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This summer, Pittsburgh attorney Marilin Martinez-Walker climbed a mountain in Puerto Rico with her father and other family members to reach the tiny village where her father was raised. During the hike, her uncle pointed out that the family came from a place so remote it didn't have electricity but now it can boast that the next generation includes a lawyer.
"I don't want to be the only lawyer in the family," Ms. Martinez-Walker told him. "It's a big deal in our family, but I don't want to be the only one."
That was the moment, she recalls, when she decided to get involved with efforts to promote careers in law to young Hispanics and boost the ranks of Hispanic lawyers in Pittsburgh.
So Ms. Martinez-Walker approached Allegheny County Bar Association Executive Director David Blaner about formalizing the efforts. The result is the bar association's Hispanic Attorney's Committee, which Ms. Martinez-Walker will chair. Creation of the committee was announced last night at a reception at Thorp Reed & Armstrong, the Downtown firm where Ms. Martinez-Walker, 35, is an associate in the complex civil litigation group.
The committee includes 16 attorneys, about seven law students and Alma Deleon, an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration.
Its mission, Ms. Martinez-Walker said, includes setting up a mentoring program with law schools at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh to pair Latino law students with Latino lawyers practicing in the area. It also wants to participate in community events and workshops that target Latinos to provide them with information and advice on legal issues including immigration, Social Security benefits and bankruptcy.
Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge, president of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and an attorney at Thorp Reed, estimated the local Hispanic population has more than doubled since the U.S. Census Bureau put it at 18,000 in 2000.
"It's the fastest-growing, and only group that's growing in the Pittsburgh area," she said.
When Ms. Sanchez-Ridge, a native of Cuba, began practicing law in Pittsburgh 15 years ago, she found it to be "a tough market for minorities and women" in the legal profession.
She changed her name on her resume to "L. Ridge" so that people would not know she was a woman or a Latino.
While the climate has improved since then, "there's still a long way to go," she said, and the Hispanic Attorney's Committee "is here to provide guidance and obviously counseling to the local Latino community as well as providing linkage from the Anglo community to the Hispanic community."
"We're trying to say it's OK to be Latino."
Ms. Martinez-Walker grew up in Rochester, N.Y., in a home where the first language was Spanish. Her mother, who has a sixth-grade education, and her father, who has an eighth-grade education, left Puerto Rico in 1970 and still live in Rochester. Ms. Martinez-Walker earned a degree in broadcasting and communications from the State University of New York at Oswego and worked as a writer, producer and on-air reporter in television news for about four years in Miami and Syracuse, N.Y.
She left TV for law school at Syracuse University "because I wanted a career that would open up more doors for me."
She worked at two law firms in Syracuse before relocating to Pittsburgh last year when her husband, David Walker, became an assistant coach for Pitt's football team.
"I've always been passionate about my Hispanic background. I want to reach out to [students] so they can dream and make it happen. It's important to give resources to younger Latinos. If young people see me and others in these types of positions, they can reach for this goal."
Joyce Gannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.