Jorge Hernandez-Toraño Talks About the Importance of Moving the Needle Forward for Hispanics
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 episode, Hispanic Affinity Group Co-Chair Jorge Hernandez-Toraño, a partner in our Miami office, talks about the advancements in cultural diversity within workplaces around the United States compared to when he started practicing. He also talks about his involvement in Hispanic organizations, like the Cuban American Bar Association, to help those in need of better opportunities.
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Episode 8: Jorge Hernandez-Toraño Talks about the Importance of Moving the Needle Forward for Hispanics (You are currently viewing Episode 8)
Jorge Hernandez-Toraño: Growing up as a Hispanic in the United States, I think for me was a little different than it may be for other Hispanics, because like many in Miami, we grew up in a bicultural community. And so, we never really felt like we were marginalized or not in the mainstream because the community was so numerous that we did not go through a lot of the issues that other Latinos and Hispanics have gone through in their lives in the United States.
I think about the positive characteristics that we have that I think are missed by mainstream America. I think we're the single largest call it minority group or a demographic group in the United States. And as a result, I think that there ought to be more attention paid to us. We're very brand loyal when it comes to brands. We enjoy social activities and cultural activities. And so, you know, I think that we are a lost opportunity for many multinationals, many marketers, many of the companies in the United States. When I watch TV, when I see programs, part of me always says, "You know, if we make up so much of the demographic of the United States, why don't we see more of us on screen?" It's always been present, in my mind, to figure out how we how to move the needle forward for Hispanic lawyers. Not just in the profession, but in the firm. And throughout my career, I have been active in these kinds of things. And in 1989, I became the 15th president of the Cuban American Bar Association. It's hard to fathom that when I started practicing in 1981, most mainstream law firms probably had only one, if any, token Latino partner in the firm. When you look at the demographics of mainstream law firms and major commercial centers in the United States today, that's almost unfathomable. But that's how it was. So, when the organization was first formed in 1974, it was formed as a loose group of lawyers that were looking to learn more about how to succeed, exchange notes, find out what it was like to practice before this judge or that judge. You know, there were judges that would be offended by the accent of a Cuban-American lawyer at the time. And so, it wasn't just difficult, it was it was downright unpleasant at times. So over time, that group became more organized and with time became more powerful. And so over time, we made a difference at the ballot box and our influence in the community with the election of judges, locally. State court judges in Florida are elected. Another thing that I was involved with and that I consider probably as a lawyer, the most significant thing that I've ever done was in 1994, there was an exodus from Cuba by folks on rafts and when people decided to just hit the Florida Straits on rafts and try to make it to the United States. Up until that time, if rafters were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard or anyone, they were simply brought to the United States then, quote unquote paroled through the immigration process. In 1994, when that started, when that process started, the government changed its position. It took the position that the Cubans, instead of being refugees, were now migrants. There came a time when about 30,000 people that had been picked up on rafts were returned to Cuba and were housed in Guantanamo Base. And when that all started, the Cuban American Bar Association stepped up to play. And a number of us, we thought that was inappropriate. And a number of us got together and first we tried to negotiate with the U.S. Government. I went to the White House with four other members and past presidents of the Cuban American Bar Association to try to negotiate a resolution to this problem. And shortly after that meeting, when we were unable to resolve the issue, we filed suit against the Department of Justice and the White House. And for about seven or eight months after that, that suit proceeded. And many of us wound up going to Guantanamo to visit with our clients. It was a class action suit to bring them all in. As things happened, it was an election year and by November the governor was reelected in Florida. And by about January of 1995, just about all those Cubans that were warehoused in Guantanamo were in the United States. So, I will say that going to the White House with my colleagues, meeting with John Panetta, who at the time was the White House chief of staff and trying to negotiate a resolution to this was a was a crowning moment in my career at least.