Law School Diversity Essay

Marching in an angel costume with heavy wings strapped to my back and cheap white Payless sandals on my blistered feet, I stared at the dilapidated mill buildings and began to walk faster, until an older man in a black suit ordered me to “keep the space.” As he motioned his hand to hold me back, I kept thinking, “I need to get out of here. I have to get out of here.”

The daughter of two Azorean immigrants, I grew up in a city with the largest percentage of Portuguese descendants in the United States, which meant that walking in church processions for the Holy Ghost feasts – a tradition from the island of St. Michael – was an obligation I had no chance of sidestepping. While I am unabashedly proud of my roots, my memories of marching in Portuguese processions remind me why it has been so important to escape a place where the mantra is “Born in Fall River, die in Fall River.”

Living at the “bottom of the hill” – the city’s proverbial distinction for the lowest socio-economic class – showed me how class differences can separate, rather than unite, people. In small private school classrooms filled with Portuguese-Catholic lineages, sameness could hold me back from considering different possibilities, questioning power relationships and learning about life beyond the enclave of familiarity.

Eager to learn of knowledge worlds beyond my own, I chose to attend one of the most diverse public universities and embrace difference. The more I learned about Islamic, Korean, Ethiopian, South African, Jewish, French and Latina culture from friends and coursework, the more I wanted to know. Finding points of similarity in different worlds, I relished in sharing my experiences with others to whom Luso-American culture was foreign. My new friends had never even heard of the Azores. Hundreds of years existing on the periphery in political and cultural isolation made the islands largely unknown, but I felt like I was bringing the culture to the forefront on a real, personal level with a renewed sense of cultural empowerment. I was really sharing the culture a huge part of me in an authentic way, without having to dress up in a costume and be told how to walk. Learning in an atmosphere filled with different faces, backgrounds and views has been transformative in my academic career and personal life. It has allowed me to open new pathways of thinking about difference and my place in the world.

I am a working-class, first-generation Azorean-American, Catholic feminist with leftist views, who was raised in a traditional Portuguese household. I am a white, heterosexual woman. Still, I am not the sum of distinct parts. These dimensions of oppression and privilege simultaneously intersect to form my identity, which allows me to maximize a dynamic learning process that has the potential to transcend difference and academia. This prepares me to challenge different political ideologies and cultural assumptions of identity dimensions.

My minority status and reporting instincts have taught me to aggressively seek out diversity because creating social change starts with embracing and confronting points of difference. I embrace different opinions by actively surrendering preconceived notions to re-conceptualize issues. In this way, my debate skills and critical analyses are enriched with a more nuanced, profound conceptual understanding that work can simultaneously be valued and criticized. As a student, I passionately emulate the work ethic and sacrifice of my parents who struggled in low-wage jobs to give me a better education, a chance to succeed.

When I walk across the stage on graduation day, I will be the first person in my family to earn a college diploma, but I am not done walking. I will neither slow down nor be held back. Inspired by my parents who courageously emigrated as young teens, I keep moving forward because ignorance is painful and a law school education provides me with opportunities to create social change by continuing to embrace difference. 

Upon my professor’s request, I created a PowerPoint presentation on the City of Fall River for my Portuguese Culture course as an undergraduate in December of 2011.

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