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Brooklyn Family Court’s seventh annual Hispanic heritage celebration focuses on service

October 14, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Family Court held its seventh annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday, showcasing Hispanic culture, and speaking about the contributions that Hispanic and Latino Americans have made to this country.

This year’s theme was “Hispanic-Americans: A History of Serving our Nation,” and the keynote speaker for the event was attorney Grace Bonilla.

“Our theme this year gives us the opportunity to reflect on and recognize the extensive service and commitment that Hispanic and Latino Americans have provided to our country,” said Hon. Amanda White, supervising judge of the Brooklyn Family Court. “Their contributions are vast and include service in the military, state local and federal government, the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, and more.

Argentinian folklore dancers perform to the music of Raices Surenas.

“That same commitment to service is reflected in our own diverse staff, including judges, court attorneys, court officers, clerks, other court staff, lawyers and pretty much everybody here,” said White.

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The event was organized by co-Chairs Hon. Javier Vargas and Hon. Jacqueline Williams with the help of Hon. Alicea Elloras-Ally, Sara Celestin, Latisha Sanchez, Mercedes Lokich and the 12 other members of the Hispanic Heritage Month committee.

“They carried a lot of the load and put in a lot of hours,” Judge Elloras-Ally said of the committee. “We thank you for that.”

Hon. Javier Vargas and Hon. Alicea Elloras-Ally (right) present Mizrain Cortes with a certificate of appreciation for helping to organize the event for the past five years.

Judge Vargas, who took to the podium wearing a pava, a straw hat that is common in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and the same robes that judges wear in Puerto Rico, commented on the commitment to service that many Hispanic-Americans have and he also introduced the keynote speaker.

“What a fantastic theme for this year,” Judge Vargas said. “We Latinos have served with dignity and pride for centuries in the state and federal government, in the court system, non-profits, the military and right here in the Kings County Family Court.”

Bonilla, a Brooklyn Law School graduate who serves as administrator of the Human Resources Administration, stood in front of all of the judges of the court and a few visiting from other courts, and joked that it was the scariest oral argument that she has ever had to make.

Tango dancers Maria Jose and Walter Perez.

Bonilla then explained that Hispanic-Americans not only to help themselves and their children but will also send money and resources back to the family members they left behind.

“I remember when I got my first job, my parents turned to me and asked how much I could give them to send my grandma,” Bonilla said. “It’s no surprise that I would dedicate my career to help those most vulnerable in New York City. It’s appropriate that I am here in Family Court because the people we help are the same.”

Among the highlights of the event were performances by Argentinian folklore dancers Raices Surenas and tango dancers Maria Jose and Walter Perez. Afterwards, each was presented with a certificate of appreciation, as was Mizrain Cortes, who has helped to organize the event for the past five years, but is moving her office to Manhattan.

The judges of the court showed their support for the event by showing up in force. Pictured from left: Hon. Chris Robles, Hon. Susan Quirk, Hon. Suzanne Adams, Hon. Javier Vargas, Hon. Diane Costanzo, Hon. Joanne Quinones, Hon. Ben Darvil and co-chair Hon. Jacqueline Williams.

Borough President Eric Adams also gave a brief speech that touched on how American society often applies a double standard to Hispanic-Americans, and stressed the importance of being vigilant about protecting the community.

Before the event ended, Judge Elloras-Ally and Judge Williams both reflected upon it and thanked the guests.

“The food, the music and the spirit of community are a critical part of this program,” Judge Williams said. “Each year, we have brought together the members of our community that celebrate the arts and those that are able to share a little bit more of the current day’s events, and the theme this year focused on contribution and service.”

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