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Mauricia Baca interview, December 16, 2019: transcript






Interviewed by Elsa Lopez and Claytee White. Mauricia Baca, Director of Get Outdoors Nevada, was born to a Jewish American mother and Mexican father who settled in New York City. She overcame the economic obstacles of her early life to graduate from Vassar College and University of New York Law School, where she learned to be proud of her identity. Subjects: Jewish, Education, Law School, Latinx, Mexican

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Baca, Mauricia Interview, 2019 December 16. OH-03673. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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i AN INTERVIEW WITH MAURICIA BACA An Oral History Conducted by Elsa Lopez Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2018 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Nathalie Martinez, Rodrigo Vazquez, Elsa Lopez Editors and Project Assistants: Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Monserrath Hernández, Elsa Lopez, Nathalie Martinez, Rodrigo Vazquez iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iv PREFACE How does a Latina, raised in poorer conditions of New York City by a Jewish mother and a Mexican immigrant father discover the greatness of the outdoors and her find her way to Las Vegas, Nevada? Mauricia Baca recalls overcoming the challenges of her impoverished upbringing by receiving educational scholarships. These opportunities enabled her to attend a private high school, Vassar College, and City University of New York Law School. As a result of her educational experiences, Mauricia recalls how she went from being picked on as the “Mexican” to being comfortable and proud in her identity. She is currently the Executive Director of Get Outdoors Nevada, a local non-profit dedicated to promoting access and public use of urban outdoor spaces, such as the Healing Garden in the Arts District. She has lived in Las Vegas since 2006. Note: Mauricia Baca was interviewed on March 7, 2019, for the Remembering 1 October oral history project. v TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Mauricia Baca December 16, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Elsa Lopez Preface…………………………………………………………………………………………..iv Talks about being born in 1970 in Contreras, Mexico, which was absorbed by Mexico City; father was an art student from Mexico studying in New York City when he met and fell in love with her mother, a native of the United States; explains her mother’s adjustment to life in Mexico and then her memories of growing up in New York; explains she was discouraged from speaking Spanish and why; about being of both Jewish and Mexican-Catholic heritage……………....1 – 5 Recalls her childhood in New York: growing up poor surrounded by love; her artist/house painter father taking responsibility for children when mother was ill; parents being in the Gurdjieff Movement; her impressions of her time spent in the homes of the wealthy when her father might be working at their homes. Talks about her blended Catholic-Jewish familial roots; feeling that her mother was a “rebel”; celebrating holidays; how her parents influenced her love of the outdoors and animals………………………………………………………………….6 – 11 Describes when she moved in with her Aunt Marilyn; moved back with parents and received scholarship to attend Rudolf Steiner High School, where she and one black girl were the only children of color; would describe herself as “Spanish.” Jobs she worked while growing up: babysitting, selling shoes, telemarketing for Fred Astaire Dance Studios, door-to-door fundraising for Greenpeace. Talks about scholarship to Vassar College and self-acceptance of her identity as a Latina during college; joins Peace Corps; job with Straphanger’s campaign in NYC………………………………………………………………………………………..12 – 14 Talks about law school at City University of New York Law School and being president of the Latino Students Association; public interest law work; a pride when representing the federal government as Mauricia Baca; position with Nature Conservancy in Reno led to position with Get Outdoors Nevada and how her youth prepared her for making a difference here in Southern Nevada and specific engagement with Latinx population.…………………………………15 – 17 vi Describes her role as director of Get Outdoors Nevada, volunteer and education programs, managing first $2500.00 grant; current staff there and the organization’s “adulting” philosophy; office space in a church built in 1949; mission and education programs; Next Generation Science Standard program and others……………………………………………………………….17 – 23 Talks about Get Outdoors Nevada’s relationship with The Healing Garden, a project built as a result of the 1 October shooting in Las Vegas; making outdoor spaces in urban environments accessible to all; events the organization host……………………………………………..24 – 27 1 Hello. The date is December 16th, 2019. My name is Elsa Lopez. I am here in the offices of Get Outdoors Nevada, correct? Yes. And I am joined by… Claytee White. And… Mauricia Baca. Mauricia, can you please pronounce and spell out your full name for us? Sure. My full name is Mauricia or Mauricia (articulating), so M-A-U-R-I-C-I-A. Then I actually have two middle names: Maria, M-A-R-I-A; Magdelena, M-A-G-D-E-L-E-N-A. Baca, B as in boy, A-C-A. Can you tell us how you choose to identify? Usually I say Latina. I’m getting used to Latinx. That’s a little bit more of a new way of describing oneself. Yes, it’s definitely a newer one. Hey, but you’re familiar with the term. That’s great. I am. