Celebrating Latino Leaders: Saul A. Cardenas
"Success is when you inspire others to create opportunities for themselves."
Saul A. Cardenas
Hometown: Cali, Colombia
Saul Cardenas’s dream was to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a doctor. Life had something else in store for this hard-working man who went to law school instead and is now an associate at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, specializing in defense litigation.
Adjusting a Dream
Saul Cardenas resided in Colombia until his teenage years, when escalating violence prompted he and his family to seek asylum in the U.S.
Arriving in Miami, Saul went to live with an older brother who had emigrated five years earlier. His parents followed, leaving almost everything behind, except for their work ethic and determined spirit.
“We came here and had to start again. Like every other immigrant here, I have done it all: from construction, to parking cars, to cleaning, to serving coffee. You name it.”
With Spanish his native tongue, Saul knew he would have to learn English if he was to become a doctor. He enrolled in community college but found the language barrier a bigger deterrent to his aspirations than he originally imagined.
“I had an aptitude for finance, so I followed that path and earned my undergraduate degree at Florida International University and later decided to enroll in law school at the University of Miami.”
Creating Opportunities for Others
Cardenas credits his parents for instilling in him the importance of working hard for something you believe in, the desire to help others and a sense of community. “My parents taught us to value hard work, regardless of the type of work, as the only way to achieve success. As a child, my father was delivering newspapers from his bicycle at four in the morning back in Colombia; today, he is a doctor. He proudly made sure that we always knew that story growing up.”
While working and attending school in Florida, he volunteered in his spare time to build houses for those in need. When he moved to Connecticut, Saul provided pro bono legal services for immigration and trafficking cases through the International Institute of Connecticut. Today, he volunteers as an Advisory Committee member of the Progreso Latino Fund.
Saul’s interest in creating opportunities for others expanded while in law school, when he worked at the school’s immigration clinic.
One of the first files he worked on hit home. It was an immigration case of extended family seeking asylum, just as his family had done years earlier. His cousin and her husband had been paying an immigration attorney to handle an application, only to find that the attorney wasn’t doing a thing with their file.
“When I got the case, my cousin’s husband was about to be deported. I made every possible phone call and filed every possible document that I could. The next morning, before he was about to get on a plane, the immigration officials told him he didn’t have to go. That was a great feeling, because I could help.”
In the clinic, Saul helped individuals who were in deportation proceedings,and in some cases, stopping them from going back to war zones. In one case, he helped reverse the deportation order of a Mexican farmer who had fled the drug cartels after they killed his family and took his land.
“Before we were able to help him, he was incarcerated for almost three years and had contracted various illnesses while detained. The farmer now has permanent residency in the U.S. He doesn’t have to go back to that country. He doesn’t have to worry about being killed or sought out by any of those violent groups.”
On What it Means to be a Successful Latino and What is Needed for More Latinos to be Successful
For Saul, success is defined in terms of helping others – whether it’s navigating the legal system or serving as a role model, as his parents did for him.
“All people need help. Help comes in different ways. Success is when you inspire others to create opportunities for themselves. I hope to inspire others to achieve success not because of my ethnicity, race or the adversity I faced, but because of my hard work to overcome any of those obstacles.”