By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor
The Kings County Family Court held its sixth annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday.
This year’s theme followed the national theme of “One Endless Voice to Enhance Our Traditions,” and the court invited professor Nilsa Santiago, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to speak about the importance of language in bonding the Hispanic community.
“This is an apt theme when talking about so many people whose traditions encompass a wonderful plethora of cultures from different parts of the world,” said Supervising Judge Amanda White. “Without a doubt, Latinos have played an important role in shaping this city, in shaping this country and in shaping this court.
“We are honored to celebrate such a rich heritage,” Judge White continued. We’re also proud that our court reflects our diversity within our ranks, which includes our judges, our attorneys, our officers, our clerks and other court staff.”
Professor Santiago’s speech focused on the commonality of the Spanish language amongst Hispanic people. She explained how Spanish is often more comfortable for her, and in fact delivered most of her speech in Spanish.
“There is something that just feels right about the mother tongue,” Santiago said. “I lecture at church on certain Sundays in English, but on those Sundays when I’m not assigned to lecture in English, I find myself drawn to the Spanish mass, and that’s where you’ll find me.
“Our Spanish language is the tide that binds us,” she continued. “Spanish is at the very heart of our Hispanic identity. In keeping our language, we most authentically access and promote our traditions and the many aspects of our very rich and very beautiful Hispanic culture.”
The event was organized with the help of the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee co-Chairs Hon. Javier E. Vargas and Hon. Jacqueline D. Williams, who both dressed up along with other members of the committee in traditional clothing from their home countries.
Judge Vargas wore a straw hat and a ceremonial robe that judges in Puerto Rico wear. Judge Williams wore a molas dress inspired by the Kuna Indians from Panama. Juzmarina Desousa, Christine Fredericks and Mercedes Lokich also dressed up for the occasion.
Some of the founding members of the Latino Court Officers Society were honored, including Sgt. Jessica Hernandez, who performed the national anthem to open the ceremony; Court Officer Danny Vega; and Lt. Irma Garcia. The society is approximately one year old and was recognized for its efforts in helping assist the people of Puerto Rico following the hurricanes that hit last summer.
“I didn’t expect this acknowledgement but we’re proud to be recognized and honored,” said Sgt. Hernandez. “Since we were founded in September, we’ve already gotten 187 members — including a few people here. We are very proud of how far we have come. I’m so proud of my board, including Danny Vega. We all work very hard to try to give back and serve the community.”
Mercedes Lokich introduced a pair of dancers from Argentina, Maria Jose Sosa and Leonardo Sardella, who performed a tango and milonga dance to the songs, “Cafe Dominguez,” and “Ella Es Asi.” Their performance inspired a crowd to join them after the ceremony ended.
Judge Williams closed the event with a few final remarks and thank you’s. She echoed the sentiments of Professor Santiago in discussing language and explained how she often encourages younger family members not to give up on the Spanish language even though they now live in the United States.
“We want to thank Judge Ruiz, who has been the inspiration of this entire experience for us.
With the institutional agencies and the participants in the committee, the court officers, the support and administrative staff all contributing to this program,” Judge Williams said.