Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
Hispanic Heritage Month
Central Office - Albany, New York
October 1, 2013

Thank you and good morning. It is a pleasure and a joy for me to be here with all of you as we again come together in our annual tradition to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, with this year’s theme being: “Hispanics: Serving and Leading Our Nation with Pride and Honor.”

Stepping back for a moment, I think all of us should reflect on how fortunate we all are to live in this great country, which is made up of so many different races, ethnicities and cultures from all over the world, and that all of these diverse groups come together to become part of the American fabric.

We are familiar with the term “The Melting Pot.” It was actually the name of a play written by a man named Israel Zangwill and it was first staged in 1908. It was the story of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, who survived terrible hardships in his homeland, and who came to America and looked forward to a society free of ethnic divisions and hatred. In the play the hero proclaims: “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all races of Europe are melting and reforming…Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all. God is making the American.”

Some forty years later, in the early sixties, two scholars at the time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who would go on to represent NY in the US Senate, and Nathan Glazer, came out with their book about ethnic groups in New York City that was called “Beyond the Melting Pot.” In the book they argued that earlier immigrants who streamed into New York City had maintained their ethnic identities through successive generations. They also claimed that this persistence of ethnic consciousness was a social form that would endure.

Perhaps, rather than referring to our country solely as a great Melting Pot, it might instead be more appropriate to refer to America as both a Melting Pot and a Mosaic, where all of us, regardless of our background, are Americans, but where we also maintain with pride our original ancestry and heritage, and also join together to admire, appreciate, celebrate and sample the many different ethnic variations and contributions that are woven together into our social fabric.

When you think about it, our diversity offers to all of us so many incredible opportunities as well as variety in our choices. To take just one example, look at all of the different culinary delights that are made possible by our diversity. In New York City, you could dine out every night for an entire year, and find a different ethnic restaurant each night to sample, with no repetitions.

And then of course, when you factor in all of the other endless ethnic traditions and contributions, such as literature, music, art, dance, humor, fashion and family values, to name just a handful, it is easy to understand why we are so rich as a nation.

Today, we again come together to celebrate our wonderful diversity, this time with our recognition of Hispanic Heritage week. There are so many wonderful contributions from the Hispanic Community from which to select. But for me in particular, the one I truly admire is the elevation in 2009 of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor was born in New York City in 1954 of Puerto Rican descent. Her father died when she was nine, and she was subsequently raised by her mother. She was also diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a young girl, which meant she could not fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a police officer. So instead, motivated by reading Nancy Drew stories and watching Perry Mason episodes on television, she set her eyes on becoming a lawyer. Justice Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976, and she received her JD from Yale Law School in 1979. Both of these are remarkable academic achievements. In 1992, following her nomination by President George Bush, she became a federal district court judge in the Southern District.

As a federal judge, she actually handled a number of our inmate cases, and I am very happy to say, never once did she hold me in contempt. There were however, a couple of close calls.

Despite her elevation to become at the time the 111th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor has never forgotten her roots. In fact, she prefers to be known as Sonia from the Bronx, and in her book, “My Beloved World”, she describes what it was like to grow up in a vibrant, loving and giving community. And whenever she returns to where she grew up, there is such a mutual outpouring of affection between her and the community where she was born and raised, that it warms the heart. To me, she embodies so much of what is wonderful in Hispanic heritage – a love of family, a love of friends and neighbors, a love of tradition, and most important of all, a love of, and deep appreciation and boundless zest for life itself, and all that it has to offer. She is a true inspiration for all Americans.

With that, let me turn now to someone else who is also quite accomplished and proud of his Hispanic heritage, our Keynote Speaker, Deputy Superintendent for Programs at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, Phil Melecio. Phil started his career with the Department in 1989 as a Hispanic Needs Coordinator at Adirondack Correctional Facility. As he progressed through the system, holding the positions of Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator and then Supervising Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator, Phil was assigned to a wide variety of Department programs and inmate populations such as work release, CASAT, Aggression Replacement Training, Transitional Services, Substance Abuse, and the SHU Aggression Workbook. Phil also held the position of Assistant Director of Transitional Services, and he served as the Program Deputy Superintendent at Hale Creek and Coxsackie before landing at Great Meadow.

Phil has also served as the Department representative on the Schenectady County Reentry Task Force, and he has completed a whole host of special courses and trainings as a corrections professional with the Department. His academic achievements are also noteworthy. Phil received a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Albany, and he also has some course work credit from the Nelson Rockefeller Graduate School of Social Welfare, in their Masters’ Social Work Program.

Ladies and Gentlemen, our keynote speaker, Phil Melecio.