Herman Badillo ("bah-dee-yoh"), who recently passed away at age 85, called himself "The first Puerto Rican everything," because in many respects he was.
America often treated Puerto Ricans as invisible in the news media, movies and television, other than occasionally to depict them as criminals or welfare recipients.
Exploited in the U.S. for their cheap labor, Puerto Ricans often lived in slums, which was all they could afford. Education was a luxury and life was a day to day struggle.
Herman was determined to help Puerto Ricans and others living in poverty to uplift themselves and to share in the American Dream.
Active in politics from 1962 to 2001, for 40 years he was the most powerful Latino voice in New York politics.
Among his Puerto Rican firsts, Herman was elected to the U.S. Congress, became a New York City Commissioner, Bronx Borough President, Deputy City Mayor and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY).
While Board Chairman of CUNY (1999 - 2001), he reinstituted high academic standards that had been sharply reduced over the prior 30 years, because many Puerto Ricans and other minority students were not otherwise qualified to enter and study in the university.
Herman felt lowering academic standards was insulting and racist for students of any color could succeed if motivated to do so. He believed his own life was an excellent example:
Herman was born in Puerto Rico, an only child. By the time he was just five years old, both of his parents had died.
As an orphan, relatives took him in, and at the age of 11, he was sent to live with relatives in New York, where he learned English.
For years, Herman had no permanent home. He lived with relatives in Chicago and California, and he finally settled with an aunt in East Harlem, New York.
While living in East Harlem, Herman became an outstanding student at Haaren High School.
"I got the highest marks at Haaren, I graduated magna cum laude from City College, and in law school [Brooklyn Law School], I was first in my class," he proudly recalled in a 2001 New York Daily News profile.
Nobody had given Herman anything. He worked his way through school as a dishwasher, as a bowling alley pinsetter, stocked food in an automat and he did bookkeeping work.
After graduating from law school, Herman also became a CPA and practiced civil rights law, until going into politics.
Herman leaves us with a legacy of job creation, and educational and housing reforms. He is also a great example to those in poverty as to what they can accomplish if they are determined to do so.