From Arjona to Pawtucket: Juan Pablo Barrera’s Journey of Perseverance and Triumph

Juan Pablo Barrera is like a child prodigy politician. He was born for the job; it’s his purpose in life.

I first met Juan Pablo in Pawtucket’s political circles. Initially, I knew he was a Colombian immigrant, and as I got to know him, I realized there was so much more to his story. I soon learned that he was the genesis and the force behind an idea to make Pawtucket and his native city, Arjona in Colombia, sister cities. I also learned that he was championing the idea of an inner-city mission for bilingualism. I was hooked.

Donna with Juan Pablo Barrera

I have long been a fan of the Colombian community. I learned my Spanish from Colombians and Dominicans. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Colombia several times. Also, as the existence of my show “Que Onda Con Donna” demonstrates, I am a huge fan of bilingualism.

I watched with interest as the sister city theme and the idea of bilingualism advanced. I knew intrinsically that I wanted to be part of this mission, so when the delegation was forming to actually visit Arjona I knew I was not missing the opportunity to advance this mission.

Plaza Principal de Arjona

On this trip, I got to know Juan Pablo even better. He occasionally drove me around in an armored SUV that he bought during his dangerous days as an Arjona City Councilor and Secretary General… back when the FARC weighed ominously and heavily.

In fact, we all got to know each other better. Mayor James Diossa, Senator Sandra Cano, Representative Jean Philippe Barros and Representative Carlos Tobon were all on that trip, along with Mr. Yip, Sammy and Pawtucket fabulous Director of School Curriculum Jennifer Carney.

Juan Pablo Barrera and Pawtucket, Rl Mayor Don Grebien in Arjona

I remember at one point we were all eating, sitting around a table in one of Cartagena’s restaurants. The conversation was spirited and robust: how can we advance our sister city relationship and how can we advance the mission of bilingualism.

During that conversation, I thought to myself, wow, what a great moment in history and all of this came to be because Juan Pablo Barrera dared to dream. Even in exile, he found a way to help his beloved Arjona and help its children become bilingual to fare better in our global world and economy.

Juan Pablo’s life is extraordinary, and he’s only in his 40s. I have great expectations and hopes for this talented and passionate young man. His story is one of purpose and political intrigue, courage and political asylum, love and the pain of separation, perseverance and triumph.

Juan Pablo Barrera, Rep. Carlos Tobon and Pawtucket, RI School Department’s Jennifer Carney in Arjona

You can’t believe what happened to this guy and how he got to where he is today. Surrounded by his beautiful wife, Patricia, his daughter Briana who was born during his exile and his beautiful son Johan de Dieu. Juan Pablo and his family are extraordinary.

His journey is inspiring and what he has dared to do even with danger knocking on his door is beyond courageous. His story is uncovered, revealed and divulged on the next episode of “Que Onda Con Donna!” “Sintonice…” or check it out now!

“¿Que Onda? con Donna” can be seen on YurView – Cox Channels 4 and 1004 – Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 8:30pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8pm.

The author, Donna M. Nesselbush, is a founding partner at Marasco & Nesselbush Law, a Rhode Island State Senator and Municipal Court Judge for the City of Pawtucket. She hosts a Spanish language Saturday morning radio show on Latina 100.3 FM and the “¿Que Onda? con Donna” TV show.