Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz Reflects on Her Professional Path and Paving the Way for Others
Holland & Knight's Diversity Council and Hispanic Affinity Group are proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and pay tribute to the generations of Hispanics who have enriched America's history and continue to play a role in its future success. This year, we took time to speak to some of our Hispanic attorneys, who shared their stories with us. We now present a video series showcasing some of these conversations. We hope that the stories conveyed in these videos inspire those struggling with recognizing their roots and shine light to the contributions that Hispanics have provided to the United States.
In this video, Miami Partner Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz speaks about the difficult path she took when becoming a lawyer and how hard she worked to avoid being judged for her background. Vivian talks about the importance of using her platform and public speaking opportunities to share her story to inspire others. She also mentions how important it is to understand everybody's paths are different and the power that has in building our society.
Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz: I never have felt as welcome as I have until I got to Holland & Knight. My path, although very good — many, many non-Hispanics who opened the doors and helped me, but then there was a lot of people that made you feel beneath. And for probably the first 10 years of my career, I think it was really, really hard and I would take it very personal. And then eventually I was just like, "This is who I am, and I am going to work really hard so that you can't ever judge me. I am going to give back because I believe in it." And eventually, I'm not saying it still doesn't happen, because it does. I'll be on deals with lawyers in North Carolina and they'll tell me, "Is English your first language with the last name like that?" That happened last year. But, I feel like I have matured enough to realize that those are ignorant people and that most people, where you can sit and have a conversation with, will appreciate who you are and your contribution and really maybe grow from meeting you and you meeting them.
I got involved in the Cuban American Bar Association through friends, and I got involved for a year. I did great work. The second year, I lost my election. But it was what was supposed to happen. I stayed involved with the organization. I brought Governor Jeb Bush down for a JNC panel, which was important because we weren't getting diverse candidates. I got back on the board the following year and eventually became the president of the organization. But when I went to run for president, I'll never forget my managing partner at the time — I was not at Holland & Knight yet — sits me down and is like, "Why would you ever want to be president of this organization? Like, you know, you guys have arrived, you Cubans have arrived." And I was like, "Well, see if the Cuban American bar organization didn't exist and if the people before me didn't come and do what they did, I wouldn't be sitting in your office as a partner and I would not be able to run for this organization to make it better, so it's my duty to give back." And I realized then how throughout my entire life I had very much been a Hispanic and very much assimilated to that culture and tried to help those that helped me and give back behind. But it hit me how, I guess, proud I was to really be Cuban and to understand my roots and to help not only the Cuban American, but Hispanics and minorities wherever I could. Last year, I got appointed to the board of Florida State University. I am the first Hispanic woman to sit on that board. And what was really more interesting to me — and these are where people can make a difference — the president of the university came in about a year ago. He is an incredible, very smart, hardworking, humble man that came from nothing and built who he is. And he has an even better wife. And what was very interesting is that he had to choose five people to speak in the five commencement ceremonies at Florida State University. And he chose one man who is the chair of our board, Peter, who is a wonderful human being, went to the business school, someone's graduating and got to give the commencement speech. And the other four people he chose were four women, and I was one of the women. It was a white woman, an African-American woman, an Asian woman and myself. And it was really just about who he thought could give a message. And what I realized is how lucky I was, a) to give that message, but more importantly, to share it with the families. When I grew up, we had a traditional pig on Christmas Eve, which is really the big Christmas for Cubans. Christmas Day is just an extension of the party, and my husband's family used to do it, and then they got down to like, it was smaller and everyone would bring something, and then my mom and my dad used to do it. And finally, I want to say, six years ago, we took it over. We brought both of our families together. We went back to the tradition. And the tradition was important for my son to understand. It wasn't about just making the pig, which actually is not my favorite food, ironically. But it's important because it's our tradition. It's about what comes into it. And it was very important for my son growing up as a second generation Cuban American to understand the why we do things. And it's all about people coming together, and food is just what's in the middle. The ability to be who you are, which is unique, different, coming from different perspectives, makes organizations — whether it be Holland & Knight, whether it be things we get involved in — a better place, because your perspective is one that someone may have not thought of. Sometimes it's not always about people discriminating. It's just, sometimes it's about knowledge and understanding on people's paths. And paths are different. Even being Hispanics, you're different. Your countries are different, your cultures are different. We are tied by a language, but yet not everything is the same. And understanding that is important and understanding religions because, you know, not every Cuban is Catholic, and that's important. So it's just we are in a really — some people will say in a horrible place — I think we're also in a very good place to turn the corner, to connect the dots and continue to educate each other on who different people are and what we can bring to the table.
More Videos in this Series
Episode 3: Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz Reflects on Her Professional Path and Paving the Way for Others (You are currently viewing Episode 3)