AL DÍA Lawyers Forum 2019: A night of inspiration to empower the next generation of Latinx lawyers
The three honorees each blazed their own paths in law. Their stories, often untold, were celebrated loud and proud.
As Daniel Mateo was honored for his achievements in corporate law and his position as one of the only Latinx attorneys in his firm, Holland and Knight, he chose the time to reflect on his journey.
He is the son of two Puerto Ricans who came to the U.S. mainland after the sugarcane industry in their town of San Sebastián had “dried up,” as Mateo put it.
They joined the military, and had their son, Daniel, while stationed in Germany.
Eventually, the young parents settled in Camden, New Jersey, where Mateo got his first exposure to law thanks to his mom and learned all the street smarts he needed to bring a unique perspective to a career in the industry.
“I was skinny, light-skinned, a little smart, and I didn’t know it at the time, but gay. That was not a good recipe for the rough and tumble streets of Camden,” said Mateo.
His story was just one of three heard Tuesday night, at AL DÍA’s Third Annual Lawyers Forum and Reception held at the Pyramid Club in Center City Philadelphia.
The view from the 52nd floor offered a sweeping panorama of the shimmering lights of the city, overlooking where Carmen Garcia started her career in corporate litigation at the iconic PSFS building in Center City.
“I thought I was the proverbial Philadelphia lawyer,” Garcia told the almost 100 attendees.
From there, she would go on to become the first Latina ever to serve on the bench in Trenton, New Jersey, and the second to ever be appointed to a judicial office in the state’s history.
Like Mateo, when speaking on her award for nonprofit counsel in the government, Garcia cited the journey of her parents, “who sacrificed everything to give their children a better life in Camden, New Jersey.”
“When you honor me, you honor them,” said Garcia.
She also quoted Latina Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor when honoring those who paved the way before her.
“There is no challenge we can do on our own,” Garcia said.
For Latinx individuals in law, it means they must guide and rely on each other to grow their representation in the industry. As a partner in a corporate law firm, Mateo takes this role very seriously.
“I have the responsibility to reach back and give back,” he said.
As a gay, Latinx man, Mateo also said it’s his duty to not just succeed, but excel in order to pave the way for others.
“I’m not burdened, but energized by the challenge,” he said.
For the final honoree, William Gonzalez, who was awarded the Gus Garcia Lifetime Achievement Award, Sotomayor’s words extend beyond just law.
He used his time to advocate for Latinos around the country to participate in the democratic process in a time when they are “under attack.”
By participating, they are not just making their own voice heard, but adding to the overall power of the collective and growing Latino voice in the U.S.
His award’s namesake is Gus Garcia, whose successful argument in Hernandez v. Texas — which unanimously ruled in favor of allowing Hispanics to serve on juries — is often overshadowed for its proximity to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in the 1950s.
Just as Garcia was a trailblazer on a national scale, Gonzalez has accomplished the same at a local level with Ceiba, a nonprofit in Philadelphia that advocates on behalf of Latino communities throughout by ensuring their access to quality housing.
“The time is now,” said Gonzalez. “We need to act.”