Thursday, April 12, 2018

Reflections on my last day of Law School...

Yesterday was my last day of Law School classes. I celebrated by going to the temple. I felt like I was reliving the last day of my mission all over again. As I sat in the Celestial room of the Provo temple, I offered up a prayer of gratitude for all that Heavenly Father has blessed me these last 4 years of graduate school. It was an emotional experience, a happy one, and I felt true joy thinking about all the future holds.

I get asked all the time, "how did you decide to go to law school?"

It was 10th grade.
French class.
My teacher was trying to decide which French film she would play for us that day. I had some very strong opinions about the matter, although, for the life of me, I can't remember what they were. What I do remember is Ma. Vrabel saying simply, "You know, you ought to go to Law School!"

She planted the seed.

My sophomore year of undergrad at BYU, I was walking towards the Cannon Center when I saw a flyer on the floor advertising BYU's JD/MPA program. Law School of course, was always part of the plan, but I had no idea what a MPA was. However, once I saw the name of the degree I knew I had to pursue this program path! I graduated from BYU, took the LSAT, and left on my mission. Toward the end of my mission I used my p-days to work on my applications for both Law School and the MPA program.

How did I decide to choose BYU law?
This is a VERY Mormon answer, so forgive me! I had been given a very specific promise in my patriarchal blessing that post-mission I'd return to BYU (BYU is mentioned by name) to continue my education here. Besides this specific promise, I had a deep understanding that my time in Provo was not done. I'm more on the liberal side of the political scale, and I wanted to learn how to combine my faith with my liberal ideologies to learn how to do the most good for the most people! Even though BYU has a bit of a conservative reputation, I am living proof that this can be done!

My grad school experience has been defined by a commitment to service to the poor, needy, and the most vulnerable populations in our country. On the very first day of Contracts, Prof. Jennejohn told our class to find a cause, something that would propel us, motivate us to press forward when things got hard during law school. My motivation became my Latino roots, mi raza, mi gente, and the people of my hometown of Compton, CA who for me represent those that live in the inner city urban areas around the country, people who are plagued by the stereotype that "nothing good can come from the hood."

In law school, I've learned a new language, an empowering language: the language of the law, and I truly feel "endowed with power from on high." I feel a responsibility and duty to use my newly acquired language skills to help lift the brokenhearted and downtrodden.

The MPA program has given me concrete technical skills to learn how to truly work in a team setting, evaluate program effectiveness, and make some sense of budgets and finances. I've learned just enough to be dangerous. I've also supplemented my learning by taking advantage of some incredible undergraduate courses that have helped me make sense of the underpinnings of our nation's ugliest issues. On the legal side of things, I filled my course load with classes that spark my passion: Federal Indian Law, Civil Rights: section 1983, Civil Rights, Social Political Feminist Legal Thought, Social Change, and Immigration.

My BYU graduate school experience would be nothing were it not for my incredible professors and mentors! There's prof. Eva Witesman from the MPA program who boldly declared the power and value of female education in a BYU devotional that went viral. I took every course I possibly could from Prof. Michalyn Steele who has used her legal skills to help improve the lives of Native peoples.

There's, Prof. Kif Augustine-Adams who my class affectionately named "double A" who helped me explore my feminist understanding of the world. Prof. Rebecca DeSchwinitz, an undergraduate professor whom I met through my participation in the civil rights seminar, who advocates passionately for the voices of minority students on BYU campus. Dr. Jake Rugh who has become a true friend and uses his education to bring much needed truth to light. And finally, Prof. Carl Hernandez who somehow manages to take charge of a number of legal clinics to make sure that he does everything in his power to improve the lives of the poor and needy.

These mentors have inspired me, and are my symbolic torchbearers. They have made my BYU graduate school experience complete.

There's an Elder Kimball quote that has been mentioned quite a bit in Church settings recently:
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world . .. will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.
When I graduate on April 27th, I will be the first Latina in over 10 years to graduate with a JD/MPA from BYU.  I know that coming to graduate school has been a way for me to fully play out my part in this prophecy. Graduate school has been a necessary step of my "filling the measure of my creation."

Sunday, March 25, 2018

life as of late.

Thirty-three days and counting!
I always fall into the trap of thinking that every semester will be less crazy than the previous one, but I have a problem saying "no" to all the LATINO things. 
This post has a little bit of family birthdays, a little bit of Dilley, TX, a little bit of Latino concerts, a little bit of supporting Latino youth, and a whole lot of Mexican love. 
^^The eerie detention center in Dilley, TX. I thought it looked like an alien, X-files, type discovery sight.
^^Our BYU Law Dilley crew
^^I was REALLY upset when Natalia LaFourcade cancelled on the church's Luz De Las Naciones event last minute. I mean, I guess I somewhat understand because she left us for the Grammys, but I was still bitter. I opened Spotify one day and saw that Las Cafeteras & Flor de Toloache were performing together at the University of Utah and knew I had to go! My friend Nicole hooked me up with student discount tickets. I have been a big fan of these bands for a while now and their performance almost healed the sans Natalia LaFourcade piece of my heart, almost.
^^I was asked to present at Latinos In Action's FIRST EVER conference at BYU. I jumped on as an honorary panel member with some other super boss Latino grad students, and then hosted my own workshop to highschoolers from Granger high (my Uncle Job's Alma matter) about the good that Latino students can do for their community. I appropriately titled it Para Mi Gente.
^^Family dinner with the Swartz, our former 97th ward 1st counselor

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lessons In Love: February 2018

At the end of last year, I felt strongly that 2018 would provide me a case study in love, not love of the whirlwind romance variety, but true love--pure, undefiled and Christlike in nature. This month, my lesson in love came from the examples of the Women currently detained in the South Texas Family Residential Center, more appropriately known as baby jail.

