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First Person Singular: National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguia

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

My parents came to this country with no money and very little education. But they worked hard. They worked really hard. So for my six brothers and sister and myself, even though we grew up in a little bitty house in Kansas, we knew that even though they didn't have education, they valued education. So we worked hard to try to get what they didn't have. At the end of the day, they were able to see my brother Ramon graduate from Harvard Law School. They were able to see my brother Carlos graduate from law school and be sworn in as United States District Court judge. They were able to see my sister, Mary Helen, graduate from law school and be sworn in as United States District Court judge in Arizona. And they were able to see me graduate from law school and work in the West Wing of the White House. I ended up being hired to work in the White House, in the office of legislative affairs for President Clinton.

The cultural traditional of our family and working with our parents to integrate into the broader mainstream culture was an interesting journey. I remember explaining the notion of a slumber party to my parents. Mary and [I] got invited to a slumber party. My parents, who were very strict, couldn't quite get their heads around this notion, the fact that a friend of ours was having all these other girls at her house. My mom is asking, "She has beds for all of you?"

"No, no, we all go over there and sleep on the floor." And she's like, "You want to go to a friend's house and sleep on the floor when you have a perfectly good bed here?" And we're like, "The point is, you're not really sleeping, you're talking all night."

I remember one of the ladies from our neighborhood complimenting my mother on how proud she must feel of both my sister and I. They were in the kitchen, and I remember she said, "You must be so proud of your daughters. The fact that one's a federal court judge, and the other one works in the West Wing of the White House. Que orgullo." My mom calmly said, "You know what? I'd be really proud of them if they knew how to make flour tortillas." So, you know, we were always grounded in the sense that my mom knew that was really important.

Interview by Cathy Areu


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