5% of all lawyers in the United States are Hispanic; Hispanic women comprise less than 2% of lawyers in the United States. With those numbers in mind, I often finding myself asking how I fit into this field. I most specifically asked myself that question when it came time to apply to law school.
As a first-generation law student, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to the application process. I had no family members who were lawyers and that came with its disadvantages. I spent long hours researching, reading blog posts, following Instagram accounts, and so much more. When I finally began to figure it out, I asked myself a long list of questions: What area do I want to live in? What does each school have to offer me? Will there be people who look like me? Is there a community for me to fit into?
I grew up in Miami, Florida – a heavily populated Hispanic community. My entire life, I had been surrounded by people who shared in my culture. I eventually left behind the comfort of that community, and for the first time in my life, realized what a safe haven it was. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I often found myself being the only Hispanic person in the room. Being in that kind environment came with its challenges. I was often judged because of where my family came from. Whether it be because my father immigrated to this country from Cuba at a young age or the fact that I said particular words in a so called “different” way than others, I just wasn’t accepted by certain groups of people. I knew this wasn’t an experience I wanted to face in law school.
As I completed the application process and began receiving acceptances, I looked at the universities that offered a diverse community. Again, I asked myself a few questions: What does their diversity percentage look like? Do they have organizations on campus that represent those numbers? Will I end up being the only Hispanic person in the room again? These questions quickly helped me narrow things down to my final choices, but they hadn’t helped filter out all my worries. With those worries still in my head, I received a phone call from an FSU College of Law Student Ambassador. The student was a Cuban American from Miami. We quickly bonded over our similarities and our conversation began to ease my worries. We spoke about the difference between the community we grew up and Tallahassee. I saw part of myself in her and began to realize that I could find a place for myself at FSU, like she had. She told me about an organization she was a part of, the comfort it has brought her while she was away from home, and the countless connections she had gained from being part of it. That organization was the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA) chapter at FSU Law. While it wasn’t the only factor in my decision to attend the College of Law, that phone call played a huge role in my choice.
Law school is not only about the education you receive. A huge part of the experience is the connections you make along the way. At FSU Law, I have found myself surrounded by like-minded individuals, who not only share in my passion for the law, but who understand the barriers we are breaking as Hispanics joining the legal field. During my time at the College of Law thus far, I have served in multiple leadership roles. I currently serve as the Internal Vice President for CABA. CABA has provided me with a space to connect with not only fellow Cubans but fellow Hispanics in general, network with legal communities across Florida (mainly South Florida), and so much more. CABA is just one organization that represents Hispanics on campus. The Hispanic Law Student Association connects and provides opportunities to Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Dominicans, and many other Hispanic students. Organizations like these have provided me with a community that I am proud to be a part of.
Representation matters and I have never felt like that is lacking at FSU Law. Not only do I see myself in my fellow classmates, but I see myself in alumni, members of the Tallahassee community, and in the faculty. I see myself in Professor Tesón, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina and paved his own path to a successful career. I see myself in Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba and found his way to the highest court in Florida. I see myself in my classmates, who like me call two countries home – even if we have only ever known living in one of them.
So, from one Hispanic to the next who is navigating the waters of being a minority in a predominantly white career field, I encourage you to find a place where you feel most at home. A place where you can be yourself, without judgment. Home may look different to all of us, but I am happy to say mine is at FSU Law.