Puerto Rico is slated to lose 280 of its public schools in an effort by the government to consolidate resources and improve students’ academic achievement. This has triggered protests across the island, including at the Escuela Elemental John F. Kennedy in Toa Baja, fifteen miles west of San Juan, where parents, students, and teachers are mobilizing a campaign against the Education Department’s plan to close the school.
Just outside the elementary school gates, 70-year-old Jose Ortiz is pouring coffee for customers outside his bright green food truck. He’s been operating it for 31 years with his wife Maggie.
Maggie and Jose Ortiz (L to R) in front of their food truck on April 17, 2018.
Inside, there is a stove that he uses to cook pizza and brew coffee, and a small fryer he uses to make pastelillos, or homemade turnovers, his best-selling product.
“When the children grow up they come back to eat the turnovers,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz’s shirt reads “We are all JFK,” in support of the elementary school resisting its impending closure.
“I hope to God they don’t close it,” he said. For decades, Ortiz has served the teachers coffee, talked to parents and grandparents when they drop their kids off, and given away treats to students who don’t always have money. He says it’s a tremendous little school.
If it closes, he said, the kids would feel it most, he’d lose customers, and it would be a blow for the community.
Check out all of Marketplace Weekend’s coverage of Puerto Rico here.