PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — In honor of Women’s History Month, CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock introduces us to Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes, who has been taking on roles traditionally held by men and wants to send a message to inspire younger generations.
“As a brown woman from Newark, who turns out was poor, I didn’t realize I was poor until I got to college, what world expected me to do was not what I have been able to do,” Camelia Valdes Esq. said.READ MORE: Female NYPD Officers Embrace Difficult Task Of Working In Families Of Homicide Victims Liaison Unit
A far cry from it. Valdes is the first Latina prosecutor in New Jersey, the first lead prosecutor of Dominican decent in the United States and the first woman to hold the title Passaic County Prosecutor.
“After the celebrations are done, you have this work. This work is hard. This not for the faint at heart. You have to have courage and transparency and honesty,” Valdes said.
Always donning pearls in homage to her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Valdes says she typically starts her day with a deep breath and maybe a glance at her caricature.
“Helps me to remember to try to have some levity to what we do because otherwise it’s crime all the time,” Valdes said.
She’s held title Passaic County Prosecutor for more than a decade now.
“Do you feel, through this journey, you’ve had more supporters or detractors?” Murdock asked.
“We all have haters. We all have people that are going to question your competency. They’re going to question how you got there,” Valdes said.
But she says she has so many more supporters “that send their prayers, send good wishes.”
Valdes added, “To be able to be at the seat where policy is being made … has been a phenomenal way to serve and to really spend a career doing something that I love.”
She says making life better for all law-abiding citizens is what she’s always done.READ MORE: Women's History Month Observed In Central Park
Valdes was born in the Bronx and raised in Newark. She says as a daughter of immigrant parents, playing the role of advocate came early and often.
“I was translating for everybody in the building, so I learned at a young age the power of having a voice,” she said.
She graduated from Barringer High School in Newark and just shared her story with currently enrolled students to inspire and let them know there’s a big world outside its halls.
Via Zoom, she joined other women with the Latina Commission of the Hispanic National Bar Association. The students asked the questions.
“What pushed you to be great?” one student asked.
“I think it was pride. I think it was, ‘Let me show you what somebody from Newark can do,'” Valdes said.
“When was a time when a professor or a colleague was discouraging to you and how you overcame that situation?” another student asked.
“I had a guidance counselor that I expressed my interest in being a lawyer to … She said to me, ‘You know, the law is a male dominated field, so you should consider being a teacher or you should consider being a nurse,'” Valdes said. “I did what I do when I hear something that I don’t like; I just completely disregarded that.”
She went on to forge her own path of huge success, breaking barriers every step of the way.
She offers this advice: “Surround yourself with like-minded people who are energetic, who are committed to mission, who support your dreams, as crazy or as outlandish as they may be.”MORE NEWS: Women's History Month: Female-Owned DIY Businesses Thrive Alongside Each Other Under One Roof
She wants everyone to remember, throughout Women’s History Month and always, “Women make every space better.”