At age four, Maribel Ponce de Leon became the first Hispanic child to graduate from high school in the United States.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.
But, like so many others, her life was cut short after the birth of her son.
“My dad said he had to take his own life because he was afraid to die,” she told ABC News.
“I’m just a mom.
I’m not a celebrity.
I didn’t get to go to the Oscars or any other awards, and I had no chance to go see my kids.”
As a child, Ponce, who now lives in Miami, worked as a waitress at restaurants.
Her husband, Juan Carlos, took her to schools in Miami and Puerto Rico to study.
“I was the only one who had the confidence to go and work in the school system,” Ponce said.
Ponce’s father, Juan Pablo, told ABC affiliate WPLG that the school she attended was “full of problems” and “totally out of control.”
“We were getting students who were not qualified,” Juan Pablo said.
“And I was the one who brought up the idea of bringing them in from outside.”
In the late 1990s, Pone and her husband decided to return to the United State to work in retail sales for the family business, Pinto Foods.
“We worked there for nine years, and one of the problems was we didn’t know how to sell food,” Pone said.
At the time, Puerto Rico was a predominantly white island nation.
The island’s economy was struggling, and unemployment had reached nearly 20 percent.
“It was a very different time, with no electricity and no water, and a lot of people who had jobs,” Poner said.
“You were in your own little bubble of your own city,” she continued.
“It was very hard for people who weren’t as lucky as we were to get a job, and we were really lucky because we had a lot going for us.”
But as a Hispanic woman, I was not treated as well as the white women,” she added.
Pone’s husband and her daughter moved to the city, and they lived in an apartment with their daughter, who is now in high school.
She said that while she was working, she became aware that there were “black people working in the restaurant industry who were treated like second class citizens.”
The Ponce family was living in a housing project when they heard about the new mayor’s plan to improve Puerto Rico’s economy.”
He was trying to solve the problems that we had,” Pote said.
In May 2017, Pote was invited to a private event to discuss her ideas for improving Puerto Rico.
She told ABC that while some people were interested in the plan, she and her family were “not at all.””
Ponce said she was impressed with the progress Puerto Rico had made, but that her family “had a little bit of resistance.”””
But when I came to the table, they were like, ‘We already have a president and a cabinet.'”
Ponce said she was impressed with the progress Puerto Rico had made, but that her family “had a little bit of resistance.”
“The idea of people from Puerto Rico being able to go back and work, I think that’s very important,” she said.
While Puerto Rico has been recovering from the financial impact of the storm, many residents have struggled to find affordable housing.
Some families have been struggling to find permanent housing because they can’t afford the rent, according to the Associated Press.
The Associated Press reports that some of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has experienced the most extreme housing crisis in the country.
In 2017, nearly 5,000 Puerto Ricans moved into federally subsidized housing, according the AP.
And in 2018, more than 4,000 people were displaced from their homes as a result of the hurricane.
“This is not an issue that you can simply walk into a room and say, ‘Hey, I’m here for you,'” Pone explained.
“This is a crisis that’s been going on for years.”
She added, “I feel that I’m one of many Puerto Ricos who have been waiting for this moment.”