block away where the yellow awning is and she lived on this street at the corner, the last house on the block. From there, she held court. She had the only candy store in the area so no one could skip school. I went to Quirk Middle right here, you couldn't skip school and go get candy because the Board of Ed, I mean, Maria Sanchez was there."

Cotto says Sanchez had a presence in the neighborhood long before she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the Hartford school board and later, the state legislature.

"In such a machisto society, to have a woman who head and shoulders stood out among everybody, I truly feel privileged to know her in the capacity I did."

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez also counted Sanchez as a close friend. He credits Sanchez with helping him become successful.

"I can't tell you how many times I sat on top of that heater in order to talk to her while she took care of the store. And asking for advice, guidance, and support ever since the age of 12 when I arrived in Hartford and right into the week I got that job at Trinity College."

After the unveiling her brother, Jose Colon, smiled wide.  He says his sister would have been proud to see so many of her "ninos", her children from the neighborhood who grew up and are now helping the community.

Colon says his sister first began to work for the community at the Sacred Heart church on Winthrop Street in Hartford. Through her work, the church began offering the first spanish Mass in the city. He says she was a great influence on him as well.

"Maria had to quit school to take care of me. Maria is not only my sister, she is my mother. So she left when I was nine years old, she didn't finish high school. So she knew that it was very important for the kids to get an education, that was her main concern, the education of youngsters."

Sanchez came to live in Hartford in 1954 following her aunt's family who settled here. She past away in 1989.