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Cecilia Altonaga: First Female Cuban American Federal Judge

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Chief Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga is still humbled by her appointment in 2003, becoming the first female Cuban American federal judge. 

“One gets to occupy the position of district court judge because of people who have confidence in you, people who have vouched for you, people who have championed you, and spoken up for you and assisted you along the way,” said Altonaga, who serves in the Southern District of Florida. 

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, a new video profile explores Altonaga’s Cuban heritage, her pursuit of a career in law, and her family’s defection from Cuba. 

“I was born into a family with two parents who had to leave everything behind and had nothing here, who had to remake their professional and personal lives,” Altonaga said. “My father was a lawyer in Cuba, and for about the first 10 years of my life in the United States, he did not practice law because he couldn’t.” 

In her teens, Altonaga’s father was admitted as a U.S. lawyer; she found herself frequently assisting at his law office. She also recalled her father swearing her in as a lawyer at the family’s dining room table.  

Altonaga hopes her example encourages others to fully embrace their cultural identity.  

“Know about your culture and bring that culture to bear and bring those values to bear in everything you do,” Altonaga said. 

Learn about Hispanic and Latino judges in the federal Judiciary and other Hispanic Heritage Month resources. 

Related Topics: Judicial History

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