Ramona Romero delivers the keynote speech at the 2021 AL DÍA Top Lawyers Event
In the speech, she hit on themes of representation, opportunity, and change.
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On Dec. 15, 2021, Ramona Romero, vice president & general counsel at Princeton University, delivered the keynote speech at the fifth annual AL DÍA Top Lawyers Forum & Reception event. She started the speech by thanking AL DÍA’s founder, Hernán Guaracao, for the invitation to speak and her introduction. She then congratulated the honorees and led a round of applause.
She admitted that while writing her speech she wasn’t sure what tone she wanted it to have. This was because even though the event was a happy one, she felt that she should acknowledge everything that has gone on in the last few years. In particular, she touched on the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the mistreatment of migrants by ICE agents on horseback. She also mentioned the January 6 Insurrection and the years of what she called “political violence” that allowed it to happen.
With this context, Romero then stated, “And as lawyers, we are the architects of justice. Each of us has the tools needed to create a more perfect union [established] by the U.S. Constitution, the union that delivers on the promise of equal justice, the promise of general welfare, and the promise of liberty for all of the people, not just the rich, not just the powerful, all of them.”
She agrees with a point Amanda Gorman made at President Biden’s inauguration, the country “isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” she added that it’s “both our privilege and obligation to lead the building effort.”
She empathized that this effort needs the backing of the Latino community as they make up the second-largest ethnic group in the U.S. and 19% of the country’s population. She then shared a few statistics such as, Latinos make up 26% of Americans that are under 18 and that in the 2020 presidential election 80% of registered Latino voters actually voted.
“Demographically, Latinos are the future,” she said.
Romero then hit on the hardships that the Latino community faces. Many live below the poverty line and Latino students have the second-highest dropout rate. They are also overrepresented in the prison population. Romero then pointed out that the community is unrepresented in positions of power in companies and government.
In America, there are 1.3 million lawyers. Only 5% of these lawyers are Hispanic.
“Having our perspective at the table makes a difference in the setting of priorities and the allocation of resources,” said Romero, adding that she thought her being the general counsel in Princeton’s challenge to the recession of DACA helped them win.
She then shared that she was “delighted” that the honorees were in all different sectors of the law profession -.
Romero ended the speech by talking about her background.
“I’m Dominican by birth and American by choice,” she said.
Growing up until the age of 11 in a poor neighborhood in San Domingo, Dominican Republic, Romero then joined her mother in New York City once she was able to get her green card. When she got there she didn’t speak any English and grew up with very few resources. She and her mother sometimes needed to use food stamps to put food on the table.
She said that a social scientist would say that all of these factors indicate that the child in them will not graduate high school. However, not only did Romero graduate high school, she went on to get her B.A. from Barnard College and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.
She also shared that in 2010 she was nominated then confirmed to the position of general counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture, becoming the first person of color and third woman to serve in this position. This is the same department that handles the food stamp program..
Romero was succeeded by her deputy, who is also Latino, when she went to work for Princeton, where she is also the first person of color and the first woman to serve as their general counsel.
She closed out her speech with a quote from President Obama.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” she said.