NJ Senator Teresa Ruiz is Inspirational Speaker at 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo

Senator M. Teresa Ruiz was elected as a Democrat to the New Jersey Senate in 2007 and re-elected in 2011, 2013 and 2017. She was elected by her colleagues in January to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore, becoming the first Latina to serve in a leadership position in the New Jersey Senate. Senator Ruiz is chair of the Senate Education Committee. The senator is the author of a law that overhauled the state’s century-old teacher tenure statute. Signed in 2012, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act put standards in place requiring tenure to be earned and maintained through ongoing performance measurements, but also to ensure that if deficiencies are identified, educators get the help they need. The legislation was endorsed by the state teachers’ union and received unanimous bipartisan support in the state Legislature.

Senator Teresa Ruiz

Senator Ruiz was the prime sponsor of New Jersey’s version of the DREAM Act, a measure designed to provide higher education opportunities to all students in the state. Signed in December 2013, the law makes undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates at New Jersey public colleges and universities. The Garden State became the 17th in the nation to legislatively establish tuition equity for DREAMers under the law.

The Senator has led the legislative effort to improve programs and services for children in the state, from prenatal to age 5. This year, she championed and was successful in securing an additional $25 million in the FY 2018 state budget to expand the state’s model quality Pre-K to more school districts. She is the prime sponsor of an ‘early childhood bill package’ to establish full-day kindergarten in all public school districts, fund wrap-around services for preschool children in former Abbott districts, and to help working families through a child care tax credit program. The bill package would also continue the effort to expand Pre-K and create a state Department of Early Childhood. She was also the sponsor of a law to expand the state’s home visitation programs for new mothers to more families.

The Senator has also focused on protecting children with learning disabilities, as well as older New Jerseyans. She sponsored a law to improve programs in public schools to identify students with difficulty reading and to provide them with stronger academic supports. She was the prime sponsor of a bill to create the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care in order to more effectively meet the special needs of those who are approaching the end of life.

Senator Ruiz was the prime sponsor of a 2009 law prohibiting individuals from purchasing more than one handgun in a month. She was also a prime sponsor of “The Opportunity to Compete Act,” the 2014 law more commonly known as “ban the box” which prohibits employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record during the initial interview process, including on a job application.

Senator Ruiz supporting NJ DREAMers

The Senator was the sponsor of a 2016 law designating a portion of Route 21 in Newark as the “Robert Clemente Memorial Highway” in honor of the sports figure and humanitarian who has served as an inspiration to many New Jersey residents.

She is a founding member of the Robert Treat Academy and also served as a trustee of the Essex County Vocational Technical School. She is vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Party and is deputy chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. She served as an elected delegate at the Democratic National Conventions in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. During the 2012 convention, Senator Ruiz joined education advocates from across the country as a panelist on the Democrats For Education Reform-sponsored education town hall.

The senator was a 2010 Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellow, one of 24 individuals identified by the program’s leadership as America’s emerging political leaders with reputations for intellect, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to civil dialogue. She is a 2014 Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellow, part of a program named for former governors Jim Hunt (D-NC) and Tom Kean (R-NJ) designed for elected officials in the nation who have committed themselves to K-12 policy. Senator Ruiz is also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.

You might be interested: DREAMers included in NJ Second Year Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG)

Manuel vs Statue of Liberty poster

Noemi de la Puente the American Dream ugly truth goes off-Broadway

Noemi de la Puente, play writer/producer of Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.

Noemi de la Puente, play writer/producer of Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.

Millions of immigrants every year take a leap of faith, leaving their countries of origin spell-bound by the idea of the American Dream.  Shortly after arriving though, they find out that the promised opportunity for freedom, prosperity and success through hard-work turns to be just that, hard work.

Noemi de la Puente, a play writer and daughter of immigrants, knows this ugly truth by experience. While a student at Princeton University, she was outraged by the true story of a Princeton undergraduate, Manuel, who was an undocumented immigrant child from the Dominican Republic.

He had overcome extreme poverty but due to his hard work and brilliant achievements, he had received a full scholarship to study at one of the prime universities in the country. Manuel continued to excel while in Princeton, winning in his senior year a scholarship to study classical Greek and Latin literature at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

However, he could not leave the country because of his undocumented immigration status; so he turned himself into Homeland Security. The agency decided to deport him immediately.

Noemi de la Puente receiving her NYFM award

Noemi de la Puente receiving her NYFM award

“My disbelief and outrage at the preposterous and tragic situation of this student inspired me to write a musical comedy about illegal immigration called ‘Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.’ This young man, who had received a scholarship given to the top senior in every graduating class, was not allowed a path to citizenship,” de la Puente told LIBizus.

