Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Watching her father working at the University of New Mexico, where he was an administrator, got Laura E. Gómez thinking that an academic setting such as that was a perfect fit for her.
Today, Gómez, a scholar in law and sociology, is a tenured professor of law at the University of California Los Angeles, and co-founder and director of UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program. She also holds appointments in the Sociology Department, and in the Chicana/Chicano Studies and Central American Studies Department.
On Feb. 16, Gómez will be formally honored with the 2021 Outstanding Scholar Award from the American Bar Foundation, which is the research arm of the American Bar Association.
“I was just so surprised because this is something that usually happens at the end of one’s career,” she said, noting that she’s been teaching for 27 years and, at 56 years old, expects many more years of academia ahead of her.
The award is also meaningful, she said, because among past recipients are former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as personal mentors and one current colleague.
The foundation, she said, “is one of the major entities that produces research on socio-legal topics, which is really trying to understand law in its social context,” and is a large part of Gómez’s research and written scholarship.
Growing up in Albuquerque’s North Valley, Gómez graduated from Valley High School in 1982. She then went to Harvard, while her brother, former City Councilor Miguel Gómez, attended Notre Dame.
It’s a tribute to her father, former UNM assistant dean of graduate studies, Antonio Gómez, and her mother, retired Presbyterian oncology nurse Eloyda Gómez, “who stressed education and sacrificed so we could go to such great colleges,” she said.
Before attending law school at Stanford, where Gómez also earned a Ph.D. in sociology, she did a stint as an aide for then freshman New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman. After law school, she clerked for U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Dorothy Nelson.
As part of her interest and research in law and social justice, two of the books Gómez has written look at intolerance and racism against Hispanics – “Manifest Destinies: The making of the Mexican American Race” and, more recently, “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism.”
Her books, she said, try to explain how racial inequality in the United States, starting in the 1840s with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and going forward to the present day, affect Mexican Americans and other groups of Latinos.
The current socio-political tone of the country has been heavily influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement’s protests against years of police violence directed toward Black and Hispanic people, and people of all races with mental health issues, Gómez said, as well as the subsequent backlash against that movement.
An optimist, Gómez said, “I’m just thrilled that everyday Americans are talking and reading about systemic racism, white supremacy, white privilege, even reparations for slavery” – a conversation she expects to continue for many years, she said.