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up? Sure. I was born in Mexico. My parents lived in a little town called Contreras, which apparently, they told me, no longer exists. Not long after we moved away, Mexico City sort of absorbed it and it became a golf course or something or other. It was one of those little towns that just got eaten up. My parents had actually met—my father’s Mexican; my mother is from the United States. My father was here on an art scholarship and he was staying in a boarding house in New Jersey because it was cheaper than staying in Manhattan or anywhere in New York City that he 2 could find. My mother was staying in the boarding house as well just because she was just avoiding her parents. They wound up meeting and falling in love. Then he moved to Mexico and she followed him not long after. Then I was born in 1970 in Mexico, a little while after they got married and moved in together in Mexico. What was that like for your mother to transition to the Mexican culture? It was a big transition for her in a lot of different ways. She wound up learning Spanish and becoming really fluent in Spanish. My father is an artist, and so all of his friends were artists and kind of more the leftie, sort of fringy group of people, and she got used to hanging out with them. She used to say that she learned really inappropriate Spanish for a lot of her Spanish. Then she found out when she was introduced into more polite company that she would sprinkle her Spanish with words you’re not supposed to say in polite company. I don’t remember those first couple of years. My father always said that it was because of him that I liked being in the outdoors because he said he used to put me on his back and go for hikes in the mountains with me. We had a couple of dogs. Apparently, my first full sentence was, “No, Gorky,” and then, “No, Ofska.” Those were the two dogs. Somewhere followed momma and pappa. Then I moved from Mexico with my mom initially back to New York City in 1973, part, actually, because she started feeling, I think, a little too isolated where they were in Mexico, a little bit too cut off from her family. I love my dad, but I think he was probably not the most engaged father, typical Mexican guy hanging out with his friends for long hours. She moved back and then a little while later my father followed her back. What was it like now? I’m assuming you remember some bits about New York City and growing up there. 3 New York City I remember really well. When we moved back to New York City that’s the part I remember the most, actually. I don’t remember this little interim period where my mom lived with my grandparents. Apparently, we both lived with my grandparents for a little while, but I have no memory of that whatsoever. Then we went to live in New York City. We lived in railroad apartment on Second Avenue between 76th and 77th Street. It is no longer there. I went to look for it. It has been torn down and turned into a skyscraper, into a high-rise apartment building that is much more expensive and swanky than what I lived in although what I lived in was lovely. We lived on the second floor, so we lived right above whatever store or restaurant happened to be on the first floor. I have memories of that actually because when we first moved in there was a fruit and vegetable grocer and it was one of those super old-school ones that had sawdust on the floor and bins of fruits and vegetables. They don’t have that kind of stuff anymore. I remember once my dad went out and I wasn’t supposed to leave the apartment, but I really wanted some fruit and vegetables, and my friend from the building was in my house with me. We attached a string to a sand pail and lowered it with our order, and they filled our order, and we pulled it back up. That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen somewhere like this, I guess. That was a fun memory. One thing about growing up in New York, also, when my dad came over here—I mentioned he was an artist; that was his passion—he did not really have any other basic skills or degrees. He had studied art in Mexico and he had sketched for the Mexican Ballet and done all kinds of really cool things, but, as with many immigrant stories, none of those are transferrable to New York City and he could not get himself into the art scene. He had all kinds of different part-time things. 