BY NICOLE DIAZ
On Thursday, December 1st, Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) President Nelson Castillo visited Harvard Law School to meet with Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove and members of HLS’s La Alianza, the Latino law student group. Mr. Castillo was accompanied by Edgardo Ramos, an HLS graduate and partner at Day, Berry & Howard, who serves as Chair of the HNBA Finance Committee. The Hispanic National Bar Association was founded in California in 1972, and now represents thousands of Hispanic American attorneys across the country in over 19 regions. Its primary objectives are to increase professional opportunities for Hispanics in the legal profession and address issues of concern to the national Hispanic community. Nicole Diaz (2L), a member of La Alianza and Regional President of the Law Student division of the HNBA, coordinated the visit.
After meeting with Dean Cosgrove, Castillo spoke with members of Alianza about his views of Latinos in the legal profession. He noted that despite growth in HNBA membership and political prominence, Latinos are still poorly represented within the field and their numbers are growing only very slowly. Castillo suggested the fact that Latinos generally do not come from affluent backgrounds and some experience difficulty in school as possible explanations for the slow growth. Using himself as an example, he noted that he had difficulty after arriving from El Salvador at the age of eleven, did not graduate high school, and was only accepted by one law school. Nevertheless, at age 35 he is the extremely young leader of a national organization, an achievement which he attributes to his intense commitment to the Latino community and his belief that change starts now.
Students present raised two other issues of particular importance to them: reaching out to Latinos in order to encourage them to apply to law school, and getting a Latino professor. The last item elicited laughs from Edgardo, who also worked on getting a Latino professor during his time at HLS many years ago. Castillo was optimistic about Alianza’s efforts after his meeting with Dean Cosgrove, who was enthusiastic about supporting Alianza. The group discussed working more closely with hiring and admissions committees. Castillo also noted that the HNBA’s academic committee boasts many Latino professors who could serve as mentors for any students who were themselves interested in becoming professors. He also applauded the Harvard Latino Law Review as a step in the right direction.
The group closed with a discussion of two important events. The first was the HNBA Annual Conference, which will take place in San Francisco in the beginning of September, and is the Latino legal community’s premier networking opportunity. The conference brings together Latinos from across the country, presents the opportunity to meet people ranging from prominent Latino judges to the Attorney General of the United States, and attracts over seventy-nine law firms. Castillo also encouraged the students to form a team and participate in the HNBA Moot Court Competition, which will take place next year at the Microsoft Campus in Seattle, WA. Castillo suggested seeking administrative support for students to participate in both of these important events.
After the meeting, Nicole Diaz accompanied Castillo to Boston College Law School where he spoke before a large gathering of students, faculty members and the BC Law Dean. Roberta Ruiz, head of the Latino student group there, expressed her eagerness to work with La Alianza and the HNBA to increase networking amongst local law students. A joint law school party was tentatively planned for next semester.
Castillo’s visit was considered a success by all. As Castillo stressed, it is particularly important for Latino students at Harvard to contribute to the Latino legal community. The meeting increased administrative support for La Alianza and the work of the HNBA, provoked discussion of important issues, and brought together local Latino law students.