Celina Vasquez

Brazos County Justice of the Peace

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How long have you been a justice of the peace?

Two years, six months. I was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2019.

Before you won election, what kind of work did you do? How did you get interested in running for office?

I’m the daughter of Mexican immigrants with generational roots in Texas and California. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Latino studies and master’s degrees in government and business administration from Texas Woman’s University and taught government at Blinn College and Mountain View College. Since childhood, I have served as an advocate for my parents in navigating systems like health care, education and local government. As a volunteer in our community and an assistant coach for my son’s soccer team, I helped parents of our student-athletes navigate the truancy court system. Because the Latino community values “maestras,” or teachers, our families asked me for help, and I assisted simply by being a bridge for them. Eventually, families from the Bryan Regional Athletic Complex asked me to run to change a system that was not working for them.

What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office?

One of the biggest surprises was the complexity and scope of the actual day-to-day work, from moving civil and criminal cases through the court to responding to the death of one of our community members. The biggest adjustment has been to wake up in the middle of the night to respond to an inquest and to realize and come to terms that I am also a “first responder.” Providing comfort during a person’s most traumatic or painful moment requires not only empathy but also an ability to adjust to the needs of the family — all the while balancing the needs of my own family and maintaining a strong support system.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you have faced and what advice would you give your peers across the state who may face similar challenges?

For a while now, the mantra of local government has been to do more with less. Our court inherited a backlog of cases that seemed insurmountable due to institutional barriers such as a smaller staff and smaller budget for our minority- majority precinct. Our Precinct 4 team has successfully tackled a third of our backlog by using Zoom hearings to streamline processes, which has enabled us to work more efficiently and quickly. It also has increased revenue countywide.

I have brought the “people’s court” to the community! I have given members of our community who work nontraditional hours the opportunity to appear in court during their lunch break or after 5 p.m. This has reduced the fear associated with appearing in court and helped me earn the trust of the community I serve. My advice would be to attend as many trainings as possible to share best practices and build relationships with peers across the state. And don’t hesitate to ask for help from the experts at the Texas Justice Court Training Center. They have decades of experience we can all rely on!

Since taking office, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

We’ve worked to make the court more accessible to the community we serve by conducting court hearings in Spanish, providing culturally competent information such as a courtesy letter in Spanish to all law enforcement agencies to provide to the customers we serve and by encouraging jury service through education and outreach in the Latino and African American communities to help diversify the jury pools of Brazos County. We want to dispel misconceptions about how the justice of the peace system works.

What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of Brazos County to communicate what your office is doing and why?

Meeting the community where they live, work and worship. I also communicate through our Spanish radio stations, La Voz Hispana, La Jefa and KEOS community public radio. I created a newsletter and delivered it door to door to our residents. I’ve used texting to reach our young adults and have sent text messages for “warrant forgiveness” and court appearance reminders.

What do you do when you’re not at work? Do you have any hobbies or something unique that you are interested in that may surprise your colleagues?

One of the greatest accomplishments of my life is being mom to my son, Diego. I serve as team mom for our Bryan United baseball team. I enjoy watching our team play baseball and helping them develop their leadership skills. I enjoy reading and teaching Diego our native language of Spanish, and I enjoy traveling with my family to state capitals and presidential museums. I also love dancing cumbias, salsa and bachata and listening to norteño music!

What is your favorite thing about Brazos County?

I love our familia friendly comunidad and our quality of life here en el Valle de Brazos because, to borrow a quote from the current U.S. secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, “I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.” The rich diversity of the Latino community helps shape and build our county and make it stronger!