My parents immigrated from Mexico when they were 18 years old. My dad worked as a garbage man for nearly twenty years, while my mom stayed home to focus on the upbringing of her children. Both of my parents had to work from a very young age and, consequently, their education did not surpass middle school. My parents did not expect me to pursue a legal career, nor did we think such a goal was attainable. Nonetheless, thanks to their support I was the first in my family to graduate high school, college, and now, the first to graduate law school.
Seeing that I was the first in my entire family to reach this level of education, law school was a culture shock. I was surrounded by classmates who were the children of successful professionals – many of whom came from a lineage of attorneys and judges. By contrast, I did not personally know any legal professionals prior to law school, let alone an attorney who shared my cultural background. This disparity changed when I decided to participate in the Huellas Mentorship Program as a 1L. This mentorship program is sponsored by La Voz, the Latinx/Hispanic Law student association at the William S. Boyd School of Law. Huellas, meaning footprints in Spanish, addresses the foundational issues I had growing up: the lack of exposure to the different areas of law and meaningful mentorship opportunities. This program has a four-tier structure consisting of groups of high school, college, and law students and a legal professional. This structure gives traditionally underrepresented students an opportunity to gain knowledge and access to the legal profession while giving attorneys the unique experience to advise the new generation of professionals based on their shared experiences.
As a 1L, I was paired with Special Public Defender Charlie Cano, two college students, and a high school student. It was the first time any of us had ever been able to connect with an attorney. It was empowering to see that someone with my cultural background had been able to accomplish my desired career choice, and it made my once unattainable goal feel like an exciting reality. Charlie helped us continue to spread the spirit of the legal profession and inspired us to continue working toward a legal career. Just as Charlie’s involvement made a lasting impact on my law school experience, I was vested with the responsibility of mentoring my college and high school mentees. I helped my college mentees study for the dreaded LSAT and gave them tips on the intricacies of the law school admissions process. As a group, we all mentored our high school mentees and reminisced through the process of applying to college. At every tier of our group, we were able to learn and to mentor.
After graduating law school in May, I transitioned from mentee to mentor. Even as a recent graduate, I have been able to introduce my mentees to a judge, prepare and conduct mock interview practices, and study for the LSAT. I always look back and wonder what my professional development would have been had I been given the resources acquired through this mentorship program, and this is what motivates me to participate every year.
About the author
Elva A. Castañeda is a recent UNLV Boyd Law graduate. She currently works as a Judicial Law Clerk at the Eighth Judicial District Court.
About this article
This article was originally published in the “Racial Justice” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (February 2021). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2021/communique-february-2021/.
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