What is your story of strength?
I would say I am very strong, and there are some internal factors, and some external factors. The internal factor is that I have undergone two heart surgeries, and coasted through both of them. The last one was three years ago in February, I was living in Houston, and six months later I moved to Dilley, which is seventy miles south of San Antonio, and began running a legal team that helped women and children seeking asylum and possibly facing deportation.
That leads me to the external factor. All of us encounter human suffering in our lives in different ways, whether in our personal sphere, professional sphere, where we live, and I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds or thousands of women who have fled their countries and who did whatever it took to get their children out of harm’s way and come to the United States. Some people respond to this – to these stories of suffering, of flight and of strength – very emotionally, which is a very humane and understanding way of responding, but you have to kind of steel yourself and try to be strong for that person. I always remind myself that for many of these women, the room we were in–albeit a detention center–was possibly the first safe place they had been for weeks, days, years, possibly their entire lives, and that for many of them, this was the first time they were telling their stories. While I don’t pretend to know what other women have endured, I think it is safe to say that those women I encountered have gone through worse than most.
I guess that is why I like immigration: I hate bullies, and immigrants are, for the most part, the type of people I want living next door, teaching my kids, teaching me, contributing to my community and society. They have grit and strength and resilience, and a sense of adventure. If you think about the type of people that came to this country, that sense of adventure and not knowing what you were about to face, getting through it, and embracing it, it is that same spirit.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman means having to do a greater share of the work for less credit and less money. It means having to put up with double standards your entire life, in every single sphere or room you walk into. It means being held to a much higher standard–sometimes an impossible standard–than your male counterparts.
Being a woman means putting up with sexual harassment, and then blaming yourself for feeling like you did doing something wrong or brought it on yourself for the outfit you are wearing or what you said or where you are sitting.
But I also maintain that women are the superior sex– and I say that fully realizing it is sexist and I do not care. I imagine some women say ‘being a woman’ is about having the unique opportunity to bring life into the world, or it is beautiful because you have feminine qualities. None of this is bad, and I do not mean that in a condescending way at all, but I guess that is the point, that everyone has their own opinions and ideas, and that is what comes to mind for me.
Can you tell me about a time you disappointed yourself?
I feel like I disappoint myself every day, and perhaps due to a really bad case of the impostor syndrome. It is not necessarily obvious–I don’t have any problem advocating for myself professionally, I will sit at the front of the room, and will sit at the table along with my male counterparts –but the amount of work to be done right now and the crisis we have on our hands in the immigration sphere in this country is so overwhelming and heartbreaking all at once. I feel, perhaps in a kind of narcissistic way, that the weight of all that is on my shoulders. Thus, I feel that I am never doing enough, and in that sense I disappoint myself every day, because I know that if I do things the right way in my job, I can effect real change and make people’s lives better.