4 He felt really strongly about me not speaking Spanish, so that was one thing was that he didn’t want me to be discriminated against when I went to school, and he was convinced that if I sounded Spanish, if I sounded Mexican, and if I had an accent that I would get treated less well. To some extent, he was right. Did he tell you that the way you said it, or did he word it a different way? Was he very honest about it? He actually was really honest with me about why because he and my mom spoke Spanish to each other and then they both spoke English to me. They were just little basic words that my father would tell me, like no hables Espanol pero, entiendo mucho. Just those little words sitting with his friends. But he didn’t want me to speak back to them in Spanish. They would speak to me in Spanish, and then I would speak back to them in English. I lost a lot of that background in terms of that Latino experience. But he wasn’t completely wrong because when I went to elementary school, it really was true that almost every English language learner, second language learner was put into the slow kids’ class whereas I was put into the regular acceleration, like normal kids’ class. What he observed was not incorrect at the time. Tell us more about your schooling, elementary school and middle school. I went to preschool in a local preschool, which I just have vague memories about, which I really enjoyed. My mom’s family was Jewish, so I went to an 92nd Street Y for kindergarten, which was kind of fun. My friends used to tease me that I was Horshack or something from Welcome Back, Kotter, who was Puerto Rican and Jewish, because I was Mexican and Jewish. I went to that school; 92nd Street Y, which was interesting. It gave me a good grounding in my Jewish heritage. My family was not religious Jewish, so they treated that more as—and I’m going all over the place—they treated that more as almost like my ethnicity. My father had been raised 5 Catholic, but did not practice Catholicism. Both my parents aligned more with sort of a Zen Buddhist, free philosophy of life. I transitioned in first grade to regular public school and went to P.S. 158 in New York City. I went there through sixth grade. My parents walked me to school a lot. A caveat, something in terms of my trajectory growing up, was one of the things that became very clear after my dad moved here was actually my mother had deep depression issues, really deep depression issues. For large chunks of my childhood, it makes it even more interesting he didn’t speak to me in Spanish, she was being treated in various institutions and in different situations. For a large chunk of my elementary school period, there were some times when she was at the house, but she didn’t speak for like a year or two. I have this interesting background of growing up with my father. A lot of times when I wind up speaking about the people who walked me to school or picked me up and took me to things, it’s my father who did a lot of it. When I was on the younger side in elementary school, my mom would walk me to school. He was nineteen years older than my mother. She used to walk me to school and people would ask if she was my babysitter because she was very, very, very youthful looking. She was nineteen when he met her; he was thirty-eight. But they were very well matched. She used to walk me to school. When she stopped leaving the house, then he started walking me to school. In terms of the Latino experience—it was definitely the kids in the track of the class that I was in—I was probably the only one with a Mexican dad who was coming to the school. Everybody else was in a different track. I would say by and large—this was Upper East Side—most of the kids were pretty white Christian/Jewish sort of mix in New York City. Mostly white. I don’t think we even had a black child in my class. I sort of passed a lot of times 6 in the classroom as being white. Most of the kids didn’t really think about what I might be until they saw my dad, and then they’re like, hmm. Was it mostly just the confusion? Yes, mostly just the confusion. I never had any kids ask me too much about him. He used to threaten to do things that I would plead with him not to do, like wear fringy suede jackets because he was all Mr. Artsy and he would find this jacket at the thrift shop. I would be like, “Please, Dad, don’t. I’m already different. No.” But he did do a lot of art projects with me. Whenever I had an art project, mine were really, really good because he would help me out with my art projects, maybe a little bit unfair advantage. Growing up at home it was interesting because my father had not grown up really learning how to cook very much himself. He sort of started to learn how to cook on the fly. We did a lot of frijole refritos. My husband laughs because my fingers are like Teflon because I used to cook tortillas on an open flame; as a five-year-old, I’d flip the tortillas. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s more common than you think, actually. Yes. I can pick up almost anything with my fingers and it takes a lot for it to feel too hot for me. He used to make very old-school chicken soup. We were really poor, so he would buy the chicken gizzards and cook that kind of stuff. Those early years through elementary school were a little bit of my mom being present, a lot of mom being present but not speaking, and then my father being there as kind of the primary caregiver. Then he was, as I mentioned, an artist, and so he had—I think I put ‘occasionally employed’ as the description on your thing that I handed you. In terms of actual employment, it was occasional. He would paint houses for a living. He had one job really early on where he 7 actually worked in some sheet metal factory and he wound up losing part of his thumb. He cleaned a house for some people that he met in Mexico, this random, really wealthy, aristocratic British family that he became friends because my parents were also part of this thing called