Monday, January 26, 2015

Diversity Committee: Tampa Hispanic Bar Association Grows In Community

By Luis E Viera

Though we have many wonderful voluntary Bar associations, few are as unique as the Tampa Hispanic Bar Association (THBA), and few are as uniquely Tampa.

In 2006, a group of attorneys, including THBA founding President Luis "Tony" Cabassa, met at the old Valencia Gardens Restaurant on West Kennedy Boulevard to found the THBA, which would grow to more than 100 active dues-paying members. For me, three facts make the THBA unique.

First is the THBA’s community involvement. The THBA’s monthly Spanish Family Forms Clinic, presently led by board member Karla Faviola Gonzalez-Acosta, assists Spanish-speaking individuals, free of charge, with family law form packets. For these efforts, the THBA was awarded our Circuit’s Pro Bono Service Award (2011) and the Florida Supreme Court’s Statewide Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Award (2013). Also, there is the THBA Court Interpreter Program for pro-se litigants, which provides free court-certified interpreters, and the annual college scholarship program.

Second is our diverse leadership. There is Immediate Past President Victoria Cruz-Garcia, whose father served in the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment in the Korean War; President Miriam Velez-Valkenburg, a former Drug Enforcement Agent in intelligence and litigator; and President-Elect Vivian Cortes Hodz, a family lawyer who is the first person in her family to attend college. Board member Jenay Eunice Iurato’s work in combating human trafficking is exemplary; Secretary Andres Oliveros is a Marine and Iraq War veteran; and board member Lourdes Bernal-Dixon and Treasurer Doris Del Castillo are proud daughters of Cuban exiles. Board member Rene Hernandez came to the United States at the age of 16 on the Cuban Mariel Boatlift and is now corporate counsel at Florida Travelers, and board members Steve Barbas, Hernando Bernal, and Rick Fueyo are proud Jesuit High School graduates who never forget the Jesuit Catholic principles they learned.

Third are the THBA’s organizational values. This is an organization that our ancestors, who struggled as immigrant “strangers in a strange land,” can be proud of. The THBA honors the struggles of our families who came from all over the world to not only the United States, but Tampa, as Latinos and became proud Americans. Tampa’s heritage uniquely reflects the American value of pluralism through a rich Latino influence. From the Spanish immigrants who toiled in the Ybor City cigar factories and the Cubans who made West Tampa their homes to the heroism of Lt. Baldomero Lopez and great names like Mayor and Gov. Bob  Martinez, Judge Virginia Covington, and “Mr. Latino” himself, Judge E.J. Salcines, Tampa is a city of Latino achievement and history. Tampa stands as a symbol of the American Dream for Latino Americans, and the THBA builds on this legacy by paying tribute to our families’ history. The stories we were told by our parents of their struggles, day after day at our kitchen and family tables, define the THBA’s DNA.   

As Latino Americans in Tampa, our families’ stories may have different beginnings, but all have the same conclusion: with us being proud Americans, here in Tampa. These stories form important bricks in what songwriter Abel Meeropol called “the house I live in,” or the house of the United States. And in our community, the THBA plays an important part in the house we all live in, Tampa. I am proud to be a member and hope you can join in support.