Our Culture Inchoate: Torres Personal #13
Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Congresswoman Honoria Torres talks about her early story with CNF Josh Tanner.
CNF MORNING SHOW, Wednesday, January 30, 2019
JOSH TANNER, HOST (JT): Good morning, viewers! I want to show a brief interview CNF did yesterday with maverick democratic congresswoman from New Jersey, Honoria Torres. But I want to stay away from the political, and get personal. Who is this lady?
CUT TO TAPE
JT: Welcome, Congresswoman Torres. Thanks for being here in our New York studio.
TORRES (T): Thanks for having me, Josh.
JT: You have been making waves, and some say you are the clear contender for the speaker’s gavel if our current speaker fails in her, uh, game of chicken with the president.
T: Well, I’m glad you want to know more about me, haha. I don’t think the speaker is failing. I have stated repeatedly that she is using a mule-headed tactic. No wall, never, is a bad position because it is the only thing Mr. Trump wants. Essentially there is no negotiation. By giving him the appearance of a wall-victory, the democrats can ask for virtually everything the caucus wants for generations in respect to immigration. But it seems like we’re flat-footed, again. Not unlike republicans, I might add.
JT: What do you mean?
T: I have not been privy to the negotiating committee’s discussions, so I am just speculating. But it seems to me that if Trump really wants a win in a situation that seems intractable, he can say he’ll forgo the wall for now. Then the republicans can put together their immigration plan. Any democrat who votes against what the republicans propose, that does not have a wall or fence initially, would be risking their own credibility. But I suspect that is too complicated or nuanced for this president to see. What this is really about is Trump wanting to win, and Speaker Pelosi wanting him to lose. I don’t think the democratic or republican leadership wants to do the people’s work. It’s irresponsible.
JT: What will happen when the 21 days of this pause is up?
T: I have no idea. Except that both sides will probably not blink, and the nation loses.
JT: Let’s talk about you. Most of what we know is in bits and pieces… can you tell us about your formative years?
T: You know, Josh, I can’t thank you enough for asking me to clarify many misconceptions. So I’ll start with my parents… my Mom and Dad were married in 1979. My Dad had served 3 years stateside in the Marines, and entered the Eastfield Police Academy a month after his discharge. I came a year later, in 1980.
In 1984 my Dad was killed on duty in a snowstorm directing traffic around an accident on Route 287. He was only 28. Four days before Christmas. I remember almost nothing, and only photos from before then trigger anything at all. It is safe to say my mother still grieves for him every day.
JT: I am so very sorry. So you were raised by a single mother?
T: Technically, yes, but I would not characterize it like that. My Mom’s Mom, my Nana, lived with us at the time, and she lived with us up until her passing ten years ago. I was raised by two strong independent, and inter-dependent, women.
T: Sure. They had their jobs, and they pooled resources and strengths to make it all work. I would describe my childhood as idyllic… I never wanted for anything. I didn’t know we were poor when we were poor. There was always a lot of activity and relatives and friends about. Everything revolved around dinner hour, and on weekends that lasted from noon until 8 or 9 pm!
JT: What did they do?
T: Mom was a teachers’ aid, crossing guard, and lunch lady at the local grammar school, the one I attended. And she worked that job until the boys were born. Nana worked at a bank in Manhattan until she could retire. Then it seemed like she was the monitor for all my class trips until I went to college, haha.
JT: Your clearest memory of your grandmother?
T: She was always well-coiffed, bright nails, very fashionable as a dresser. She said her job demanded she always look her best, and Nana was no slouch when it came to her beauty treatments. She was gorgeous, very youthful.
JT: And you thought about politics as a young girl?
T: Oh, Lord, no. Not an inkling. But I did well in school, and always loved reading. Both Nana and my Mom did, too, and that was a favorite activity growing up. We had TV but avoided it. Too negative, too much of a waste of time, they said, haha.
T: I am a Jersey girl, born and bred, but I was handed an academic scholarship to a small school in Upstate New York… St Bonaventure University.
JT: A Bonnie!
T: Yes, a very proud and happy one. I majored in History, and got my Masters in the same field from Rutgers, at night, while I was teaching, focusing on the post-Revolutionary War period up through Jefferson’s administration. My thesis was on the Barbary pirates early 19th century.
JT: And you wrote a book?
T: Yes, a novel based on that time. Nothing biographical, I assure you. I’m a little young for that, haha. It was my great effort, and sold a whopping 523 copies. So, as you may guess, my vocation remained with teaching.
JT: Tell us about your teaching career.
T: I was graduated from Bonas in May, 2001. And I was engaged to be married the following June, to my husband, John. We met the summer before when I interned at a law firm his older sister, Lucia, worked at… she introduced us! Yes, immediate attraction, and he proposed when I graduated. My Mom insisted on us waiting a year, which we grudgingly agreed to. I wanted to teach, and to have a family, and the world seemed like it was a beautiful present for John and me that summer of 2001. I was fortunate to get a position teaching American History to middle schoolers beginning that September.
JT: And then 9/11.
T: And then 9/11. John was loading trucks part time for UPS, and slowly taking community college courses… he is not a book kind of guy, has always been restless and physical. I was living with my Mom in the house I grew up in, the neighborhood we called the Garden. He was living with his parents in the Copperwood section of Eastfield.
T: Sure. The “hoi-polloi” section, haha. John’s father is a very successful man, who emigrated from Cuba in his late teens, just before Castro took over. That’s a great story for another time.
