by Efrain Nieves & Victoria Cepeda
Altruist Rafael Cordero, known as “el maestro Rafael”, was born on October 24th, 1790 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Cordero’s parents were free blacks who were artisans and devoted Catholics. He was unable to attend school because, at that time, schools did not allow Blacks to enroll. Nevertheless, Cordero’s parents helped him learn the basic reading and elementary subjects.
Thanks to his love for reading and books, after self-teaching most of the subjects he later taught, Cordero opened a school for boys out of his own home in 1810. He taught boys from free Blacks and poor families in San Germán, Puerto Rico. His sister Celestina followed suit and dedicated herself to teaching girls. Soon after they returned to San Juan and offered free education to poor children regardless of race and social status. In order to sustain himself financially, Cordero became a shoemaker and cigar maker. With his humble earnings he would also buy shoes and clothing to give to poorer folks in his community.
Of Cordero, it is said that after having been chosen by “La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País” to receive $100.00 pesos for his exemplary dedication to teaching the less fortunate, that he declined to take the money for himself. Instead, he gave half of the money to his neediest students and the rest to the beggars that had gathered outside his house upon hearing of the award. He would not accept the money on the grounds that teaching was his vocation.
It is for such act of human kindness and selflessness that we showcase Rafael Cordero during Black History month. An unconventional Afro-Latino who took action to improve the status quo rather than wait for change.
Photo: La escuela del Maestro Cordero de Francisco Oller
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