During an undergraduate course on race in the United States, I was tasked with interviewing someone who identified as a “hyphenated American” to discuss this person’s experiences as nonwhite in America. I decided to interview my grandfather, a Mexican-American man who grew up in the American Southwest. While I was aware that all of my grandparents had faced some form of discrimination in their lives because of their Mexican ancestry, this exercise gave me a chance to learn more details about my grandfather’s experiences and contextualize those experiences with historical perspective.
As that class ended, I knew that I wanted to continue to dive deeper into the history of Mexican-American people and other Latinx folks, and decided that I should double major in Chicano/Latino Studies. That decision completely changed the trajectory of my education. From that point forward, I viewed my political science studies through a new lens, analyzing the intersection of political systems and low-income minority populations. For most of my life I thought that the hardships my grandparents faced were those of a bygone era, but I came to realize that the upward mobility that my family had experienced was a fortunate occurrence, likely made easier due to the fact that my family happens to be fair complected.
As a result, I decided that I would use my education that I was so fortunate attain to help communities who have not been able to achieve upward mobility. Since then, I have volunteered with an after-school program in a working class Latinx community, a library in Southern California tasked with collecting oral history interviews of Latina women who helped to shape their community, a nonprofit in D.C. aimed at promoting civil rights, and a legal aid clinic that is designed to serve Spanish speaking clients including those without legal status. Each of these opportunities helped to shape my interests and led me to choose Temple Law so that I could continue to gain experience in public interest work.
Since coming to Temple, I have had many opportunities to dive into the kind of work I wanted to pursue. The National Lawyers Guild’s (NLG) Expungement Clinics, community service projects with the Student Public Interest Network (SPIN), and the Community Lawyering Clinic have all been wonderful ways for me to continue this work. While these have all been great experiential opportunities, I wanted to pursue this work academically in addition to the hands-on experience.
Guided Research proved to be the perfect way for me to explore that original spark that led me to Temple Law. Guided Research allows students to work individually with a professor who has expertise in their area of interest in order to earn course credit. This may be taken as a serial writing (multiple papers throughout the semester) or a research writing (one extensive research paper) course. The Affinity Group Coalition and other student organizations often hold sessions during the Spring to inform 1L’s of Guided Research and other course options before enrollment period begins. I thought that Guided Research sounded like a great opportunity based on one of these sessions, so I met personally with a 3L who had a wonderful experience with Guided Research to learn more.
I reached out to Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales around exam period of the semester preceding my Guided Research to see if she would supervise my research project (though I would recommend reaching out earlier if possible, as professors have other obligations in their schedules and may not have room in their schedules to supervise a research project if you ask too late). I felt like I had to have a relatively narrow topic before proposing a research project to a professor, however, this is not necessary, and many other students go into Guided Research with a broad topic such as immigration, then narrow the thesis during the first few weeks of the semester.
Professor Ramji-Nogales graciously agreed to work with me and as soon as the new semester started, she helped me to determine the parameters of my research and the starting points for texts I should consider. My next step was to create a schedule for my own deadlines to submit an outline, drafts, and the final paper so that I would have more structure. Now, we meet weekly to talk through research problems that I encounter or the best ways to lay out my arguments.
I am now working through the first iterations of my research paper, sifting through books that will act as a primer on race in the law, cases that act as my cornerstones, and law review articles that are helping me to find the gap in research that I hope to fill. As I am still in the beginning stages of my paper, I know that my thesis is likely to change a bit as I parse through more information and talk through my work with Professor Ramji-Nogales. But for now, I will continue my work to argue for a change in legal pedagogy that makes room for an examination of cases about Mexican-American plaintiffs who do not fit neatly within the traditional black-white lens through which most legal texts view race in the United States. At the end of the semester I will talk with Professor Ramji-Nogales to discuss how I might be able to disseminate the paper to relevant audiences and perhaps submit it for publication in a journal. While these are certainly not necessary steps for a Guided Research class, my paper argues for a change in legal education with feasible suggestions for that change, so it is something that is designed to be heard by a broader audience.
This research is my favorite part of this semester. It has given me an opportunity to work closely with a professor whom I highly respect and whose teaching style works well for me. Additionally, it has given me the freedom to get back to my roots in Chicano/Latino Studies and come full circle in my journey to learn more about the history that shaped the experiences of my family and advocate for those who have not experienced the same trajectory of upward mobility. While this research topic is not necessarily what I envisioned in my original determination to advocate for underserved communities, I hope that my paper will help Latinx law students see themselves in their course work. Not in cases where the defendant is being deported, or on trial for horrible crimes, but to see themselves fighting for equality in the education system or simply fighting to have their property rights protected. Moreover, I hope that this paper might encourage other people in the legal field to consider the multicultural nature of the country, and perhaps inspire someone to think critically about the experiences of other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Learning more about others and having empathy for their experiences can only help to enrich and benefit future generations of lawyers and the clients they serve.