The play writer debates with skepticism the US national ethos, the American Dream. “I thought the whole situation was ridiculous because this is the very type of person we want in our country – hard-working, smart, generous people,” she affirmed.

Manuel’s battle with the immigration system reminded her of her parents’ difficulties when immigrating from Spain and Argentina. They worked hard for their citizenship, and eventually achieved their legal status, even though it did very little to affect the biases they experienced as native Spanish speakers.

“It was difficult for me growing up in Los Angeles to see my parents poorly treated because of their immigrant status. Both of my parents were academically gifted as is the protagonist in our musical. The only container large enough for this epic struggle of boy versus country was a musical, and the only way I could stomach the tragedy and complexity of the immigration system was if it were a comedy, therefore I wrote it as a musical comedy,” de la Puente explained.

Manuel vs Statue of Liberty 2014 cast with Carlo Albán, Diana Carolina Pou Ortíz, Jessica Crilley, Lisa Franklin, Byron Eugene Meyer and Gabriel Sloyer.

Manuel vs Statue of Liberty 2014 cast with Carlo Albán, Diana Carolina Pou Ortíz, Jessica Crilley, Lisa Franklin, Byron Eugene Meyer and Gabriel Sloyer.

Manuel’s struggle is presented as a high-stakes boxing-match between the gifted student and The Statue of Liberty, the Diva of Democracy, a clear metaphor of the farce the American immigration system is today. A mix of Latin influences and other contemporary American pop music depict Manuel’s journey from poverty in New York City to the Ivy League higher education institution in the musical, which enthusiastically endorses the DREAM Act.

In 2014, the show won the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) Developmental Reading Series Award. “NYMF is one of the premier musical theatre festivals in the country so it was a great honor for me,” de la Puente said.

The award comes with a Next Link Production, in which NYMF offers artistic and logistical support to writer/producers. “As the producer, I am responsible for the entire production: the creative team, the cast, the designers, the backstage crew, the musicians, etc. As the writer, I am very pleased that the show has been embraced so heartily by this mainstream festival,” de la Puente explained.

With crew Howard Post, Jose Zayas, Mary McGinley and Noemi de la Puente.

With crew Howard Post, Jose Zayas, Mary McGinley and Noemi de la Puente.

The show will be presented in New York City at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre –part of the Signature Theatre Center– from July 21 to 27 of this year.

“In order to produce this show to the off-Broadway standards of NYMF, I need to raise approximately $66,000. Most of the funds will go to pay the top-level artists I am engaging in this project,” de la Puente shared. “I am working hard at fundraising, rewriting, and assembling the creative team.”

De la Puente believes this is a huge opportunity for her as a Latina writer in the musical theatre world. “We are underrepresented in musical theatre, and NYMF has given my work a significant endorsement. I am extremely happy to work with director Jose Sayas, and collaborating with composer David Davila on this project. David not only brings extensive experience and love of musical theatre to the process but in addition, he has a visceral understanding of the DREAM Act, having lived most of his live on the Texas-Mexico border near McAllen,” she explained.

David Davila, composer and entertainer

David Davila, composer and entertainer

Her awarded work includes “Generic Hispanic,” which became finalist at MultiStages New Works contest 2012, and was produced at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre (PRTT) as part of the InSight Series 2008); “Manuel vs. the Statue of Liberty,” the winner of the 2014 NYMF Developmental Reading Series Award, Official 2015 NYMF Next Link Project; “The Revenge of Suicide Jack” in development at the Dramatic Question Theatre; “Lightning Strikes Twice,” a 10-minute musical produced in English at the Huron Club, Soho Playhouse, and in Spanish at the Microteatro in Caracas, Venezuela.

A member of the Professional Playwrights Unit at PRTT between 2004 and 2012, her Solo show “Fountain of Youth” was developed and produced through the Carolinian Shakespeare Festival, the PRTT, and was a Dramatic Question Theatre (DQT) production at Theatre 3 in 2013. She is a founding member of DQT, a collective of playwrights that develop multicultural works, and challenge the traditional race/gender barrier of professional playwriting as practiced in America today.

De la Puente received her MFA in Theatre Arts from the University of Iowa (Patricia Roberts Harris Scholarship), MSE Princeton University, and BSE Caltech.

Click below on the poster to check out their website ; follow them on Facebook (manuelvsstatue) and Twitter (@manuelvsstatue). All donations are greatly appreciated!

Manuel and The Statue of Liberty play announcement poster july 2015