‘Nothing Is Impossible’
Juan Dominguez and the good that good produced
Published in 2019 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine
By Jessica Ogilvie on January 30, 2019
The meeting taking place on the 12th floor of 3250 Wilshire Blvd.—the Dominguez Firm—wasn’t the first between Juan Dominguez and Nadia Karen Barreda Delgado. The two met many times over the years at Los Angelitos, the orphanage in rural Tijuana where Delgado grew up.
But this one, arranged in front of reporters, was special. This was the moment when Dominguez, who has contributed for years to Los Angelitos, would first greet Delgado as a fellow attorney.
With a slew of lenses pointed at them, Delgado emerged from a conference room wearing her graduation cap and gown. She and Dominguez embraced.
“Este es el diploma,” Delgado said, beaming.
“Felicidades,” said Dominguez. Still in Spanish, he continued, “I know you had to work hard, to study a lot. … And you made it. Congratulations.”
This story began in 2008, when Dominguez first visited a plot of land owned by Los Angelitos’ founder and director, Ed Perry. At the time, Perry was running the orphanage out of a small run-down building.
“It was a hybrid between a mobile home and a shack,” says Dominguez. “[Ed] wanted something better for them.”
Perry’s plan was to build on the land, but he didn’t have the funds. That’s where Dominguez stepped in.
“I have a strong feeling about people that are less privileged,” he says. “I think it’s the duty of all of us to assist other people that are less privileged and less powerful, and to make society better overall.”
Born in Cuba two years before Fidel Castro came to power, Dominguez, now 61, watched as Castro stripped Dominguez’s family and neighbors of their personal assets and autonomy. He witnessed curfews being set, and families forced to choose between their own safety and the safety of friends and relatives. Dominguez was routinely sent to wait in bread lines.
At the same time, his parents took in rural cousins who had lost homes, and hosted meals for friends.
“In the typical Latin family, family is paramount, and extended family is paramount, and extended family’s friends and family are paramount,” he says. “So we grew up with a lot of friends, we had a lot of people coming over to our house. My mom would make food for everybody; it was very humanistic and there was a lot of camaraderie.”
When Dominguez was 10, his family was one of the 20,000 selected each year as part of a lottery—a deal struck between Cuba and the Kennedy administration—to immigrate to the U.S. They landed in Miami, then moved to LA, where his 65-year-old father, a pharmacist, rebuilt his practice from the ground up.
“That is the story of hundreds of thousands of Cubans,” he says. “They came to the United States with zero, their parents didn’t speak English and had to go through the humiliation, all this typical stuff that immigrants go through.”
Dominguez and his five brothers got paper routes and worked blue-collar jobs to pay for school. Each became successful in fields as varied as pharmaceuticals, real estate and law. Dominguez, who contributes to over a dozen charities in addition to Los Angelitos, has been named attorney of the year by the Hispanic National Bar Association and nominated for the honor by the Consumer Attorneys of California. By the time he was introduced to Los Angelitos, the urge to help others was unshakeable.
In addition to donating funds to the orphanage, he often brought the children games and coloring books. He helped so much that in January 2018, the orphanage was renamed for him: Centro Juan J. Dominguez.
Meanwhile, a little girl named Nadia was paying attention.
Abandoned at the orphanage at the age of 6, she had a difficult time adjusting to her new surroundings. “She was depressed, scared, alone in the world,” recalls Perry.
As time went on, though, she began to get comfortable, open up, make friends. She was an early reader and lover of books. She was also incredibly persuasive, says Perry, in a way that recalled Tom Sawyer. “All of the girls had responsibilities and work chores to do,” he notes. “But somehow, little Nadia persuaded the other girls to do her chores while she kept them company in conversation.”
Delgado says Dominguez’s influence in her life and the lives of the children around her was a key factor in her decision to become a lawyer.
“I witnessed many injustices,” she says. “Lawyers can help people—Juan Dominguez was already helping us—and that motivated me.”
Delgado stayed at Los Angelitos throughout law school, taking the bus to her classes and caring for the younger children by cooking, washing clothes and bathing the infants. Dominguez pitched in on the finances.
“Law school is expensive, and the orphanage didn’t have sufficient funds to pay for Nadia’s education,” says Perry. “We were blessed by Juan Dominguez to sponsor her school tuition, books, transportation and other expenses.”
Last August, Delgado graduated from the Centro de Estudios Universitarios Xochicalco; she plans to become an immigration attorney. She hopes to prevent parents from being separated from their children and to provide opportunities for children to have a better life.
“She has overcome a lot to be an attorney,” Dominguez says. “It really is a lot of struggle, work and study to pass the exams. For her to do it with the disadvantages that she’s had is admirable. I’m very proud of her. … I’m honored that she’s followed in my footsteps.”
Back at 3250 Wilshire Blvd., Delgado is expressing her message of hope to the cameras. She speaks clearly and confidently.
“To all the students and anybody watching, I just wanted to say: Don’t give up. Nothing is impossible. There will be obstacles, there will be excuses. … You will always find difficulties as you pursue your goal. But don’t give up.”
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