Home to a vibrant community of Portuguese-Americans, Connecticut may now be the first state in the country with a bar association for lawyers of Portuguese descent.
Two years ago, several attorneys in the state founded the Portuguese Bar Association of Connecticut. The group aims to foster community among Portuguese-American lawyers - especially those new to the profession.
"We value our culture," said Agostinho J. Ribeiro, managing partner at Ventura, Ribeiro & Smith in Danbury, "and we believe it is appropriate to pass on to students and future lawyers an organization that could respect our traditions."
Ribeiro joined with other Portuguese-American attorneys from the state to build a bar association from the ground up. Upon doing some research, they could find no state bar association for Portuguese-Americans, nor could they find a national organization. So, they resolved to found the first.
"I was astonished that we would be the first state, when states such as New Jersey and California have such heavy Portuguese populations," said Patricia M. Cruz, an associate at Moore, O'Brien, Jacques & Yelenak in Cheshire.
"When [the association] was actually founded, I was just coming out of law school," Cruz said. "In law school, you join all these bar associations, [for example] a Latino bar association - but I had never found a Portuguese Bar Association. It really gave me the networking opportunity to talk to these other attorneys, judges, legislators and see what your law degree can open up for you."
Officers in the association said they are interested in founding scholarships to benefit Portuguese-Americans training for careers in law. But the group is also interested in acknowledging contributions made by the state's most experienced Portuguese-American attorneys.
Red, Green Ink
To this end, in September 2008 the association honored its president, Americo S. Ventura. Ventura grew up in Danbury's Portuguese-American community in the 1940s. He went from working at his father's grocery store to graduating Georgetown University and Boston University School of Law.
After graduating, Ventura returned to Danbury and for more than 50 years has practiced primarily real estate law representing much of the city's Portuguese-American community. Early in his career, Ventura said he was the only Portuguese-speaking attorney in the city. He recalled filling out clients' loan applications in green and red ink - the colors of the Portuguese flag. Almost always, said Ventura, these loan applications would be approved.
"I think we [Portuguese-Americans] have a reputation of being honest, and saving money and paying bills," said Ventura. "I want that to continue."
Since the association's founding, it has grown to roughly two dozen members. These include Hartford Superior Court Judge Angelo L. dos Santos and state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, a Naugatuck Republican. Rebimbas has made recent headlines for supporting legislation to crack down on "sexting" - sending sexually explicit photographs via text message.
Ventura said that now the association's membership is primarily of Portuguese descent, but that the association is happy to embrace other Portuguese speakers, including Brazilians and Angolans - as well as any others who have interest.
"No matter where you go in the world you'll find Portuguese," Ventura said. "The old saying is God is everywhere but the Portuguese were there first."
Anyone seeking more information about the Portuguese Bar Association of Connecticut may contact Patricia Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick R. Linsey is a regular contributor to the Law Tribune and a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law.