When I was a little girl, my uncle filled the void of a father. He would take me on weekend picnics with his own kids and house me and my mami for the months we couldn’t pay rent. One evening, as I peered out the front window, clutching my pink Hello Kitty strap purse, and waited for his pickup, no one came. Instead, my aunt frantically called. My uncle, who was not documented, had been deported. The night that followed is branded into my memories: my aunt showing up with my half-asleep baby cousins; my sister’s desperate calls to find legal service; my mami’s tears. She was undocumented too.
Soon after, my family decided to seek legal help for my mami. We spent months saving up money to start the filing process and contacted an attorney. He took the payment and stopped responding to our calls.
Even as a child, I could not fathom this disproportionate abuse of power. I stormed into the kitchen one day and declared to my family, “Un día yo voy a ser abogada para nuestra familia.” “One day I will be a lawyer for our family.” I have never forgotten that promise.
At the age of 12, I assisted my sister in finding an attorney to better represent my mami. I served as an interpreter when we attended meetings with the paralegal and attorney. I assisted in helping my mami understand any legal documents and even testified before a judge at every hearing. The process to become a legal resident, I realized, was extremely costly and time-consuming, despite paying reduced fees.
My experience as a teenager led me to the realization that a lot of work had to be done to assist immigrant communities. As an undergraduate at UCLA, I registered voters in Spanish-speaking communities through Voto Latino, created a scholarship fund for undocumented students as an intern at MALDEF, created programming tailored to immigrant mothers that would inform them about financial resources available to them in their school district and local government through CentroNia, and I was proactive in my advocacy for increased funding for DACA recipients as Student Body President. I furthered my interests by conducting research in my third year on English learners from immigrant backgrounds and the effects that remote learning due to the pandemic had on them and their families.
In my pursuit to learn more about the legal field, I began to work at MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) last year. In my role as legal assistant, I have conducted intakes with clients from immigrant backgrounds and have learned the value of having lawyers who can empathize with their clients. In the past, clients have shared tragic stories surrounding police brutality, harassment by employers, and deportation threats from landlords. Having seen family members affected by similar circumstances, I have always made sure to execute any meeting with kindness and empathy. I am satisfied when clients express how they feel heard and understood as a result of our conversation. I am further reassured by the realization that my most impactful role is yet to come when I get to serve as their attorney. As a future attorney, I hope to be the advocate my family needed after my uncle was deported.
After an exhausting nine-year process, my mami eventually gained residency two years ago. Earlier this year, my significant other and I surprised her with a trip to New York City for the first time. This was the first time she had left California since her arrival from Mexico in the late 1980s. Seeing her eyes swell with happy tears made my heart swell with joy. My inner child was overwhelmed and excited just to be by her side.
While the vast majority of my family has not had such an opportunity because they remain undocumented, my aim in attending law school is to change these circumstances. As a pro bono attorney, I hope to restore justice for my family and other families that look like mine. I want every child of an undocumented parent to experience the joy I did watching my mami start to experience the life of travel and discovery she had been deprived of. I am motivated to earn my degree at Yale Law School and to use that degree to work towards paving an easier path to citizenship. As I pursue my legal education, I will continue to keep the promise I made to my family as a child at the forefront of my studies.