The story of Weehawken resident Ismael Cid-Martinez, 23, already sounds a lot like the American Dream come true. Born in the Dominican Republic, he graduated from Weehawken High School and St. Peter’s College in Jersey City. A 2002 New Jersey State Champion bicyclist, he’s worked as a research assistant at the United Nations, and more recently has been working with Paterson’s 5th Ward Councilman Julio Tavarez.
But in June, Cid-Martinez’s fortunes took a huge leap forward. He was accepted into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) Fellowship, a prestigious nine-month program working with top political players in Washington, D.C.
In high school, the young student struggled with the English language.
Cid-Martinez said Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) were both “instrumental” in supporting his candidacy for the fellowship. Both politicians are graduates of St. Peter’s College.
“They really went the extra mile for me,” he said.
Next generation of leaders
The CHCI is a top Hispanic non-profit organization that aims to develop the next generation of Latino leaders. They say that Latinos are the nation’s fastest growing and youngest demographic, which by 2030 will be supplying the workforce with one out of every two employees.
“I think that CHCI as a development organization is outstanding,” Cid-Martinez said. “They have prepared over 2,000 young people across the country.”
The Latino high school drop out rate stands at 40 percent, according to statistics produced by the institute, four times higher than non-Hispanic whites.
Although the selection process for the fellowship is competitive, Cid-Martinez’s resume is impressive. He graduated with degrees in economics and political science with a minor in social justice from St. Peter’s College in 2009.
“There were many sleepless nights,” he said. But his experience working with Councilman Tavarez has inspired him, he says.
“[Tavarez] is a young gentleman and a Dominican American who has brought a lot of energy into that ward,” he said. “It was hard for me. I was taking six courses and working at the United Nations, but it was well worth it.”
The fellowship provides a $2,700 monthly stipend for housing and living expenses, health insurance, and great work experience.
Cid-Martinez leaves for Washington, D.C. late next month.
Coming to America
Born in the coast town of Puerto Plata – “Port of Silver” in English – Cid-Martinez came to America with his parents when he was 2 years old, and has returned to his native country for long stays throughout his childhood.
“It’s beautiful there, and a very touristy town,” he said. “The story goes that when Columbus first laid eyes on the coast, he said it looked like it was bathed in silver.”
In high school, the young student struggled with the English language and even took English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to help him with his education.
“I struggled terribly the first three years with the language barrier,” he said.
Now the proud Weehawken resident is looking toward the future.
“I’m interested in the role diplomacy will play in the years to come,” Cid-Martinez said. “International diplomacy will become very important as the world becomes smaller and smaller.”
Although the budding public servant has accomplished a lot in his 23 years, he’s still not sure what life has in store for him.
“When you’re young, you’re a little bit idealistic and think, ‘Where can I be most effective?’ ” he said. “That’s where I am now. I just want to be worthwhile and improve people’s lives.”
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org