Lawyers have played an important role during three pivotal moments in my family’s life and thus impressed upon me the significance of what they do. Before I describe those events, though, I must provide you with the context of the unusual circumstances under which I grew up.
Except for the fact that my parents had married and divorced each other three times, I had led a fairly normal life up until the age of ten. My father worked in a General Motors factory and provided his family with a middle-class existence that included a house and two cars. When I was ten, however, my world collapsed. My parents divorced for the fourth and final time, setting off a nasty custody battle, depleting our financial resources, and forcing my mother, brother, two younger sisters, and myself to go on welfare. (My mother had just given birth to my youngest sister and so was not able to work yet.) It was a demeaning situation that I will never forget. Our food and clothes were in limited supply. We would eat the same type of meal for two or three days in a row. Everything was a struggle, and worst of all, depending on others was humiliating.
After four years of this predicament, my mother was able to get a job cleaning houses. She often had to work nights, so it fell to me as the oldest child to care for my siblings. I became, in effect, a surrogate parent. In fact, my youngest sister was calling me ”Dad” by the time she was three years old.
When I was 15, our family suffered another blow. A careless physician’s faulty conclusion that my youngest sister had been molested prompted authorities to remove both my sisters from our home for several months.
Upon my sisters’ return, my mother took a second, nighttime job, which placed even more responsibility on my shoulders. I had no time for a carefree teenage existence because I was too busy looking after my sisters and brother. I had concerns totally outside of the thinking of my classmates at school. This turned me into someone who was somewhat more serious and mature than many of my peers.
Somehow I still managed to do well in high school, graduating in the top five percent of my class and winding up as 1 of only 2 (of 400) seniors being accepted at my top-tiered university. Because of my family’s dire financial situation, I had never dreamed that I might enjoy such an opportunity, but a generous scholarship made it all possible. My undergraduate years have been exhilarating and rewarding, and I have compiled a respectable academic record even while commuting two-and-a-half hours each day.
Law has emerged as my career choice for a number of reasons. As I indicated earlier, attorneys have been present at three key moments in my family’s history. A lawyer was there during the custody battle that my mother won, a lawyer provided the counsel that led to my sisters’ being returned to us (he recommended that a second doctor examine them, thus negating the molestation charge), and a lawyer helped my mother through a critical period when she had gone deeply into debt (not surprising for a woman raising four children on $8,000 a year).
As I move toward the completion of my undergraduate days, I feel very grateful for the blessing of the education I have received. My parents, both Peruvian immigrants, never went beyond high school. While I enjoyed all the benefits of my university experience, my mother was still cleaning other people’s toilets in order to try to make ends meet. As a lawyer, I will be in a position to achieve some measure of financial stability and help out my mother. I will also be able to give something back to others. (I speak Spanish, which should be an asset to me in Southern California.) Majoring in history has refined my research skills and prompted me to recognize that I will likely enjoy studying precedents and other aspects of the legal process. I enjoy writing, relate well to others, and, not surprisingly, feel a special compassion for those who are disadvantaged. Last year, in fact, I spent six months doing volunteer work at the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, which provides leads to individuals who are seeking food.
Considering my background, I believe I have already come a long way in my life and have demonstrated that I am both a survivor and a hard worker.