When you ask Jose Casa what he does for a living he says, “I get paid to talk trash.”
His answer — delivered with a comedian’s expert timing — clearly oversimplifies the important role Jose has played at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) for almost three decades. An Associate Director of Environmental Services, Jose is responsible for helping to maintain the cleanliness of MSK’s facilities and provide our patients, visitors, and staff with a comfortable, safe environment.
Like Father, Like Son
Jose was raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, by his Puerto Rican mother, Elizabeth, and Italian father, Antonio, who emigrated to the United States, arriving via Ellis Island.
Antonio suffered a fatal heart attack in his late 60s. Jose, then a teen, wanted to look after his mother and two sisters. So, following in his father’s footsteps — who was a career Army man and a World War II veteran — Jose joined the U.S. Navy to pay for college and help defray his family’s expenses.
“I decided Mom wasn’t going to struggle to pay for my school. … I’m going to get this done myself,” Jose recalls.
Jose was accepted into a competitive program that trains naval candidates to become commissioned officers. He attended the State University of New York Maritime College and Fordham University, where he studied computer science. Instead of attending his college graduation, Jose married his high school sweetheart, Nydia, and shipped off to San Diego Naval Station — on the same day.
Jose spent much of the next four years deployed on an ammunition ship during Operation Desert Storm. After seeing a number of his shipmates miss their children’s births and early childhoods, Jose decided to leave the Navy.
“All of my decisions have been family-oriented. … To this day, I do what I do because of family,” he says.
He and Nydia moved to a suburb of New Jersey. While looking for a job that matched his military skill set, Jose learned his best friend, Joey, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jose drove more than 50 miles every day for a year so the two could spend time together.
When Joey passed away, Jose prayed for a way to honor him. His prayers were answered when an MSK recruiter reached out about an open role.
Jose joined MSK in 1995. He served as a coordinator in the Parking department of the Facilities Management division for six years. During this time, he met a colleague who told Jose he “worked with trash.” Jose was intrigued and asked for a job transfer — even though it meant taking a pay cut.
“People called me crazy, but they didn’t understand the promise I made to Joey and my purpose,” says Jose. “I was focused on giving back and ensuring that people who had the same disease as Joey had the best quality of life possible.”
Music to Their Ears
Jose has found another way to give back. For the past several years, he has DJ’ed the New Year’s Eve celebration for MSK patients and their caregivers, hosted by the MSK Charles Hallac Patient Recreation Center.
He also DJs the annual Strides of Life event, hosted by the American Cancer Society at MetLife Stadium.
Spinning music has been a passion of Jose’s since age 10, when he and his friends would park-hop throughout Brooklyn to hear DJs spin on summer nights. His mom bought Jose his first turntables with a tax return; now, he has thousands of records. Jose credits the hobby for keeping him and his friends out of trouble.
The Importance of Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month
For Jose, Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month is an opportunity to take stock of the strides he has made, as well as uplift those in his community.
“This month is a celebration of folks, such as me, who have come from challenging backgrounds. We are celebrating our success, our accomplishments, and our seat at the table, so to speak. We pay homage to those who have worked so hard to better their lives and the lives of their families.”
He adds: “I celebrate colleagues and staff that continue to make a difference every day.”