You can’t find Dilley on a standard map. It’s a blink of a town with a population of just under 4,000 residents. Its claims to fame are (in no particular order): a Men’s prison, petroleum wells, the family detention center, and Bobby’s Taco Truck (for the record, not a huge fan, see my review on Yelp for more details).

I traveled to Dilley two weeks ago to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project with fellow law students and alumni to prepare the women and children detained there for their credible fear interviews—the first step to claiming asylum in the United States. The women in this facility either presented themselves at our nation’s border while claiming refuge or crossed without authorization—all were fleeing incredible danger. An individual cannot claim asylum from outside our borders, she must be present physically in our country before doing so. In many cases, these women were trying to immigrate the "right way.”

The “facility” is really a conglomeration of bungalows, evidence that this solution was at one point considered temporary. No picture taking is allowed on the premises, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re sure to miss the entrance. The "welcome sign" is conveniently hidden well of the main road. Incredibly, the complex is staffed predominantly by Latinos! I mean, a job is a job, but there was something wickedly cruel that nuestra raza is participating in the detention of those who represent our ancestors. It's something I haven't been quite able to wrap my head around. While sheltered bungalows may prove a welcome change for the women fleeing horrors south of our border, family detention is wrong. No victim, no child should have to live like a prisoner.

Every day, I was subjected to a TSA-like security inspection; I used a clear backpack during the week to make the process go smoother. As I entered the visitation trailer each morning, I was greeted by women dressed in standard issued colored sweats and beanies. These women would wait patiently, sometimes for hours on end to share their horrific stories with us.

For five days 12/hr a day I’d listen to each of these women share with me the worst experiences of their lives: rape, extortion, extreme gang violence, government corruption, domestic violence—in some cases, all of the above. And yet, every single woman would at some point in her meeting with me say, “Yo se que Dios ha estado con nosotros,” I know that God has been with us. Each woman would also tearfully explain that the horrible journey she undertook was not a planned one, but rather a desperate last measure resort to protect the child she had brought with her.

Very early on into the experience, the spirit brought to my remembrance a passage from the Book of Mormon, the testimonies of the Army of Helaman who could say so confidently, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56: 48). I know that the children, the babes, the toddlers, the tweens who accompanied these mothers will not doubt that their mothers had incredible faith in God.

Say what you will about immigration reform, but one thing I know for sure is that for every woman I met, her primary motivation in making the perilous journey north was love.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Civil Rights Trip 2.0 (MLK jr. weekend)

I figured I should probably post about this trip before I leave on another--so, here I am literally writing this post in the Salt Lake City airport. Really going down to the wire on this one. You remember my civil rights trip? (Took place this time last year, a pilgrimage down south to the sites of the civil rights movement...refresher here) Well, since we don't get to go on the trip twice, a few friends and I planned to take our own civil rights trip during MLK jr. weekend. What better way to celebrate an incredible champion of justice, by actually celebrating the civil rights we enjoy in his honor!

The real MVP of this trip is Kira Nielsen 👏👏👏who made this trip possible by convincing her parents to let us take her car. I invited my friend Marissa on this trip, and beautiful friendships were born! Seriously, I knew she'd be such a good fit for this friend group, because she's one of the most woke white women at BYU.

We hit up the Watts Towers, visited the INCREDIBLE La Raza exhibit (photos of the Chicano Rights Movement) at the Autry Museum (of which there are no pictures because #copyright laws), but let me just say there were several tears shed at this moving exhibit along with, gasps of "I had no idea!" from my friends. We were also slightly angered—why don't we learn about the Chicano Rights Movement in school?!?!

^^Kira was literally all of us. It was 80 degrees and incredibly sunny, we were thriving. 

We also ventured down to Huntington Beach and watched the sunset. What is it about being on a beach that fills you with zen? Much needed.
We attended church at my old home singles ward. I was a little worried that I would no longer know anyone at the singles ward, but I was so pleasantly surprised. You know how much I love the worlds colliding sensation. This was one of those moments, sharing my home-based village of wonderful Polynesians with my BYU friends. (sidenote: I recently noticed just how many pictures I have in front of church signs...)

Also on the itinerary, a visit to the California African American Museum (CAAM) to see their Black Radical Women exhibit. 
We met up with Ryan from our civil rights trip who now lives in LA. We love this man!
A civil rights themed trip to LA would NOT be complete without a visit to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Ask Ryan how he felt about the experience.
You just can't have a civil rights trip to SoCal without visiting Compton, and you can't have a visit to Compton without taking a picture in front of our larger than life Obama mural. 
We wrapped things up with an extremely quick trip to LACMA before we headed back to Utah. Honestly, this trip helped me realize that I don't want to just celebrate the "smaller" American holidays by just treating them like a freebie day off; I want to plan holidays with meaning. Thankful for these women who share my love and passion for civil rights and who think that taking a Civil Rights trip is cool!