SPU Graduate Talks Race, Identity, and the 2016 Election

By Christopher Flores, ’17

Manuelita Duran, a 2016 St. Peter’s University graduate, quickly rose from intern to research associate while working on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. But it’s Manny’s roots and immigrant family background that drew her to the world of politics.

Born in Hoboken, Manny has lived in the Jersey City Heights neighborhood her entire life. After graduating from St. Dominic’s Academy – an all-girls high school in Jersey City – Manny went on to attend Rider University. After attending Rider for one semester, Manny felt called to return to her hometown, subsequently enrolling at St. Peter’s University.

Moving to Lawrenceville was a drastic change and a culture shock for me,” said Manny, who is half Peruvian and half Dominican. “Majority of the school was Caucasian and I was one of the few minorities walking around campus”.

She was thrilled to return to Jersey City.

“I was happy to be back in my hometown,” Manny said. “I didn’t feel like a minority and I felt comfortable with others around me…walking around Jersey City gives me a sense of pride to be from the most diverse city in our country”.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Jersey City’s largest racial and ethnic group were Hispanic/Latinos making up 27% of the city. Black/African American followed with 25% and the caucasian population at 21%.

The racial and ethnic population in Jersey City is quite opposite from the United States as a whole. In the U.S., Hispanics make up 16% of the population while African American’s only make up 13%. Caucasians, however, make up 64%.

During her Senior year at St. Peter’s University, Manny was hired as an intern at Hillary for America – Hillary Clinton’s second presidential campaign.

After serving as an intern for a few months, Manny was hired as a research associate at the campaign’s Brooklyn Headquarters.

“When I was hired on Secretary Clinton’s campaign I could not believe it,” Manny said. “I was ecstatic beyond belief. As a Research Associate, I was in charge of monitoring both TV and print election coverage”.

From May until November, Manny worked seven days a week in hopes of helping elect the first woman president.

“During the DNC, RNC, debate nights, and scandals, it was 24 hours non stop,” she said. “I slept for maybe 3 hours each day if I was lucky”.

But it’s her Jersey City upbringing, along with being raised by her immigrant mother from Peru that Manny developed her passion for politics and helping others.

“Growing up in Jersey City has exposed me to different cultures, different traditions, different people coming together and just sharing a set of values with these people and accepting them for who they are,” Manny said.

Manny grew up in a large Hispanic culture but has seen it change over the last few years.

“I live in the predominantly Hispanic area but right now it’s gentrifying so a lot of caucasians are coming in,” she said.

Downtown Jersey City has gentrified over the past 20 years and it has started spreading to other areas of the city like Journal Square, McGinley Square, and The Heights.

“I feel like we’re just going to keep driving these low-income families further away to the outskirts but I honestly don’t know where else we can push them,” she said.

Manny’s concern for the Hispanic community was reflected during her time on the Clinton campaign.

“For example, the Latino community, [Trump] targeted us so much,” Manny said. “How we’re all bad and how we’re going to the build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.”

Manny explained that one of the reasons losing the election was so rough was because of the rhetoric he used towards her community.

“That’s why losing the election stung so much because it was just so personal,” she said.