Two Montclair Latinas building community, promoting culture (Robin’s Nest)
(NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Montclair is well known for its rich mosaic of ethnic residents and diversity of population, but political correctness and social norms keep changing when it comes to talking about what to call those who choose to live here after being born in other parts of the world.
First of all, Spanish uses male and female designations, so a Latina would be a female, and a Latino is a male. As a group, just call them Latinos. Dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s for clarity, folks, got it?
But I digress. Here we go:
Marcia, co-chair of the not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization Latinos of Montclair, calls herself a Dominica, born in the Dominican Republic, and speaks English, Portuguese and Spanish, with a smattering of French thrown into the mix.
She first came to the United States in 1959 with her family, which was granted political asylum due to the dangers they faced during the reign of Rafael Trujillo, the dictator who ruled their country from 1930 until his assassination in 1961.
She later met and married her husband, and lived in New York City, where he was first an intern at Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem. Now closed, the hospital served a mostly immigrant and poor population. They moved to Montclair in 1971 after he opened a private practice in Paterson.
A Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) graduate, Marcia received a degree in psychology and managed her husband’s office. Always politically active, she wanted to ensure that the community had an equal share of the pie.
She said, “We want representation, and Latinos are the second-largest ethnic group in town, as shown in the 2020 census. It’s important to change the perceptions of our people, seeing them as individuals, not stereotypes. We are doctors, lawyers and professionals, not just landscapers and restaurant workers. We have unique personalities.”
Marcia and I met when we taped shows for TV34 Montclair over a decade ago, when I first interviewed her for my show “The Buzz,” regarding her work as a celebrant for the Celebrant Foundation and Institute. Celebrants perform ceremonies in the community, most often at weddings.
She was licensed by the state in 1971 to officiate at various types of ceremonies and memorial services, and still does so in three languages, when she’s not out there working to help people feel engaged and welcome, sitting on various township boards and commissions, such as the Civil Rights Commission.
I had the pleasure of meeting Latinos of Montclair co-Chair Obie Miranda-Woodley for the first time, and we talked over a leisurely lunch at my favorite Latin American cafe, Minia’s Montclair, where I learned more about her and the organization.
Obie was born in Puerto Rico and came to Brooklyn when she was 9 years old, living in the Cobble Hill section of the borough.
Her husband was born in Jamaica, also moving to the United States when he was 9. They have two young children, ages 10 and 6, who attend Hillside and Nishuane schools.
She said, “Montclair is similar to where we both grew up, with cultural diversity and civic engagement. I reached out to Marcia and Jose German-Gomez for assistance in forming the group. Jose helped us write the bylaws, along with founding members Natalie Espejo, Sergio Gonzalez and Miosotty Martinez. We’ve been planning for this all our lives. We want to grow Latinos of Montclair, promote our cultures and build community.”
Obie studied education, first wanting to be a teacher, then working in finance for 20 years. Her pressured, hectic schedule kept her from spending as much time as she wanted to with her children. She’s now a sales associate at Stanton Realty in town, where she can make her own schedule that works around commitments to her family.
When I asked her why Latinos of Montclair is so important to her, she said, “I wanted visibility, government representation, cultural diversity and sharing our special celebrations. There is no membership fee to join.”
Marcia and Obie are working on future events, with a planned members-only meet-and-greet barbecue coming up on June 26. They are also working on holding a dominoes tournament in Crane Park, they hope in July if they can get the necessary permits, and a Latin Night in August, at a location to be announced.
More events and celebrations will appear on the website latinosofmontclair.org, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
It’s a learning experience and a joy to meet such interesting and involved people while being your roving gal around town, and I appreciate those who work to show our uniqueness and value.
My family and I chose to relocate to Montclair from midtown Manhattan in the late 1990s. Diversity, acceptance and open minds are important to our multiracial family, and our son quickly realized that, saying, “Here’s all the types of people, just like where we used to live.” Indeed. Me gusto vivir en Montclair, es una ciudad interestante. (I like living in Montclair, it’s an interesting town).
Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director’s Award of the Essex County Legacies Essay contest.
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