Featured Lawtina: Danney Salvatierra

Danney shared her story with @OfficialLawtina and we are so excited to share her first-person story here on LawtinaJD.com. Thank you Danney! You are an inspiration! 

"Women like me are not supposed to go to law school." According to statistics from the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), Latinas account for less than 2 percent of American lawyers. However, being a Latina immigrant is a more complicated equation.

Back in Peru, I was a top student. I skipped a few years because I was “too advanced” for my peers. I loved Math. Math was my thing. I competed in all national and local mathematics competitions in the city I lived in. I had it all figured out. I was going to become a finance major or an engineer. High school works differently in Peru. Students usually finish high school at the age of 14 or 15 which means I was only a few years away from graduating high school. One day, my future became uncertain because my family’s future became uncertain. I was brought to the United States, to start a new life. However, this new life was not ideal. I was placed in the American education system and quickly realized how different my life would be. I was an English as a Second Language (ESL) student. All throughout middle school and most of high school, I struggled to understand the English language. I had a hard time adjusting and lost interest in school altogether. My math teacher did not understand why I did not show up to class but would get good grades on final exams. He suggested I changed schools. I was too stubborn to listen. Nothing would change the fact that I was angry at the entire world.

One day, I met my mother’s boss. She was [still is] the Assistant Attorney General of Florida. She loved helping children and she instantly became a role model for me. She had a lot of money, but the money did not define her. She loved her job. Helping others was her passion. One time, we were invited to her beautiful home and I walked into her study, where she kept all of her law books. I opened one and realized I did not know 10 out of 20 words written on the page. I thought to myself: “Damn, law is hard. It can’t be harder than math though.” During that time, I was still feeling lost.

I decided that I wanted to finish high school from home [yes, home school]. I needed to get away and get some perspective. Maybe finally learn English? So I started to read Shakespeare [don’t laugh] and would have a dictionary next to me. I would look up words I didn’t understand. Not a smart move. I still don’t understand the English of Shakespeare's time. When I [miraculously] graduated high school at 18 years old, I traveled to Peru to see the family and friends I had not seen in many years. I spent an entire year reconnecting with family, my culture, my old life. It was eye-opening. I started to understand that my parents made sacrifices for us to have a better future.

When I got back to the United States, a close friend of mine, Angela, asked me where I was going for college. I had thought about college but it seemed impossible. “My parents don’t have that kind of money,” I would say. One day, Angela told me that she was going to attend Miami Dade College. She asked me to go to the campus with her for support because she was going to take the ACCUPLACER (CPT) exam which assesses students' basic skills. This exam includes Reading, Sentence Skills, Elementary Algebra, Arithmetic, and College Level Mathematics. If you get a low score, you are placed in “remedial classes.” If you get a high score, you can take college-level courses. Angela asked me to take the exam with her so that I didn’t have to wait outside and be bored. I laughed hysterically. I hadn’t done math in a while and had just returned from Peru. However, I said: “Why not?”

After three hours of doing a lot of math and reading, I went up to the lady who gave out the scores and she said I got a high score. I asked her if she was sure. I thought they had made a mistake, maybe a glitch in the system? Fast forward, I enrolled in college-level courses and with the help of financial aid grants, I spent three wonderful years at Miami Dade College. There, I became affiliated with The Law Center and received two associates degrees, pre-law and paralegal studies. Thanks to my paralegal degree, I was able to work as a paralegal while continuing my education at Florida International University. At Florida International University, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in global media communication. The rest is history. I chose this career because I want to help people through the law and was not going to let a language barrier get in the way of achieving my goals. This is the small-angle approximation of my story. During this process, I have gone through a lot of pain. This pain turned into a passion. This passion turned into a philosophy of life that I carry with me everywhere I go: KINDNESS. I always choose a smile, because that is what I needed to do to keep going."

Danney Salvatierra currently attends New York Law School. She is the President of the Immigration Law Students Association, Professional Development Chair of the Latin American Students Association, and a member of the Moot Court Association’s Executive Board. She served as the Co-Author for the Robert F. Wagner National Moot Court Competition and placed Second in the NYU Immigration Law Moot Court Competition. She participates in the Asylum Clinic, where she helped a couple obtain asylum in the United States after facing years of persecution in their home country due to their sexuality. She interns at Human Rights First, where she also works on asylum law cases. She is graduating law school with the Order of the Barristers Award and the Dean’s Award for Student Leadership.