Judge Rolando T. Acosta arrived in The Bronx at age fourteen from Santiago, Dominican Republic. He spoke not a word of English. Although he showed great promise as both a scholar and a baseball player, he chose to study at Columbia University, where he obtained a law degree. He was also a noted pitcher for the Columbia College Lions.
The first Dominican elected to a county-wide civil court judgeship in New York, and then to the New York State Supreme Court, Acosta is proud of his heritage. One of his hobbies is collecting memorabilia from Dominican cultural heroes, including baseball ace Pedro Martinez and merengue star Fernando Villalona.
One of the milestones for Judge Acosta on his way to the State Supreme Court was presiding over the New Harlem Community Justice Center as a civil court judge, where he won praise for the compassionate way he handled low-level crimes, “calling the defendants by their first names and imploring them to listen to their parents’ advice.” Acosta often dealt with housing, family, and drug issues by ordering counseling, drug treatment, job training, and mentoring.
Cases heard by Judge Acosta that have attracted attention have dealt with pornography, sexual offenses, and defamation of character. In one case, he ruled that a woman could keep a $40,000 engagement ring from a man who had proposed to her, because she found out that he was already married. As First Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, Acosta ruled in a case concerning age discrimination at a movie theater that, unless rowdiness was involved, the “sweeping exclusion of whole groups of people based on their age will not be allowed."
Judge Acosta’s career reflects the growing importance of Dominicans as the second-largest Hispanic community in New York City. Since the 1980s, this community has become rooted in the Washington Heights and Inwood sections of upper Manhattan, where Dominican shops, small businesses, and social and political organizations flourish.
How does cultural diversity influence politics?
Check for Understanding
Describe the man in the photograph and explain the significance of his role in the community.