I am a first generation Mexican-American. I grew up in a very traditional Mexican household. The only thing that was not traditional was that my father has always valued the opinion of the women in his life as being equal to a man’s opinion. My parents obtained only an elementary school education, but that did not stop them from always encouraging and supporting my education. From the time I was young, my parents encouraged me to pursue a career. My father would tell me in Spanish, “tu vas a ser una licenciada,” (you will be a college graduate or a lawyer). As a child, I wanted to become a teacher. I always looked up to my teachers, who, among other things, helped me learn English as a second language.
College was an eye-opening experience for me. During my freshman year in college I quickly realized that teaching was not for me. During my sophomore year I was exposed to the legal system, and I was instantly drawn to it. I started researching the academic requirements to become an attorney; for some reason I had the idea in my head that it took ten years. When I learned that law school was only three years, I couldn’t believe it—I thought it would be three short and easy years. I had no idea that it would actually be very challenging.
In 2012, I decided that I would graduate from college in three years and take one year off (turned out to be 2 years) to study for the LSAT and then apply to law school. I was very nervous to tell my parents and siblings that teaching, the career I had been pursuing since the age of five, had changed and now I wanted to be an attorney. The hardest part was explaining to my parents that after graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree I wouldn’t have a career title. Instead, I would just be me, Maria G. Alonso, a first generation college graduate. Happily, my parents were very supportive. At first, my mom was a little confused, her response was, “so you’re going to be the attorney’s secretary?” I explained, “no mom, I’m going to school to be THE attorney.” I realized that my mom was confused because in her generation, women only went to school to be teachers, nurses, or secretaries. A woman being an attorney was unheard of in the small town in Mexico where she grew up.
For me, law school has been a series of challenges and triumphs. The first time I heard my legal writing professor discuss the 1L moot court competition and how each of us would present an oral argument, I was intimidated. But, I developed an interest in appellate practice and received an A+ on my oral argument assignment. I realized that I had nothing to be intimated about, because I have always been an oral advocate for my family. As a first generation Mexican-American I became my family’s translator as soon as I learned English. I would translate during parent-teacher conferences and explain to my parents how my siblings and I were doing in school. I was my parents’ oral advocate during doctor’s appointments and during phone calls with our landlord. When we would get a letter in the mail that was in English, as soon as I would get home from school my parents would ask me to read the letter and translate it. Being an oral advocate is ingrained in who I am. Now, I want to continue speaking out, on behalf of my clients.
Having completed my first year of law school, I am even more convinced that I am meant to be an attorney. I know that being a woman of color in a field that in 2016 is still very much dominated by white men will be challenging. However, I refuse to let the lack of diversity within the legal field hold me back. The work ethic and morals my parents taught me have helped me achieve everything I have set my mind to and I know that this will also help me achieve even greater things as a first generation attorney. As my parents say, I will keep “hechandole ganas” (doing my best) to achieve my goals.