Cervantes Society kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month with opening ceremony
The Cervantes Society of the Courts of the State of New York hosted its 24th annual Hispanic Heritage Month opening ceremony celebration at the Kings County Supreme Court on Friday, with chef Suzette Montalvo as this year’s keynote speaker.
Justice Francois Rivera served as the master of ceremony for this year’s celebration and the theme was “one endless voice to enhance our traditions.”
“We love our traditions,” said Justice Rivera. “We love our traditions; we believe they are worthy of enhancement and not disappearance.”
Much like last year’s event, this celebration started with a pause as organizers remembered those who died during Hurricane Maria or are still living in its aftermath. Justice Rivera also dedicated a moment to the people in the Carolinas dealing with Hurricane Florence.
Festivities started with court officer Edwin Colon leading the audience, which included many of Brooklyn’s judges and court employees, in the pledge of allegiance. Sgt. Michael Garcia read the invocation and Raquel Acevedo-Klein, the daughter of the Brooklyn Eagle’s own sketch artist Alba Acevedo, sang the national anthem.
The speakers included Major Luz Bryan, the longtime president of the Cervantes Society, and Hon. Lawrence Knipel, the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. Both spoke briefly before Justice Rivera introduced chef Montalvo.
“We always try to bring in interesting people as our guest speakers,” Bryan said. “We’ve had authors, painters, artists, actresses and this year we have a chef. I think her story will awe you and inspire you.”
Montalvo owns a food truck in Long Island named A New Yorican Thing. When he introduced her, Justice Rivera called himself a New Yorican — a Puerto Rican born in New York.
Montalvo, who was born in Harlem in the 1960s, talked about growing up and watching her mother and abuela (grandmother) cooking in the kitchen. She explained that it could be frustrating at times because they never used measurements, but that she has very fond memories of these times.
She now spends much of her time passing on the same traditions to her own daughters, who often help her, along with most of the rest of the family, in the food truck.
“The sights and smells still make me smile — the live chickens, the pigs, the vegetables, the noise. It was all so exciting as a child,” Montalvo said. “My abuela’s love showed through her cooking.
“My mother and abuela were cooking addicts,” she continued. “These two women together, it was something special and as I look back I realize how truly lucky I had been to experience those moments. Who else walks in after school with a pig in an apartment with blood dripping into a bucket to take to my uncle’s house upstate. I don’t even want to know how they got that pig into the elevator without anyone seeing. These were the times you heard the stories of your family, your past.”
Justice Rivera said that he could practically smell the lard from his own grandmother’s sofrito when Montalvo was talking.
“Really, what we’re talking about is our household, a loving household,” Justice Rivera said. “And that love is expressed jointly in a family way in the cooking, and here she was able to take that and give her family love to all of you. The other part that is so wonderful is how her family was able to come around her and support her.”
The Cervantes Society is hosting a few other Hispanic Heritage Month events, including salsa classes and a Zumba class. On Oct. 11 there will be an event in the Family Court and on Oct. 12, another one will be held in the Criminal Court.
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