Life Lessons: Radio Host/Lawyer Stefan Latorre
He helps calm fears with facts
STEFAN LATORRE IS an early riser. He travels often, but every weekday at 7:30 a.m., you can find him on his Spanish language radio show, “La Verdad de la Ley.” The name of the show translates literally as “The Truth of the Law,” and that’s what he intends to convey. When he started the program more than 10 years ago, the lawyer set out to address common concerns and misconceptions, and inform Charlotte’s Hispanic community about their legal rights. Listeners call in with their legal questions and Latorre provides the best answers he can. The show is broadcast on stations up and down the east coast, including Charlotte’s Latina 102.3 and La Raza 106.1.
When he’s not taking caller questions, Latorre and his staff represent clients in personal injury, workers’ compensation, criminal defense, and immigration cases. Latorre also served as chair of Charlotte’s Immigrant Integration Task Force, where he studied the city’s immigrant population and made recommendations to improve quality of life for all Charlotte residents.
Latorre sat down with Charlotte magazine recently and talked about his show as well as the changes he’s seen over two decades of living and working here.
Here he is, in his own words, edited for clarity and space:
BACK WHEN I STARTED, there was a little station—there was only one station—that was transmitting in Spanish, and at least half of it was religious. I talked to somebody there and they gave me a half-an-hour slot, and I started doing the question-and-answer once a week. Now it’s on every day (weekdays from 7:30-8, and Saturdays from 8-8:30) and we’re on 13 stations.
WHEN I OPENED MY PRACTICE, people would come in and say, “They won’t register my child in school. They refuse to.” Just from frustration, I’d pick up the phone and call the principal and have to straighten them out on what the requirements were. But over the years, the community certainly is much more informed now of their legal rights.
THEY JUST DIDN’T HAVE THAT KIND OF INFORMATION AVAILABLE, and that’s the reason for starting the show. To give correct, legal information to everybody and keep them better educated. I’ve always said that knowledge is power, and that’s what I tell them. Become informed of your rights.
WHEN I WAS DOING INTERNATIONAL TAX, the clients of the firm (were) multinational companies and very wealthy individuals, and, when I switched, I was dealing with common people. It was a complete change. My lawyer friends thought that I was making a mistake. When you say international tax compared to a lawyer that’s doing personal injury, dealing with blue collar workers and immigrants, it seems like no comparison. It would almost seem like you’re a brain surgeon compared to a dentist. My lawyer friends thought I was crazy.
I FOUND IT MUCH MORE PERSONALLY REWARDING, because you’re dealing with people and affecting their lives in a much more impactful way.
THE IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY HERE IS DIVERSE—over 100 countries are represented. The Hispanics are the largest, and among the Hispanics, the Mexican community is the largest. Most people think that all immigrants coming in here are uneducated and laborers, which is not the case. Actually, there’s a huge number that are very educated, that are coming here with work visas and doing more technical jobs.
THERE’S GOOD PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER. There’s good people here, too. But I think we’re better by having a good mix. Charlotte has certainly grown that way, and I’m very happy about that growth and the diversity that we have here.
I WAS BORN IN COLOMBIA. I came here (to the United States) when I was three. The immigration laws back then were much easier than today. My father had a sister that was a U.S. citizen in Minneapolis, and through her we got our residency. Now, an application like that takes well over 10 years and, if you’re Mexican, it’s a 20-year or more application.
MY DAD, BECAUSE HE WAS AN IMMIGRANT, didn’t have the same opportunities. He’s a hard worker––he immediately got a job and was working the whole time. He was never unemployed, that I can remember. There was a lot of work, and he was willing to work.
I DIDN’T NECESSARILY MOVE HERE (TO CHARLOTTE) and say, “I’m staying here forever.” I always thought I was going to go back to Miami. But Charlotte grows on you. People are very friendly. It’s a clean, safe city overall––it’s a great place.
IN MIAMI, there’s a lot of Hispanics, so it’s not like I felt very different. We were in a working-class neighborhood, went to public school. We had struggles as immigrants, but it’s so much more tough for the immigrant that’s coming in here undocumented. And that’s why you gotta admire people that are able to succeed.
WE SHOULD HELP THOSE PEOPLE. We entice them to come in here or didn’t enforce our laws then; we certainly can’t deport them now, 10 years later, when they have families. Are we just going to continue to let them sit here undocumented? We should do something to fix that problem that only the federal government can do. It will help us all. Just having undocumented workers be able to go out and get a work permit and a driver’s license is good for everybody.
TRUMP CREATED A LOT OF FEAR in the community. I talked to my callers, and I told them to be calm. Trump spoke very strongly on immigration. The fear was that he would do mass rounding up and deportations. I told all of my listeners, “Be calm, let’s wait.” And sure enough, after a little while it was very clear that that’s not what was going on, and people exaggerate and said false things. The panic went away. He has made some changes and there are some things that are harder now, but it’s a lot better than it could have been.
IMMIGRANTS ARE GOING TO BE MORE VULNERABLE than others because they’re new to the country. They’re not going to know the laws, they may not speak the language, they may not know the customs, may not know some very basic things. And there are people that take advantage of that, but I’m there every morning––I’m not hiding from anybody––and I think that gives them a little trust.
IF YOU’RE ONLY DEALING WITH PEOPLE THAT ARE LIKE YOU and your same economic or professional setting, you’re in a bubble. You don’t see things. But in my line of work, you see people from everywhere, and you really see the suffering and the difficulty and the needs that they go through. It reminds you of how fortunate you are.
I BELIEVE THAT ANYONE IN THIS COUNTRY, if they want to, can go to school and can be whatever they want to be. But you can’t say that in some other countries. You may not be able to do it, period. In the U.S., you have great opportunities to improve yourself that you’re not going to have in some other countries, even though here there are areas where it’s much harder. In some of these countries, the only way is to leave the country.
I THINK FELLOW AMERICANS don’t realize how fortunate we are to be in this country. Yes, of course we have some problems and all kinds of division and so forth, but overall this is a great country. We’re very fortunate to be here.
I’VE TRAVELED EXTENSIVELY, and I have clients from all over the world. They’re coming to the U.S. for a reason: Because we’re the best. Overall, we’re the best. Are we perfect? Of course not. But we are the best.
IT’S AMAZING THE WAY YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE just by guiding them sometimes. Some people are really happy when they hear what they can do––that they have this right or that right.
THE GUYS HERE AT NORSAN (MEDIA) say that when I go on the radio there’s a spike right away. There’s no other time when so many people want to call. During important times, I’ve started with a summary of what’s going on, but most of the time I just go in there and the thing is lit up right away. And I just go with caller No. 1.
Allison Braden is a freelance writer based in Charlotte.