I am a biracial American. My mother is Caucasian and my father is Hispanic, from Puerto Rico. I have always lived in the United States, but I was raised to be very proud of my Puerto Rican heritage. I grew up spending a lot of time with my dad’s parents, mis abuelos, both in Puerto Rico and elsewhere, and I have always had a close relationship with them. Mis abuelos taught me life lessons from their own examples, including lessons that have been vital in my practice as an attorney.
Abuelo (my grandfather) taught me that it’s never too early — or too late — to go after what you want. He was born in 1925 and grew up in a village in northwestern Puerto Rico. He was the oldest son in a family with eight children. He lived at a time and place where he had to carry water from a well back to his house so that his family—including six sisters—could take baths.
Although he was raised on a farm in a home with very little in terms of material things, he was not deterred or defined by that. He was smart and determined to be a doctor, and he did not waste any time. He graduated valedictorian of his high school class when he was only 15 years old. He left his village to go to the University of Puerto Rico. Then he left the island for the first time in his life to attend Louisiana State University for medical school on a full merit-based scholarship. He was the youngest medical student to be admitted at that time, graduating when he was just 23 years old.
Accomplishing all of this, and years ahead of the typical student, was not easy for him. He studied every summer to finish his medical school in just three years. It was his determination and hard work that allowed him to do it and to be successful. His example was ingrained in his own children and grandchildren. My father and uncle both followed in his footsteps and became doctors. When I decided I wanted to become a lawyer, I was the first in my family to do so. But I was not deterred from taking a new path because I was “a Vera.” I knew I had my Abuelo’s determination, and I put in the hard work it took to be successful.
Abuelo and Abuela (my grandmother) met while he was a medical resident working at a hospital in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. At that time, Abuela was working at the same hospital as a social worker. When they met, Abuela was wearing a red polka dot dress, and Abuelo thought to himself, “Voy a casarme con esta señorita.” And he was right. They married on June 16, 1951, and celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary this summer. A marriage that is capable of enduring through decades necessarily requires a commitment of love and loyalty to one another. They are united in their mutual devotion to God, which has helped them overcome the difficulties of life and marriage.
Abuela advises that a good marriage requires that each spouse give 100 percent effort; 50 percent effort from each spouse is not enough. The strength of their marriage allowed Abuelo to continue to work hard in his career as a doctor, knowing that he had support from his wife at home. In addition, my parents have been faithfully married for 40 years. I am extremely grateful to have had two remarkable examples of marriage in my life. My husband and I married in 2021, and I am also thankful to have his support as I continue to progress my career as a trial lawyer at Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann.
It’s hard to think of a childhood Christmas celebration that didn’t include Abuelo and Abuela, because the majority of my childhood holidays and vacations were spent with them. They taught me and showed me the importance of enjoying life: to dance, to laugh, to eat well, to sing, to celebrate, to pasar lo bien. Abuela likes to make you laugh and Abuelo likes to entertain by playing the guitar or quattro. Recently, at Abuelo’s 97th birthday party, someone asked him to look back and explain how he would have handled problems in his life differently. He responded, “I didn’t have any problems in my life.”
While one could say objectively that he did have problems in life, there is wisdom in his perspective. We should always remember and be grateful for the good in life. Indeed, even life’s difficulties can result in good outcomes. Abuelo certainly agrees with and has lived out the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I must say as a lawyer trained to “sweat the small stuff” I accept this advice as valid, but I also find it is easier said than done. I certainly admire my Abuelo for his gratitude and focus on all that is good in life.
Like my parents, mis abuelos are devout Christians. Whenever we were staying at their house, they would always take us to church with them. They also showed us their faith in the way that they lived. In times of difficulty, I find comfort in knowing that they always pray for me. Indeed, my own faith has sustained me through times of doubt, adversity and health concerns. I know that I have learned to keep my focus on Christ from both my parents and grandparents. And my faith, integrity and commitment to ethics are guiding principles in my practice of law.
I am proud to be Puerto Rican and proud of my family. I am grateful to have had these good examples in my life. This makes me realize that I have a responsibility, and we all have a responsibility, to not just pursue the practice of law with excellence, but also to be role models to our families, in our workplaces and our communities, wherever we are.
Daniela Vera Holmes is an associate with Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann in Dallas.