Before going into detail about my observation, I think it would be appropriate to describe myself a little to help the reader understand where I come from and disclose possible biases. I am the first in my family to become a U.S. citizen, and the eldest child out of 6. Being the oldest child comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility, or at least it did in my case. Growing up, my parents always told me that all eyes were on me. In other words, that it was my job to be a good role model for my siblings and cousins. So, I worked extra hard my entire life trying my best to make my parents proud.
Since the age of 11, I have worked as a gardener and landscaper to sustain myself and provide for my family. Having worked as a gardener and landscaper, I have personally experienced and witnessed many of the exploitive conditions that many immigrant Mexican men find themselves forced to work under. When I turned 11 years old, my father told me it was time to become a man. Slowly he began depriving me of my childhood, forcing me to work as a gardener and landscaper on Saturdays and Sundays. On those days he would wake me up at 6 a.m. and force me to work until 5 p.m. I hated it. He could see the anger on my face but all he ever said was that someday I would thank him; he was right. Although I lost part of my childhood, working as a gardener and landscaper has served as a daily reminder for why I should pursue a career.
In 2010, I was the first in my family to attend college. I still remember receiving my first acceptance letter from CSU East Bay. Slowly thereafter, more acceptance letters trickled in from other CSUs. I had also applied to a couple of UCs and private schools, but those were dream schools. Never in my mind would I have imagined that I would get accepted to any UC, nevertheless a private school. But to my surprise, I received an acceptance from UC Santa Cruz and immediate accepted my spot as a banana slug. Being the first to go to college, I had to overcome the challenge of coming from a Latino household where neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend school past the fifth grade in Mexico. My undergraduate career consisted of commuting from my home in Mountain View to Santa Cruz on a daily basis, working full-time as a landscape gardener and being a full-time student.
In 2015, I became the first in my family to attend law school. Similar to my undergraduate experience, law school has been mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. Although I stopped working during my 1L year, both as a landscape gardener and at the firm, I immediately went back to work the day after my last final. Since then, I have been working as a Law Clerk at a corporate immigration law firm in San Francisco. My 2L year has consisted of commuting over 100 miles on a daily basis, working as a part-time law clerk and being a full-time student. At this point, I think it would be an understatement to say that I really value hard work.
My observation began on Saturday, March 18, 2017, and ended on Sunday, March 19, 2017. Nervous about having to take the MPRE that day, I woke up at 5A.M. on Saturday. Not knowing how to get rid of the anxiety, I decided to skim through my outline before jumping in the shower. When I got out of the shower, my wife had already made coffee for me so I sat at my desk again and started re-reading my outline.
Going back to the mini-heart-attack that I was having that Saturday morning, it hit me that it was time to head out when I saw that it was 6:30A.M. I was scheduled to take the MPRE at 8:30A.M. in Concord/Walnut Creek. I got there around 7:30A.M., and the parking lot was completely empty. It made me feel like I was the only one worrying so much about this exam, so I started telling myself to stop worrying. After all, if I failed, another shot at passing the MPRE was only $95 dollars away. But then I started thinking about how many bills I have right now, and how I’m on a tight budget because my wife is no longer working and I’m only working part-time. So I started stressing out even more.
Around 8:00A.M., cars started trickling in. Within 10 minutes, the entire parking lot was filled. I saw a group of SCU Law students walking across the parking lot, and even though I don’t really know them, I thought it was would nice to go join them – maybe distracting myself by talking to them would help me worry less. I noticed that all of the SCU law students seemed a lot more relaxed than I was. They were even making jokes about already knowing that they would have to retake the exam in August. Maybe they really had not studied for the exam, or maybe they were just as worried as I was but were better at keeping their composure. I also noticed that all of them were either White or Asian, I was the only Latino in the group. We then walked into the lobby of the Crowne Plaza hotel where the MPRE was going to be proctored. As we waited for the registration to begin, more SCU law students arrived. Several of them had actually stayed at the hotel the night before so that they would not have to drive to Concord/Walnut Creek the morning of the exam. All I could say was, “Lucky you.” I thought to myself that it must be nice to be able to afford a hotel room just to be less stressed out before an exam.
As the group of SCU law students grew bigger, I slowly started drifting away from them. I started feeling like I didn’t really fit in. Since I am never really on campus, except for when I’m in class, I haven’t really developed friendships with any students on campus. The majority of my conversations with colleagues consist of small talk, and hi and bye. I started walking around the lobby and noticing that the majority of the population there was also White or Asian. There were a few Latinos gathered up in small groups but not as many compared to the White and Asian students. I also noticed that I didn’t see any African-Americans, except for a couple of people helping proctor the exam.
The exam ended around 11:45A.M. As I walked out of the exam room, I overheard students talking about what they were going to do now that the exam was over. Some were going to go home to nap, while others were going to go celebrate by continuing the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities. I, on the other hand, found myself in a rush to get to work in San Francisco. I got to work around 1P.M. and where I greeted by a couple of coworkers that were surprised to see me at work on a Saturday right after taking the MPRE.
I don’t mean to toot my own horn by saying this but my coworkers really make me feel like I am hard working. They are often telling me that they don’t know how I can manage to be running around all day between work and school all around the Bay Area, while being a full-time student. They also make me feel like I’m a little crazy and should take a break, by telling me that they don’t know why I put myself through so much when I should be trying to enjoy the little that there is to enjoy about law school instead of burning myself out.
The majority of my coworkers are either White or Asian. Amongst the law clerks, I am the only Latino. The few Latinos that are employed are recent undergrad graduates working as paralegals. There are only two African-American individuals employed at the firm. The firm, however, is very diverse when it comes to gender. According to a recent study that the firm conducted, more than half of the employees are females, including the partners. There are also several LGBT employees working there.
By 6P.M., everyone had gone home already. I was the only one still at work. I looked up at a photo that I have of my wife and then at a photo of our puppy. Like I often do, I started wondering if going to law school was really the best choice. The thought brought anxiety and sadness to me, but I found comfort in knowing that I am making my parents proud. I looked back down at my computer screen and decided to shut it down. I gathered my belongings and headed home.
Gilberto Orozco, Jr.