Name: Ruben James Reyes
CHCI Program(s)/Year: Summer Internship 1998, Fellowship 99-00, Scholarship 2003
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of Congressman George Brown and Congressman Ciro Rodriguez
Current Position/Organization: Managing Attorney at The Law Office of Ruben James Reyes, PLLC
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
While each of us have our own individual challenges, the real obstacles I faced were being the first in my family to understand how to pursue higher education and overcoming economic barriers to obtaining a higher education.
It is a challenge for any parent to raise a child on his/her own. Thankfully I always had both of my parents in my life, although I lived with my mother and sister and visited with my father every other weekend since I was 5 years-old. My father was a truck driver with an 8th grade education and my mother graduated from high school and worked in social services for much of her professional career. I suppose based on my personality my mother always encouraged me to become a lawyer and my dad taught me to always have a good work ethic.
During my later high school years, personal family struggles created a difficult financial situation where I went from living with my mother to moving in with my father. This was a trying time for me and all of my family. My father and I shared a one bedroom apartment. As one can imagine, the feelings I experienced during this time were a range of emotions. I firmly believe this experience only helped sharpen my focus, and the encouragement from my family to study hard never subsided.
I was always a good student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I was a four-year varsity tennis letterman, Senior Class VP, National Honor Society VP, a Texas Lutheran University Dual-Participant student, and on high school career day I was elected District Attorney For-A-Day by my peers.
There was no college fund for me. I always had my heart set on attending UT-Austin. That is the only school I had applied to and I was accepted early in my senior year. The summer after high school graduation, the tuition and dormitory bill arrived in the mail and I realized there was no way I could afford to move to Austin. The plan was to continue working my job as a cashier at a local truck-stop, save money, and hopefully enroll the next fall. My father knew hard work and that was what he expected of me. My mother encouraged me to never lose sight of my goals. Enrolling in UT never happened.
However, I was blessed with a high school counselor, Mrs. Lee, who continued to pay attention to her former students. She reached out to me at the truck-stop on the first day of the fall semester. Mrs. Lee knew my potential and she contacted Texas Lutheran University on my behalf. The second day of the fall semester was the first day of earning my degree in Political Science. TLU awarded me a partial scholarship and the rest of my tuition was covered by loans.
Although many challenges and hardships presented themselves, ultimately and thankfully all of my family was there to see me walk the stage at TLU, to see me walk the stage at St. Mary’s University School of Law, and to see me be sworn in by the State Bar of Texas. Today, I have a thriving law practice where I represent clients in both civil and criminal matters.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
In spring 1998 was the first time I ever learned about the CHCI and it was through my political science professor/advisor, Dr. Giesber, at TLU and quite honestly it was by chance. He had received the CHCI application and he handed it to my classmate. My classmate read the application and he wasn’t interested. I then read the application and thought I’d give it a shot. Thankfully, when I learned that there would be a telephone interview, Dr. Giesber went the extra mile and helped prep me to give a thorough telephone interview.
I firmly believe the CHCI programs are important for Latino youth because the programs expose youth to circumstances to which they might not otherwise encounter. Some groups of young Latinos have never met other Latino groups or sub-groups. The Washington, DC experience exposes Latinos to real world politics and teaches young Latinos the ropes of networking. Most importantly, the programs teach young Latinos to focus on giving back to their respective communities and how to become leaders.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
After the fellowship, I worked as a legal assistant with The Office of Texas Attorney General. I then attended St. Mary’s University School of Law. During my law school years, I studied comparative constitutional law at the University of Innsbruck (Austria), interned for a state civil district court judge, interned for a federal district court judge, and was a staff-writer on the Law Review. I have been a lawyer for nearly 12 years. I served as an assistant district attorney for six years where I obtained jury trial verdicts in cases ranging from misdemeanor offenses to life-in-prison sentences. I have owned and operated a private law practice for going on six years where I practice in areas including criminal defense, personal injury, juvenile law, family law and small business litigation. I have also served as an adjunct professor of law at Texas Lutheran University where I’ve taught courses including The American Legal System, Principles of Criminal Law, and Criminal Law & Procedure.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
CHCI taught me that any career is attainable. CHCI stressed the importance of career networking and taking on leadership roles in my career. As an assistant district attorney, the skills learned in the CHCI programs helped shape my ability to serve in a leadership position as Chief Prosecutor in the Misdemeanor Division of the District Attorney’s Office. The progression from Division Chief to becoming a felony trial lawyer gave me the leadership confidence to ultimately pursue a private practice.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
CHCI taught me to focus on my community and to always give back. I have remained dedicated to my community and I have contributed to it both by volunteering my time and by donating resources.
In my career, I have worked as a public servant with the district attorney’s office. For nine years, I have worked as an adjunct professor at TLU. I have served as President of the Kiwanis Club of Seguin. I have donated time and resources to many non-profit children’s charitable organizations including but not limited to the local Children’s Advocacy Center.
In June 2015, I decided to further give back to the community by announcing my candidacy to serve as District Judge, 2nd 25th Judicial District. Although I ran a professional, positive campaign, we did not prevail in the primary election.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
I plan to continue to serve my community by providing quality legal services. I’d like to return to teaching part-time as an adjunct professor. I’d like to continue serving non-profit children’s charitable organizations and, I plan to become more involved with my parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. It is also one of my continued goals to serve my community in public office.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Maximize your CHCI experience. Learn all that you can from the programs and take those skills back to your home communities and apply them. With hard work, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. Do not forget where you come from and always help others.