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Remarks of José A. Cabranes

United States Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit (New York)

Annual Hispanic Month Ceremony of The Cervantes Society

at the New York Supreme Court

60 Centre Street

New York, NY

October 23, 2001

Chief Judge Kaye, Judge Ciparick, Judge Carro, Judge Belen, Judge Irizarry, and friends all:

It is a special pleasure to speak to an organization that bears the name of Miguel de Cervantes.

Cervantes is the father of the novel as an art form. In the words of Prof. Harold Bloom of Yale, "he has, in common with Shakespeare, the universality of his genius, and he is the only possible peer of Dante and Shakespeare in the Western canon."

Cervantes is also, of course, a particular cultural icon of the Spanish-speaking peoples, the author of the greatest literary masterpiece written in the language that unites all hispanos–the master and the sculptor of the language which is the core of our ancestral identity as a people.

On occasions such as these it has been my custom to say a word or two in the language of Cervantes, and I ask those unfamiliar with Spanish to bear with me a moment.

    Como acabo de decir en inglés, en ocasiones como ésta acostumbro empezar con algunas palabras en castellano, la base de nuestra común cultura ancestral.

    Es un placer saber, y reconocer, que en esta ocasión contamos con la presencia de la Juez Presidenta del Estado de Nueva York, Judith Kaye, quien se especializó en espa_ol en sus estudios de bachillerato en Barnard College, y por lo tanto entiende bien lo que estoy diciendo.

    La juez Kaye fué estudiante de la profesora Amelia Agostini de Del Río, la excelentísima catedrática puertorriqueña que dirigió por muchos años el Departamento de Español en Barnard College, mientras su esposo (Don Ángel del Río) servía como director del Departamento de Español en la Universidad de Columbia.

    Yo fuí estudiante en Columbia College en esa época de oro de los estudios hispánicos en la Universidad de Columbia y en Barnard College, y bien recuerdo otras figuras de relieve, como el gran profesor cubano Eugenio Florit, la profesora española Laura de los Rios de García Lorca, su esposo Don Francisco García Lorca (hermano de Federico García Lorca), y el gran traductor cubano Gregory Rabassa.

    Por lo tanto, tenemos que reconocer–además de su presencia en ocasiones como éstas–que Judith Kaye es una persona que bien conoce el mundo hispano y bien conoce nuestras aspiraciones.

    En nombre de todos nosotros los que estamos reunidos aquí, y en la lengua que ella bien conoce, le doy las gracias a Judith Kaye por su interés y su apoyo, y le aseguro que correspondemos a su amistad.

We are gathered near hallowed ground, just blocks from the site of the greatest wound ever inflicted on American civilians.

At this ceremony we annually commemorate the place of Hispanic Americans in the life of our country, by remembering our distinctive cultural heritage and our special cultural contributions to America.

Understandably, these annual events have tended, in the past, to focus on our particularities—in effect, on how we differ from other Americans.

But today, and ever more, we celebrate also, more importantly, what Hispanic Americans have in common with our fellow Americans.

Hispanic Americans have been reminded (brutally reminded, but reminded nonetheless) that, despite any differences that we may treasure and celebrate, or any difference of treatment that may cause us grief from time to time, Hispanic Americans are indeed Americans–Americans first and Americans foremost.

We recall on this memorable occasion that Hispanic Americans are here either because we have always been here or because we or our parents or grandparents wanted us to be here. And we are here because we want to be here.

Hispanic Americans are here because we want to be a part of American society, to share fully in all that it means to be an American.

And so, in common with other Americans, Hispanic Americans have been victims of the evil visited upon our country and upon our countrymen. In full measure we have shared the pain of this atrocity and we have shared the grave losses of our countrymen.

(There is an estimate that Hispanics lost at the World Trade Center number near 1000. It is, of course, hard to tell, but I do know that this is the estimate of Governor Pataki’s office. The Governor of Puerto Rico, in turn, estimates that about 500 of these are Puerto Ricans).

In honoring today those most directly affected, including those associated with the New York state court family, we honor also the country for which, truly, they have sacrificed.

And we recognize, as never before, that as a people Hispanics are an integral part of the American idea.

Like other Americans, we are proud of our distinctive heritage, and we do not hesitate to articulate our distinctive concerns or our distinctive needs.

