When Heidi Chamorro León, an immigrant from Mexico, told a high school teacher she would one day be a lawyer, she remembers the teacher responding with an incredulous laugh: “Ha. I’d love to see that happen.”
León, an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, was 4-years old when her family moved to West Valley City.
“I know my parents worked very hard and sacrificed so much in order for me and my siblings to have a better life and more opportunities than they were given in Mexico,” she says. “They had always talked about me going to college as though it were a given.”
Despite this encouragement, León had doubts that she would make it through college. The push to help Latino students get through school seemed to end after graduation. Considering her delicate immigration status and the financial burden of college, León saw enormous obstacles.
Still, she dreamed of being a lawyer.
“It was funding from Mexico that helped me make that dream a reality,” she says. “Because when I think back to the turning point, to the moment when college became a viable option and becoming an attorney became a reality, it was when I found out funding like this was available.”
The funding León references is made by the Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IMA). Becas Scholarships go to institutions with the ultimate intent of supporting students of Mexican origin.
León received scholarships through several institutions, including the Educational Opportunities for Utah’s Children and Somos Foundation.
With help from those funds, León graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and mass communications. She went on to law school at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and later volunteered at a pro bono clinic that offered free legal advice. Following an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that established Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, León tried to help families through the legal process.
While waiting for approval to the Utah Bar, she took and passed the California Bar to be sworn in within a month. León works as a law clerk, focusing on immigration and family law, as well as criminal defense. She also serves on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
She shared her story to highlight the opportunity that is provided by funding made through the Consulate of Mexico to various Utah institutions.
On Tuesday morning, the consulate awarded 12 checks totaling more than $89,000. Those institutions that received the donations have agreed to match them dollar for dollar.
Javier Chagoya, cónsul de Mexico, says economic and social development for Mexican communities in the United States has a broad beneficial impact. Since its implementation in 2005, more than 44,000 students were the recipient of funds through the program.
He says in Utah, the scholarships support “low-income college students who are noticed through their academic achievements and their commitment to their local communities. IMA Becas also supports education programs for adults older than 15 and GED classes, elementary and middle school English classes and computer science.”
Chagoya recognized the recipients, as well as members of a steering committee that decides who will receive the funds.