Hundreds Attend New Jersey Conference on Dominican Affairs

CODA 2004

CODA 2012

For immediate release

From left front row, Erick Cedano, Hon. Julio Guridy, Senator Juan Pichardo, Journalist Alicia Ortega, CODA President Maria Teresa Montilla, West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque, Bronx District Leader Yudelka Tapia, and Dr. Franklin de Jesus. From left back row, Pablo Aponte, Luisa Aponte Francisco Castro, Jose Garcia, Gregorio Torres, Irene Schrils, Dinorah Mendez, Josefina Mercedes, Commissioner Ruben Vargas, Amiris Perez, Commissioner Margarita Gutierrez, Nestor Montilla, Dr. Fermin Commissioner Fiordaliza Frias, Victor Coronado, Frank Salado, Doris Ramos, Niurka De la Rosa, Amiramis Perez, Consuelo Evans and Juan Familia (Photo by Nelson Valentin – e-mail:

Newark, NJ (Monday, February 20, 2012).-Over three hundred participants from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, attended the 12th Annual New Jersey Conference on Dominican Affairs held yesterday at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, New Jersey.

“The Dominican community in New Jersey have reached a level of political sophistication that allows them to stay focused on its interests, above political affiliation or other interests,” said Dr. Maria Teresa Montilla, President of the NJ Conference on Dominican Affairs (CODA). “I think we are ready to come together and elect political representation at the state level in New Jersey.”

“We, CODA staff and volunteers, are very happy we have been able to successfully put together the 12th Annual Conference on Dominican Affairs,” said Amiris Perez, CODA Executive Director. “Our mission is to provide a forum by which all Dominicans residing in New Jersey can evaluate and assess their role in the New Jersey community and create a proactive agenda to improve their economic, educational, social/cultural, and political well-being.”

The conference started with a welcome reception at Newark City Hall, where volunteers and CODA leadership shared an exclusive moment with acclaimed journalist Alicia Ortega.

On Sunday, February 19th, the Conference program included concurrent workshop
sessions, and a plenary forum featuring Journalist Alicia Ortega and Rhode Island State Senator Juan M. Pichardo, who were the main presenters. Their participation attracted dozens of followers, including students, leaders, peers, and people from surrounding communities.

Senator Pichardo delivered a keynote address titled “Participation, Contribution and Empowerment.”

“I want to thank Dr. Maria Teresa Montilla, President of CODA, President of DANR and Amiris Perez, Executive Director and the entire board of CODA for inviting me to speak here at your conference at Rutgers School of Law,” said Senator Pichardo. “Also, I want to acknowledge my colleagues and friends from this wonderful City who are here and those who could not make it due to prior commitments outside of the state. They exemplify the ideals of serving others and empowering a community. This is what I believe in…” (for a complete printable copy of his speech, click here or visit the

Onstage at the plenary luncheon session, President Maria Teresa Montilla interviewed journalist Ortega about the challenges and rewards of a professional woman working as a journalist in the Dominican Republic. She shared her beginnings as a journalist, her settling in the Dominican Republic, and some of the social changes her investigative reporting have caused in the country.

Ortega concluded her intervention quoting President Theodore Roosevelt:
“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, and keep your feet on the ground. Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life. Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

ORTEGA Y PEREZOrtega was presented with a plaque by coordinator Radhames Perez and a delegation of leaders from Dominican party “Alianza Pais”, in recognition of her successful career in journalism and for her excellence in journalism.

The list of participating leaders included Congressman Steven Rothman, West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque, Allentown Pennsylvania Councilman, and President of City Council Julio Guridy, Paterson Councilman, and Council Vice President Julio Tavarez, West New York Councilwoman Fiordaliza Frias, and West New York Councilman Ruben Vargas, Bergenfield Councilman Carlos Aguasvivas, Newark Councilman Luis Quintana, Commissioner and Perth Amboy Board of Education President Samuel Lebrault, Perth Amboy Board of Education Commissioner Milady Tejeda, Teaneck Board of Education Commissioner Sebastian Rodriguez, Commissioner and Roselle board of Education President Erick Cedano, Bronx District Leader Yudelka Tapia, Brooklyn District Leader Arelys Martinez, Paterson Board of Education commissioners Alex Mendez and Wendy Guzman, Martin Perez, President of the New Jersey Latino Leadership Alliance, Elsa Mantilla, President of NJ State Dominican Parade, Rafael Marte, President of COPODO, President Ramon Guzman, and his delegation from Dominicans for Political Representation (DOPOR), Perth Amboy High School Principal Dr. Nestor Collazo and his delegation of over 45 students.

