Brooklyn celebrates Hispanic Heritage at Criminal Court
The Brooklyn Criminal Court held its annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Friday, the last held by a local court, where it honored a court officer as employee of the year and invited back a former judge in the court as the keynote speaker.
“Here at the criminal court, we are as busy as any other court and work just as hard or harder, but I am so happy to be a part of a place where we can take moments like this, take a deep breath, look around and celebrate what we bring to the table every day,” said Hon. Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Criminal Court. “The diversity, the cultural tapestry that we have in Brooklyn is unbelievable and something that should be celebrated on a regular basis.”
Hon. Connie Mallafre Melendez served as mistress of ceremony for the event. She opened by pointing out some of the court’s Latino judges who had helped with event including Hon. Raymond Rodriguez, Hon. Keshia Espinal, Hon. Fred Arriaga, Hon. Edwin Novillo and herself.
“When we think of Hispanic culture, we often think of Latin music and our fabulous food, but there is so much to our Latino heritage,” Judge Mallafre Melendez said. “Ours is a culture rich in history, literature, scientific accomplishment and engineering. Ours is a culture of excellence and accomplishment. Right here in this courthouse you have five judges that personify and represent Latino achievement.”
ABOVE: From left: Hon. Frederick Arriaga, Hon. Raymond Rodriguez, Hon. Connie Mallafre Melendez, Hon. Joanne Quinones, Hon. Michael Yavinsky, Hon. Evelyn Laporte, Hon. Sylvia Ash, Hon. Keshia Espinal, Hon. Reinaldo E. Rivera, Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres, Hon. Genine D. Edwards and Hon. Edwin Novillo.
When Judge Espinal introduced Justice Laporte, she talked about growing up without a lot of Hispanic jurists to look up to, adding that Justice Laporte was an early mentor of hers when she became a judge.
“Coming up as an ADA, as a lawyer, or even growing up a little Dominican girl in Queens and going to court for the first time, I never saw judges who looked like me, who sounded like me or my family,” Judge Espinal said. “When I met her, it was like a breath of fresh air. In her I saw my family and my future here in this judicial system. She embodied what I had seen my entire life growing up — which is that Latino women are strong, powerful, confident and there is nothing [we] can’t do when we put our minds to it.”
Justice Laporte’s speech was focused on strong, dedicated and determined women, which in her life meant her mother and two sisters. She explained that while she didn’t have a lot growing up, she always had those three for help and inspiration. They also instilled in her the importance of education.
“I am the luckiest woman in the world because God gave me three mothers: my mother and two sisters,” Justice Laporte said. “My success is based on what they showed me. The word education was very important in my vocabulary and it was the main recipe for success. They didn’t tell me to be the greatest student or go to the best schools. It was just important that I went.
ABOVE: From left: Elliott S. Martin, Hon. Amanda White, Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres, Hon. Raymond Rodriguez, Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, Hon. Evelyn Laporte, Steve Cohn, Hon. Michael Yavinsky, Hon. Edwin Novillo, Hon. Keshia Espinal, Hon. Frederick C. Arriaga and Hon. Connie Mallafre Melendez.
“School was not easy,” Laporte continued. “Especially when I didn’t know any English at all and went to college to learn. It took me 10 years and I was working full time, too. But I remembered how hard my mother and sisters worked throughout their lives. I had to work hard too. I saw them do the best for their lives, that’s what I did.”
Following Justice Laporte’s speech, the Sunset Park-based dance group Ballet Folklorico Quetzalcoatl performed a pair of dances. They took a brief pause to allow Judge Edwin Novillo to present court officer Juan Suriel with the Criminal Court Employee of the Year Award.
“Having had the privilege of living the American dream, this means paying homage to the many Latinos who have provided me with the opportunity to stand here before you,” said Judge Novillo.
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