Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.
Injustice has always spurred April Karina Guevara Espinoza to do battle for those who are being inequitably treated. The School of Public Affairs’ fall 2020 Outstanding Graduate plans to do it someday as a human rights or immigration law attorney. But her efforts to balance the scales began long before that.
“I have been fighting on behalf of others since I was a child. If someone got orange juice while the others got apple, I would be the child shouting about how this is an injustice,” she said. “I have always enjoyed defending others when they were mistreated.”
Guevara Espinoza, who is receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in public service and public policy, grew up in Yuma, Arizona, on the Mexican border. She watched as the border wall was built and said her family experienced many racial injustices. These experiences cemented her desire to become an attorney, which she said has been her dream career from an early age.
“I felt like my voice and my arguments needed to hold weight and power in order to help create any change,” Guevara Espinoza said. “Being an attorney would allow me to not only defend others in court, but help me change legislation that is oppressing my community and other communities of color.”
At first, because she planned to go to law school, she sought to major in pre-law-related courses to be the most prepared.
“I now know that you can major in anything and still apply to law school, but as a first-generation student, you are not taught these things, you learn them yourself,” she said. “After doing my own research in public service and public policy, I realized I could concentrate my major around law and policy, so that is when I decided to choose it. I am glad I did because not only have I been able to take important law and criminal justice classes, I have also learned the behind-the-scenes work of how policies were once legislation. I feel as though my major gave me a good balance of law courses and policy process courses.”
Read on to learn more about Guevara Espinoza and the perspective she’s gained from her time at ASU.
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: In Professor Mellissa Linton’s WST 373 Latina/Chicana Issues course in the School of Social Transformation, I was introduced to an incredible analysis on the concept of “illegality” by Nicholas De Genova. Though I already believed no person is illegal and that there are simply people of undocumented status, I learned that illegality is a social construct. De Genova explains how illegality is a racially motivated concept produced by law. U.S. labor needs have always determined the amount of which particular immigrant is being accepted into the United States. The U.S. has imported migrants when they needed them, like through the Bracero program, then, like a revolving door, expects them to go return to their home country after making a life in the states.
It is interesting, since many need to go through the rigorous process of becoming a citizen or are here due to overstayed visas, yet they are now considered illegal because of new laws that replaced those that brought them here “legally” in the first place. I would highly recommend De Genova’s “The Legal Production of Mexican/Migrant ‘Illegality’” for a deeper analysis. Furthermore, the systemic barriers imposed onto migrants have caused the delay in effectively achieving documented, “legal” status. Through this perspective, my passion for working within immigration law and helping those in need has grown and intensified.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU for a multitude of reasons. Like many, I wanted to stay in the state because of the price of tuition and because it was close enough and far away enough from home. I toured each of the Arizona universities and ASU was the only campus I genuinely liked. I thought it was unique that there were four campuses and I loved that I was a downtown student because I was surrounded by skyscrapers and beautiful art. Plus, I was living in front of my dream law school, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Fortunately, I received a full ride from Arizona State University and it was a done deal from then on.
(Guevara Espinoza also said she is grateful to have received the following scholarships: New American University Scholarship Dean’s Award, Horatio Alger State Scholarship, President Barack Obama Scholars Program, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Watts College Study Abroad Scholarship.)
Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson(s) while at ASU?
A: Joanna Lucio, associate professor and associate dean of academic and student affairs at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, shared the best life lesson with me in an interview I conducted with her. She said, “Don’t worry about what other people think. Be aware of what you put your energy into and who you put your energy into. Have boundaries and say no, love yourself more than caring about the opinions of others. People in authority have influence and experience, but they don’t know everything. Connect with and listen to yourself.” I think other student leaders should pay close attention to what Dean Lucio said. These words of wisdom struck a chord with me and felt very comforting to hear. I hope others can benefit from them, too.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: If I could give only one piece of advice, it would be that I promise you, you are not running out of time. As someone who decided to figure out my life plans at seventh grade, I thought I had everything figured out and that I needed to stick to this timeline in order to be successful. I chose to cram everything I was interested in into three years of college and I wish I was more patient with myself. I always had to choose which job or which club I was giving my all to because I was spreading myself too thin.
If you are someone who is debating going into law school or pursuing any higher education, do not feel as though you need to go right away. Having work experience, especially in the field you plan to go into, can help you massively when pursuing the educational side of that field. Having the time to mature before pursuing something as serious and time-consuming as graduate school will also benefit you in the long run.
Even if you do not choose to work or go to school right away, taking time off to do whatever it is you want to do can benefit your mental health and happiness greatly. It is never too late to go to school. You have the time. Try not to stress about it too much, though if you are anything like me, I know you still will.
Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?
A: If you are a student at the downtown ASU campus, I 100% recommend studying at The Grand. The coffee shop is a short walk from campus. They are open 24 hours, which is super convenient for finals week. The ambiance is cozy with low lighting, great music, creative coffees and even better food. (Try their mac and cheese!)
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I will continue to study for the Law School Admission Test during my gap year. During that time, I plan to work in a firm as a legal assistant or clerk as I complete my law school application. I would love to and have always planned to attend ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. After law school, I am interested in working as an international human rights attorney or in a firm that specializes in immigration law. Additionally, I have a dream goal of creating a scholarship for other Latino, first-generation students who aspire to go to law school, because our presence in these spaces are underrepresented and extremely needed.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I feel as though I have been asked this question several times and each time it is very easy to answer: poverty. Solving poverty on our planet would solve a significant amount of other issues. Ending poverty would lead to ending homelessness and housing insecurity in general. I would first tackle this issue by creating affordable housing for all. Moreover, food insecurity would diminish and malnourished populations would no longer grow hungry. I would tackle this by investing in or creating programs that feed underserved communities. I would also invest in cities that are considered food deserts to ensure everyone has access to affordable groceries. People would not have to decide between a car payment and healthy food at the grocery store for their children.
I would use the millions to create a free or affordable child care program so that both parents or any guardian are able to work to create their own income. Millions of people would be able to fulfill basic needs such as health care, education, housing, cleanliness, food and water. Ending poverty means ending the epidemic that is causing millions to live unhappy and unfulfilled lives.