GUY RAZ, host:
Regina Montoya was born in a small town in New Mexico speaking Spanish first before learning English, and she went on to become one of the first Latinas to graduate from Harvard Law School back in 1979.
Regina Montoya served in the Clinton administration and she's been named one of the 100th most influential Hispanics in the United States. She's now the general counsel at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. And Regina Montoya joins us from her home in Dallas.
Welcome to the show.
Ms. REGINA MONTOYA (General Counsel, Children's Medical Center, Dallas): Well, thank you. It is a historic day so it's great to be with you.
RAZ: Ms. Montoya, when you graduated from Harvard Law, the same year, by the way, that Sonia Sotomayo graduated from Yale Law, could you ever imagine a day like today, when a woman would become the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court?
Ms. MONTOYA: It's an unbelievable day for all of us because when I first graduated from law school, I clerked for a judge and she was the second federal woman district judge in the country. So, for us to be at this point and having a Latina on the Supreme Court, it is incredible. I would have never thought it at that time.
RAZ: Well, what went through your mind when you were watching Sonia Sotomayor take the oath today?
Ms. MONTOYA: Unbelievable pride. It is one of these things that all of us who have gone through the experience of law school at the time that we did, we just look at her and it is absolute pride and we are so happy. And her experiences, seeing her mother, what her mother had to go through as a single mom raising her two children and making sure that she provided for them and that they got the best and that they absolutely took advantage of the best, I think that's what really inspires all of us when we look at those experiences because all of us, many of us have had those experiences. My grandfather went into the coalmines at the age of 13.
Ms. MONTOYA: My paternal grandparents had very little education. But only in America. And being a Latina in this country, could you know that she would have this opportunity to be able to go to the best schools in the country and then, in her case, to become a United States Supreme Court justice.
RAZ: What does Justice Sotomayor's ascension mean for the future of Latinas in a legal profession? I mean, I understand that Hispanic women are still vastly underrepresented in this profession, right?
Ms. MONTOYA: But what it does mean is that it really sets the bar very high for Latinas who are thinking about law school, and that's what this really means. And I mean, this is the highest position in the judiciary one could hold. That, to me, is something that's really incredibly inspiring about this story.
RAZ: How did you decide to get into the legal profession? Did you have any specific role models?
Ms. MONTOYA: When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work in the Boston Legal Aid Society. And because I am bilingual, I was able to actually work with some of the attorneys in that area and found it fascinating. And that was how I decided that I wanted to become an attorney.
RAZ: How significant is today, you know, for Hispanic Americans?
Ms. MONTOYA: It is a historic time because when you look at that court and you think that you are going to be seeing a Latina on that bench in those famous pictures that you always see of the justices...
Ms. MONTOYA: ...in their robes, when you look at that and you think, oh my, where have we come to be able to have a Latina who is a suma cum laude graduate from an Ivy League school? This is what America is about and she personifies it.
RAZ: Regina Montoya graduated from Harvard Law School in 1979. She was one of the first Latinas to become a partner in a major law firm. She's now the senior vice president and general counsel at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
Ms. Montoya, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
Ms. MONTOYA: Thank you very much.
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