Councilwoman Leticia Fraga was sworn into office on January 2018, becoming the first Lantinx ever elected to Princeton Municipal Government. Leticia connected with us during quarantine to share what she’s been up to.
Arts Council of Princeton: How are you adjusting to life in quarantine?
Leticia Fraga: My work on council and the committees I serve on have kept me pretty busy – I would say even more so than pre-quarantine. I am council liaison to both Board of Health and the Human Services Commission – both critical municipal departments during the current health and economic crisis as we work to ensure the needs of our residents are being met.
Both my husband and I have been working remotely since early March, and our 16 year–old twins have also been home since the school district first instituted remote learning. We have been making the most of our situation. I am most grateful for my health and that I am in a position to be able to help others.
ACP: What’s a typical day for you during this time?
LF: Every day, I look at my calendar to remind myself of what virtual meetings are scheduled for the day. When I am not in meetings or doing committee related work, I spend most of my free time sewing masks.
ACP: What is the hardest thing for you right now? What gives you comfort? And, is there anything that you are enjoying about this time?
LF: It has been difficult not being able to spend time with family and friends. There are various milestones that we had been looking forward to celebrating that have now been postponed until next year.
It brings me comfort to see how caring and supportive our community has been during this crisis.
Sewing was never a hobby of mine and, although I have spent countless hours doing that during the pandemic, I still don’t consider it a hobby. However, I can honestly say that it has given me great joy and a sense of satisfaction with each mask I complete.
ACP: What is the first thing you want to do when we are free to gather again?
LF: Visit and hug my grandchildren.
ACP: How will this experience change us as a society, or you personally?
LF: We are all experiencing different levels of hardship – for the majority, it is the social interactions and outdoor activities. Sadly, too many families and individuals have been hit hard by the job loss and economic hardship. The pandemic has impacted all of us one way or another, and so I feel that the “apart but together” experience has brought us closer as a community. This experience has taught us to appreciate the little things we take for granted and as a society, it is my hope that we all acknowledge, appreciate and will support all of our “essential” workers – from first responders and health care providers, to our “low-skilled” workers who have continued to work while the rest of us shelter at home.
ACP: What words of encouragement would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
LF: This will pass. Change is a given and “normal” may be different from what we know, but we can decide to make it better. Meanwhile, sheltering at home could be an opportunity for each of us to learn something new or discover a hidden talent. There are virtual experiences and lessons available online, as well as countless “how- to” videos. It is also important to interact with others on a regular basis – by phone, Facetime or other means. I would encourage everyone to check in with family, friends and neighbors, especially individuals who may not have someone to interact with.
ACP: How did you get involved in the Sew Many Masks project? Was sewing already something you enjoyed doing before you started making masks?
LF: Aside from some occasional mending, sewing was not something I did regularly. I already owned a sewing machine that I first bought 16 years ago to make a baby quilt for one of my granddaughters. It had sat mostly in storage until last March, when we were hit by the pandemic. When I first learned during a Board of Health briefing that face coverings were recommended as a safety precaution, I decided to take my sewing machine out of storage. I found some face mask patterns online and how-to videos, then started sewing face masks for family and friends. The more I made, the easier it got. I then started sewing masks for volunteers who were out in the community helping others, and when I was asked to make masks for them to distribute to those they were serving, I was happy to comply.
I follow the Arts Council of Princeton on social media, and when I read about the Sew Many Masks project, I knew right away it was something I wanted to take part in. It is truly a community effort! I may not know who donated the fabric, who pre-cut it or who made the t-shirt yarn for the mask ties – but each time I complete a mask, I see it as a joint effort. It has become my favorite “apart but together” activity.
To date, I have turned in 100 masks for the Sew Many Masks project. I am working on a big batch using fabric I received from my friend Jess Deutch. It is a beautiful fabric and, together with other fabric I am using that used to belong to my mom, I expect to complete another 100+ masks in the next few days. When I am out and about and see individuals wearing masks, I may not be able to distinguish the ones I made from kits prepared by Sew Many Masks volunteers. However, when I use my own fabric or the one received from friends and family – I can easily recognize ones I sewed and when I do, it brings me great pleasure.
Aside from the Sew Many Masks project, I have been sewing other masks which I then give out to members of the community. To date, I have made and distributed more than 250 of those face masks. Combined with the batches I have made for the Sew Many Masks project, the number of masks I have completed is nearing 500. It is truly a labor of love. I have discovered that it is quite a therapeutic activity for me and, whenever I have free time – I look forward to sitting down at my new workstation to create many more masks. I have taught my kids how to sew the masks and, although they are not hooked as I am, they have appreciated the experience of learning a new skill. My husband has asked me how many more masks I plan to make. I don’t have a number in mind and have said that I will continue making them until they are no longer needed.
My daughter and I have also enjoyed painting during this time. While she has created art pieces to decorate her bedroom, I have painted dried gourds and turned them into birdhouses. It is another activity I have enjoyed – but sewing masks is where I have found my happy place during quarantine.
ACP: What are you reading or listening to?
LF: Although I am an avid reader, I have not made time to read anything that is not work-related. Music on the other hand, has kept me company while I sew. When my mother was in an assisted living facility, I created a special playlist for her of Mexican music that we grew up with and still love. We lost her earlier this year and now the playlist brings me comfort knowing it was what she listened to and enjoyed.
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Sworn into office on January 2018, Councilwoman Leticia Fraga is the first Latinx ever elected to Princeton Municipal Government. She currently serves as Princeton’s Police Commissioner, and is Council Liaison to various Boards and Commissions, including the Board of Health, the Civil Rights Commission, and the Human Services Commission. Councilwoman Fraga also serves on the Economic Development Task Force; the Local Emergency Planning Committee; the Public Safety Committee; the Personnel Committee and the Youth Advisory Committee.
Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Leticia is one of eight children. At the age of 12, she immigrated to the US, settling in Washington State with her family. Very early on, Leticia learned the importance of hard work and perseverance. During their first five years in the US, she worked in the fields, side by side with her siblings and parents. With their earnings, the Fraga family was eventually able to purchase their own plot of land on which they cultivated asparagus.
For the past 16 years, Leticia has worked to advance social justice in Princeton and surrounding areas. She has served on various commissions and local non-profit boards, including Princeton’s Civil Rights Commission and the Human Services Commission. She is the former Chair of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF); former member of the Board of Trustees of the Princeton YWCA; of Princeton Community Housing; and of the Princeton ‘Send Hunger Packing’ Initiative. Previous to the above roles, she worked as an Immigration Paralegal and also as a Civil Rights Specialist conducting investigations of discrimination complaints.
In many ways, Councilwoman Fraga’s story speaks to the persistent possibility of the American Dream. All the roads that she has traveled prepared her to serve in public office and to represent the people of Princeton. Her personal vision has been to make a significant and positive impact in her community by continuing to advocate for justice, equal rights and access to basic needs for all.