Lourdes Ventura was sworn in as a judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York on Dec. 18 at Queens Borough Hall, the same venue where, as a child, she accompanied her mother to translate at a housing court proceeding. The eldest of three children, Ventura was born in Queens to immigrants from the Dominican Republic. She was educated in public schools in Corona and Elmhurst. The family spoke only Spanish at home. “In essence, I learned English at school,” said Ventura. Even as a young girl, she often served as a translator for family and friends. On one of those occasions, she met an attorney who encouraged her to become one. Ventura resisted until winning a four-year graduate fellowship at SUNY Buffalo, which she used to pursue her Juris Doctor degree and a master’s in social work. The lifelong Queens resident is a former prosecutor for the Queens District Attorney’s Office and a former assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Bureau of the state Attorney General’s Office and served in the state Senate in various staff positions. Her interest in a life of public service was nurtured early. After her parents divorced, her mother went on public assistance for a time to help with food and raising her children. “Because we had it kind of difficult, once my mom started working,” Ventura said, “she always did more and cooked more because she said you never know who’s going to walk through our door” and need help or a meal. “I think that’s where the desire came from,” she said. “My mom always talked about growing up with values, growing up humble, growing up helping others.”
When I started kindergarten at PS 19 in Corona in 1977, I was in a bilingual program. But we moved and I went to PS 14 where they didn’t have that, and I had to catch up quickly. I must have been 6 years old, but I still remember trying to speak in class, to say something in English, and because I pronounced something differently, the kids used to laugh. There was a student named Jewel, and we ended up being really close friends because she came up to me and helped me and tried to understand what I was saying. By 3rd grade, I finally was on par with everyone.
In the 4th grade, I got into the band and from then through IS 61 until I graduated from Newtown HS in 1989, I played the clarinet. My parents were able to see me perform and it gave me more confidence.
At IS 61, my 6th-grade math teacher, Richard Farkas, wanted things a certain way, like homework. He would make us draw a grid of sorts on the loose-leaf sheet and everything had to be a certain way: problem solving was to the left and the answers were to the right. He had a demerit system if you didn’t do it and then a reward system. He was strict, and I appreciated that. We couldn’t be perfect, but he tried to get us close to perfection. He was very specific, and he was very clear in what he wanted. I’m very particular in how I like things done, and Mr. Farkas helped shape that.
I would visit my teachers over the years because my brother and sister went to the same schools and I would always go back to parent-teacher conferences with their teachers to translate for my mom. Even though she didn’t understand English or speak it, my mom was always there. She said it was important for the teacher to know she cared and wanted us to do well.
My gym teacher in the junior year of high school, Mr. Kunkel, encouraged me to join a team. I’m not a sports person, but he asked if I could run. I said yes, and he put me on the soccer team. Later, I played volleyball for Miss Hromiko. The things I learned from them — including being a team player, planning, negotiating plays and strategy — totally help as an attorney.
Years later, when I was graduating from law school, Mr. Farkas introduced me to politics and Democratic Party leaders in Queens, including Danny Dromm, who was a public school teacher for 25 years and is now a member of the New York City Council. He was starting the New Visions Democratic Club and I was there at the beginning. He became a friend and helped guide me.
The other day, my little guy — I have two sons — was singing his school song. He said, “I bet you don’t remember your school song.” I actually do remember the PS 14 school song, and I sang it for him.