Cultural competency at center for new San Jose spokeswoman
Carolina Camarena, director of communications for the city of San Jose. Photo courtesy of the city of San Jose.

    As the need for information is heightened during the pandemic, San Jose has selected a new leader to communicate with the public from City Hall.

    Carolina Camarena — San Jose’s public information manager and emergency public information co-lead since July — will serve as director of communications for City Manager Dave Sykes.

    She replaces former city spokeswoman Rosario Neaves who left the post in July.

    “I am feeling honored and humbled to serve as the Director of Communications,” Camarena, a San Jose native, told San José  Spotlight. “My first job was at the San Jose flea market. We spent weekends at the Japanese friendship garden as children … I absolutely adore the city.”

    After graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz, Camarena began her two decade public service career working as communications coordinator for former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer.

    Camarena most recently served as a spokeswoman for the city’s parks, recreation and neighborhood services department. She has also worked in the City Manager’s Office and the Environmental Services Department.

    “Few people know our community and our organization as well as Carolina,” Sykes said. “I am excited to see her leverage her significant experience and insights to ensure we can communicate effectively and equitably with all parts of our community. ”

    Camarena will take the reins from Sykes’ chief of staff, Lee Wilcox, who was tapped to oversee high-level communications while the city conducted a nationwide search after Neaves left.

    The city’s emergency communications’ focus has been reaching out to communities  most affected by COVID-19, which tend to be non-English-speaking communities, according to Camarena.

    As director of the city manager’s communications team, Camarena wants to continue prioritizing communications residents who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and other languages. She said it’s important to her to not only reach these groups, but make messaging culturally appropriate.

    After talking with diverse members of San Jose city staff and residents, Camarena found Vietnamese residents were more responsive to messaging that comes from authorities such as doctors, while Latinx communities responded to messaging surrounding the value of family. This input was used to create targeted COVID-19 messaging to resonate with residents.

    Some city messages included doctors urging people to wear a mask while others depicted a mother and child sporting masks.

    An ad in Vietnamese created by San Jose’s emergency response team.
    An example of an ad in Chinese created by San Jose’s emergency response team.
    An example of an COVID-19 testing ad in Spanish created by San Jose’s emergency response team.

    “Those are the nuances that are very important,” Camarena said. “So it’s not just about the language, it’s also about the visuals.”

    She said she’s also looking forward to bringing back “old school” methods of communication, including phone calls, and going door to door.

    Camarena has won several awards for her communications projects. She recently won the 2020 Award of Distinction from the California Association of Public Information Officials for an “Explore Your Park” event.

    Camarena lives in San Jose’s Evergreen neighborhood with her family. When not working, she can be found enjoying the peace at one of the city’s parks.

    “Carolina’s admirable commitment and deep passion for her community continues to benefit our residents in her role as PIO for the EOC,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “She is widely recognized for her unwavering dedication and collaborative spirit and we look forward to great things from her as the new Communications Director for the City Manager.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.


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