Monday, October 29, 2007

ARTICLE: 'Border Girl' describes goal of becoming Texas' first Latina Supreme Court justice

By Michele Angél

Justice Linda Yañez speaking at the 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon in Austin on Friday. (Photo: RGG/Michele Angél)

AUSTIN, October 26 - The Honorable Linda Reyna Yañez was the “cultural” speaker at the 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon, held by the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin on Friday.

The farm worker, turned teacher, turned lawyer, turned judge described her pride in being able to campaign to be the state's first Latina to sit on the Texas Supreme Court.

"I'm the 'border girl' in this race," declared Yañez. She said that it was time for Latina women to come to the table and not be apologetic about it.

Yañez was the first Hispanic woman to be appointed to the State of Texas' Court of Appeals. Then-Governor Ann Richards appointed Yañez in 1993. She is currently the senior justice on the 13th Court of Appeals in South Texas.

The judge told her personal story of breaking down barriers at the cultural event.

When Yañez was in college, less than 15 percent of all students in law school were women, and only one percent were Latinas. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas Pan American, her Juris Doctorate from Teas Southern University Law School, and her LLM from the University of Virginia Law School.

"There were so few of us, so few of us. I hope now that those doors have been opened," said Yañez.

Yañez said also that when she was in grade school, kids were punished for speaking Spanish in school. Spanish speakers could be held back by several grades. "When students weren't able to graduate until they were 20 or 21, how could we be surprised at the dropout rate?"

Yañez remembered also how the girls had to hide their tacos and tortillas in order to eat them at school, because they were supposed to have white bread sandwiches.

"I don't want us to forget that that is where we've been. I don't want us to impose that on any population," Yañez added.

When Yañez taught, schools could refuse undocumented students, which she found unconscionable. She recounted how some families would have some children eligible for school and some that were not.

When Yañez became a lawyer, she had the privilege of working on the case that challenged that statute. The case was brought in front of the Supreme Court, which found in her favor.

That, and both of her daughters passing the bar exam to become two more Latina lawyers, were the proudest moments the speaker highlighted from her life. "The door was opened," she said.

"Now, ladies and gentleman, we've come of age. It is our time. It is our time to be at the table, and to not be apologetic about that."

Presidential candidate and Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson was keynote speaker at the event.

Middle schooler Zachary Martinez held his own with the famous people speaking before him when he read his essay on gentrification to an audience of hundreds of judges and lawyers. Zachary was one of six kids to win the HBAA's Education Outreach Middle School Essay Competition.

Titles of the winning essays include "Immigration," "Truancy," "Deportation," "Gang Violence" and "Equal Rights for all Texas Citizens," an essay which criticized Texas' ban on same-sex marriage.

The luncheon was a fundraiser for the HBAA's Charitable Foundation, which supports educational programs and services to talented students in the Hispanic community. The foundation grants scholarships to students who are interested in law school or in taking the bar exam.

Austin attorney Gloria Leal, who specializes in energy and trade with Mexico, is chair of the HBAA Foundation and hosted the event.

Write Michele Angél

Courtesy of: Rio Grande Guardian