Ask almost anyone who has decided to make the jump to politics these last few months, and one might notice a common theme.
As the coronavirus pandemic swept the city, shuttering businesses, sending the unemployment rate skyrocketing, and forcing hospitals to set up tents in their parking lots or leave stretchers in hallways, the inequalities that seem to have always existed simply got worse.
Neighborhoods with already limited access to public transportation became more remote. People struggling to pay rent were without a lifeline. And parents already shelling out for child care found themselves home with their children, trying to work and take care of remote schooling.
Broken systems just got more broken, and some — like Mino Lora — just want to fix them. And she hopes to do that as the community’s next representative on the city council.
“I myself have been living here for 20 years now,” Lora said. “And slowly since then, I have continued to build my home and kind of create these spaces for myself and others like me.”
Lora grew up in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, and found herself in New York thanks to a college scholarship at Manhattanville College in Purchase.
She would continue to commute into the city, however. And in 2009, she founded the People’s Theatre Project in what was then her Upper Manhattan neighborhood. It was a place for recent immigrants to the city to find themselves in a safe place, centered on their own stories and experiences.
“The power of stories has been very important in my life,” Lora said. “The importance of representation in leadership — whether it’s on the stage, or in a nonprofit space, or in the classroom. And now, in an elected office.”
At Manhattanville, Lora looked for her own niche, connecting mostly with international students as she started out. But as she went on, Lora started forming connections with employees — maintenance and cafeteria workers who had been engineers or teachers before they came to the United States, but had taken lower-paying jobs at the college because it’s all they could get.
Lora had attended a bilingual school in the Dominican Republic and spoke fluent Spanish and English — so, naturally, she worked with her fellow students to build a program to teach the school’s Spanish-speaking employees English.
“I realized there the power of bringing different kinds of people together,” Lora said. “And maybe the place where I belonged was kind of in the intersection of home, and new home. Of bringing different people who probably wouldn’t have been in the same room, building friendships.”
Lora moved to the Bronx six years ago, but had been already working in the Bronx for years prior, riding the Bx12 from Manhattan to teach theatre in schools, and working with English language learners.
“And then, you know,” she said, “I moved here six years ago and have continued every day to just build relationships here in the community, getting to know my neighborhood Spuyten Duyvil, getting to experience what it is to be a resident, a parent, an educator.”
When the pandemic took hold, Lora organized fundraising and direct aid for families in need, all while moving People’s Theatre Project activities online. After a while, Lora realized she had always been looking for where she was needed for help — and with the entire city struggling, elected office seemed like the next place her skills were needed.
“I think the conversation has to start with, ‘We are still in the middle of a pandemic, we are not done,’” Lora said. “So I think the first thing for me is the support. How do we alleviate the burden we are feeling right now in the district and in the city?”
Canceling rent and expanding rent relief to small business owners and landlords, as well as implementing a vacancy tax on landlords keeping spaces empty, is a start, she said. So is passing universal child care and elder care.
And, as an educator, addressing the issues schools were having even before the pandemic is critical.
“Our schools are overcrowded and they’re underfunded, and these are fixable things,” Lora said. “This is not an impossible task to tackle. The (city council) budget is a statement of values. Realigning of divesting from the NYPD, investing in arts, in education, in social services, is key. The money is there. Acting out of fear is not something I will do.”
So far in the district, Lora said, immigrants — which account for 30 percent of its population — haven’t been much attended to.
“We create so much of the economy of our city,” she said. “I do think that immigrant justice is not being uplifted as much as it should be in District 11. It’s just not great.”
Lora joins a race that already includes educator and Assemblyman son Eric Dinowitz, environmentalist Jessica Haller, college professor Abigail Martin, real estate attorney Dan Padernacht, and RAIN program coordinator Marcos Sierra.
Lora would like to see city government take a stronger stance — New York is a sanctuary city, she said, but needs to walk the walk and speak out against mistreatment of immigrants across the country.
“It’s extremely important to me that we humanize all of us who are human, and amplify and uplift the experiences of our immigrant community.”