The field of Latino Studies is marked by its intersectionality: students can take the skills and knowledge they learn down any number of professional paths.
In the case of three recent Notre Dame graduates — Gregory Jenn, Cesar Estrada, and Xitlaly Estrada (no relation) — majoring in Latino Studies served as a building block for pursuing careers as lawyers. And their rich academic experiences as undergraduates led them to choose Notre Dame Law School.
“The Institute for Latino Studies helps ND students deepen their understanding of U.S. Latinx communities, in order to make informed decisions of what kind of country we want to leave for our children and our children’s children,” shared ILS Director Luis Fraga.
Jenn, a second year at Notre Dame Law, graduated in 2018 with a triple major in Political Science, Romance Languages, and Latino Studies. He then spent the following year teaching English in Italy before returning to Notre Dame to resume his studies.
A deep sense of Catholic faith and appreciation for social justice teaching spurred the Fullerton, CA native to try to become a “double domer,” a nickname given to those who earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Notre Dame.
“Nowhere else does the concept of community intersect and drive the education of students and faculty,” Jenn says. “It is a place where our intellectual ambition is not at odds with spiritual growth, but rather both are integral pieces of our formation.”
As an undergrad at Notre Dame, Jenn took ILS classes ranging from Latino spirituality to Caribbean culture to urban politics. Jenn’s thesis, “Mexican Immigration: A Dantean Illumination”, analyzed Mexican migrants’ ‘betwixt and between’ status within American society. He wrote it under the direction of Dr. Richman, a cultural anthropologist who serves as Director of Undergraduate Academic Programs at the Institute for Latino Studies; it was one of three winners for the José Limón Best Paper in Latino Studies award of 2018.
“Each professor left an indelible impression that formed my undergraduate education and intellectual interests. It was through their tremendous support and the academic foundation from these classes that led me to not only write a senior thesis, but also strengthen my conviction to study law,” says Jenn.
Jenn is seeking to specialize in intellectual property and immigration. Both of his parents are immigrants — his mother from Mexico, his father from England. In fact, Jenn refers to himself as “Brit-Mex.”
“My family history is embodiment of the American story, and I would love to help other families like mine realize their American dream,” he says.
Currently, Gregory is an ICLEO Fellow and student editor for the Landslide®️ Magazine, a publication of the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law.
Cesar Estrada, a fellow second year at Notre Dame Law, also points to positive experience as an undergrad as the reason for returning for an advanced degree.
He got his bachelor’s in Political Science, Theology, and Latino Studies. As a formerly undocumented immigrant from Colima, Mexico who moved to Texas, Estrada gravitated towards classes focused on immigration and politics. In addition, he participated in ILS’s Cross Cultural Leadership Program (CCLP), interning at the National Council of La Raza (now known as UnidosUS) in Washington, DC.
He notes the influence of Professor Fraga and Associate Professor Ricardo Ramírez, of Political Science, and Associate Professor Kraig Beyerlein, from Sociology. In their classes, he learned about the many hurdles Latinx face before the law.
“My studies with the Institute for Latino Studies combined with my life experiences as an immigrant Latinx has made me keenly aware of the lack of opportunities to seek legal services for many in the Latinx community,” he says. “As a future Spanish speaking attorney, I hope that whatever legal path I seek, I will always have the time and energy to help my community by providing them with legal services.”
After graduation he dabbled in criminal law, working for two years as a trial paralegal at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Now in law school, Estrada is seeking a career in bankruptcy law because of its complexity and its connection to other facets of the legal system. He doesn’t quite know yet if he wants to go into litigation or transactional work, so he appreciates the versatility this area offers.
Currently he’s involved with the LGBT Law Forum and the Hispanic Law Student Association. He’s also a staff editor with the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, Volume 35.
For her part, Xitlaly Estrada wrapped up her studies in May 2020, earning her J.D. from Notre Dame. She went on to a job at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in the Los Angeles area, where she focuses on entertainment law.
Xitlaly followed in the footsteps of her older sister, who also earned her law degree from Notre Dame. Both of Xitlaly’s parents are immigrants from Mexico who settled in Bakersfield, CA, where she grew up. She majored in Political Science and Latino Studies during her time as an undergraduate.
Throughout her academic career, she showed a concern with the plight of many Spanish-speaking immigrants in the United States, and translated her passion into leadership, serving as president of the Latino Student Alliance at Notre Dame and later as co-president of the Hispanic Law Student Association in law school. In addition, she worked as a research assistant for the director of ILS from the time she was a sophomore to graduation in 2017.
Looking back at her time as a student leader, Xitlaly shared she was one of the main organizers of a walk-out during Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement speech. More than 150 Notre Dame graduates participated in a peaceful act of protest that made national headlines.
“We walked out in resistance of both his policies and his rhetoric,” she wrote in an op-ed published in Bustle at the time. “We walked out because, to us, loving our neighbor means loving them not only regardless of their immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, race, or any other part of their identity, but loving them precisely because of those differences. We walked out because our differences make us better, and that is truly what makes us American.”
ILS Faculty Fellow Professor Jimmy Gurule'-- law professor and faculty adviser to the Hispanic Law Student Association-- stated: "With the invaluable education they have received through the Institute for Latino Studies, coupled with their legal education and training, Xitlaly, Greg, and Cesar will be a positive force for good in society and the Latino community. They have been well prepared to address the social, economic, and legal issues confronting Latinos across the country."