Professor José Luis Morín Establishes The Elisa Morín Scholarship In Honor of His Mother and All Mothers Making Great Sacrifices for Their Children

Professor José Luis Morín Establishes The Elisa Morín Scholarship In Honor of His Mother and All Mothers Making Great Sacrifices for Their Children

Professor José Luis Morín Establishes The Elisa Morín Scholarship In Honor of His Mother and All Mothers Making Great Sacrifices for Their Children

Incredible mothers routinely make sacrifices for their children’s happiness and success. They work long hours, forgo sleep, stretch out resources, and put their own dreams on hold for the sole benefit of their children. It’s in honor of his mother, Elisa Morín—and to honor all mothers of Latin American origin who make great sacrifices for their children—that Professor José Luis Morín, Chairperson of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Department, established the Elisa Morín Scholarship. The John Jay community has expressed their deepest condolences to the Morín family after learning about Elisa’s passing, but we’re heartened by the compassion, strength, and love Elisa bestowed upon her family and friends throughout her life’s journey. We sat down with Morín to learn more about the remarkable woman who helped him become the driven man that he is today.

Growing Up In Puerto Rico
Elisa Morín (née Colón García) grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico during the 1930s and ’40s. “The Depression hit Puerto Rico very, very severely, and her father had passed away when she was young. Her mother was really struggling to take care of her and the other children,” Morín explains, describing his mother’s childhood. “It was so severe that my mother ended up being taken in by Catholic nuns running an orphanage. My mother would always tell us stories about her seeing her sister or her mother from the gates of the orphanage.” While living with the nuns, Elisa learned how to sew and embroider, skills that she would later call upon to sustain her family.

In the 1940s and 50s, Puerto Rico went through an industrialization period shifting from labor-intensive jobs—mostly in agriculture—to capital-intensive jobs, like working machinery in factories. The shift replaced people in the workforce, exploited available cheap labor, and left hardworking folks out of jobs. “The new government that was put in place in Puerto Rico was actually encouraging people to leave the island, and it became an escape valve for the economic crisis,” says Morín. “My mother was a part of that wave.” In 1948, at only 17 years old, Elisa left Puerto Rico and moved to New York City.

“Both of my parents were very clear about the importance of education and how essential it was for us to get the best education that they could possibly give us.” —José Luis Morín

Navigating New York
“By 1948, Puerto Ricans were already U.S. citizens by way of the Jones Act of 1917. But that didn’t really mean she was going to easily adapt and be totally accepted by this society, because she was still looked at as being a foreigner,” says Morín of his mother, whose native language was Spanish. One of the reasons New York was an attractive location to move to was the prevalence of factories and factory-related jobs. Elisa put her sewing and embroidery skills to good use sewing dolls’ clothing for a doll factory. After serving in World War II in France and Germany, William Morín retired from the Army and also moved to New York City. “He did his duty. Then when he returned home to Puerto Rico, a bunch of his family had already moved to New York, so he ended up following his family,” says Morín. In New York City, William met Elisa, married her, and raised six kids with her on the Lower East Side. While Elisa worked at the doll factory, William worked in manufacturing. The factory was extremely noisy, and even damaging to his ears, but they persevered for the betterment of their family.

“My parents worked very hard to make sure that we could go to Catholic schools, and hopefully get the best education that we could,” Morín explains. “How they were able to do that is beyond me. Both of them were poor, working class people.” Eventually, Elisa was able to get enough training and education to become a teacher's aide. “But my father, when he came to New York, he had nothing more than a fourth-grade education. Both of my parents were very clear about the importance of education and how essential it was for us to get the best education that they could possibly give us.”

“My mother would always carry this incredible pride for her children.” —José Luis Morín

Embracing Family
After recently connecting with his siblings, Morín realized that everyone had the same strong memories and feelings about their mother’s love and encouragement. “My mother would always carry this incredible pride for her children. We were the one thing that gave her a deep feeling of accomplishment, and she always carried that with her,” says Morín. “We would never hear her speak anything negative about any of us. She was incredibly committed and dedicated to ensuring that all of us were going to do well, in spite of whatever economic difficulties we faced.”

Elisa made family celebrations and traditions a priority in the Morín house. If it was Easter or Christmas, she found a way to make sure all the children had new clothes. She’d always decorate the house, and everyone was included in making a big, Puerto Rican-style meal. “I remember when I was in college, telling a group of friends who were not Puerto Rican that I was going to spend the holiday with my family. I told them how much I was looking forward to it, and they really didn’t understand. That was the last thing that they wanted to do,” Morín recalls. “That was just foreign to me. The holidays were always about getting together with family. Even if it was just a house party, we would get dressed up for that. I remember someone else—again, not a person of color—saying, ‘you’re getting dressed up just to go to somebody’s house?’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s what we do. This is how we celebrate the holiday.’ Our parents always instilled the value of family in us.”

Professor José Luis Morín, Chairperson of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Department
Professor José Luis Morín, Chairperson of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Department

“I want the scholarship to tell students that we see them, and that we recognize their struggles as first-generation students.” —José Luis Morín

Celebrating Accomplishments
A lasting memory for Morín was the day his parents saw him graduate from law school. “I was in my cap and gown trying to find my parents—and there were thousands of people. When we finally found each other, I saw tears in both my father and mother’s eyes,” says Morín. “That said it all. That was what it was all about. It was so much more important for me to be at graduation to see my parents’ dreams fulfilled, than it was for me to necessarily be at the ceremony. It was really for them to appreciate that accomplishment, which was their accomplishment in many ways.”

The hope behind the Elisa Morín Scholarship is to help other mothers have that moment when they see their child earn their degree, a moment built on years of sacrifice, commitment, and love. The scholarship will help support a first-generation student—regardless of immigration status—who is majoring or minoring in Latin American and Latinx Studies. The student must be committed to public service and social justice issues, be a full-time matriculated undergraduate student in good academic standing, and also demonstrate financial need. The scholarship’s aim is to help ease financial burdens while also giving the student a sense that someone is in their corner. “It’s about signaling to students that we do care that they are here in college, and that they are living their own parents’ greatest dreams,” says Morín. “I want the scholarship to tell students that we see them, and that we recognize their struggles as first-generation students. For some students, a few hundred dollars can make or break whether or not they enroll in the following semester. To the extent that we can help as many students as we can by way of the scholarship, that’s really the goal.”

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