Shrager & Sachs is proud to announce that we’ve chosen a winner for our second annual scholarship– for Fall 2020. We were truly humbled by the quality applications we received. Thank you to everyone who applied! It was a pleasure to read every application we received.
Congratulations to Adriana Lopez of Texas!
Adriana will be attending law school at the University of Utah to pursue a career in Environmental Law.
This was the essay topic:
“How has your family’s background affected the way you see the world?”
This is her winning essay:
Maria Arreola, bleary-eyed and gaunt, kissed her children goodbye, grabbed her suitcase, and headed towards the airport. She worried about leaving her little ones behind, Maritza, her eldest, thirteen, and Juan, her youngest, just ten; she knew staying in Mexico City wasn’t an option, not if she wanted to escape the miserable, draining life at the side of her husband Juan Sr.
He had made her life impossible. He was a drunk, a drug-addict and on top of that a wife-beater. When he was told of Griselda’s death, he was drenched in tequila and indifferent. Baby Griselda, Maria’s third child, never made it past age two. Food in Maria’s house was scarce, and there was no money for baby formula. The best Maria could do was give the baby rice water for nourishment. At a year and a half, Griselda still weighed close to her newborn weight. Seeing her child grow scrawnier and more unresponsive each day, compelled Maria to go to the hospital. Five days later, Griselda died. The official cause of death was malnutrition.
To feel so powerless as to not be able to properly feed your own children is a pain you never forget. Maria wanted more for Maritza and Juan Jr. than Mexico could give. She yearned for opportunity, yearned to end the strife. Desperate, the only thing she could think of to get her children out of the misery their lives had always been was to flee and try to achieve economic prosperity in a new nation, the United States.
When she was finally standing in the airport, it felt unreal. She had done so much to get that plane ticket in her hands. She sold her gas stove, tv, table, chairs, practically everything she owned. Her eight siblings too sacrificed, contributing whatever money they could spare so that she could buy her ticket.
With only twenty dollars in her pocket, she started her life in the U.S and nine months after working as a maid, she finally had enough money to bring her children too.
Maritza, my mother, started high school as a freshman not speaking a lick of English. For several weeks, she sat in the wrong classes because she was unable to read her high school schedule and was too embarrassed to ask for help. After school, Maritza was often bullied by the American students for not being able to speak English. One afternoon, she vividly remembers a male, black student pulling her back by the leg and tossing her to the ground, then laughing at her with his friends. She was their joke– they called her the “wetback”.
At first, life for my mother seemed intolerable. She desperately longed for her home country where she had friends and spoke the native tongue. Here, she felt like an outsider. She couldn’t understand her teachers, and she had no friends. But soon enough, she met another student, Minnie, who was also a Mexican immigrant. With Minnie, she learned English quickly and by the end of senior year, my mother, despite being just another “wetback”, had climbed to the top of the academic ladder and was preparing to graduate in the top ten percent of her class.
Maritza was the first in our family to start college, but pregnant with me and working two minimum wage jobs, finishing was far off. With my father negligent and absent, it was hard to make ends meet. For some time, we lived off food stamps. My grandmother, forever traumatized from how she lost Griselda, would bring over eggs, milk and bread whenever she could.
My elementary school was over 80% Hispanic and in a “ghetto’ neighborhood. Being shy, I mainly focused on listening to my teachers and turning in my work. Around the fourth grade, I started getting some attention as a precocious reader. I remember my English teacher turning to me and telling me I would one day be the valedictorian; I had no idea what that word meant then, but I knew from my teacher’s smile that it was a compliment.
At twenty-eight, my mother finally graduated from college, and in that moment, my grandmother truly saw her American dream realized. She saw the pay-off of the long hours at her back-breaking, low paying job as a maid. She saw that despite all of the loss and the struggle, she was able to pull her family into stability and break us into the middle class.
I don’t like to say it because I’d hate to ever give someone a reason to think that I was “broken” (because I’m not), but I come from a family where the men are either completely absent or worse, abusive drunks. Hamlet’s words “frailty, thy name is women” have never made any sense to me. I’ve always thought that “fortitude, thy name is women” was much more appropriate.
Resilience, I learned from my grandmother and mother. It is in the lines that mark my grandmother’s hands from thirteen years as a maid and later decades as a minimum wage factory worker. It is in the wrinkles that mark my mother’s forehead from years of worrying as a single mother. And it is in the eyes of this brazen, brown girl who knows that when hardship comes, academic or personal, you don’t yield, you push and shove.
My mother and grandmother, who together raised me, have taught me that I have everything inside me that I need to succeed, regardless of where I come from. It is because of their love and attention that I grew up with an infinite belief in myself and will be the first in my family to start law school. For them, I am forever thankful.
For more information on the next entry period which will be for Fall 2021, please see our law firm’s scholarship page. Congratulations again, Adriana! May all your dreams come true.