JC: Public Service, I’d argue, is not a profession per se, it’s a way of life. I became interested sophomore year of High School at Memorial when my History teacher, Mr. Booth, would walk us through the legislative process and the impact of government in our daily lives. I began to look at local leaders, in particular then Congressman, now Senator Robert Menendez and then Mayor/Speaker of the Assembly, now Congressman Albio Sires and I looked up to them because my reality resembled their upbringing. Congressman Sires played basketball at Memorial so that he could have access to a hot shower, which he lacked in his home. Senator Menendez grew up in a tenement building with parents who worked in an embroidery factory like my grandmother did when she arrived and my mother when she was limited in her employment options. Their resilience and perseverance, and most importantly – dedication to our Latino community impacted my frame of thought. This developed into a consciousness of my responsibilities once I finished my undergraduate studies, a privilege afforded to a small percentage of Latinos, to give back – empowering my community and holding the door open for kids like my little brother and his classmates, who are working hard in the classroom with a hope shared by their parents, that education can become the catalyst for beating the cycle of poverty that plagues so many of our neighbors.
CDNJ: Which accomplishment are you most proud of?
JC: I am most proud of making my family proud. My dad escaped a communist regime in Cuba for the liberties our nation safeguards, my mother made the hard decision to leave her family to find economic opportunities that would end our families’ reality of extreme poverty in Colombia. I was born in Jersey City, NJ into relative privilege; access to incredible education, running water, incredible healthcare providers, to name a few – things we don’t think about because we have them readily available, but that so many around the world consistently lack. For them, and to an extent for my community, I did what I had the opportunity to do; became the first in my family to graduate from college, first to graduate with a masters (my MPA), became a Public Policy Fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in DC (an accomplishment, to highlight one, that I am especially proud of and has led to the opportunities I have today), received a full ride to pursue a second masters from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning Public Policy in City and Regional Planning, earned a Planning Fellowship with the Louis Berger Group, and now I am a Legislative Fellow for the Eagleton Institute of Politics and Trustee-Elect of the West New York Board of Education.
CDNJ: Most College Democrats’ members plan on remaining active in politics and government after college. What would you tell students who are planning to enter the world of public service?
JC: Don’t forget where you came from and have a vision of where you want to go. Stay true to yourself, have a moral compass that guides your work and find yourself a hobby. Don’t let politics take over your life and don’t take it so seriously, government is an institution that has a process; learn it and use it for good – if you are doing it for the wrong reasons you will ultimately fail.
CDNJ: How have you found meaning through your political work?
JC: I am humbled that the Town of West New York entrusted me with their vote on November 3rd, a trust that I plan on developing as I work hard for our children and the residents of our town on a daily basis. That responsibility is fresh in my mind every morning, however I remind myself that I would still be out there fighting for my community; I am just blessed and thankful that residents of my town trusted me with a platform to scale my ideas and perspective so that I can now have an impact on all of the kids who are going through the school system I came up through.
CDNJ: What’s on your music playlist?
JC: My library consists mostly of Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Cumbia and Reggeaton – at least 65% of it. The other 35% contains a mix of Rap and Hip Hop, Alternative, Classical and some other Oldies like Frank Sinatra, a favorite of my dad and me.
CDNJ: What is your favorite place to hang out?
JC: Favorite place would be home with my parents and my little brother, I’m a simple guy – some good friends, good conversations and some good music and I’m happy as can be.
CDNJ: Starbucks or Dunkin?
JC: I am a fan of both – Starbucks is clutch when I need a place to go and do work late night and their Cinnamon Chai is a favorite of mine. However, Dunkin Donuts is undoubtedly my go-to for a nice Dark Roast pick me up.