Guest Writer: My Journey As A First Generation Lawtina
By Rebecca Medina
My Journey as a First Generation Lawtina
My truth. My mother is from Zacatecas, Mexico. She entered the U.S. on the shoulders of a stranger through the Rio Grande, with my grandmother who wanted a better life for her 5-year-old. My father trekked through Central America and Mexico from Managua, Nicaragua at 19 in pursuit of his American Dream. My parents were both raised by single mothers in the inner city. My mother had me when she was 16 and didn’t finish high school. My father went to community college but never graduated. My parents never married; I was raised by my mother with my father’s financial support. Immigrant grandparents, teenage mother, poor, the stats were stacked against me. Let’s flash forward. I’m 34 years of age. I’m the second in my family to go to college; the first to go to law school. I am a business owner and activist in my community. It’s my intention to leave a legacy that helps shape equality for all.
I did not grow up wanting to be a lawyer. After I graduated college I was exposed to the craft while working at a law office. It also helped me grasp my family’s journey. I learned my parents had been undocumented. I was 2 when President Reagan gave them an opportunity to become legal residents through amnesty. I was 24 when they became citizens. It wasn’t until later in life that I fully understood what that process took for them, what life was like for them or the challenges they faced before they had legal status. Although my family remains the reason I always work hard and try to do better, they were not my motivation to pursue a career in immigration law. What was the catalyst? A racist white woman.
One day, a woman walked into the office and asked for the number to Homeland Security. When I questioned her, she told me she wanted to report “the Mexicans standing outside Home Depot because they needed to go back to where they came from.” I gathered my thoughts before speaking. I told her not to generalize. They weren’t hurting anyone and were looking forwork to support their families. When I got defensive, she askedwhere I was from. I told her I was born in the U.S., but my parents are Mexican and Nicaraguan. Not that she knew the difference. She smirked and said, “No wonder you defend them, you’re one of them.” I asked her the same. She said, “I’m Italian but my people, unlike yours, have made positive contributions to this country.” I reminded her of the course history once took andtold her Italians were targeted immigrants themselves. People had the same closeminded mentality that she was demonstratingnow. I told her she was wasting my time and I would not be helping her. She angrily walked out. I called my mother and cried of frustration and anger. She told me there would always be people like her in this world. However, from that day forward, I made it my purpose in life to defend and protect the undocumented community from people like her. I went home, not knowing where to start, but knowing that my mission was to get into law school. I researched the topic and spoke to people who knew people in the profession. I didn’t personally know an attorney. I found out there was a test I had to take to get into law school. I sought free and low-cost resources, went to libraries, found old LSAT books, and saved money for a prep course. I did horribly on practice tests. Standardized tests were my enemy. But I couldn’t resist the challenge. Once I set my mind to something, I saw it through, no matter what it took. I studied until the exam. My score wasn’t a big deal, certainly not worth mentioning. Let’s just say it was barely enough to get me into law school.
Now the daunting task of law school applications. I knew I couldn’t afford many, so I took calculated risks. I knew I needed help, so I looked until I found it. I came across For People of Color, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering people of color to enter law school. I attended a free event at UCLA where they provided tips on how to put applications together and gotinvaluable feedback on admissions essays. I grew confident that I would be able to get into at least one school with their help, a little prayer, and a lighted candle. Latinos know what I’m talking about.
I applied to 8, got wait-listed at 1 and accepted into 2 – American University in D.C. and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Having taken out several loans to complete my undergraduate degree so that I wouldn’t financially burden my parents, I knew I needed to cut costs where possible. That meant staying in Los Angeles, commuting to school 15 minutes away, and hosting a fundraiser before starting school so I could afford my books. Law school itself was one of my biggest challenges. The competitiveness of law school was downright exhausting. There were no friends. There were rankings and it was cutthroat, but like anything else in my life, I did my best. I attended office hours and asked for help.
After 3 years, I maxed out my loans and spent my savings. I applied for a scholarship to cover my bar exam prep course. But I wouldn’t be able to afford the actual bar exam. I had no moneyor time to find a job. Asking my parents was out of the question. All the hard work seemed to be for nothing. I had hit a wall until I asked for help - a consistent theme in my life. My aunt loanedme the money under the condition that I wouldn’t let my family down by giving up after everything I’d gone through. No pressure! I studied until I could study no more. I spent 7 days a week in the library, 12-14 hours a day. I had two mental breakdowns where I was ready to walk away without looking back. The day finally came. Back then, the exam was still 3 days, 6 hours each day. I was a mess. My laptop glitched. My exams didn’t upload correctly on the first try on day 3. I walked out of the exam almost certain I hadn’t passed. Then I waitedalmost 4 months for the results. The time came. I couldn’t muster the courage to check myself. My sister did it. A gasp. “You passed!” I couldn’t believe it. I had to see it myself. Sure enough, I had passed the California bar exam, one of the toughest in the country, on the first try.
Now what? I got an email from my school a month later about fellowships. I took a position with the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Immigrant Rights Project. Through that, I landed my first associate position where 8 months in, I found out thereexisted attorneys who branded themselves so well that they got away with overcharging struggling communities. I left and landed my second associate position. Another 8 months in, I found out there existed attorneys who took money whileproviding false hope of being able to help. I took a leap of faith and opened my own office. I was terrified. I had been practicing for 2 years with another couple of years of jobs, volunteering,and externships under my belt. Did I know enough to help these communities? Could I be my own boss? Where was I going to get clients? Would people trust me enough to hire me? More questions than answers. But one thing was certain, I did not want to be like the colleagues I had worked for. It was unfair and unjust to my community. If things were going to change, they were going to start with me. I saved up money to purchase business cards and a logo. I did guerrilla marketing. I stood outside shopping centers and handed out business cards. I put flyers on car doors and windows. I spoke to anyone who would listen about what I did. Slowly, the clients trickled in, the google reviews accumulated, the IG and FB pages were created with as much content as possible. I hired a social media marketer for mybranding. I recently celebrated 5 years in business. I’m a recenthomeowner. It’s all possible. Do not listen to people who tell you that you can’t because of where you come from. Or thosewho say it’s too hard or expensive. Or those who say it’s not meant for you or that it’s not worth it. I am speaking to you as a first generation Lawtina. I’m a woman who came from very little and humble beginnings to be the owner of her own law practice. This I know for sure, if you want it enough, you CAN make it happen.