JT: Yes, intriguing. We will want to hear much more of that… But 9/11…
T: Yes. Remember how everyone was? Patriotic, kind to one another, but angry, and then a month later the anthrax nonsense… well, John just up and joined the Marines. It threw a wrench in our wedding plans, but he had to see it through. I am very proud of his decision and his service. We all are.
JT: Tell us what you felt.
T: Let me tell you what happened, and then you may get a glimpse into how I felt. He was off to boot camp a month later, about November. I didn’t see him for three plus months, and during that time we would write, and I was anxious… more anxious about the wedding than his safety, to be honest. I was young, selfish, and I wanted his commitment to be at our weeding in June, no matter what. I cried. I yelled. I actually thought he was trying to get out of marrying me. I think now that if he saw me then he would have run for the hills.
JT: You didn’t want him in the service.
T: No, no. I knew he had to do this, for himself, for his family, me, friends, everything. He had to do it. But, ha, we had to get married. I disliked, intensely, being away from him. We had long separations when I was away at school, and the summer of 2001 was wonderful. I wanted that back, in a bad way, haha.
JT: When did you marry?
T: After boot camp, he had one week to report to infantry school. We married on March 3rd, 2002, a Sunday. We were going to do a civil ceremony, but on impulse my Mom asked the parish priest to do something special just for us and the Torres family. Well, the word got out, and the church was packed for the five o’clock Mass. It was a wonderful day. We honeymooned at the Holiday Inn in Eastfield, and off he went to infantry school. Six months later he was deployed to the Middle East.
JT: Did you see John much?
T: No. He missed the birth of our daughter, Jane, in December, named after my mother. I was petrified for him. He made two in country deployments, one to Iraq, one to Afghanistan. He was wounded in Afghanistan, and came home in 2004.
JT: Is he…
T: He’s fine. Was then, and is now. He received his honorable discharge as a sergeant, was decorated, and now owns his own business.
JT: What does he do?
T: He’s a personal trainer. Used to have his own gym, but he now makes the lion’s share of his money as a personal trainer for dedicated clients. He loves the work, takes it very seriously, measures progress for his clients, really notes and plans everything. And his work provides for great flexibility with taking care of the boys!
JT: Your smile tips me off… you really like a big family, don’t you?
T: Now, that’s an understatement! The triplets were born in 2010. John never told me, but multiple births actually happen in his family every other generation or so. Three boys… they keep you young and busy! Carlos, William, and Mickey. Carlos named after John’s father; William, Bill, after my father; and Mickey is a tip of the cap to my father’s, and my old, nickname, Mac.
JT: Sounds like you have the bases covered. Any more kids on the horizon? Good Catholic pro-life, and all that?
T: Have triplet boys and ask any woman alive if she’s up for more of a challenge. Haha. Probably not. But you never know… Look, I have a perfect family now. I have a demanding career away from home, and if not for my husband’s dedication and flexibility, and my mother’s huge heart and patience, this dynamic wouldn’t work. I think you understand.
JT: I do. Your Catholicism… Does that come first in your life?
T: I say with no shame that God, and faith, are central to my life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t separate being Catholic from secular government and legislative responsibilities. I do find it odd that people ask me about my faith, challenge it publicly, but if I was Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or agnostic, no one would say a word.
JT: Will the country be first? Or being Catholic?
T: Asked and answered. Look, having faith is good for me, and tens of millions of Americans who love God without wearing it on their sleeve. My husband jokes that he’s a mechanical Catholic… goes to mass, lives within the boundaries of the Ten Commandments, knows and embraces the sacraments, donates time and money to the poor… all things that someone of any faith would say is central. I have sworn a duty to discharge my responsibilities and uphold the Constitution. To imply otherwise of a Catholic or a Christian, in 2019, is absurd. And wrong. For the record, because of my absences from my kids while I am doing the people’s work in Washington, I have gotten very very prayerful. It started when John was overseas. But I pray now, more than ever, for my family’s health and happiness, and our nation’s security, and yes, its very soul.
JT: The separation sounds trying…
T: The separation is trying, yes. I live with three women in Washington, all involved with politics, and I commute every weekend. It’s a short hop on the train or occasionally, plane. We make it work. Or I should say, John and my Mom make it work. But I should mention that my eldest, Jane, has really been a surrogate mother to my boys. She’s bright, brilliant, and beautiful, and the boys respond to her, no matter how zany they get. She graduates from high school this May.
JT: You must be very proud. Where will she go to school?
T: She’s been accepted, early, to Rutgers and Seton Hall. She applied to a couple DC schools, too, and I think that’s where her heart is… she has a bit of Potomac fever, I’m afraid.
JT: Will everyone move to DC if Jane comes to school here?
T: Whoa, you’re way ahead of us. I don’t know. We haven’t discussed it.
JT: Congresswoman Torres, thank you for speaking with us, and clarifying some of your background. We have another minute… care to fill in any blanks?
T: Sure, thanks. I did want to say expressly my faith is foundational, and is very important not just to me, but to my family. I think New Jerseyans all embrace their own faith. It comes with living here. People joke about New Jersey, and even though we are in the shadow of New York City, life is very pleasant and bountiful here. The summers are awesome. We live in a state where, in season, you can sunbathe at the shore or ski down the mountains, all less than an hour away. In any season you have the cultural center of New York sports and Broadway shows and a huge melting pot of cultures. And great pizza!
JT: Thank you, Congresswoman Honoria Torres. We look forward to speaking with you again, soon!