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Law professor with Roswell roots wins national honor

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A California law professor born in Roswell and raised in Albuquerque has been honored for outstanding scholarship by the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation.

Laura E. Gómez, a professor with the School of Law at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) received the 2021 Outstanding Scholar Award in December and will be honored during a Feb. 16 virtual awards banquet.

Gómez was born in Roswell in 1964. Her parents, Antonio Gómez and Eloyda Gonzales Gómez, also were born here during the 1940s.

She said she has many relatives who still live in the city, including an uncle, Ruben Gonzales, and “distant” cousins George Peterson and Savino Sanchez, both current Roswell city councilors.

The Outstanding Scholar Award has been given each year since 1957 and recognizes an individual for outstanding scholarship in law or government. Gómez was selected for her “leading expertise on race, law and society.” Previous recipients have included the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as well as several other law school professors.

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“Laura’s work exemplifies the ABF’s mission to expand knowledge and advance justice through rigorous empirical and interdisciplinary research,” said Eileen A. Kato, a retired judge and the national chair of the ABF Fellows.

The American Bar Foundation is an independent research institute affiliated with the American Bar Association.

Gómez’s scholarship includes two books that examine intolerance and racism against Hispanics, “Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race,” and “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism.”

“My latest book — ‘Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism’ — explores where Mexican Americans and other Latinos fit in the American racial hierarchy,” she said. “For me, writing about racial injustice and the fight against it is deeply connected to my Roswell roots.”

She said that Roswell was an “extremely racist society” during the time when her parents were growing up here.

“When my mother graduated from Roswell High School in 1963, very few Hispanics were among her classmates,” she said. Her father was the only one of seven children in his immediate family to graduate from high school.

When Gómez was 2, she and her parents moved to Albuquerque and she attended school there, graduating in 1982 from Valley High School. Each year, she said, she would return to Roswell for the summer to visit her father’s grandmother. That grandmother had moved to Roswell as a teenager in the 1900s with her extended family from rural Lincoln County. Her mother’s extended family came to the area in the 1940s from Texas. Included in that family group, Gomez said, were Blacita and Savino Sanchez, the parents of the current city councilor.

“I do not take my good fortune to attend Harvard and Stanford and (my) career at a great public university for granted, given the struggles my great-grandparents and grandparents faced in a society where the odds were stacked against them,” she said.

Gomez earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard in 1986. At Stanford University, she earned three degrees while a National Science Foundation graduate fellow – a master’s in sociology in 1988, a juris doctorate from the law school in 1992 and a doctorate in sociology in 1994.

Prior to her academic career, she clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and served as a legislative aide for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

She first joined UCLA in 1994 but left in 2009 to take a professorship at the University of New Mexico and to be near family while raising her son. She returned to UCLA in 2011.

She now holds the Rachel F. Moran Endowed Chair in Law at the California university. She also has non-teaching faculty appointments with the university’s Sociology Department and the Department of Chicana & Chicano Studies and Central American Studies. In addition, she is the co- founder and faculty director of Critical Race Studies Program at the UCLA School of Law.

She has said in prior interviews that she came to realize she wanted to work in an academic environment by spending time as a youth with her father, who held administrative positions at the University of New Mexico, including as the assistant dean of graduate studies. Her mother had earned her bachelor’s degree at UNM as well and worked many years as an oncology registered nurse with Presbyterian Hospital.

“They emphasized the importance of education and made innumerable sacrifices in support of my educational and professional goals,” Gómez said. “As the mother of a young adult, I appreciate how hard they worked over so many years.”

Gómez’s previous honors include being named as one of the 100 Most Influential Latinos by Hispanic Business magazine in 2011, being a finalist to serve as dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law in 2017 and having her new book, “Inventing Latinos,” chosen as one of the “Best Books of the Year” by National Public Radio in 2020.

According to online reviews, the book contains extensive research on the history of Latinos and Latinas in the United States and the Americas. Gómez contends Latinas and Latinos should be recognized members of a race, not an ethnicity. Among the book’s theses is that military, political and economic interference against Latin American countries has caused destabilization in those areas and forced migration north. Discrimination and economic inequality against Latinas and Latinos has been the result, the book indicates. Gómez makes the case that the United States should give reparations to Central American immigrants in the form of asylum or amnesty with a pathway to citizenship.

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