Pursuing a legal career can be a lonely experience as a first-generation American and Latina. Many of us who are the first in our families to complete an undergraduate or professional degree are forced to navigate higher education alone and with very few resources. At various points throughout my legal education and career, I have doubted my skills and my talents, and I have felt undeserving of my many accomplishments.
Nancy Cruz, U.W. 2020, is an associate attorney with Perkins Coie in Madison, where she advises clients on state and federal regulatory compliance and permitting matters in the energy sector and the transactional aspects of purchasing and developing renewable energy projects. She volunteers with community organizations whose missions are to support and protect immigrant communities in Wisconsin and to provide resources to the Latine community.
Not only can it be lonely, but being a first-generation American and attorney also comes with many challenges. Many of us face financial and cultural barriers and often struggle to find our identity or feel a sense of belonging. At times, my difficulties were exacerbated by people who treat first-generation Latinas and other Latine attorneys as though we are given opportunities only because we are diverse and not because we are deserving. For many years, I grappled with these insecurities and felt as though I had to work twice as hard to be able to compete with talented and skilled individuals who had more resources, networks, and mentors within the legal field.
As I reflect on my life and my path to this profession, however, I realize that I have done myself a disservice by allowing feelings of inadequacy to prevent me from recognizing my true professional value and worth. While many of us have experienced hardship, our experiences have also gifted us with resiliency, a strong work ethic, and diverse perspectives that have made us valuable professionals and set us up for success. Pure luck did not land me my dream job at a respected, international law firm. I was not handed opportunities simply because of my diverse background. I earned my place in the legal field through hard work, commitment, and recognition that my diverse perspective is indeed an asset.
During this Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to remind my Latine colleagues and peers that we are deserving of our accomplishments and that we are valuable. There will be times when fear and imposter syndrome might overwhelm you and cause you to close doors on yourself. Even now, there are moments when I doubt my skills and abilities, and when I fear that I will not live up to the expectations of my colleagues.
But when such feelings start to resurface, we must remind ourselves that our place in the legal field serves a much broader purpose. Becoming an attorney means that we are fulfilling our parents’ dreams by taking advantage of an education and a life that they could only dream of and that the many heartbreaking sacrifices that we and our families made were worthwhile. It means that Spanish speakers will have access to legal support that previously was not obtainable for them. Finally, it means that we may serve as mentors and guides, which many of us lacked, for younger members of our families and communities.
Becoming an attorney means that we are fulfilling our parents’ dreams by taking advantage of an education and a life that they could only dream of and that the many heartbreaking sacrifices that we and our families made were worthwhile.
Meet Our Contributors
How do you use your legal experience to support immigrant communities in Wisconsin?
Although my practice focuses on energy regulatory and transactional work, I have gained significant experience in immigration law throughout the years. Before law school, I was an immigration paralegal and I volunteered as a Spanish interpreter for asylum cases. In law school, I worked for the Immigrant Justice Clinic, and now as an attorney I am working on U-Visa and asylum cases on a pro bono basis.
A personal goal of mine is to create a partnership with a local nonprofit in Dane County to open a direct channel for pro bono immigration work and use our resources as a firm to support the growing immigrant communities in Wisconsin.
Nancy Cruz, Perkins Coie, Madison.
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» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 80 (Sept. 2022).