Rossana Suarez’s journey, which began hundreds of miles away from Albuquerque, is far from over.
She is set to graduate this fall with a degree in political science and Spanish. Already in the process of applying to law school at the University of New Mexico, she plans on practicing employment and labor law.
“You get to talk to workers from all over the state and realize that there is a lot of injustices and there is really not that many lawyers that represent workers,” Suarez said. “That’s not where the money is at.”
Going towards the money would certainly be the easier path. It’s well traveled, but it would be unfamiliar to Suarez. She might even find the simplicity boring, said Suarez.
Suarez said her family moved from Mexico in 2008. Her mother was drawn to the U.S. by the allure of opportunity through education for her children. She was pushed out because of the growing threat of violence, according to Suarez.
“When we were out there we lived in a very small town and for women education isn’t your goal,” Suarez said. “Your goal is to get married and start a family. My mom didn’t really want that for us.”
Growing up in Mexico, Suarez said getting a job was more rewarding than getting an education. Suarez attributed part of that to the area she grew up in. She said there just weren’t a lot of jobs that required an education.
Suarez was in the sixth grade when her family settled in the U.S. She began her second half of primary education in America without knowing English. She said she almost got held back.
Classes helped but Suarez said “it also had a lot to do (with) me having to come home and listen to everything in English.”
In her third week of middle school, Suarez was selling pencils she had decorated for a dollar. She was trying to raise $20 to pay for a physical to join the middle school volleyball team. She didn’t want to ask her mother for the money. Suarez said that, at the time, her mother was cleaning homes for $200 a week.
After discovering Suarez's enterprise, the principle called her mother. “My mother cried that night,” Suarez said, “she felt like she was not providing enough.”
Suarez graduated from Rio Grande High School and the following fall became a Lobo. She said that in her first few years she took mostly online classes.
“It’s a little bit more at your own pace and the work is it little bit heavier so it was a little bit harder,” Suarez said. In one of these online classes, Suarez met Dr. Patricia Lopategui.
Lopategui said that Suarez was “one of the most responsible students in the online class.” She said Suarez never missed a deadline and always listened to critique. So, Lopategui said she made Suarez a tutor.
Around this time, Suarez’s mother got a job with an oil company in Pennsylvania, leaving Suarez to be in charge of her home and to help guide her 14-year-old sister. She said her mother didn’t want to leave, but that it was a sacrifice she had to make for her family.
“My life changed with this decision and realized I had two choices; to feel bad for myself or to instill powerful values in my sister and apply myself to my studies to one day provide for my family,” Suarez wrote in her personal statement, a part of her application to law school.
What could have been a fatal blow to her career, Suarez took on the extra responsibilities while keeping school a top priority.
After graduating, Suarez said she wants to stay in New Mexico. “There’s so much potential in this state,” Suarez said.
“(Suarez) is a promising young progressive woman who knows the traditional roles women have played and are still using to survive,” said Lopategui, “but she also respects herself enough to know the plight of social injustice to other women, workers and people of color or from different parts of the world.”
Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Just516garc.