Being a Latine academic at the world’s leading public university has made for an existence fraught with fear. As a freshman, I knew I wanted to pursue law someday for many reasons. Systemic racism institutionalized my family, replacing opportunities with incarceration. As a defense attorney, I would serve Black and Brown communities facing unfair circumstances and work to mitigate generational trauma by keeping our families intact.
However, as I went through the motions of the COVID-19 pandemic that compounded inequalities, these reasons became muted. I agonized over the screeching noise of the empowered, and whether or not I could really withstand working in a field historically intent on oppressing us. We have seen that the injustice system has been particularly brutal since COVID-19, and I internalized what I was seeing in one threatening message: This is not for you.
This creeping imposter syndrome thrived undetected in my subconscious. It was not the imposter syndrome that said I didn’t deserve my spot at UC Berkeley, or that I wasn’t as good as other students. Instead, my imposter syndrome was a big ball of fear beating against my nervous system as I was disrespected in white professional and social spaces, intimately attacking my hopes and dreams and personhood. It was the thought that because no one else in my family had achieved a college education, I would probably not be able to handle going even further. It was everything I was seeing on the news. The more it beat me up on the inside with its worries and self-doubts, the more exhausted I became. In the midst of this physical and mental exhaustion I thought that if this is what being a professional would feel like, I would rather do something else.
This “something else” became my love for cooking. In the midst of my dilemma in pursuing culinary versus law, a counselor asked me, “Would you go into food because that’s what you actually want to do, or is it just where you feel more safe because it’s what people of color are allowed to do?” Her question brought me back into my own body, and since then I have taken ownership. I remembered what my mom had said to me when I was experiencing racism at UC Berkeley: “You don’t ever have to prove yourself to anyone.” With that reminder, the younger, more ambitious version of me has been slowly resurfacing ever since. I’m going to do it — I’m going to apply to law school, and go. Even if it’s hard like everyone says, even if it is actively built against me. At least if I discover that law really isn’t for me, it will be from my own volition, and I can celebrate my leap of faith.
This life will not be easy, wherever it leads. But a life without struggle is not an option afforded to people of color, no matter where we are in the world or what we decide to do for our professions. We may as well pursue what brings our souls peace.
I won’t lie to you, the big ball of fear still beats inside me some days when I am scared, and maybe you have one too. But when it does, I no longer let it hurt me or interfere with my vision as a defense attorney. Instead, I take a moment to add to my illustration. I can see the Black and Brown children and adults I will serve, and imagine what their bright futures might look like. I can see what my office looks like with an open door to each of them. I can see the system reacting, and I predict my many failures, but I also see what I will do to stay intact. As I visualize the ways I would like to bring us to the many justices we are owed, my fears subside in surrender.
“Our Voices” columns are by writers outside of the Daily Cal and separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.