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Meet Jersey City’s Barrier-Breaking Latinas

September 4, 2017 | Categories:

Two servicewomen in Jersey City are making sure their community knows that a woman can be anything she wants.

Yaisa Gomez is a 38-year-old firefighter in Jersey City, NJ, who was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents. Her high school friend, Rossy Barzola, is a 36-year-old Jersey City police officer who is a first-generation American born to Ecuadorian parents. The women met playing basketball together in high school and reconnected later when they had college class together. Since Gomez always lived and worked in Jersey City and Barzola was a local police officer, they would see each other around town when working and catch up. Here’s how they got started in male-dominated careers in Jersey City.

 

BECOMING A SERVICEWOMAN

Rossy: Knowing there was a lack of women in law enforcement drove me to follow this path, and I knew I was capable of following what was needed from me as a police officer. Listening to Jersey City district cops’ stories that were visiting my family’s restaurant when growing up made me want to become a police officer.

Yaisa: When I was 19 and the fire prevention department did a presentation at a school I was assistant teaching at, I dressed up as firefighter for a demonstration and one of the firefighters encouraged me to take the test. I took the test and became a firefighter at age 33.

 

CHANGING HISTORY

Yaisa: I was one of the first two Latinas to make it into the Jersey City Fire Department in 2013. I think I’m wiser and stronger mentally now than I ever was before, which helped me in this career. Firefighting is not easy. It requires great physical strength but if I train regularly and maintain a healthy lifestyle, I know that age and being a woman will not be a factor in doing what I love.

Rossy: I became the first Latina female officer to be a part of the K9 Unit in Jersey City. I never have to work a day in my life because I love what I do! I constantly get positive remarks from the public, especially women.

 

ALTERING THE COMMUNITY’S PERCEPTION OF WOMEN

Rossy: If you’re a Latina who’s considering a career path in law enforcement—go for it! You have an advantage in law enforcement and EMS as a Latina, especially if you’re a Spanish-speaking woman in a diverse neighborhood.  Jersey City has a lot of minorities and it’s helpful that I can talk to them in their common language and show them a police officer’s duties and dedication. I like that my job in the K9 unit shows our community and little girls that a woman and Latina can become a police officer. My sister and female cousin are also Jersey City Police Department officers! Women come up to me on the street and say ‘You go, girl!’ If I can inspire one young Latina in my career, I have changed someone’s life for the better and I am completely content with that.

Yaisa: As a woman, I stick out like a sore thumb at a fire, but people will come up to me and shake my hand after a fire. Parents will bring their kids up to talk to me and ask me questions. We’re changing the stigma of what a ‘man’s job’ is, while removing the barriers and limitations that people believe. As Latinas, we can decide where we stand, what we do, and how it’s done.

“Jersey City is the most diverse city in the nation and we are working aggressively so our police and fire departments reflect that diversity,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who noted the city has launched a citywide Minority Recruitment initiative.  As a result, 70 percent of the 130 new police officers hired are minorities and more than 2,000 residents from all backgrounds, including dozens of women, have applied for the upcoming firefighter exam. Languages spoken within the Jersey City Police Department include English, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Urdu, Creole, Polish, Swahili, Bengali and Vietnamese.

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