Sotomayor: A Latina Law Student’s View

Sotomayor: A Latina Law Student’s View

With the recent confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Francisco Leal ofLeal-Trejo, P.C., thought it would be interesting to get a current law student’s opinion about the historical implications of this momentous event.

After having watched Alejandra Velazquez’s interviews on Unvision and NBC, Leal believed she would be the perfect interviewee. Krystal Flores, a student intern at Leal-Trejo, P.C., sat down to speak briefly with Alejandra on the subject.

Krystal Flores: How did they approach you to do these news segments?

Alejandra Velazquez: I was first approached by a good friend in the immigration rights movement who said Univision was looking for a Latina Law student to share her thoughts about Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation. The segment aired on Thursday, Aug. 6, at 11 p.m. The next morning I received an e-mail from staff at Hispanas Organized for Politial Equality (HOPE). They had seen me on Univision and were impressed by what I had said. Because of this, they decided to invite me to participate at their panel celebrating Sotomayor’s swearing-in.

HOPE particularly wanted me to shed light on what Sotomayor’s confirmation means for the future of young Latinas. They also chose me as a panelist because NBC had approached them looking for a Latina law student to profile on “NBC Nightly News” and they thought I would be perfect. I feel honored to have been thought of by my constituents for both Univision and NBC. I am truly thankful for these opportunities to participate in giving my opinion on Sotomayor’s historic confirmation.

KF: How are you like Sotomayor?

AV: I believe that Sotomayor and I share a similar background. As a Latina, raised in East Los Angeles, I also grew up believing in the American Dream — that if I studied hard and was focused, I could succeed. My hard work led me to Yale, where, like Sotomayor, I encountered a new realm and culture that was entirely foreign to me. Like Sotomayor, who talked about being a lawyer from a young age, I also knew that I would go to law school as a child. Growing up, I continuously saw my immigrant parents struggle through the American system. Similar to Sotomayor, I also lost my father, who was an amazing person and a strong force in my life. After my father’s death, my mother had no choice but to carry the family forward by herself and despite the barriers presented to her. These hardships helped me to quickly realize that knowing the law was important to defending yourself from injustices.

Through these experiences, I realized that I wanted to empower myself through the use of the law and develop both my theoretical and practical senses of justice.

KF: Why do you think Sotomayor’s confirmation is significant to the general U.S. population, to females, to minorities, to Latinos, to the law field as a whole, etc.?

AV: Sotomayor’s confirmation is significant to the general U.S. population because her experiences reflect a variety of sectors of our society. She understands:

  • What it’s like to be poor and what it means to grow up with very little resources;
  • What are the gender politics rampant in our society and also the challenges and experiences of being woman in our society, regardless of race;
  • How racial politics work in our society.

As a person of color, Sotomayor is aware of and sensitive to the struggles to overcome racism, racial profiling, stereotyping, and the need for Affirmative Action programs to undo historical and institutional discrimination. For women and people of color, this means another crack in the glass ceiling. And, though there is much left to be done to break barriers and undo stereotypes, this sends a message to not only Latinas, but all women, that we have the intellectual capacity and political endurance to be in positions of power.

It is important to acknowledge that just because we have a black president and a Latina Supreme Court justice, that our work is NOT done. On the contrary, now that we see our system opening up to accepting people of color in public positions of power and prestige, it is our responsibility as a community to ensure that young children of color have access to a quality education that provides the adequate tools to continue rising to these positions of power.

Background: Velazquez is a second-year law student at UCLA. She met Francisco Leal after she graduated from Yale, while working for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Through alumni and shared political interests, Leal and Velazquez have kept in touch. At the end of the interview, Velazquez wanted to make known that Leal “has been a wonderful mentor as I continue my legal education.” Leal and Velazquez both serve as at-large delegates to the first National Yale Latino Alumni Association.