Return to Interviews with Latino Leaders in Hartford

Edwin Vargas Jr.

Biography:

Edwin Vargas, Jr. is a career educator and a leader in political, civil rights, labor, civic and public policy circles.  He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. of Puerto Rican parentage.  He is currently an educational consultant.  Mr. Vargas also serves as the Public Policy Chair of the Washington, D.C.- based National Puerto Rican Coalition, and as a Commissioner of Planning and Zoning for the City of Hartford.

Mr. Vargas has served in numerous national positions including: Acting Chair of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Human and Civil Rights Committee; a member of the AFT’s K through 12 Program and Policy Committee; President of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, and as a member of the National Democratic Party’s Credentials Committee.

At the local and regional levels Mr. Vargas has served as Lead Teacher at the Hartford Adult School, President of the Greater Hartford Labor Council AFL-CIO, President of the Puerto Rican PAC, President of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, Vice President of AFT Connecticut and as the Hartford Democratic Party Chair.  He has been a consultant and advisor to many governmental, business and nonprofit organizations including serving a five year term as an official advisor to the Governor of Puerto Rico on issues affecting the U. S. – based Puerto Rican Community.

His hobbies include playing guitar, writing and playing chess.

Mr. Vargas completed both a B.S. in Education and a Masters degree in Public Administration at the University of Hartford.


Overview of Interview:

The interview took place at a bakery called First and Last Bakery on Maple St. It was very casual, and I think that’s what made it especially interesting. After buying a couple sandwiches and settling down with some coffee, we sat down and dived right into our interview, where we discusse topics ranging from the Puerto Rican Community to Bolivian culture. I was lucky enough to fit in a few questions about his childhood, his past experiences, his work, and his opinions. The following is what we discussed.

Interview:

Where did you grow up? How was your Childhood?

Edwin Vargas grew up in Brooklyn, and had a happy childhood playing coins with his friends. He described New York as his friends’ and his backyard, because back in that day security was less of a problem. He also remembers having a very happy adolescence in Puerto Rico. When he was eleven he moved to Puerto Rico, where he attended a mix of Catholic and public schools, and stayed there until he was fourteen. Upon returning to New York he also attended Catholic school, P5 169 – Sunset Park, and St. Johns. His favorite author as a child was Robert Louis Stevenson.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family? Are you married? Do you have kids?

Edwin is married. He used to teach with his current spouse and has been married for 32 years. He also has two sons who are in their 30’s.

What is your background in education?

Edwin’s first year of teaching was in Bulkeley High School, one of the three main high schools in Hartford. He taught Spanish there. He also taught Math at West Middle elementary and Court Middle School. From there he moved on to teach at Hartford High School where he taught history and social studies.

What did you do for work before you became a teacher?

Before he became a teacher he worked in Central America as part of the teacher corp., which paid for his B.S. in urban education and his masters in Public Administration at the University of Hartford.

–    Why do you work in Hartford?

Edwin was brought in by Maria Sanchez because of his background to try to improve and organize the community in Hartford.

–    Can you talk a little bit about your work with Jose de La Luz?

Jose de La Luz was one of the founders of the Democratic Hispanic Organization of Socialists, which is a movement of social democrats that believes that people need a controlled free market, so that monopolies don’t destroy the interests of consumers. He made it clear to differentiate communism from socialism – saying that the organization was not communist, but rather ‘democratic Socialist”.

–     What is your relationship with Maria Sanchez?

Maria Sanchez brought Edwin to Hartford to integrate the student population in Hartford. His mission was to help organize the community. By taking on this task he dealt with the Shade tobacco company and its recruitment of cheap labor in Hartford.

–     What type of work are you doing now? What types of activities are you currently involved in?

Currently he has on the verge of launching his state senate campaign, in which he would represent Southern Hartford and Wethersfield. He is retired, but he works for the Hispanic Chamber of Congress. He is also a campaign volunteer for Eddie Perez. In addition, he works part-time for IC&TA as an associate worker. IC&TA is an educational training company that trains students in cognitive skills; they base their practices on the work of Dr. Ruven Feuerstein, who claimed that intelligence was not fixed. He also is on the Commission for Zoning and Planning in Hartford. He is a few non-profit boards like the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum (he is Vice-President) and the Connecticut Guitar Society. He is also chair of the Public Policies Committee of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, which runs the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. He is also the Latino liaison and representative of a human rights organization called the American Federation of Teachers.

–     How do you think Hartford (the community) has changed since you started working here?

He said that Hispanics have become a clear majority in the community- about 60% of students are of Hispanic origin. He noticed that there is a trend in which the Puerto Rican population tends to go to the city; whereas people form other Latin American countries tend to go to the suburbs. He commented that the Hispanic population now has a lot more say than it did before.

–     How do you think a Puerto Rican would identify himself/herself in Hartford? What is the “role” of the Puerto Rican today?

The Puerto Rican today, according to Edwin, is someone who struggles with nationalism. Puerto Ricans today are young and being acculturated, but there is still an instilled sense of nationalism (even in the young) that comes up periodically, like when the Puerto Rican basketball team beat the American Dream Team.

Did you ever experience any racial tension in your work during the 60’s and 70’s?

Edwin mentioned that in the 60’s he had lots of racial experiences, but he thinks that now it’s just as bad except the racism is more subtle. One example he gave is the way people “play dense”. He also thinks that there is a lot of anti-immigrant action, which he claims is really anti-Latino action; and he also thinks there is a lot of hypocrisy in politics today.