Carolina Valencia, a longtime media executive who has worked at the New York Times, Univision and most recently The Recount, is joining Epicenter-NYC as its inaugural director of partnerships and communications. Valencia, a native of Ecuador who has called Queens home for decades, also worked for New York City Council Member Francisco Moya and NYC Kids Rise. We turned the questions on her to learn more about why Epicenter-NYC, and why now. You can follow her on Twitter @cvvalencia and on LinkedIn.
So, Carolina, why Epicenter?
I’ve spent most of my career in media and working in and with the community, and Epicenter-NYC is literally at the intersection of the most important aspects of my experience, identity and passions. As the world becomes increasingly digitally connected and divided, the need to engage, connect and inform people IRL and digitally through the power of culture and community has never been so important. This is how we can impact neighborhoods and lives for the better and Epicenter-NYC is right at the heart of it –– exactly where I want to be. I am excited to work with a powerhouse woman of color, S. Mitra Kalita, and an amazing and diverse team.
What’s your Queens connection?
Hailing from Ecuador, my mom chose Queens (we were in Yonkers for a bit) as our new home and I am so glad she did. My fondest memories are growing up in East Elmhurst-Jackson Heights where not only did I meet the best of friends, who became my life sisters, but had the most amazing fifth-grade teacher at P.S. 148. She showed me compassion and believed in what I could achieve. This teacher is an example of the difference teachers can make in students’ lives. So a big shoutout to Ms. Minassian (who tells me to stop calling her that and just go by her first name). I am also a proud graduate of I.S.145 and Bayside High School. The other aspect of my connection to Queens and Epicenter-NYC is that at the height and throughout the first two years of the pandemic, I worked in the hardest hit neighborhoods by Covid, first in my role with NYC Kids RISE and later with Council Member Francisco Moya. So I’ve lived, studied and worked in the neighborhoods where Epicenter-NYC started. I am a Queens girl for life except in baseball: Yankees all the way!
You’ve had a varied background, including the stint you mentioned working for a City Council member. What did you learn on the proverbial “other side” and what do you think journalists don’t get about politicians and vice versa?
The community has the pulse of reality. The things that are said –– tweeted –– the loudest are not always the truth or accurate. To really understand the work of council members and their staff, you need to be in the neighborhood and notice what the community is saying, what’s challenging small businesses, what families are expressing, what neighbors, PTAs and schools’ staff need and are doing—i.e. how the work fits in. Add to that the legislation and budget aspects that are also so critical. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging chapters of my career. The bond you create with the community is priceless and being able to make a difference in people’s lives whether through legislation, food distributions, budget designations, or directing city agencies like Parks and Sanitation to address timely issues was beyond meaningful. My tenure was during year one and year two of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, for many of us at the epicenter, meant seeing firsthand the need. It was heartbreaking and it gave us a deeper sense of purpose and urgency to secure as many critical resources as possible.
So to summarize: the most accurate representations come from the voices within the community and they may not be on Twitter or logging into public hearings.
And a signature Epicenter question: What do YOU need?
I need us to walk together.
Whether you’re in the community, supporting efforts in the community, providing resources for the community, or looking to engage everyday New Yorkers in the community, think of Epicenter-NYC as the connector. We are your trusted news source, we are part of your neighborhood, we amplify your voice, your business, your art. So if there’s a way for us to partner, reach out.
What parts of your identity do you bring to your work?
The best part of growing up in Queens is that you are both connected to your roots and are part of a global and immigrant community. That really shapes you and opens your world to different perspectives and encourages you to live with a collective mind. There’s a phrase in Spanish I love: la unión hace la fuerza, which basically means there is strength in numbers. I always say I am a proud Ecuadorian from Guayaquil, immigrant, Latina, New Yorker from Queens––and I will bring the best of what’s shaped me to complement the amazing work the Epicenter-NYC team is doing.
Favorite eats in NYC?
Bello and the Alcove in Sunnyside, Las Catrinas in Astoria, Leticia’s and Empanadas Cafe in Corona, Tropical (Ecuadorian food) in Woodhaven, 5 Burro Cafe and Mito in Forest Hills, Barosa and Gyro Grill in Middle Village, Taqueria Nixtamal at the Market Line in the Lower East Side, and Momosan in Murray Hill/Midtown East.
And for sweets, love, love, love the ras malai at Al Naimat Sweets & Restaurant in Jackson Heights, Pasticceria Amore in Forest Hills has my all-time favorite chocolate covered cannolis, and for the best cookies ever—Chip City. Any location.
Do you have a secret, beloved spot in NYC?
Love Juniper Valley Park in my neighborhood. When I need to reflect, talk to God or exercise, it’s my go-to place especially when the sky is getting ready for the sunset.
Who’s your hero, living or dead?
I always have different answers for these. I love Michelle Obama, no explanation needed. On the music front, I loved Selena (Quintanilla) and Celia Cruz, and would have loved to see Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra perform. It would’ve been an honor to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (did so many papers on him as a kid).
But my hero? It’s my abuelita. She taught me faith, compassion, unity, family values, love for travel, and that you can do whatever you set your mind to. In my eyes, my maternal grandma Maria Enriqueta aka Abuelita Marujta was THE GOAT.
I am the granddaughter of a prominent Ecuadorian soccer journalist, who’s covered eight or nine World Cups, Guillermo Valencia; among those he interviewed include fútbol icon Pelé. I am also fully bilingual and often volunteer as an interpreter and host workshops to guide students on how to protect their personal brand in the age of social media.
Carolina is an excellent proud Ecuadorian Queens girl professional, smart and loves helping people regardless who they are. A real gem.
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