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Spotlight - Perla Parra, recipient of Zelle Hofmann's 2013 Diversity in Law Scholarship

Posted on Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Written by Jubilee Menzies; interview conducted by Jubilee Menzies, Heather T. Rankie and Qianwei Fu, Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP

“Diversity to me represents continuous growth and learning. It means we are evolving. My life has been a learning process, and my education has been enriched by a willingness to exchange ideas and understand how others’ experiences and our own affect and relate to each other,” wrote Perla Parra in her Diversity in Law Scholarship application. This attitude, coupled with a remarkable academic, professional, and personal background, made Perla the unanimous top choice across the firm to receive the 2013 Zelle Hofmann Diversity in Law Scholarship. We sat down with Perla to learn more about her background, pursuit of law, and views on diversity in law.

Perla was born in Los Angeles, CA but grew up moving back and forth between Los Angeles and Tecolotlan, a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. By the time she graduated from high school, she, her mother, and brother had moved over 30 times. “Home,” she says, “transformed into a fluid, metaphorical borderland between seemingly incongruous worlds: my American nationality, my Mexican ethnicity, and my personal identity. I was an immigrant and a citizen.”

Despite the challenges of her early years, Perla’s mother instilled in her a deep appreciation for education and a strong work ethic, which have taken her far. As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, Perla excelled in her academic studies. While still an English Language Learner, she became fluent in Italian and studied abroad in Padova, Italy in addition to developing a working knowledge of Portuguese, French, and Arabic. Outside the classroom, Perla contributed to her community in multiple ways. “I found a home in the social justice movement advocating for human and civil rights,” she says. She organized labor rights campaigns for farmworkers and mentored at-risk youth in an after-school program. “Perla’s fluency in Spanish and her Mexican heritage were big factors in our program’s success at maintaining a consistent relationship with many new immigrant children from Latin America and their parents,” said her former supervisor.

Upon graduation, Perla continued to expand her horizons with an eye for serving others from disadvantaged backgrounds. She worked as a case manager for the Marin Child Care Council where she advocated for early childhood education and certified over 120 low-income families to receive critical childcare subsidies. After work, she studied during nights and weekends to earn a certificate in business administration through the UC Berkeley Extension. She went on to become a business analyst with the Fair Isaac Corporation, an experience she credits with honing her analytical skills.

Still eager to learn, Perla returned to school and earned a Master in Public Administration with honors from Cornell University. “Pursuing higher education has rewarded me with invaluable opportunities to learn from and contribute to society,” she explains. As a graduate student, she worked with the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development in South Africa to promote job creation and opportunities for women in business.

Perla describes herself as “having found a home learning about other people’s cultures, personal stories, and backgrounds and through the study of languages.” An accomplished, well-traveled young woman, Perla had yet to experience Asia. This made her the perfect candidate for the Henry Luce Scholar program. After completing her master’s degree, Perla spent a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand working on human rights impact litigation and volunteering in a migrant camp teaching English to Burmese immigrants. From there, she applied to law school and chose to attend UC Hastings.

When asked about her views on diversity in law, Perla said, “After my first year of law school, I realize that the law is in everything. It’s like learning a new language and a new way of navigating the world. I think I’m equipped to enhance diversity because my own trajectory to get here has helped me to identify others who might not think that the law is for them, and I can help open it to them and bring them to the table. I think that’s how people thrive the most—when people from different backgrounds come to the table, you’re more likely to get better answers.”

Today Perla is a second-year law student at UC Hastings, where she is taking full advantage of the opportunities around her. She is in moot court, working as a teaching assistant for Legal Writing and Research, and learning new skills with the Workers’ Rights Clinic in addition to her regular course load, journal, and extracurricular activities. An articulate, multilingual professional, Perla will undoubtedly continue to succeed in her legal career—whatever path she takes—, and Zelle Hofmann is honored to support her on that path through the 2013 Diversity in Law Scholarship.