President's Message -October 2022

Janet Hong On Latine Heritage Month

Janet Hong 

WLALA President 2022-2023

Artwork appears due to express permission of the artist. Mural entitled “Generational Continuity,” by Pola Lopez, sponsored by the LA Department of Cultural Affairs and the Office of Fmr. Councilmember José Huizar. 

In thinking about Latine Heritage Month, I had to read up on the history of it, why we celebrate it, and what to call it. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I have used the term “Latine” which I learned is an LGBTQIA+ and gender-inclusive alternative to Hispanic and Latino. I also recognize that there is no single term that adequately captures the complex identities and cultures of this integral part of our Los Angeles community. 

I am reminded of my best friend from high school, whose family came from El Salvador when she was a young age and whose first language was Spanish. Her mother worked as a housekeeper and her father as a shoemaker. Although her family first lived in South LA, they moved to an apartment in Beverly Hills so she and her siblings could attend the local schools. She went on to attend an Ivy League for college, became a teacher, and then went to law school and became an employment litigator. I could not imagine having to take the Bar exam, much less passing, if English was not my first language.  

I was struck by an article recently circulated by WLALA Board member Martha Escutia about how Latinas are the most underrepresented group in corporate America. Latinas make up only 1.6% of senior executives in the nation’s largest companies and are disproportionately represented in lower-paying jobs. This made me think about the obstacles Latinas face that prevent them from moving up the corporate ladder. As my high school friend pointed out, let’s start with our schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District has a student population that is 73.6% “Hispanic/Latino” and is notoriously ranked towards the bottom of all California school districts. I can only imagine the long-term impact of this substandard education and the barriers it has created for students seeking higher education, to become professionals, and to access upward mobility in the workplace.

The article also made me think about language as an obstacle and how it impacted my own Korean immigrant family experience. It reminded me of how many of us – as children of immigrants – learned to navigate between the language we use at home, in school, and the workplace. It reminded me of how we mastered the art of “code-switching,” or invoking one language over another, depending on the environment. It reminded me of how language gives us access to power and influence as attorneys and how language allows us to become, and keeps us in, the role of gatekeepers.

Celebrating the culture and history of the Latine community once a year is one thing, but raising our consciousness about the issues of underrepresentation and the obstacles to advancement, and taking action, is where real change begins. 

Janet Hong
President, Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles