Amanda Gómez Feliz immigrated to the Bronx in 2010 not knowing any English, but that didn’t deter her from making her mark. Gomez Feliz currently attends Yale Law School and was recently bestowed a prestigious scholarship.
On Sept. 13, The When There Are Nine Scholarship Project, a program established by alumnae of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in partnership with the Federal Bar Council and Federal Bar Foundation, announced its inaugural class of four women scholars. Gómez Feliz, along with three other women, will receive a $10,000 financial stipend, mentorship, networking and other career support opportunities.
According to Gómez Feliz, she applied for the When There Are Nine Scholarship because of her admiration for former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her desire to bring more women of color into the legal field. In fact, Latinx women make up less than 2% of all U.S. attorneys. And one of the goals of the scholarship is to increase diversity within the legal profession, and she hopes that in the future there will be a lot more people in the field who look like her.
Established in September 2020, the When There Are Nine Scholarship Project honors the legacy of Ginsburg by furthering her commitment to expanding career opportunities for women in the law and promoting equity and diversity in the legal profession. Each of the four women was selected based on their academic achievement, commitment to serving their community and for perseverance in the face of adversity – all character traits embodied by the late justice.
“In the year since we launched the When There Are Nine Scholarship Project in honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we have been gratified by all the support we’ve received from so many of our fellow SDNY alumni and others,” said Rebecca Monck Ricigliano, one of the founders of the When There Are Nine Scholarship Project.
Gómez Feliz, 23, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the South Bronx at the age of 12 with her mom, Glenis Feliz Suero and brother. Her mom, who was a lawyer, made the ultimate sacrifice when she moved to the U.S. Instead of going back to law school and seeking a required law degree in America, she quit the field in order to spend more time with her children.
“To me as a little girl it was inspiring seeing her helping people,” Gómez Feliz said about her mother. “My mom loved her job. I remember saying when I grow up I wanted to do what I love as well.”
Gómez Feliz attended University Prep Charter High School and not knowing English made life quite challenging. As a freshman, classes were so frustrating that she often came home wanting to return to her native country.
“It was hard for me because the high school I went to didn’t have bilingual classes,” she told the Bronx Times. “I remember the first day of school I had global history and I didn’t understand a word they said.”
However, Gómez Feliz did not get deterred. She taught herself English by watching YouTube and had great teachers who explained things slowly to her. Additionally, residing in a large Latinx community, many of her friends helped her learn the language as well.
By her sophomore year she slowly began to understand English. She went on to graduate as her high school’s salutatorian and received a full scholarship to the University of Rochester.
“It didn’t come easy to me,” she said about her education. “I had to work twice as hard.”
Dreaming of becoming a lawyer since she started high school, coupled with her personal experiences with the immigration system inspired Gómez Feliz to focus on immigration law at Rochester.
After immigrating to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic, her family was victimized by a fraudulent “notary public” who claimed to be an immigration lawyer, qualified to provide legal aid to her family. In Latin America, notary publics are qualified attorneys, and as a result many immigrants are taken advantage of in the U.S. since notaries don’t have the same qualifications here.
Her family’s case was delayed five years as a result of the fraud.
Ultimately, her family saved up enough money for an immigration lawyer and Gómez Feliz became a permanent resident during her senior year of high school, gaining citizenship last year during the pandemic. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Rochester 2019, and worked at the NYC Department of Education after graduating.
Having started Yale Law School this semester, Gómez Feliz said she wouldn’t trade places with anyone. She plans to practice immigration law in the Bronx, where her goal is to help immigrants navigate challenges similar to those she was able to overcome.
“This is what I wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “Obviously it feels good to make your dreams come true. As a woman interested in the law, it’s very easy to be inspired by Justice Ginsburg.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.