But Hispanic Americans are in no sense merely "hyphenated Americans" (in the phrase of Theodore Roosevelt). We are–-now and forever, and simply–-Americans.

Because Hispanic Americans are, in every way, an authentic part of the story of America, we share with our fellow Americans not only the successes and victories of the United States, but also its burdens and its traumas.

It has always been so, for we have shared the American past even as we share the American present, and even as we are destined to share the American future.

Although we know that many of our people are newcomers to the United States, others have a long history in territory that is now the United States.

We recall, and recall with pride, that some of our people settled parts of Florida and the Southwest as early as the sixteenth century. The Southwest was explored and opened to Spanish colonization by Alvar Nunez de Cabeza de Vaca in the 1520s and 1530s–nearly a century before British efforts to colonize North America. A large part of the South and Southwest of our country consists of land settled by Spanish-speaking people.

We recall also that St. Augustine, on Florida's Atlantic coast, was founded by the Spanish in 1565, four decades before the first English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, and today St. Augustine has the distinction of being the oldest city in the continental United States.

I say "continental United States" because two to three decades before the founding of St. Augustine the Spanish had founded in Puerto Rico a city ultimately named in honor of St. John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico), and they had begun to build a cathedral there–fully a century before the landing at Plymouth on the coast of Massachusetts.

We also remember with pride that, from the American Revolution to the present, Hispanic Americans have risked their lives to defend the United States and the principles upon which it stands–including the great admiral of the Union forces, David G. Farragut, the hero of the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War ("Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead"), and the 35 Hispanic soldiers who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Twentieth Century.

There are other reasons why it can be said that Hispanic Americans are truly representative of the American people as a whole.

Our raza (as in la raza, or El dia de la raza, which we commemorate on October 12) comes in numerous shades–copper, black, white and every intermediate blend. Our hair can be curled, straight, blond, brown and black (or, as in my case, increasingly grey).

The roots of our family trees penetrate the soil of every continent. Our ancestors are Spanish, Indian, African, Asian and even Nordic. Some of us may have grandparents who are Spanish–Galicians, Asturians, Basques or Catalonians–or French, English, German or Italian; our Indian antecedents may be Aztecs, Mayans, Incas or Arawaks; our African forbears may be Yorubas or Mandingas, and so on.

And all faiths are represented among us.

Indeed, if it is possible at all to speak of our "race" or raza, as the Hispanics of the Southwest like to say, it is surely la raza cósmica (the cosmic race) of which the great Mexican thinker José Vasconcelos wrote–that is, the synthesis of all the races.

We are a community united most notably by cultural features, and it is these cultural features which define us as Latinos or Hispanics, whether we are Chicanos, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans or Colombians. And it is these cultural characteristics, including our cherishment of family ties, that are our most important contribution to our country–a country that is free, ordered and open to our contributions.

It is precisely the freedom, order and openness of the United States that appears to be a source of discomfort and anger to some.

If that is so, then Hispanic Americans–by their very existence and by the example of their daily struggles and their numerous achievements–are pleased to respond that this freedom, order and openness has been our beacon and our dream, as it has been the beacon and dream of millions of other Americans before us and after us.

If it is true that American freedom, order and openness distresses some, Hispanic Americans are pleased to proclaim that it is precisely this freedom, order and openness that brought us here, and it is precisely this freedom, order and openness that we and other Americans will defend to the utmost.

* * * * *

I note, in closing, how appropriate it is that, in the aftermath of this criminal assault on America, the Cervantes Society is gathered in this welcoming city of immigrants and at this beautiful temple of justice, whose facade bears an inscription drawn from the words of the first, and greatest, of all our presidents, George Washington: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government."

This city, this temple of justice, and the Hispanic American people whose place in the American scheme of things we celebrate today all stand as living repudiations of the fanaticism and evil on display nearby.

It is fitting that we are brought together here because justice is the very purpose of the American civic order–the civic order that malevolence has sought to destroy. And it is fitting because justice–and, indeed, the sword of justice–will fully vindicate our cause.

October 23, 2001
Copyright © 2001

# # # # #

José A. Cabranes was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1994. For the preceding fifteen years, he served as a United States District Judge for the District of Connecticut, including two years as Chief Judge of that court.

Judge Cabranes was born in 1940 in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.


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