Gurdjieff and The Movement, this philosophical movement, and they became friends with this really wealthy, aristocratic British family through The Movement. My dad would go clean their house, the Fremantles. They called him Pepe, so he was Pepe. I would hang out while he’d clean their house, hang out with Anne Fremantle and Paul Fremantle. I didn’t realize how wealthy they were. Their kids lived in a brownstone like on Fifth Avenue that they had bought them as a gift. They lived in a quaint little quiet apartment on the Upper East Side that was not fancy. She wound up being put in a nursing home that was in one of the old estates that her family used to own. Your family was friends with them, you said, through this movement? Yes, through The Movement; that’s what he used to always refer to it as Gurdjieff and The Movement. I didn’t really ever become embedded in that. There was some meditation when I was in New York City, and I went to a few meditation classes. But I basically have memories of just lying on the floor and sending energy to different parts of my body, and those are the biggest memories. They used to take me to those. He’s the one who took me to my ballet classes when I was a kid because my mom’s parents made sure that I got ballet classes and piano classes and cooking classes. He’s the one that took me to all of those things. When he was painting somebody’s house or whatever, I would usually go with him to wherever it was that he was working. But it was definitely an interesting way to grow up. One thing is that we were super, super poor, really, for the most part. If it weren’t for my mom’s parents, we would have been destitute, because he was particularly bad at saving money. 8 As a small child I would lecture him about saving money, and he was just particularly bad about it. But my mom’s parents paid the rent, actually. But I would go with him when he was cleaning or painting homes. One thing that was interesting is a lot of them were these super wealthy people, like Fifth Avenue and Central Park West homes. Half the time it would be me hanging out with a kid in the house and their nanny. One thing I realized was that I actually got to spend so much more time with my father, with my actual biological parent, and for a lot of these uber-wealthy kids that I would meet, they were growing up with their nannies as their primary caregiver, which half the time were Mexican, so it was this funny little dynamic of hanging out. Mexican or black. That was this little dynamic of hanging out in this little world. Did you feel fortunate in the sense that you grew up with your parents even though there was clearly differences in the money; that they had more money? Was that your thought at the time, or what was that like? I did. I think going to their uber-fancy homes felt more like museums or staged places, like show homes. They didn’t feel like real places a lot of the times. I never felt neglected, even with my mom when she was sick, in terms of love, and that was something that I think is interesting because people often at times talk about, especially Latino males, I think there is this assumption that they’re not the caregivers and the parents. A lot of people probably assume that given the option my father would have just handed me over to my grandparents and been like, “See ya. This is really too tough.” And gone back to Mexico. I always really respected the fact that he didn’t do that. He really took the hard path. We had our challenges, just personality sometimes, but he really did take the hard path and he stayed in New York City and he stayed with me. He was an incredibly loving parent. One thing was I never felt under loved. I never felt unloved. I didn’t have that type of void. I know for a fact a lot of the wealthy kids that I grew up, they all 9 had psychologists. By the time they were in high school, every one of them had their own psychologist. You had to set up your social calendar around their time meeting with their therapist. What was it like having those two cultures, your father’s culture and your mother’s culture? What was that like in your household? It was interesting. My mom wasn’t very expressive in terms of her background and the Judaism. She didn’t practice that at all. I think she was a little bit of a rebel when she was a kid. Of course, it was the sixties. She shared stories with me about cutting class because she hated New Jersey, and spending the day at the Cloisters in New York City and stuff. She wasn’t exactly like a dangerous rebel. She was like, “I’m going to cut class and hang out at the Cloisters.” It’s funny because every holiday I think about the fact that we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukah, so we always had a tree; some years we had the tree later than others. There was this one year we were really, really, really broke and we went and bought the tree at ten o’clock at night because they were dirt cheap by that time and we put the tree up. When I got up there was this one tiny box under it. My father is like, “Well, we put it up so late that Santa gave out all the presents by the time he got here.” I was crushed. I’m like, “Why did we do it so late?” But, yes, they joined those two things pretty seamlessly. I do think a lot of me being in touch with the outdoors has a lot to do with them because