The PRBA is proud of all its Scholarship Recipients. Recently, Neysa Alsina sat down with one of them, Celina Caban, to discuss her law school experience, career goals and aspirations, and mentors. Neysa left the meeting knowing that this member of CUNY Law Review, Moot Court participant and future Latina leader is not only going after her dreams but also keeping our community in mind in the process.
Please tell me about your undergraduate education.
I received a BA from Barnard in Economic History. I wrote my senior thesis on US Hispanic Consumption and Purchasing Power, and studied abroad in Brazil and Chile. I held a number of leadership roles in college including Barnard Chair of Latino Heritage Month, publicity Chair of Mujeres and Treasurer of Accion Boricua. I was fortunate to have been awarded a Student Leadership Award, a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Award and selected to deliver the Senior Reflection for Columbia University’s Latino Graduation.
Why did you go to law school?
I went to law school and particularly CUNY because I want to be in public service. I want to focus on improving healthcare and affordable housing as a member of the New York City Council. CUNY is preparing me for that as their underlying mission is to serve as an advocate for those who do not have representation. Professor Jenny Rivera, one of my advisors, is an inspiration. I also have another connection to CUNY Law – I was named after Celina Romany who is a dynamic Latina, distinguished attorney and former professor there.
Where are you interning this summer?
I am interning for U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis. Judge Ellis is a wonderful mentor who is a true intellectual, poised and caring. He says that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” I want to make sure that I am at the table. He has given me a great assignment this summer to write a recommendation report. It has been a great learning experience.
Who else do you consider your mentors?
My mother and father. My mother is a nurse practitioner and my father is a criminal defense and personal injury attorney who is a graduate of CUNY Law. They have shared with us life lessons about their work with the minority and underprivileged community they serve. They have also instilled in us that education and academic achievement should be our number one priority. In fact, growing up we could not watch television except on the weekends. I attribute my discipline and drive to succeed to them.
What else are you doing this summer?
I am currently working to organize an Orientation for the incoming 1L class in honor of Professor Luis DeGraffe called the Race and Social Justice Orientation (RSJO). We will be discussing current issues of race, gender, and social class with a week of workshops. In addition, we will speak about how to become a better ally to oppressed people, especially through socially-conscious and gender-neutral language. Outside of law school, I am a member of the Columbia Club's Young Alumni Committee representing the Barnard Latina perspective and Ambassador to the Princeton Club.
How did you become involved with the Puerto Rican Bar Association?
Some of the first Latino lawyers I met were through the Puerto Rican Bar Association. I attended a seminar on the topic of police brutality in Puerto Rico and I was blown away by the issues discussed. I then decided to apply for the scholarship and now want to stay involved as a PRBA Student Liaison.
What do you want others to know about you?
There is so much work to be done, which may seem daunting, but I see it as an opportunity to make a contribution to society. I have been a New Yorker all my life and feel committed to helping improve New York. We all have the ability to do this. I feel optimistic about the future of Latinos if we are really motivated, not passive, and dare to take on the challenges. We have to chip away at the injustices. My way will be through law.