A member of the Class of 2012, Alvaro De La Calle has been elected by his peers to serve both as a first-year student representative to the Student Bar Association and as a second-year representative to the Honor Council. This year, he spearheaded the creation of the Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA), for which he currently serves as president. The following Q&A with De La Calle is the first in a series of student interviews that Elon Law will feature on the school's website.
Q. Why did you decide to create LALSA?
A. LALSA was created with the hope of uniting the various Latin American students present at Elon Law, as well as those who share a general interest in Latin America. I feel there is some cultural separation between those born in Latin American countries and those who are of Latin American heritage born in the United States – LALSA can help bring us together.
The executive board (Vice President Josh Lopez, Treasurer Rebekah Parker, and Secretary Allison Lukanich) and I hope to have individuals from all backgrounds participate and become involved in our organization. I strongly believe that LALSA will help enrich the identity of Elon Law. The members of our executive board integrate with everyone at Elon Law, avoiding the creation of cliques due to our heritage or ethnicity. I hope LALSA becomes well known for being a group that promotes friendship, understanding and support.
Q. How did you come up with the name for the organization?
A. I decided to name it the Latin American Law Students Association because I wanted our name to represent both sides of the coin – Latin American individuals born in Latin America, like myself, and the double meaning expressing the Latin American heritage of those born in the United States.
Q. What are some of the challenges you see the organization coming up against?
A. Here, in the media, people see certain things. Everyone knows about the dictators, the war on drugs, and the violence that is occurring in Latin America. Turn your television on and if the media is reporting a story about Latin America, it is usually in reference to some negative aspect that is taking place there, not the good that is occurring.
The same method has been applied to Latin American immigrants in the U.S., the media most often concentrates on stories related to gang activity, illegal immigration and so on. By concentrating on the negative aspects, the media has helped create a negative image about Latin Americans in the U.S. and abroad.
I think it is important for people to see and hear other perspectives regarding Latin American development and news, so LALSA will strive to do just that. In no way do I, or members of the LALSA executive board, claim that the various perspectives our organization may bring to Elon Law represent the truth, or even what we believe to be true. Instead, we want everyone to have access to different points of view, ideas, philosophies, and come to their own conclusions.
Q. What are the immediate and long-term plans for the organization?
A. About fifteen people attended our first meeting. We just had our first movie night. We watched the new documentary directed by Oliver Stone, “South of the Border.” Talk about a different perspective! It was a great time; the documentary helped encourage great discussions.
We currently have nine members of our organization who are bilingual and capable of rendering interpreting services. We are beginning to talk with other student organizations about hosting bilingual voter registration drives.
We’d also like to host bilingual VITA clinics [free tax preparation clinics for low-income residents in the region]. It’s very important for LALSA to give back to the Greensboro community, and we strongly feel that this is a great way to do it.
Let me refer back to your previous question for a second, regarding challenges I see LALSA going up against … it’s important for us to host community events because we want to do our part in eradicating the far too common perception that organizations like ours only want to help a certain group of people in the community. To the contrary, in a diverse city like Greensboro, every individual, regardless of ethnicity or heritage, is part of our community – the city itself is our people. So by offering bilingual services we are truly helping our community, both English speakers and those who are more comfortable speaking Spanish. So I feel that hosting bilingual outings or registration drives is the most correct thing to do. If I knew another language that was heavily spoken in our area, I would offer it as well, but I’m currently limited to two languages.
Q. When and why did you move from Peru to the United States?
A. I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. At the time, dangerous opposition to Peru’s democracy was strong and continued to grow while my family and I lived there. My dad’s business was tremendously affected by the political and economic uncertainty these groups brought to Peru, so we decided to move to the U.S., I was nine years old.
Q. How has that experience influenced your views?
A. Separation of the rich and poor in Peru was tremendous. Poverty is what the masses had while richness was reserved for a select few. The middle class was close to nonexistent. Whenever I think back on it, I ask myself: what can lead a group of individuals to act this way? To declare a war against their very nation? The answer is important; unfair representation and distribution of resources. A government should take care of its people and its nation, not certain people or areas of the nation.
Q. What are your views on Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez?
A. I strongly disagree with his demeanor. One does not have to insult other presidents or behave rudely in order to make his point. Through his actions, I think he often gives a bad name to a growing ideology present in South America, that of Center-Left presidents and governments. At the same time, I agree with some of the ideas he supports, like the creation of a South American Union with a single currency, comparable to that of the current European Union, or the creation of a South American Constitution. It is the means he may be using to achieve these ends that I find troubling and often question.
Q. Why did you decide to pursue a law degree?
A. For various reasons. First, well, I gave myself the opportunity to do so. Second, I believe there needs to be a more diverse group of attorneys in my city, in my community. Third, because of my parent’s hard work, their sacrifice. When we arrived to the U.S. my parents, my whole family, worked very hard to create a foundation, taking on every job they were offered. I grew up watching my family do this.
When the time came for me to decide what it was I wanted to do with my life after college, I thought about the past, the reasons my parents did what they did. I thought about my future. I envisioned what my parents envisioned before moving to the U.S. – an opportunity to gain something positive. So, I took the leap of faith and here I am now, enjoying my second year of law school.
Let me also mention that the Guilford College Philosophy Department had a lot to do with my final decision. The courses I took and the professors I met there encouraged me to do something I once believed to be out of my reach. Guilford is a very special place for me.
Q. Do you have any specific areas of law you’re focusing on?
A. I am scheduling my courses to fulfill the general practice concentration at Elon Law, and perhaps also the business law concentration. I worked for the personal injury law firm of James B. Wilson, Jr. & Associates over the summer of 2010. It was a good experience, so working in the field of personal injury law after graduation is a possibility. However, I am taking immigration law and elder law courses next semester, and I am really hoping to land a summer 2011 position working in one of those fields.