THE 10 MOST INFLUENTIAL NUYORICANS
By Sandra Guzman and Shari Logan
June 10, 2009
From a brilliant legal scholar on the brink of serving in the highest court of the nation, to a celebrated arts curator who led the renovation efforts of the renowned Greek and Roman wings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to an advertising producer-turned-restaurateur with $100 million in sales -- this year's Top Ten New York Puerto Rican influentials are not only breaking down barriers, they are shattering stereotypes.
LAW: Sonia Sotomayor
The exceptional Bronx-born New York judge has been bursting through one ceiling after another in her lengthy 20-year legal career. And if she's confirmed by the Senate in the coming months, President Barack Obama's historic pick for the US Supreme Court will crack the highest legal ceiling of all.
Growing up with a single mother in the Bronxdale housing projects, the 54-year-old judge's journey has been long and riddled with obstacles. "Although I grew up in very modest and challenging circumstances, I consider my life to be immeasurably rich. I am an ordinary person blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences," she said on the day of her momentous nomination. This Princeton and Yale grad is a living example of the American Dream.
Politics: Rep. Nydia Velazquez
Powerhouse Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, 56, has been instrumental in shepherding Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. When she invited another Puerto Rican member of congress to meet Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand on the subject of Sotomayor months ago, the representative declined, saying he had no time. But the unstoppable Velazquez blazed forward.
The Puerto Rico born-politician, who grew up in the sugarcane-producing town of Yabucoa, says that she feels one of her responsibilities is to seek out opportunities to improve the situations for those most in need.
Philanthropy: Yaz Hernandez
Imagine spending a year to plan one party. Well its not just any old party, it's a gala. The annual Museo Del Barrio extravaganza has guests like Carolina Herrera, Emilio Estefan, Isabel and Ruben Toledo and Jason Woo -- so you know you have to pull out all the stops.
That's just one of the responsibilities that falls on Hernandez, vice chair of the Board of Trustees at the museum devoted to Latin American art.
"The gala has become my passion. I dedicate myself almost 100 percent to that," says Hernandez, who since joining the board in 2003 has raised millions in funds and also raised awareness of the museum locally and nationally.
"I like to inspire others with the work that I do," says the Puerto Rico-born Hernandez. "I think we need more people to dedicate themselves to this great cause. It's not just for Puerto Ricans. It's for all Latinos in New York City."
Entertainment: Lin Manuel Miranda
As writer, composer and lead actor of the Tony-wining musical "In the Heights," Lin Miranda, 29, made audiences fall in love with the barrio. He also performed some of his original poetry for President Obama and the First Lady at the White House's first-ever poetry slam last month.
Community: Luis Ubiñas
As president of the Ford Foundation, Bronx-born Luis Ubiñas, 46, has led the nation's second-oldest philanthropic organization in a fight for fairness. With assets of $12 billion to work with, he's dedicated to eradicating poverty.
Health: Alan D. Aviles
Health and Hospitals Corporation chief Alan Aviles is thrilled with the work he does in the nation's largest health-care system.
"I'm proud of HHC's long history of caring for everyone, regardless of ability to pay or immigration status," said the Bronx-born Puerto Rican, 57, when he received the New York Immigration Coalition's "Builders of the New New York" award.
Arts: Carlos Picón
Despite the absence of a classical-art background while growing in San Juan, Puerto Rico, curator Carlos Picón of the Greek and Roman Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was able to able to make a name for himself nearly two decades ago when he plucked the Hope Dionysus out of obscurity.
Before the towering, 7-foot sculpture became the centerpiece of the Greek and Roman exhibit hall, it adorned the swimming pool of an affluent family in Florida."It's wonderful to find a piece that's been forgotten about," he says.
Picón's foray into the world of art acquisition did not happen by accident, it was a conscious decision.
"I was a failed artist," he recalls. "When I realized that, the next best thing was to become an art critic."
Picón also helmed his department's recent million-dollar renovation project.
Sports and music: Bernie Williams
Five-time All-Star Yankees player Bernie Williams knows how to make sweet music on and off the field. With the release of his sophomore album, "Moving Forward," featuring his unique classical- and jazz-guitar style, it's hard to put him in just one box.
"I want to be known as the musician who once played baseball," says the 40-year-old.
Business: Phil Suarez
This self-described "Latin from Manhattan" has come far since his days selling Schaefer beer in El Barrio. He's now running a company with his longtime partner, chef Jean-Georges Vongeritchen, that has 3,000 employees and over $100 million in combined sales.
He and Vongeritchen have an ambitious plan to open 50 new, high-end eateries in five years all over the world. This year alone, the schedule of openings includes Mexico City, Washington, Boston, Barcelona and Milan. If anybody can take haute cuisine to the global masses, it's Suarez.
Fashion: Candy Pratts Price
Vogue Editor Anna Wintour calls Style.com's executive fashion director, Candy Pratts Price, the "Queen of the Internet," and rightfully so. In 2008, she was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America's (CDFA) coveted Eugenia Sheppard Award for her exceptional creativity in shaping fashion visually through media.
"You take a position and stand with it. You feed it, encourage it," she says. "That's very Latin, to embrace and nourish. That is a part of what makes me, me."