Juan Cartagena, Esq.
President and General Counsel,
Juan Cartagena, a native New Jerseyan of Puerto Rican descent, is a constitutional and civil rights attorney. Mr. Cartagena, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University School of Law, was admitted to the Bar in 1981. Currently the President and General Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Mr. Cartagena previously served as a municipal court judge in Hoboken, New Jersey, and as the General Counsel for the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. Mr. Cartagena has worked tirelessly over the course of his career litigating on behalf of minority communities in such varied areas as housing, education, voting rights and employee discrimination. He also dedicated his expertise to the protests which halted the U.S. Navy’s use of Vieques, Puerto Rico as a bombing range. In addition to his legal work, Mr. Cartagena is involved in the preservation of the traditional Puerto Rican percussion and dance styles of bomba and plena with his music and dance group Segunda Quimbamba.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.
Hear Juan Cartagena discuss his experience during the 1968 Riot in Jersey City and how it influenced his thinking:
“The Riots of Jersey City occurred in 1968… and they were two, three blocks from my house. The whole movement… of revolutionary action [and] thought… [its] more progressive thinking about community based activities and [its] connection to world activities… were part of what influenced a lot of what I did by the time I went to high school… I started high school in 1970. Those images of what we saw on TV, when I was seeing it in real life, particularly the Riots, [those] stayed with me.
Interviewer: What was an image? Could you describe it?
Sure. The images of the riots were, you know, the violence… Actually, it wasn’t so much [the violence]—it was violent, but what the images were saying was resistance… Resistance against a government that was oppressing us; because no resources of the government were coming to help the communities that I lived in; resistance because people just couldn’t take it anymore; and resistance because race was becoming a serious issue that nobody was able to solve at the national or local level. By the time I got to high school though, smatterings of hope were there… I worked from a very early age of my life. I worked at car washes, I worked at factories, I stocked shelves at Shop–Rite on the night shift. I worked… summer youth programs, which are hardly around today. And I learned a lot about the movement for Civil Rights because of [what] I saw firsthand in Jersey City, through the black community in Jersey City. Those images about resistance were mostly black born, I mean black led, I should say. The signals of hope were things like summer jobs, where we were able to talk with a lot of people from different backgrounds.”
Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 14-15 of the complete interview transcript.
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