Criminal court hosts second annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration
The Kings County and Richmond County criminal courts joined together to host the second annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn on Friday. This year’s theme was “Sueños,” or “Dreams” in English.
“Welcome to our celebration of the Hispanic Heritage Month in the Brooklyn criminal court and for the first time including Richmond County Criminal Court,” said Justice Evelyn J. Laporte, the mistress of ceremonies for the event. “Last year we celebrated this event for the first time and it was a huge success.”
Supervising Judge Michael Yavinsky welcomed Laporte along with the keynote speaker Surrogate Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres and Justices Frederick C. Arriaga and Raymond L. Rodriguez as part of the celebration. Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Kings County Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio and President of the Puerto Rican Bar Association Betty Lugo also took part in the event, and court employee Sara L. Perez was presented with the Hispanic Employee of the Year Award during the ceremony.
“The word of the day for me today is ‘exceptional,’” Yavinsky said. “So frequently I use that word to describe how we work here at 120 Schermerhorn St. Usually it is when it’s describing statistics, arrest or arraignment times, the number of cases that are pending, that’s dropping, but today we use the word exceptional to describe the people.”
The celebration featured the Parade of Hispanic Country Flags and the United States of America in which court employees representing 19 different Hispanic countries plus the U.S. brought out flags honoring each country. The parade was followed by “Leyenda Hispana,” a tribute to outstanding Hispanic figures including Mario Vargas Llosa, Roberto Clemente, Celia Cruz and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor.
“Let me congratulate all of the people of Hispanic culture,” Seddio said. “This is a great month for people from all of the Hispanic countries. We’re going to enjoy the whole month and not just today and not just in the courts, but throughout the borough of Brooklyn.”
In the deputy borough president’s speech, she thanked the employees of the criminal court before highlighting some of the success of its Hispanic employees.
“There is a negative connotation when we go to court, but it can also be a celebration, a moment when we come together and understand the human aspect of what we do and who we are,” Reyna said.
After a musical performance by Mariachi Estrella Juvenil, Justice Arriaga introduced Lopez Torres, who was the first female surrogate court judge in New York state. Lopez Torres discussed the conditions that her family, and many others, experienced as they migrated to New York in the 1950s. She said that although they had very little money, it was her family’s dedication to education that helped them to survive.
“My mother valued education and was adamant that we take school seriously,” Lopez Torres said. “We were raised to pursue education as a way to escape the rough and tumble neighborhoods of Brownsville and East New York where we lived. My four siblings became educators and my mom would have been proud to know that my daughter became a high school counselor in a NYC high school and my son became a firefighter in the FDNY.”
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