Born in the Bronx, New York, Graciela Mateo has been lucky to also call two other places home–Passaic, New Jersey and Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the oldest of six and proud to be from a big family. She joined CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services section with the hopes of becoming a licensed attorney and lending her efforts to help the immigration community.
Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to RIS.
At a young age I knew that I wanted to be an attorney and that I wanted to work in the immigration field. While I was in law school I interned for a few firms and volunteered with a couple of non-profit organizations, all in their immigration departments. That is when I realized immigration was the field for me. Right now my immigration experience is limited to the deportation and family side. Now, I have the opportunity to learn a new side and I am excited about that. Additionally, CLINIC’s mission statement resonated with me. As a country of immigrants, we should welcome one another and treat others with respect. Those were the values that were instilled in me as a child.
What inspires you to work in immigration?
As the daughter of immigrants, I have experienced first-hand how the immigration system affects families. My parents came to this country when they were teenagers. My mother re-married when I was younger and she had a hard time bringing my stepfather to the United States. She told me her story and it touched me. She explained how the attorney she hired wasn’t helpful and that she had to turn to other organizations that would help. Although it was difficult she never gave up. My father is working to obtain his citizenship, but he too has had a few issues along the way. Both of their stories and experiences have opened my eyes to the struggles that immigrants face and inspires me to help. It am led use my voice in any way that I can.
What is special how growing up how you did?
In every state I challenged myself and did things I didn’t think I could do. For instance, while living in NJ I joined the softball team and got poetry published in a book. I also had the opportunity of meeting the mayor. In Charlotte, I learned how to drive and attended college. The moves were challenging, but I grew and learned a lot about myself and others.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I absolutely love Italy. I have had the opportunity to go to Rome and it was everything I hoped it would be. I took the trip about two years ago while I was studying abroad in Lithuania as a part of my legal studies. I had a week off from classes and knew I wanted to travel Europe. A friend and I managed to buy a hotel and flight package in Rome. Our hotel was within walking distance from the Colosseum. We did what tourists do, we ate, walked, took pictures and had a ball. We also went to the island of Capri in Naples, Italy and got to swim in the Blue Grotto. It was one of the best times of my life. I did, however, lose my debit card but it was towards the end of my trip so I didn’t let it bother me too much. I have continued my travels, including a trip to London, but I would love to go to Venice next.
What are your favorite things to do when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work I like to read, go to the movies, take yoga classes, and hangout with my dog, friends and family. The last movie I saw was Baby Driver. It’s about a getaway driver who was coerced into working for a crime boss, but found love and wanted to get out of the lifestyle. It was full of action and I would recommend it. I like action, comedy and romantic comedies, but I absolutely cannot do a scary movie.
What is your hidden talent?
My hidden talent is my Mickey voice. Ever since I was little I have had this “healthy” obsession with Mickey Mouse. So when I was younger I taught myself the mickey voice. It’s a really good impression.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
The best advice I ever received was to live life with no regrets.