When Rocio Guadalupe Mendoza ’03 arrived as a prep at Hotchkiss, she was in awe of the beauty of the campus and by how smart and talented the students were. But it didn’t take her long to figure out she was a minority among what was then a largely white community. “All the students of color could probably fit on one and-a-half of the Dining Hall tables,” she said.
On Oct.14, Mendoza shared her Hotchkiss experience with the community during a Zoom event hosted by de Colores as part of the School’s celebration of Latinx Heritage Month. (Click on the link below to listen to a recording.)
Mendoza, who earned her B.A. from Stanford and her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, was born in Mexico City. In 1989, her family immigrated to Houston, TX, and from then on her life in the United States and her journey to Hotchkiss was deeply influenced by her family’s experience.
Her father had been working in California as a seasonal farm worker and eventually returned to his trade as an electrician when Rocio, her mother, and her sister were reunited with him in Houston. Her mother was a dedicated housewife for their first few years in Houston, before beginning work as a housekeeper, and ultimately earned her GED and certification for early childhood education at Houston Community College. The family was undocumented until a pro bono lawyer and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 put them on a path to citizenship.
If you were from an immigrant family at that time, “you were actively encouraged to assimilate and blend in as quickly as possible,” said Mendoza. Whether she was out in public or on the playground with friends, she wasn’t supposed to speak Spanish.
Mendoza attended KIPP Academy, a charter school, where she now sits on the board. There, she excelled, and learned about the possibility of attending a boarding school. The idea of exploring a new place and people appealed to Mendoza, but at Hotchkiss, she found herself trying to blend into the environment once again. She worked hard to lose her heavy accent by practicing English in My Fair Lady style. Today, she can’t even replicate what she first sounded like when she arrived at Hotchkiss.
Still, she developed a very diverse group of friends. “I was keenly aware that I didn’t want to be in just a minority group, so I kept my toes in two different pools,” she said.
She was active in BaHSA, and as the group’s co-president her senior year she spearheaded the effort to organize the School’s very first MLK day. On breaks, she brought several of her Hotchkiss girlfriends, who were white and from affluent families, to the largely African American neighborhood where her family were proud to be first-time home owners.
She knew they were true friends because they didn't say, “we're going to stay at a hotel,” after five hours in her home.
"They went out to the mercado with us ... and came back several times to Houston to visit,” she said. It showed her how genuine those friends were, and still are to her. Since then, celebrating her own culture while embracing those of others was a balance she sought to achieve throughout her academic and professional career.
Mendoza is currently a senior associate in Baker McKenzie's Houston office, and member of the Firm's North America Energy Transactions Practice Group. Looking back, she said Hotchkiss gave her a different perspective that ultimately proved helpful in her career.
In the oil and gas field, where she now works, she says she might not have felt as comfortable walking into a boardroom of Caucasians, who dominate that industry, had she not experienced the culture clash at Hotchkiss. At the same time, her Hispanic background has also been an asset in her career because the energy developments and reforms of many Latin American countries have made a bilingual and bicultural lawyer increasingly valuable.
Throughout her career, Rocio has remained committed to giving back to her Hispanic/Lantino community. “It is increasingly important that we continue to celebrate our cultural diversity with each other, and I am proud to see Hotchkiss continues to support this,” she said.
David Thompson, director of international programs and the faculty advisor to de Colores, credited students Anaiz Robinson'22, Billy Meneses'22, and Suleyka Alonzo'22, for their initiative in founding the school’s first Latinx affinity group last fall and for the positive start to this school year.
“Even when they were presented with the challenges of COVID, they found multiple ways to collaborate with faculty and staff to raise awareness and help the community celebrate Latinx Heritage Month. This year's celebration featured two alumni speakers, a meal coordinated with the dining hall, and a set of web pages on the Hotchkiss Hub (the new campus intranet) that highlighted Latin American cultures and the Bearcats who represent those cultures,” he said.