In addition, attending were leaders of the National Dominican American Council (NDAC) and the Dominican American National Roundtable from Massachussets, Candem, NJ, New York and New Jersey.

The Women’s Leadership workshop burst with enthusiasm and encouragement from participants as well as panelists Univision Presenter Nilda Rosario, Nutritionist Dinorah Mendez, District Leader Yudelka Tapia, and Journalist Alicia Ortega.

The Political Empowerment workshop drew on the knowledge and experience of seasoned elected officials who served as panelists, such as Rhode Island Senator Juan Pichardo, Councilmen Julio Tavarez and Wilson Terrero, Commissioners Wendy Guzman and Alex Mendez, Businessman and community leader from Perth Amboy Frank Salado, and Community Leader Thomas Gomez.

Additionally, non-profit organization Citizens Campaign offered a road map to empowerment through participation in the structure of political parties.

Distinguished Plastic Surgeon Dr. Franklin de Jesus, Dr. Diogenes Fermin and Rosa Saldana headed the Health Professionals workshop to discuss exchange of medical services between the Dominican Republic and the United States.

The Conference premiered also the latest thought-provoking Nestor Montilla’s original documentary titled “Dominican Civilization, Diaspora and Identity,” which sheds light on how the Dominican Diaspora is creating and accentuating the new identities of the Dominican people. The documentary features historian Frank Moya Pons, Ph.D, Irma Nicasio, Ph.D., and Odalis Perez, Ph.D. from Universidad Autonoma de Santo Dominigo, Sylvio Torres-Saillant, Ph.D. from Syracuse University, Lorraine Altagracia Cortes-Vasquez, the Honorable Claribel Martinez Marmolejos, the first Dominican woman ever elected to public office in Puerto Rico, Dr. Nasry Michellen, praised for becoming the first President of Hostos Community College, the Guzman Family, and testimony of other individuals who ascertain their Dominican identity despite being born in the United States.

At the end, a group of panelists offered their reaction to the documentary and shared feedback with producer and researcher Montilla. Among them were re-known Dominican singer and composer Fernando Echavarria, who led popular musical group La Familia André, and a group of national young college student leaders from several universities including Pen State, Brown University, Yale, Essex County Community College, Bergen County Community College and Middlessex Community College. The list of panelists included Professor. Rafael Brito from Newark NJ, Elías Alcántara, Amaris Guzmán, former DANR Youth President, Augusto Suarez, BCC, Franklin Ventura, ECC, Diandra Fermín, Yale, Joel Fernández, Yale DSA President. They responded questions from the audience comprised of dozens of students and conference participants. Professor Alejandro Benjamin, who confessed in the Documentary he didn’t know he was black when he came to the United States in 1973, actively participated in the discussion and answer questions.

The 12th Annual New Jersey State Wide Conference was made possible thanks to a committed team of volunteers including Amiris Pérez, Directora Ejecutiva, Amiramis Pérez, Josefina Mercedes, María Beras, Nerys Polanco, Julio Tavárez, Consuelo Evans, Francisco Castro, Gregorio Torres, Victor Coronado, Dr. Aritmedes Restituyo, Juan Familia, Alba Mateo, Augusto Suarez, Franklin Ventura, Erick Cedano, Oneida Vidal and Elba Familia. Other volunteers included Valentin Silverio, Altagracia Gatón, Margarita Gutierrez, Miladys Familia, Tatiana Guzmán, Freddy Read, Haydee Tió, Niurkis De la Rosa, Rosa Svelti, Jose Garcia, Josefina Torres and photographer Nelson Valentin.

CODA conference is sponsored by UNIVISION, Cibao Meat Products, HealthFirst, Rutgers School of Law, El Merengue Restaurant in Newark, Jersey Easy Construction LLC, the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), and the Common Roots Project.

The NJ Conference on Dominican Affairs is the major Dominican state gathering on the Dominican and Latino calendars in the United States. During this Conference, attendees are able to participate and learn from experts, share experiences, network with professionals from around the New Jersey, the Tri-State Region and beyond.

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About the NJ Conference on Dominican Affairs (CODA)

The mission of the Conference on Dominican Affairs is to provide a forum by which Dominicans residing in New Jersey can evaluate and assess their role in the New Jersey community and create a proactive agenda to improve their economic, educational, social/cultural, and political well-being.