More than 50 years after its founding, the Puerto Rican Bar Association continues to be honored to have among its membership “trailblazers” who inspire, guide and represent the best of our professional community. Standing on the shoulders of the pioneros of the PRBA, these exceptional leaders are each unique yet bear similar traits – fiercely-driven, intelligent, compassionate, proud of their culture, and ever-mindful of their responsibility to that community from which they come.
This article is the first in a series highlighting current trailblazing members and will focus on four such individuals who continue to shatter stereotypes and lead the next PRBA generation with pride. They challenge each of us to make a better life for our families, our communities and our country.
Our founders overcame linguistic, racial and educational barriers and dared to dream and courageously pursued those dreams. They were unquestionably fearless. Their vision of an association of like-minded Puerto Rican professionals who bravely managed their way through the rigors of a legal education overcoming many obstacles and fears, necessitated the creation of an important institution that would provide support, scholarships and produce generations of future Puerto Rican lawyers. Their mission was to challenge the status quo. They were Puerto Ricans living with audacity and with a sense of pride – capable and ready. Fifty –two years later, the success of their work is evident.
The list of accomplished and distinguished Puerto Ricans is extensive both in and out of the legal community, and includes Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances, Arthur Schoenburg and Pedro Albizu Campos. They are just some of the most notable Puerto Rican heroes (“our champions of justice - de la mata”) remembered for their many accomplishments in honor of and for the preservation of Puerto Rican heritage. To them we can add, Oscar Garcia Rivera, a visionary who was the first Puerto Rican elected to public office in the United States and the first PRBA President as well as Felipe N. Torres, a legendary family court judge and NYS Assemblyman.
Puertorriqueñas such as Felisa Rincón Gautier, the first woman mayor of San Juan, Antonia Novello, Surgeon General of the United States and Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, Secretary of the State of New York, are our more contemporary leaders who continue to pave the way for our Puerto Rican women.
In the entertainment industry, the list of notable Puerto Ricans is long. Stars the likes of Tito Puente, Raul Julia, Freddie Prinze, Rita Moreno, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin and Rosie Perez have paved the way for one of our youngest and most talented rising stars in Broadway history, playwright and actor: Lin-Manuel Miranda, who made history becoming the first Puerto Rican producer/performer to be nominated for 13 Tony Awards, winning 5 Tony Awards and 1 Grammy award for his smash hit “In the Heights”, presently on a worldwide tour. Hats off to Lin y gracias por su tremenda contribucion.
The PRBA has an ever-increasing number of Puerto Rican “firsts” in the local and national legal community. The accomplishments of all our PRBA members ought to be commended for we all have earned the right to be a part of this professional association as members of the PRBA.
For this first installment, we begin with the historic nomination of the first Puerto Rican ever to become one of the nine justices in the United States Supreme Court, The Honorable Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Next we look at Presiding Justice Luis A. Gonzalez, Chief Judge of the Appellate Division, First Department. New York State Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels. And, finally, our current PRBA president, Roberto Ramírez.