Immersion Into Mexican Culture And Law

Hispanic Community December 2020 PREMIUM
St. Mary’s University School of Law’s Study Abroad Program

Cristina Rodriguez did not consider herself a typical law student at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. When she had the opportunity to attend the “Legal and Cultural Study Abroad Program” at the University of Guadalajara, she was 38 years old, divorced, a mother of a 13-year-old boy, and came from a low-income family with serious issues of alcoholism, drug addictions and mental illness. Despite the hardships, she pushed through her courses, served in internships and studied abroad at The Hague Academy of International Law.

She knew going to Mexico would be the next best investment for her future. “My heart is in migration and the protection of migrants’ rights,” she explained.

Her law professor, Dr. Roberto Rosas, who oversees the program and serves as the guide in his hometown, encouraged her to go. It was exactly what she needed.

“It was after sitting at round tables with the legal practitioners of this country who have the same love and reverence for the protection of human rights and the passion to promote the rule of law when I realized how much we are a cohesive whole that should be working side by side.”

The program experience not only broadened her scope of understanding, it solidified her vision. “Transborder cooperation, policy that embraces international law standards, and diversity will bring the change we need in this area of law.” 

One Week Immersion

St. Mary’s University School of Law created the “Legal and Cultural Study Abroad” spring break program to introduce students to the Mexican legal system. “It’s a program of academic excellence with a mission to educate future leaders for the common good through community and social justice,” says Dr. Rosas. “Some things you cannot learn in a classroom. You have to be able to relate this legal system to the culture. Know the people, how they live, their morals, the language, and the reality of their Mexico and our country with indigenous and Spanish influences.”

As a law school whose student body is 50% Hispanic American, the partnership with Guadalajara is a source of pride and academic and cultural enrichment, explains Patricia Roberts, dean of St. Mary’s School of Law. “Students learn about the Mexican legal system from professors from the University of Guadalajara, as well as Mexican jurists, international lawyers and human rights activists. This joint international program provides a comparative perspective to their own legal studies and aids students in developing professional relationships with members of the bench and bar in Mexico.” 

In five days, students can earn one credit hour and a diploma. Material is taught in Spanish and includes:

  observation of a Mexican trial

•   participation in a mock trial exercise

•   attendance to a full session of State Congress

•   visits to legal and cultural sites

In Alignment

The Legal and Cultural Program aligns with the values and mission of the private Catholic law school: to equip future lawyers with the values to lead a more just world.

Lucia Valeria Montalvo decided to attend St. Mary’s for immigration law. Born in Texas and raised in Mexico, she earned her B.S. in International Political Economy from UT Dallas. She took “Doing Business in Mexico” with Professor Rosas and worked with St. Mary’s Human Rights and Immigration clinics, which offer students a chance to partner with licensed attorneys to work with clients in need. The spring program added more depth and value to her education.

“The intensive course provided a great foundation of Mexican law,” Montalvo says. “The days were long but so rewarding. In a day, we would have a lecture on criminal law and procedure, then a lecture on civil courts and procedure, after that a lecture on constitutional law. These lectures allowed me to recognize differences and similarities with U.S. law.”

The University of Guadalajara, the second largest in Mexico, was founded in 1792 and is a good way for students to see the difference between private and public institutions and their approach to issues, says Rosas.  The city backdrop brings rich culture to life.

The Guadalajara course follows the tradition of St. Mary’s summer immersion programs in Austria and China. They all offer a critical component to understanding law, international relationships and the global marketplace, says Dr. Rosas.

Dr. Roberto Rosas

The best example of binational work and representation, it seems, is Dr. Rosas himself. Justin Foley came to St. Mary’s as a licensed attorney with a background in Latin American Studies. His decision to attend the program was made easier because he knew Dr. Rosas as a professor.  “He is one of the most honorable and wise men I’ve been fortunate to know, a quintessential Mexican gentleman whose love for his city is undeniable and contagious.”

A native of Guadalajara, Rosas was a lawyer, educator, businessman and engineer before joining St. Mary’s. He teaches Comparative Law: Mexico and the United States, Current Legal Aspects of Doing Business with Mexico (in Spanish), and Legal Spanish. His passion for the program might just stem from his own experiences in international educational and business ventures.

Rosas taught law at the Universidad de Guadalajara School of Law, where he graduated at the top of his class, and took graduate courses at Harvard Law School and Oxford. As director of the Commission on Legal Affairs for the Advisory Council of the Institute of Mexicans Living Abroad, his main role is advising the President of Mexico in the design and formulation of the public policies concerning Mexican communities in the United States and Canada. He served as editor of the 2020 book  “Migration Through the Mirror / La Migración a Través del Espejo, Mexican Women’s Perspectives of What It Means for them When Mexicans Move North: A Binational Conversation” (published by Fastcase Full Court Press and St. Mary’s Law Press).

Life Changing Relationships

Although the Legal and Cultural Program in Guadalajara may not run in spring 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, 2022 looks solid. Rosas believes in the difference it can make. “Compassionate, aware students can learn to identify better with clients, with human rights and their own obligations to the law.”

For now, relationships made through the program continue to be life changing and long lasting.

Foley, now a vice president at Maverick Natural Resources, LLC, agrees. “Cultural exchanges are every bit as important now as they have ever been. What a tremendous opportunity this was, even so briefly. We continue to exchange ideas and visits – academic, commercial and personal. I feel I will always have people to see and a reason to return.”  

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