HSPRD Honors Activists & Legal Trailblazers for Latine Heritage Month

To celebrate Latine Heritage Month, an annual celebration of the history, culture, and achievements of the Latine community, HSPRD honors influential Latine trailblazers and highlights the achievements of just a few of these courageous and visionary leaders. (More information on the term “Latine” can be found here)

Manuel Ruiz – Manuel Ruiz,the first Latine student to graduate from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, grounded his law practice in political activism and community organizing.  Ruiz also represented activist groups in civil rights cases and served as the Chairman of the Citizens’ Committee for Latin American Youth Board, a committee focused on improving the quality of life for Latine youth. In 1951,  Ruiz became the first Latine lawyer to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. California .

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan – Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is a Honduran-American and dedicated champion for human and transgender rights. Freedman-Gurspan was the first openly transgender person to work in the serving as the primary liaison with the LGBTQIA+ community, and currently serves as the Deputy Director of Public Engagement for the US Department of Transportation. Prior to the White House, Freedman-Gurspan was a policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality, where she advanced racial and economic justice initiatives for low-income and transgender people of color, and worked for the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to advocate for a nondiscrimination law aimed at protecting transgender residents. Freedman-Gurspan has become a prominent voice for the Latine LGBTQIA+ community.

Hon. Reynaldo Guerra Garza- Reynaldo Guerra Garza was the first Mexican-American individual appointed to the federal judiciary and the first Latine judge appointed to a federal circuit court of appeals. Garza is a WWII veteran and built a successful law practice in his hometown of Brownsville, Texas prior to his first judicial appointment. He served 18 years on the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas—with four years as Chief Judge—before President Carter elevated him to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He then served on the Fifth Circuit for 25 years. Garza’s professional achievements made him an inspiration to the Latine community.

Raquel Aldana  – Aldana is professor and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Diversity at UC Davis. She received the 2019 Margaret Brend Award for her academic excellence and advocacy for immigrant and refugee rights. She has published extensively on transitional justice, criminal justice, sustaining development, inter-cultural legal sensibility and immigration. Aldana’s passion for advocacy stems from her own experiences as an immigrant from Central America and a first generation college and law student.

Eduardo Juarez – Eduardo Juarez is supervisory trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and has had a long and impressive career as a public defender and in private practice at Sidley & Austin. He is recognized as the first openly gay Latine President of the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association. He was awarded 2014 EEOC Pride Chai Feldblum Award and the 2018 Stonewall Award for his years of activism.

Mari Carmen Aponte – Mari Carmen Aponte is the U.S. Ambassador to Panama. Aponte broke barriers as the first female Puerto Rican Ambassador when President Obama appointed her Ambassador to El Salvador in 2012, where she served a four-year term. She previously served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and as a White House Fellow. In 1984, Aponte was elected the first woman president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. She continued to hold leadership positions for the next 25 years, advocating for women and the Latine community. Aponte’s triumphs and excellent track record made her a recipient of the 2015 Margaret Brent Award. When she earned her JD in 1975 from Temple University Beasley School of Law, she became the first Latina lawyer in the State of Pennsylvania.

Hon. Sonia Sotomayor – Sonia Sotomayor was appointed as the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and third female Justice, in 2009. Justice Sotomayor was born in the Bronx and grew up in a public housing complex. Before serving on the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor was an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, pivoted to intellectual property law in private practice, and served on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York before being nominated to the Second Circuit. On the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor dissented in Citizens United and Dobbs and has ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act and to legalize same-sex marriage in Obergefell.

X González – X González is an American activist of Cuban descent and, as a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, a prominent advocate for gun control. In response to the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, Gonzalez co-founded a  gun-control advocacy group, Never Again MSD, garnered a national platform after their powerful speech at a rally against gun violence and helped organize the March for Our Lives, which was the largest student protest in American history. Time Magazine listed González as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2018.

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