Judge Nelson Díaz: 'Success has many fathers'
Ahead of the release of his autobiography in October, Nelson Díaz, who blazed a trail for Latinos in American politics and law, discussed his book and shared reflections on his life.
On Monday, Judge Nelson Díaz sat down with AL DÍA News CEO Hernán Guaracao to discuss his decorated legacy and upcoming autobiography, “No soy de aquí ni de allá,” which will be released in October.
Díaz was joined by an audience of family (including his beloved sister and stepfather), friends and mentees inspired by his long political career spent fighting for equal rights for Latinos and the North Philadelphia community, as well as his accomplishments at the national level. Díaz served as Philadelphia city solicitor for former Mayor John Street and was the general counsel to former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Henry Cisneros, who wrote the foreword to his autobiography.
At the beginning of the AL DÍA Talks conversation, Guaracao recalled his first interview with Díaz 27 years ago in 1991, when he was a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, where he was using his role to improve the Philadelphia courts, housing and educational systems. Díaz is remembered as a groundbreaking figure to the Puerto Rican and Latino community, opening doors for future Hispanic leaders to be recognized at the top levels of government and corporate boards.
“Success has many fathers, so everybody takes credit for stuff that us Latinos have been able to do in this country. If you don’t write it, you don’t tell it, no one’s ever going to know,” Díaz said. “Somebody’s got to know that a Puerto Rican went by Philadelphia, took on the Philadelphia system and was able to make some changes that helped the population. And I wasn’t the last one -- being the first doesn’t mean you’re the last. Being the first means you open doors.”
The book documents Díaz’s headstrong efforts to curb discrimination in the city’s neighborhoods and in the admissions process at Temple University Law, where he was the first Puerto Rican to receive a degree. He describes the poor living conditions he endured while growing up in a New York City tenement and racist attacks against him. He also reflects upon the high racial tensions in Philadelphia during the late 20th century and hate crime cases he encountered as a legal leader in the community.
Díaz walked alongside African American leaders during the civil rights movement and instituted several Hispanic organizations in the city after becoming the first Latino lawyer and judge in the state. In his note, Cisneros said Díaz is a “striver” who dedicated himself to the community and created an example in American politics for future Latino leaders.
Díaz said he hopes the book inspires the younger generation of Latinos, especially youth in troubling circumstances, to push forward and beat the odds, as he did when he was 15 years old, developing a deep faith in God and in himself. Díaz’s late mother Maria, to whom the book is dedicated, is central to the story of his childhood. He describes her efforts and sacrifice to get him on track with his education and religion.
“[Maria] was always helpful because of the intervention, understanding that God doesn’t make junk and that nothing is impossible,” Díaz said. “My opinion is part of that Pygmalion theory, which is if you truly have belief that the expectations are higher, you can achieve higher.”
“No soy de aquí ni de allá” is to be released this fall through Temple University Press.