A Latinx Woman in Power

Laura+Bustamante+with+Councilman+Solomon+at+a+Puerto+Rican+parade.+Photo+Courtesy+of+James+Solomon.

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Laura Bustamante with Councilman Solomon at a Puerto Rican parade. Photo Courtesy of James Solomon.

Melina Quispe, Social Media Manager

Laura Bustamante is a Latinx woman who is the chief of staff for Jersey City Councilman James Solomon. Bustamante is not only a leader on Solomon’s team but also an NJCU alumni and a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Bustamante is an inspiration to a lot of Latinx women. Especially, since there are not many Latinx women in politics who hold leadership positions. Bustamante is also an inspiration to the LBGTQ+ community because she has worked on the gender-neutral bathroom ordinance that passed in Downtown Jersey City recently.

James Solomon and Laura Bustamante have been helping residents living in Ward E for four years now. They have come up with policies that Laura will get into later in this interview. These are a few questions and answers that I hope will inspire other Latinx students at NJCU to become strong and passionate leaders. This is an interview I had with Laura Bustamante in August 2021.

Q1) Have you ever doubted yourself? Like for example have you ever thought you wouldn’t do great?

Yeah absolutely. I think there have been a lot of meetings that I have been a part of where white men were the majority and they had very strong opinions about situations that I disagreed with. I found that initially in my career, it was difficult to speak up or say what I thought. Especially, when it differed from their opinions and that is a difficult thing that I still try to overcome. I think the fear is not being recognized or feeling like they won’t take you seriously. The second fear is being right and not being able to back up that you’re right because you are a minority woman and feeling like they won’t respect what you’re saying.

Q2) Can you have it all? Can you balance work, family, and a social life all at the same time?

Yeah absolutely. I think that is one thing Stu (her coworker) has alluded to. He always says I don’t know how Laura does it. But time management is huge. Your number one tool for time management is Google calendars. I literally put everything on Google calendars, so I know what I am doing, and just staying really focused. Like when I am sitting down to do a press release, I am really sitting down to do this press release. Also, being purposeful in the things that we do. So, purposely planning dinners and doing drinks with friends. And scheduling those things ahead of time so that your schedule doesn’t just fill with work. But there are also times and dates where you know I am doing dinner with this friend at like 8 o’clock, so I am not going to be available for a meeting. Um and doing those types of things. And you know it is politics, there is always a low and a high. When we are busy, and we are not busy. So, you know after July, I will not have a life. But I know that is from July to November. And I know that after November I will have the opportunity to rebalance myself. When you are in a career like this one you have to also have that honest conversation with yourself like I won’t have a life from this month to this month. Also, communicating that to the people that are in your life is really important.

Q3) Have you had any mentors or mentees?

Yeah, I would say I have. I have not had a female mentor which is interesting. I have had James Solomon as my mentor. I have had the opportunity to see him as an elected official, as a professor, as a dad, as a friend. He has taught me a lot. Not just about politics but what it is like to be a good person. He taught me what it is like to be a genuine hardworking individual and what it is like to make really difficult situations while staying true to yourself. While staying true to your ethics and your morals. I think he leads that every day and naturally I have learned from him to understand that sometimes we make really difficult decisions. But what really matters is we stay true to who we are and the work that we are doing which has been really powerful. I have had mentees which is really awesome. I feel really blessed to have had that. A lot of them have been my interns and a lot of them have been young Latina women. Even just before this interview, I had an intern who was with us a year ago who called me about career advice. I definitely feel like I have been very purposeful with the way I run our internship program to empower Latina women. I have been purposeful in that way because I have not had a woman who has been able to mentor me. I have been mentored by a white male which has its pros and its cons. So being able to be that for other Latina women who come through our office has been very important to me.

Bustamante on NJCU’s Women’s Soccer team in 2014. Photo by Larry Levanti via NJCU Athletics.

Q4) How do you collaborate and lead people?

I lead by empathy, by example, and by respect. So, I think those are the three things that are meaningful to me. We treat everyone the same whether you’re an intern or a senior staffer. I value everyone’s opinions. I think everyone has really good insight and our office has been able to run well because we do a good job at making sure all opinions are heard, validated, and taken into consideration. I lead by example by the way I think I handle myself in a room full of white men because at the end of the day, our leadership team is two other white men and then me. And then with empathy which is life happens. You’re not a robot and I am not a robot. Things fall apart. Finals happen. You’re busy and so am I. Someone needs a vacation. This means being all hands-on deck to make sure that we are nourishing each other as individuals beyond the work that needs to get done. So, work has to get done but there are going to be moments in time when certain staff members are going through hard times in life, and we all have to be there to support each other. Part of that is connected to building a really strong organization so at any time one person can swoop in. That goes to say that is why there are two policy interns and two constituent service interns.

Q5) What are certain projects that you have been involved in that have helped your community?

One of the big projects has been rent control. We had a unique opportunity to do an initiative where we went to rent control buildings. So, rent control is a policy term for affordable housing. It is one of the tools in it. It is buildings where they can’t raise rent and a lot of people who live in them are minorities, or long-term Jersey City residents that have lived there forever. The idea is that you protect tenants from being pushed out or priced out. We did our rent control ordinance. The way that the city has handled rent control has been very poorly which has caused a lot of people to be kicked out of those buildings and we lost affordable units over time. We did a grassroots initiative where we went door-knocking at every single rent control building in Downtown Jersey City. We got to really listen to people’s stories and learn about their living conditions. We were able to issue a report saying here are the shortcomings of city government and how we are not properly protecting tenants. Therefore, this has caused gentrification in Downtown Jersey City. Through that experience, I was able to really help a ton of tenants fix their heat and hot water, get a roofing change, improve their quality of life, and even get some of their rents to be reduced to the rent they were supposed to be paying. They were being overcharged and illegally so. That was a really tangible thing for me to feel. And something even smaller but more so for the LGBTQ community, it was the gender-neutral bathrooms that we are working on right now. I am a gay Latina so as a gay Latina, that is very impactful for me. I feel like I have been able to provide a safe space for others in my community. Before they did not feel safe going out to a restaurant and using a bathroom that is concurrent to their gender identity.