Who: Christian Estevez, 42, newly elected president of the Latino Action Network
Home: Plainfield, born and raised. Estevez’s grandparents moved there in 1965, six years after they fled the Dominican Republic at the beginning of a revolution.
Latino Action Network: LAN is an umbrella group that lobbies and advocates state government on issues important to Latinos. When asked what those issues are, Estevez said “everything -- every issue touches Latinos.” Right now, LAN is active in pushing for the $15 minimum wage and earned sick days. It is also working with various consulates to help get residents municipal IDs.
Estevez said that without any ID, Latinos cannot get bank accounts, making them easy targets for crime as they often carry cash. In order to get an ID, undocumented residents must provide some sort of proof of who they are -- not just that they live at a particular address. By working with consulates based in New York, LAN can have officials come to various cities here in New Jersey and examine documents Latinos brought from home to determine whether they are proof of identity.
His day job: Estevez is a union officer for Local 1037 of the Communications Workers of America. He said his work with unions and advocacy groups are naturals for him since “my entire childhood was spent in the union hall.” His mother, who was bilingual, worked in a union benefits department.
In fact, Estevez said the idea of helping workers was ingrained in him due to the experience of his great-uncle, who was a delegate for cigar workers and worked against the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. His great-grandfather owned a cigar factory, he said, and his great-uncle -- who went to college -- worked as what was known as a “reader.” These were educated people who read stories to the workers as they rolled their cigars.
“I grew up learning of him as a hero,” said Estevez. “Here was this privileged guy who identified with the workers and joined the fight against the dictator.” His uncle was “disappeared,” he said, during the revolution.
Biggest problem facing New Jersey Latinos: Segregation of the schools and towns, said Estevez. He used his own experience as an example. Estevez’s parents divorced when he was a teenager and his mother was having trouble making ends meet. He was angry, his grades suffered, and he was attending classes with 30 kids just like him. His older brothers decided to pool their resources with their mother and rent a small apartment four miles away in Westfield, so Estevez could enroll there for high school.
“I was really fortunate. Westfield gave me lots of interventions; they threw all sorts of things at me left and right,” he said, including anger-management classes. He said there was nothing wrong with the Plainfield teachers but they had 30 kids in a class with the same problems and fewer resources. In Westfield, he was one kid with these issues and they had time to identify his problems, rather than just try to keep the class calm. He also had class role models.
“I made a complete turnaround,” said Estevez. “I became a reader. I learned not to use my fists. And I went to college.”
Said Estevez: “Abbott is a Band-Aid, it’s not the solution.”
Future political plans? “It’s not for me,” he said, after serving one term on the Plainfield school board. He said he didn’t like that everyone wants favors and demands something of politicians. “I’d rather be behind the scenes.”
Family and other interests: Married with three boys, ages 13, 9, and 7. He coaches sports with them -- soccer, baseball and in particular wrestling, which he excelled at in high school.