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Thoughts From a First Generation Law Student

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.

Maria Alonso Family

Photo courtesy of M. Alonso.

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.

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Photo courtesy of M. Alonso.

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.

Maria Alonso Photo

Photo courtesy of M. Alonso.

Author Maria Alonso

My name is Maria G. Alonso, the proud daughter of hardworking and humble immigrants from Mexico. I will be a 2L in the fall. I was born in Santa Ana, California and raised in Fort Worth,Texas. My number one priority has always been to make my parents and family proud.

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  • Juan says:

    Hard work and dedication pays off. The sky is the limit for people like you, that have a goal in mind and won’t stop until that goal is met. This world will be a better place because of individuals like you.

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