they were both very passionate about the environment. They both loved art. They both loved culture. I spent a lot of time in Central Park and I would tell people that was my special outdoor place and it’s an amazing park. Of course, then you come out and you’re like, ooh, wow, this is what _____ are like. But Central Park seemed really huge as a child. I spent a lot of time there 10 with my father. We had pets, also, which were partly inspired by my father because he’s a massive animal lover. You always had dogs growing up? I always had dogs and cats. In Mexico, it was two dogs and a cat. Then in the United States, first we had a cat named Sammy and Sammy passed away, and then my father and I—let’s see. What was it first? Then we found a cat named Cougar as we were helping this guy move. We stopped at a bakery because the guy decided to help me get—I wasn’t actually helping. I was really just the child hanging out. But they stopped at a bakery, and the bakery happened to have a cat that just had a litter of kittens, so I wound up going home with a kitten. Then we had a cat that we found in the backyard. Actually, it wasn’t the cat that we found. We found a kitten in the alley behind us, and then that kitten was not doing well, so we took it into the shelter and it had to get put to sleep. But on the way out, we ran into two people that were surrendering two cats, so we went home with one of those two cats. We had Cougar and Tomasina. Then my father had grown up watching the Little Rascals and he had always wanted a pit bull because he loves Petey, the pit bull. We wound up getting a brindle pit bull named Petey who was the apple of my dad’s eye and was a big mush and scared of his own shadow. They were never guard dogs; they were more like companions? Very much so, yes, totally babies. He totally babied Petey. One day we actually—this is in New York. We woke up and they were literally—and this is when we had moved from Second Avenue and we were living on 76th Street between First and New York in like a studio apartment because we wound up going into these tiny little apartments. I woke up and my mom was so tired. I’m like, “What happened?” She’s like, “There were police in the alley behind the house and there was a gunshot.” We looked and the bad guy or whatever had crawled up past our 11 window and there were drops of blood. “What did Petey do?” She’s like, “Your father slept through it. I was the only one awake. And the dog went and cowered in the corner.” Our brindle pit bull cowering in the corner. Yes. They had given me the bedroom and they slept in the living room. I was in the bedroom at that point, so I slept through the whole thing. My poor mom, “Do you know what just happened?” By that point she was out of treatment and verbal, obviously, and doing a lot better. There were periods of time where she was good and then periods of time where it was… For about maybe third grade through seventh grade, she spent most of that not talking and some of that not eating very much. Did you understand what was going on at the time? Yes and no. I remember I had this dream that I’ll always remember where there was this big monster that came and pulled my mom away, and I’m pretty sure that that dream as a kid was my brain processing what was going on. I just knew that she wasn’t like other moms and she wasn’t quite right. She was always loving and sweet. I think that’s part of why my father and I wound up having tension. Looking back, when you’re a kid, you don’t always realize the incredible pressure your parents as human beings are under. He was under a massive amount of pressure seeing his wife like that. As a kid, I was just thinking it’s my mom like that, but I realize looking back that he is a person I love. He really was a pretty incredible person. I moved out when I was in sixth grade and seventh grade because he and I wound up having really, really, really bad fights, and she was in an institution. I made the decision that to save our relationship I should move out, and so I moved in with my great-aunt Marilyn for a while, and then I moved back, and she actually snapped out. My great-aunt Marilyn takes the credit. This is my (maternal) grandmother’s sister. She said she went to tell my mother that if she 12 didn’t snap out of it that she was going to file adoption papers for me. She said within a week or two my mom started talking again and came out of everything. She left the institution, moved back in with my father, and I moved back in with them when I was in eighth grade. I wound up going to a private school called Rudolf Steiner. My parents were still very spiritual and they liked this Waldorf education approach. I wound up going to Rudolf Steiner High School on scholarship from eighth grade through twelfth grade. What was that like for you? It was really an interesting place to be. Again, it was funny because I was definitely the only Mexican kid, even vaguely Mexican kid. Chandra Eaton was the only other person of color; she was black. We had thirteen kids in the class when I graduated. It was a really, really tiny classroom of kids. When I was there, one thing—and this is something else I had to work through when I went to college—I would tell people I was Spanish because I had heard a few of the kids saying really derogatory things about Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. This one girl was talking about wetbacks and stuff like that. It was just like, “What’s that name, Baca?” “Oh, it’s Spanish.” When you’re in high school, you haven’t become yourself fully yet. I was not at that point ready to be like, I am Mexican and you just called me a wetback. It’s a survival technique. Survival technique. In college and after college I would have learned to stand up for myself more, but at that point I was just like, I’m Spanish, yes. With my dad, people were never quite sure because he was very light-skinned, very Spanish looking in his features, and so he could totally pass that way. 13 That’s interesting. Tell us about after graduation. Where did you go? In between graduation, I worked most summers because I like being very independent. My dad making almost no money was really motivating. I started babysitting at a really early age. Then I worked in shoe stores, Valentina, not Valentino, but Valentina, for this horrible woman who would send me for thirty-block walks to get her lunches, a horrible human being. I worked at Fred Astaire Dance Studios at night after school doing telemarketing for them basically, offering people free dance party, free private lesson, free group lesson, and if they came in I got a bonus. I wound up becoming a trainer, actually, because I wasn’t as bothered by the rejection as many adults were because you get a lot of rejection. Then I went to work fundraising for Greenpeace, which both my parents were really supportive of. Looking back now as the stepmom of a thirteen-year-old, thinking about the fact that they let me do that when I was fifteen and sixteen walking door to door, I’m like, oh my God, they let me do that. It’s a different world. It was a totally different world. I would walk around suburban neighborhoods by myself as a sixteen-year-old and do fundraising. I did pretty well. I was doing that stuff in between the summers. Then I went to college Vassar College, which I was lucky and I got a scholarship to go to Vassar. I continued to work summers with Greenpeace for my summer jobs. At Vassar, there I kind of grew into the idea of just accepting yourself and not being afraid of who you were and identifying as Mexican because Vassar was all about empowerment, especially female empowerment although it was co-ed. A lot of people were like, “Is that a single-sex school?” I’m like, “No, it went co-ed in ’69.” But it was still mostly women, it felt like. 14 Were there more Mexican people now there? No. That was not part of the empowerment. Where did that sense of empowerment come from? That’s interesting. When I came back to New York City from—I went to Vassar and then I went to the Peace Corps after I graduated college. It was interesting, actually, my selection of where to go. I always dreamed about traveling to Africa, but part of why I didn’t want to go to Central or South America, I was like, I’m going to have the last name Baca and they’re going to be wondering why I can’t speak Spanish. Looking back, I think people would have been so much more understanding than I thought they would have been. My high school had German and French, and I had taken French. They didn’t offer Spanish. They offered German and French. I had taken French, so I wound up going to Cameroon in West Africa doing fish farming. I taught people how to select a fish farming site, how to stock the fish and manage the fish and do all that stuff. I lived in a tiny, tiny, tiny town and I worked with a group of farmers. Then I came back to the United States, and coming back to the United States, I wound up initially being unemployed, just floundering around for jobs. I started applying to stuff that I was not even qualified for, and that actually helped me get a job. I applied to be the New York State associate director for…a big nonprofit. I just threw in my application. But the director reached out. He’s like, “You’re totally unqualified for this job, but I liked your résumé and I like your spunk, so I just wanted to have lunch with you.” I’m like, “That’s amazing.” He’s like, “This is not a job interview because you’re not even vaguely qualified.” I’m like, “Okay.” But then he connected me to the New York Public Interest Research Group, and I wound up getting a job with them with the straphangers’ campaign doing basically mass transit advocacy and equal access and equal justice around mass transit work. That’s part of what 15 helped, I think, really cement and make the transition because I was spending a lot of time in Bed-Stuy, a lot of time in the Bronx, a lot of time in Queens, and in varied neighborhoods, and being around people who were really happy with who they were and proud of that. My dad didn’t really hang out with the Mexican community. Not here. Yes. He was so busy taking care of me, I think, at the end of the day that he never generated or developed a group of friends that were his own culture, which is sort of a sad thing in a way. But through going out and having those jobs, I think it really, really helped me. Then I went to law school, and I actually wound up being president of the Latino Students Association in law school [City University of New York Law School], which was sort of funny at the time. My friend Angela Redman was the president of the Black Law Students Associati