President of the civil rights organization Latino Justice, attorney Juan Cartagena treasures his origins in cosmopolitan New York City
Half of Juan Cartagena's heart beats for Puerto Rico, the island his parents moved from in the 1950s to experience the American Dream. The other half melts for New York City. The city where he studied and worked his whole life is divided between his personal story and family tradition. “Being Latino is an essential part of my life. I grew up speaking Spanish and absorbing Puerto Rican culture,” he says.
Today, Juan presides over an important civil rights organization, Latino Justice, which provides legal defense for Latin immigrants, promoting education, diversity, and inclusion for the community in the United States. He doesn't hold back when praising the city. “There is a vibrancy of culture, music, and food. Few cities can match the wealth of the cultural scene in New York,” he says, recommending the restaurants in El Barrio (in Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood) for anyone who wants a good Latin meal.
Having earned his law degree from prestigious Columbia University, he recalls feeling motivated to fight for social rights “long, long before college, when I saw injustices in my neighborhood.” With pride, he recounts his victorious trajectory and offers the secret to achieving success in New York: “Move fast, be open to cultures and people, and defend your rights.” Between a salsa show at the Hostos Center for the Arts and a shot of pitorro rum at the Port Morris distillery (both in the Bronx), Juan sees all of Latin America fit into his beloved New York City.