Celebrating Latino Leaders: Alicia Caraballo
"I believe we as individuals and as a community have the passion, desire and urgency to work to make this a better place. I feel this is the time for our Latino community to be recognized as a powerful force in our region and in the nation.”
Vice Chair, New Haven Board of Education
Hometown: New York City, NY
Alicia Caraballo comes from a family that believes education is the key to success.
Born in New York City, Alicia spent her formative years in New Haven, attending St. Mary’s High School on Orange Street, then Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). She received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, where she was active in Puerto Rican affairs.
“The women in my life have been my mentors, teaching me the value of education. My grandmother had, after years of working as a maid, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, returned to night school, graduated and became a social worker.”
Alicia moved to Washington, D.C. with the opportunity to work for Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation (NeighborWorks America), a national housing program that had recently been created at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. She traveled the country, creating homeownership opportunities for families at all income levels, revitalizing neighborhoods from the bottom up. But the travel took its toll on her family, and she decided to return to New Haven and follow in another family member’s footsteps.
“My Aunt Carmen was a teacher and later became a guidance counselor in the New Haven Public Schools. NHPS was looking for a school social worker; it seemed like the right fit for me.”
Alicia would remain within the New Haven Public School district for the next 26 years, moving from social worker to Assistant Principal, and then Principal of Hill Central School, Supervisor of Career & Technical Education and Special Education before becoming Director of New Haven Adult & Continuing Education, where she served 10 years. She retired from the school district in June of 2014 only to be appointed a month later by Mayor Toni Harp to serve on the Board of Education, where she is currently Vice President.
When asked why she agreed to serve on the Board of Education, Alicia highlighted not only her commitment to this district where her granddaughter attends school, but the important work to ensure that every student is ready to succeed in this ever-changing, complex world. She wanted to be part of the process that manages that work.
Service at Every Level
If education was a value impressed upon Alicia at a young age, so was commitment to her community. Her mother, Pura Delgado, left her job in a factory to become a community activist, working tirelessly to develop New Haven organizations such as Junta for Progressive Action, Fair Haven Community Health Clinic and Crossroads, Inc. Then, she decided to become a business owner, opening her own bridal shop on Orange Street in what’s now known as the Ninth Square District. As an entrepreneur, she not only had gowns made for weddings, she established a relationship with Valencia Bakery in New York to have their cakes delivered to New Haven. She was a florist, a photographer and a Justice of the Peace.
“It truly was a ‘one-stop shop’. My mother understood the importance of lifelong learning, regardless of your age, and that with hard work you can accomplish anything. There is no question that my mother has been my mentor.”
Community service has been very important to Alicia as well. In addition to her role on the New Haven Board of Education, she is on the Board of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and serves as its Development Committee Chair and liaison to the Progreso Latino Fund. Alicia has also served on the Boards of Hispanos Unidos contra SIDA (AIDS), Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, Casa Otoñal and Neighborhood Music School.
Inspiration and Urgency
Alicia has recently begun to develop a reputation as mixed media artist. A collage workshop at Creative Arts Workshop many years ago sparked her interest to learn more. Since then, she has completed a two-year Art Cloth Mastery Program with professional fiber artist Jane Dunnewold in San Antonio, Texas.
“My work is spontaneous and intuitive, without much planning. Vibrant colors, making marks, brush strokes, scribbles, ethnic images, faces, maybe some words become a wearable piece of art that makes my heart sing.”
Alicia is also a two-time Fulbright Scholar, having participated in programs in Brazil and Argentina. As part of her Scholar Program in Argentina, she helped to establish a ‘Murga’ in an elementary school in Cordoba.
“Murgas are Argentina’s young who use found objects as instruments and write hip-hop poetry and music. We obtained a grant that provided instruments, as well as music and art teachers who worked with students and staff at the school to produce incredible performances.”
Tragedy has served as motivation for Alicia, as well. She has lost a brother and her only child to gun violence. As a result, she has been very vocal throughout New Haven, raising awareness of the issues our community needs to address, particularly gun violence.
“The impact of violence in our communities is destroying us; the loss of life and the pain and suffering that families endlessly endure is taking its toll and we must do something about it.”
Nevertheless, Alicia says she is encouraged by the community activism she has seen throughout our Greater New Haven region and the country of late. Though it may be fueled by the political climate, as well as other recent national events, it is still symbolic of a larger shift in opinion of what will help everyone succeed.
“I once read a quote about success that resonated with me: ‘The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire, the size of your dream and how you handle disappointment along the way.’ I believe we as individuals and as a community have the passion, desire and urgency to work to make this a better place. I am encouraged by the community activism; I feel this is the time for our Latino community to be recognized as a powerful force in our region and in the nation.”