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Raquel Aldana – Brent Awards 2019

in high school I remember Raquel as just
being so mature so helpful so friendly I feel like Raquel has always wanted to to
help and you know that’s the beauty of Raquel at that age I think she knew that
if she wanted to help people that she had to get informed, you know. Her goal
post keeps moving up but her goal to move up is always how can I help people
even more how can my help really be significant
I feel like Raquel has never forgotten her roots she’s never forgotten me you
know she never leaves anybody behind that’s her beauty that’s her that’s her
heart you know I just can’t stress that enough she was an undergraduate at
Arizona State University and she struck me as much older than the 19 year old
that I was meeting she and her family came to this country she was 10 years
old she became bi-cultural at a very young age at a time when there wasn’t
support in the schools that didn’t stop her she thrived
she has always cared about people who have less access than she does, who have
less money than she does. She touches people’s lives on a legal level and also
a human level the gift of Raquel to me is beyond measure is beyond measure the
only thing that I can think to say right now is thank you for being Raquelita. I
met Raquel as the president of the Latino Law Student Association at
McGeorge. It was obvious that she wanted me to succeed in this field having met
me for only five minutes Raquel’s work in building diversity is
so important to the legal community because there are still very few people
of color who are lawyers I think Raquel is too humble to say that
she is leaving a legacy behind but I think that Raquel had left a little bit of
her legacy with me and I hope I can leave little segments of Raquel’s legacy
with the students that I mentor. I think anyone that interacts with Raquel should
be immediately struck by how intelligent she is but it goes beyond that she has
such emotional intelligence I have encountered other individuals in the
field who sort of expect your journey to mimic theirs and Raquel meets you at
where you are and she says what are your unique circumstances what is important
to you and how can I help you get there any systemic change she’s trying to make
is to help equalize that playing field particularly for women and particularly
for women of color and people of color if I could say anything to Raquel I
would say you will never fully understand the depths to which you have
impacted my life inspired me brought me immense amount of joy and if I tried my
hardest every day I could never be as good as you are but I’ll always keep
trying like Margaret Brent I stand before you
as an immigrant to this great nation I dedicate this award to the heroic women
lawyers who fight mightily for the rights of immigrants in the United
States I also dedicate it to the women lawyers in ascending nations who fight
courageously to ensure that migration is a choice and not a journey compelled by
indifference and the abandonment of human rights I love that one of my sheros,
Holly Cooper, nominated me for this award. Holly is one of the fierce defenders of
the most vulnerable immigrants in the U.S., those who linger in detention. She
was one of the lawyers in the litigation that resulted in the Flores settlement
which as you know has become one of the most powerful tools today to protect the
rights of migrant children in US custody Jenny Lizette Flores was an unaccompanied
minor who was 15 years old when she came from El Salvador in 1985 and attempted
to cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization Flores like thousands of
other children was caught and detained her story makes me think about my own
migration journey which is both similar but also vastly different from hers like
Flores I am also Salvadoran. My mother is Salvadoran and my father is Guatemalan.
In 1980 my family fled el Salvador to Guatemala when El Salvador’s civil war
raged and my parents’ community engagement made them too visible but
Guatemala was no better. When my brother was taken by force at age 12 to join the
military my mother resolved to leave with her
three children to reach LA where most of her siblings were already living she
planned to cross the US border without authorization
my father’s cooler head prevailed when he as a pastor of a U.S.-based Church in
Central America, sought sponsorship to come to the U.S. under a religious
worker visa and after hundreds of hours waiting in line at the Guatemalan US
Embassy my entire family boarded a plane to the US armed with green cards a
decade later when I graduated from Arizona State University an Arizona
Republic story marveled at my quote unquote exceptionalism the spotlight
then made me uncomfortable even as it made so many around me proud but more
unsettling was that I did not recognize my own story,
at least not the way the Arizona Republic rewrote it. The author seemed
enamored with the idea that I overcame challenges or so-called deficits an
immigrant, Latina, not able to speak English until age 10 enrolled in
inner-city schools a first-generation college student all by myself through
innate intelligence and hard work but the Arizona Republic ignored powerful
factors in my story truth is I was more blessed than I was wanting growing up my
family was brave and good and hardworking and visionary and they gave
me the amazing gift of love today I want to acknowledge my amazing sister Sylvia
her awesome husband Rick my gifted and gorgeous nieces Renee and Raquel and my
adorable nephew Ricky. In my adult life I continue to be awesomely blessed with a
phenomenal husband Luis and my incredible son my two Luis’s. Without
you none of this would matter. I am conscious that my legal immigration
journey when when borders were shut to most Central American including Flores
has been significant to my success as well numerous mentors helped me discover
my own potential I want to acknowledge two of them today briefly Lara Collins
over the years Lara has inspired so many young people but I think I’ve been the
luckiest she’s become a lifelong friend and cheer leader and I’m so grateful to
you for each precious moment. Juanita Hernandez who met me when I was in law school I just
want to say thank you for being a lifelong friend and mentor as I gained
consciousness in law school and in my practice as a human rights lawyer I also
began to recognize that a long fought civil rights movement in the United
States made it possible for me to access Harvard Law School because of this I
have always been drawn to the idea of law’s power to be just and
to create more equitable societies. I have always believed that borders not
that borders should not dictate law’s potential for good for this reason my
work as a lawyer and academic has been spent engaging in a project of
constructing more just nations in Central America a project that for a
host of historical and more reasons is not solely the responsibility of Central
Americans it is also ours thankfully in this journey I am hardly
alone when I was in law school I met my first and other other Salvadoran lawyer
I knew Rena who is here today at one point was just like Flores and now she
dedicates her life as a lawyer and an ordained minister to empower vulnerable
migrant workers and now also as an LGBTQI migrant youth minister and over the
years her persistent compassion has sustained to me particularly in these
very dark times. My proudest contribution to this honorable profession has been to
educate inspire and mentor young lawyers to take up the cause here in the US or
in ascending nations as advocates for migrants who deserve the choice of
dignified lives at home or here for a decade my spouse and I dreamed a project
we call the Inter-American Program and we took young lawyers from the U.S. to
Guatemala hoping that through meaningful exchanges and experiences
they would fall in love with Guatemala in ways that would inform their advocacy
I believe in this we have been successful and I want to acknowledge our
biggest supporter in this path professor Julie Davis who also joins us in this
room thank you for loving Guatemala, its people and for believing in its future my final dedication is to my students
each of whom are brave and who fight daily for justice here and abroad you
make me so very proud I want to close by just saying how overwhelmingly joyous it
is to find myself recognized among a line of exceptional women lawyers who
have been the recipients of the Margaret Brent award. Thank you so much to the
Commission on Women in the Profession for selecting me it’s actually
overwhelming standing up here and I’m so deeply honored thank you so much

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