By Judge Marilyn Zayas, one of Ohio’s firsts
It is an honor to be the first and only Latina woman elected to an Ohio District Court of Appeals, because I know my journey, like so many of my fellow Latino friends and family, has not been easy.
As we celebrate the National Hispanic Heritage Month and we recognize the contributions Hispanic and Latino Americans have made to our U.S. history and our society, I want to take a moment to reflect on and recognize my roots and thank those who have been there for me.
I was raised in a neighborhood devastated by drugs and crime. I’m the only daughter of a mother who had a seventh-grade education. I could have easily become a statistic.
Currently, one in four children in the U.S. in grades K-12 are Latino or Hispanic.
When we share our American/Latino history and our successes, we inspire the next generation to dream big and to believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.
My passion for the law stems from my early childhood, when all I wanted was a fair chance to be treated equally. It grew when I went with my mother to court and saw how she was treated. It was then I that I realized the law and the Constitution should be faithfully applied to everyone fairly and equally.
I moved to Ohio for a job as an IT manager with Proctor & Gamble, and then, with three young children at home to raise, I pursued my dream of going to law school. After years of being an advocate and standing up for everyone from refugees to immigrants, I shook up the status quo in 2016 and became the first Latina elected to any Ohio Court of Appeals.
Yes, the odds were against me. Some people even advised me that there were voters who would not be open to me.
I didn’t believe that then and I don’t believe it now.
Everywhere I went in my community, I met with wonderful people who were open and willing to talk about the issues that mattered to them and their families. My convictions were reinforced that if you treat people with dignity and respect, they will in turn treat you the same.
What a wonderful feeling and experience!
I was reelected in 2018 with more than 60 percent of the vote!
Along the way, I have served on four additional appellate districts by special assignment, and was selected by Ohio’s Chief Justice to sit on a case at the Ohio Supreme Court in place of a recused justice. In 2019, I was honored to be a recipient of the YWCA Career Women of Achievement award. In 2021, ABC’s Good Morning America recognized me for my community contributions. Actor-comedian John Leguizamo, who nominated me, said:
“Never forgetting her own struggles, Judge Zayas prioritizes mentoring and inspiring our youth to dream big and never give up. Through her partnerships with schools and universities, she educates students about the judiciary, shares her personal story, and reassures them that no dream is too big.”
Now, I am running for the Ohio Supreme Court because the highest court in our state should be diverse and look like Ohio.
I am still on a personal journey, this time taking me across the state to all 88 counties, and once again I have found that Ohioans want the same thing that I wanted as a young girl – to have a fair chance and to be treated equally.
So, as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, let us remember the people who struggled so mightily for us and let us not forget we are the generation paving the way for the future for our children and grandchildren.
We want to ensure they experience more opportunity and even more freedom to pursue their dreams than we did. That is our legacy. That is our mission. Let us embrace them with equal amounts of commitment and passion.