Councilman Rolando Lavarro
Elected in 2011, Rolando Lavarro grew up and still resides in Greenville Jersey City with his wife and daughter. He is the first Asian American to serve on the Jersey City Municipal Council.
1. What is so great about Jersey City to you?
The city’s diversity. When you dig deeper into all the cultures, you begin to develop a tapestry of people. Currently we have the fastest growing Asian community including a long time Filipino community that I’m a part of. The Indian community is the fastest growing here in Jersey City and in New Jersey as a whole, they are the largest immigrant community. They have the Navaratri festival every year usually in October which has been going on for over a decade. The celebration extends over two weekends and they dance until 3 am in the morning, no alcohol just celebrating. There’s probably 10-12 thousand people on that stretch of road. There’s a growing Dominican community but after the hurricane there’s now a growth in the Puerto Rican community. The greatest strength in Jersey City is diversity.
2. As Councilman what are your goals for Jersey City?
The biggest challenges are the schools. Students are underperforming in schools that are located in underdeveloped areas. There are school funding issues because the state cut funding over the next 7 years, a 175 million dollars cut. We are trying to find resources to help with funding but money is not the only issue, some schools have always underperformed. We want every child to have the same access to quality education and to put a stop to economic segregation. We may be the most diverse but we are not the most integrated. Affordable housing is also a priority and we are working on inclusionary housing so low income folks can live in areas with higher income. By doing so we anticipate that it will help with crime reduction and better educational opportunities for kids.
3. What inspired you to reach the position you have?
When I was little, I wanted to be a garbage man. I thought he only worked two days out of the week because I only saw the garbage picked up twice a week. I never aspired to run until 2009. In 2001, I started working in government, and I would manage all of the behind the scenes work. Initially, I aspired to be the next James Carvel but that was before Barack Obama came into the spotlight in 2009. On 1/20/2009 I saw Barack getting inaugurated and he called on Americans so I decided to run for office. Even though I lost the election, I started to make a name for myself. After the Dweck scandal I ran in the special election in 2011 and got a seat. I really never thought I could beat the machine.
4. What do you think the benefits are of Jersey City being rated the #1 diverse city in the United States? How does it give Jersey City an edge?
For the community specifically children growing up in diversity gives them a look into other cultures and promotes understanding and compassion. When I was in 7th grade, I went away for about a year to live outside of Jersey City. I was met with severe bullying at the school I transferred too and I believe this is where I found my voice for justice. During this time I was quiet and then I became a trouble maker. This experience in my life was able to give me a unique point of view because in Jersey City you aren’t asked, “What are you?” I’ve been called other names but I learned to brush it off.