Penn Arts and Sciences at Work: Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, C’01

Penn Arts and Sciences at Work is a photoblog project where we tell the story of the extended Penn Arts and Sciences community. Espinoza-Madrigal, a political science and Latin American and Latino studies majors, is Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Interview by Chrissy Bowdren

Photo by Alex Schein

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, C’01

It’s really great to be able to use the law as an instrument for social justice, and to use the abundant resources of the legal community in Boston in the service of low-income communities of color and immigrant neighborhoods. I think hands down, the most meaningful experience for me so far was being able to unify children with their mothers after being separated at the border. That was profoundly emotional for me. There’s something unique about being able to right that wrong—to be able to help families who did nothing wrong, children, infants who did nothing wrong. But, I think it’s important for us to hold both sides of the aisle accountable, because at the center of our work is making sure that our client’s rights are not being violated. It could happen if you’re going against a blue administration or a red administration, it really doesn’t matter.

I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. I was brought to the US when I was nine years old in the 1980s by my mom, a single mom. She worked very hard to put food on the table. But, she was a low wage worker. We grew up, especially when we first got here, very, very poor.

There were many times when my mom was thinking about things like what the landlord could or could not do to us if we didn’t have rent on time, what the police could or could not do to us if they pulled my mom over because we didn’t have money to fix a broken tail light. Things like that really motivated me and catalyzed my interest in becoming a lawyer. Even today, every case that we file here reminds me of my mother and reminds me of the people who lived in the same block as I did when I was growing up.

I think, through the experience that I had at Penn, that I am today able to navigate many different worlds, from being able to feel comfortable in a board room to being able to interface with corporate partners, and also being able to do that on the same day as I go into a mom-and-pop shop in Roxbury, and talk to them about their rights. Being able to navigate those spaces in a seamless manner, and be able to do that effectively. Those are skills that came from my experience at Penn that were above and beyond what I was learning in the classroom, and something that I hold very dear.

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