by: Lulaine Compere
Anthony Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. (ACLU) The ACLU is an organization devoted to defending the civil rights and civil liberties wherever they are in danger. The legendary group was started in 1920 and since then has worked to preserve the individual rights and defend those rights by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States. Bronx born and New Jersey raised Anthony Romero is the ACLU’s first Latino Executive Director his hard working Puerto Rican parents had a huge affect on why he chose to join and work with the ACLU.
Why did you become a lawyer and did your upbringing have anything to do with that decision?
I was a big mouth kid and in my family before we moved to New Jersey my father was initially denied a promotion because of his English and after he appealed to the union he got the promotion. At the time we were living in public housing and the union stepped in. After he got the promotion we moved the New Jersey. The impact of that situation was having an advocate in a person’s life. They didn’t want to give him the job because of the way he looked and spoke. So I wanted to help people in that way and the ACLU is a civil rights group of everybody and defends them from injustices so they live in dignity. The ACLU cares about the rights of all people.
How does it feel to be the first Latino director of a civil liberties institution like the ACLU?
It is a real privilege. I said a lot about of the organization’s commitment work done for decades fighting for people like me. I find it rewarding to head up organization of beneficiaries of work. It is very humbling.
You were also named one of the 25 most influential Hispanics by Time Magazine, how did that feel?
I was incredibly honored and the sense of responsibility that came with that. It is one of the things my mom hangs up on her wall. It was one of the better headlines showing the growing breadth and power of Latinos in the United States. It also showed these people weren’t just Hispanic leaders but leaders of mainstream organizations in the United States.
Do you feel you bring a different kind of mindset to the issues as a minority that affect people’s civil liberties?
Sure, when you see discrimination growing up in communities, you don’t realize your potential. You see how drugs affect the community. The prejudice and discrimination affect people. The prison system’s effect, those things fuel me to make a difference in the world. We have to work to see the least among us are treated with dignity and respect.
What do you see as the most engaging issues the ACLU will deal with in the future?
For as long as we have an America the ACLU will be needed. The issues will change but as for now immigration scapegoating, fear mongering immigrants as the enemy is troubling. The criminal justice system which is filled with primarily black and Latino people. There is no rehabilitation and it is fraught with racial and ethnic bias.
Do you have any advice to people who want to follow in your footsteps especially Latinos?
You have to follow your passion whatever it is whether it is music, art, law, or politics. When you care about something you are going to do that much better and are going to excel. Never doubt yourself many people will tell you can’t if you limit your sight. You do yourself a disservice. Reach for the stars; you will definitely reach the moon.