Welcome to another Summer Series post. Summer Series allows us to hear from Lawtinas from around the country sharing their summer with us—we’ll hear from pre-law students, law grads prepping for the bar, and rising 2Ls/3Ls in their summer internships. Today we hear from Angelica Austrich, a risking 2L in New York. Not only did she come to the states from the DR to study law and had to adjust to culture shock but she also scored an immensely cool and empowering summer gig with Congressman Espaillat’s office! Here is her journey, so far…
One of the statistics that sticks with us is knowing that only 2% of the lawyers in this country are Latina women. It scares us and makes us think that among so many other groups, how will we thrive? How will we stand out? These are questions I think we all ask ourselves, especially after experiencing a year of law school. You learn that there are smarter people than you and also people not as bright, but who take up space. You learn that some subjects unless taught by a good teacher, are meant to be driven into the narrative that will always exclude us. But you also realize that you can get it when you fight and speak out for your space.
I believe I battled with impostor syndrome since the first moment I started law school. I come from a small island in the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, where I graduated from law school (an undergraduate degree). Nobody thought I could get into an American law school and much less get a scholarship, but I did! It was the best feeling, but as soon as we started classes, I slowly realized how much knowledge my colleagues had that I didn’t because of the many different life experiences and journeys they took before coming to law school. It made me feel a bit small, and like I maybe ended up there by sheer luck. After many weeks of just listening and being open to embracing every experience of my colleagues, I learned we had so much more in common than what we had different. Hearing them speak about this and their views on the law and life reminded me that we are all at law school for a specific reason and that we are never there by sheer luck or because of a fluke. We earned our places in that room, and our voices are just as important.
By the time that applying for internships came around, I must have applied around 20 different places, putting the time and work into each cover letter and making sure that my resume was polished. Let me tell you that I only got five responses, three rejects, and two interviews. It was my first experience doing this application cycle, and just entering into a US job market, I thought I wasn’t going to have an internship for the summer. I remember weeks going by and all my friends posting about their new internships. Until one day, I got a call back from the district office of the Congressman Adriano Espaillat.
I got a call saying they heard a voicemail I left asking about where to apply for internships; mind you, this was almost a month after I had left it. They referred me to the person reviewing intern applications, and only an hour later, I got an email asking for a time for a phone interview. I was incredibly nervous the day the interview happened, and I remember that day my mom told me wise words: “Mija, always remember to be yourself. Don’t try to dull your shine”. Twenty-five minutes into the phone interview where I talked about my life in the Dominican Republic, my experiences with non-profits there, and my passion for helping people, the staffer told me I got the internship!
It’s been two weeks since I started as a congressional intern for Congressman Adriano Espaillat, representing the 13th district of New York, and it has been excellent. He is the first formerly undocumented Congressman, and he was born in my hometown of Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. I’ve begun to learn so much about how this branch of government works, the research that goes behind every single bill proposed, and all the resolutions brought to the House floor. There is an entire team behind every Representative, and I can tell I was grateful enough to be taken in by the best one out there. Every person has been available to explain all the assignments we have and just talk with us about working as a Legislative Staffer for different issues. I’ve been able to contribute research to remarks being said, upcoming bills that will be introduced, and help organize huge district events that will help constituents get back up on their feet.
My boss, who is also a Dominican woman, makes sure we are always doing something and learning different things every day. Be it about the administrative effort it takes to run a congressional office or district work done every day out in New York. I’ve handled phone calls from constituents, raising awareness about an issue, to casework passed on to district offices to assist them. I’ve answered numerous calls in Spanish because we represent one of the most prominent Latinx neighborhoods in New York City, Washington Heights. One of the things that makes my heart swell in these calls is the relief I hear in their voices when they know they’re speaking to someone who knows their language and may understand the struggle they’re having at the moment.
This past week I was fortunate to use my Latinidad and my heritage to talk with a group of visitors where we discussed life in the Dominican Republic and the importance of having a community that you can fall back into. This conversation, the constituent calls, the work I was doing, the entire journey I took to end up walking towards the Capitol representing my community. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I realized that we are never powerless; we are powerful.
We constantly put ourselves down, make our voices quieter, be less expressive to please this standard we believe people in the law profession should have or be like. But being loud, being proud of the journey we took from thousands of miles away (that our parents did as well), using our experiences to assert our seat at the table, it must be done. Mijas, never let someone dim your light and say you don’t deserve to be where you are. You worked hard, studied hours and hours, put in the time, money as well as effort. We need each other to represent, so we can remind ourselves that 2% is only for now; every day, our presence keeps growing.