And Justice for All

Studying both political science and Spanish gives Ayxa Agraz the tools to lift others

Flying high: Agraz stands in front of Air Force One at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library 

Photo: Ayxa Agraz

Since coming to California Lutheran University last year, Ayxa Agraz has dived into university life. She joined Pre-Law Society, the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), University Honors Program and the Associated Students of California Lutheran University Government. She works as an assistant in the Languages & Cultures department, handling administrative duties for the department’s Chair, Rafaela Fiore Urizar, PhD, and proctoring language placement exams and posting information and events on the department’s social media platforms. 

Growing up and residing in the Nyeland Acres section of Oxnard kindled Agraz’s interest in social justice and desire for positive change for those in historically underserved communities. She eventually wants to work as an immigration lawyer and serve her community of 46,000-plus.  

“With my political science and Spanish degree, I aspire to attend law school right after graduation from Cal Lutheran,” said the first-generation college student. “While in my studies in law school, I hope to take on the job as a Spanish court interpreter to help all Spanish-speaking individuals so that they are not afraid to go to court.  I have seen firsthand how many people step back from attending court due to the language barrier.”  

Advocate for change 

Agraz admits her interest in politics started at a young age, and it stems from two reasons: She had never seen anyone of Latine descent in the space, and she saw how her neighbors felt dissatisfied with governance-related activities. 

“With this degree, I've discovered that I can better understand contemporary global challenges, including migration, poverty alleviation and resource scarcity. Additionally, I have discovered that my degree is assisting me in learning more about the political system's successes and failures,” she said.

Her studies in political science have taught her to think for herself and imbued in her the belief she wants to transform the lives of those less privileged than her. Of this Agraz said, “Political science offers strategies and abilities that can be used to improve society and everything around us in every way since it is not an applied science. I majored in political science in part to empower myself and have a voice.”

Politics ideally involves representation and addressing the needs of constituents. As a member of ASCLUG’s Programs Board, Agraz is gaining experience in these areas as a commuter representative leading and enacting change on campus. “I see myself as an activist for the school, someone who doesn’t just come to school and then leave, but rather someone who stays and is a part of the culture,” she said. “I am able to give insight as to how those who commute have a different experience compared to those who live on campus. I plan to continue to foster a sense of community among students through the events and initiatives I plan over the rest of my time at Cal Lutheran.”

Agraz believes her other major, Spanish, will help her career in immigration law. Even though she is a native Spanish speaker, she learned in her Spanish classes she was not speaking the language correctly. Her major has immensely improved her vocabulary and grammar, which will allow her to communicate more effectively as an attorney.

Before she begins her legal studies, Agraz wants to pursue work in activism using her understanding of social inequalities to better the lives of those residing in Nyeland Acres. “I believe that as an activist for Latinos/as, women and indigenous individuals, I will be able to make a difference or at least become a voice for many people who do not have one, whether it be due to a language or citizenship barrier,” she said.

Discovering more about herself

Agraz decided to study at Cal Lutheran for several reasons such as its focus on the liberal arts and its diverse and inclusive culture and student body. 

“I chose Cal Lutheran because I thrive on close relationships and a well-rounded education,” she said. “With the smaller class sizes, I have had the chance to build stronger relationships with my professors and classmates.” The campus’s proximity to her home also moved her to enroll at the university.

“With only a 20-minute commute, I am able to pursue my studies and participate in extracurricular activities while still being able to have dinner with my family, which is something I treasure the most because I am very family-oriented,” she said.

According to Agraz, her year-plus time on campus has enabled her to discover more about herself and her untapped skills. She serves as the secretary of the Pre-Law Society of Cal Lutheran, where she collaborates with people across multiple generations and participates in mock trials. Her membership in this club and LASO and her work as a department assistant have bolstered her public speaking and problem-solving skills, both of which are critical in advocacy work and the legal profession.

Of the latter ability, she said, “This is a very valuable skill because no matter where I am, I am able to think on my feet, stay calm and make quick decisions when unforeseen challenges arise. This is very important because many times life throws us unexpected things, and therefore, you need to know how to act. I feel confident that, no matter what comes my way, I will know how to act correctly.”

Agraz, several of her fellow students and two faculty members in the Language & Cultures department, Fiore Urizar and LaVerne Seales, PhD, will embark on a trip of a lifetime to Colombia this spring. The two-week-long, faculty-led excursion follows the students’ completion of the Race and Ethnicity in Latin America course, where they learned about the history and politics of Spanish-speaking nations. Agraz, her professors and other students will visit the Caribbean city of Cartagena, San Basilio de Palenque and the seaport of Santa María de Antigua. 

This trip is significant to Agraz as she has always wanted to see different locales in the region, something she began during her “Alternative Spring Break” as a first-year student. Through a partnership between Cal Lutheran and Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano,Agraz and other Cal Lutheran students built a wooden stove for indigenous women in Guatemala’s rural Santa Maria del Volcan Village. The new stove provided the women and their families with a safe alternative to the stoves they previously used, which exposed the villagers to toxic smoke. 

The experience made a lasting impression on Agraz, especially after she encountered a young village girl who had to choose between getting a daily meal or receiving an education. “ I saw poverty and underrepresentation at their worst, and for this reason, I want to travel all of Latin America, help out and advocate for people like these, and in the future be able to do so more globally,” she said. “To this day, I keep in communication with the little girl who is now growing up and helping her mom work to be able to make ends meet.” 

Motivating forces

American educator and author Booker T. Washington opined, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else,” a sentiment that echoes Agraz’s words and deeds. Agraz credits two of her professors for elevating her during her academic journey.

“Dr. Seales has been instrumental in my education at Cal Lutheran,” she said. “She has shown me to go above and beyond instead of doing the bare minimum in my assignments since everyone can do the bare minimum. With one of my goals being to attend law school, she has never doubted me but instead has motivated and advised me on what I can do to attend law school.”

Agraz also commends Fernando “Fernie” Estrella, who taught in the Criminology and Criminal Justice department. “He shared his stories as a police chief, but most importantly, I learned one of my most valuable lessons from him,” she said. Agraz explains Estrella gave an exam on the first day of class of the Introduction to Criminal Justice course.  “The test was a worksheet, where there were dots that we had to connect with a line that could not touch. Everyone, including me, failed the test.” 

The lesson Agraz and her peers learned from Estrella—to think fearlessly and creatively. “It has taught me that mistakes are okay and that going outside the box is okay,” she said.

This academic year, Agraz’s dedication to her coursework and extracurricular activities paid off. She and 20 other students were nominated to attend the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) 37th Annual Conference. HACU selected Agraz and three of her peers to serve as voices for Cal Lutheran at the conference held in Chicago in October. The event gave attending students an opportunity to discover successful programs and initiatives of various Hispanic-Serving Institutions members. 

“I was more than excited to be able to represent our Hispanic community at school,” Agraz said. She left the conference both inspired and empowered after hearing from professionals from similar backgrounds who are thriving in the workplace.

“Their stories and insights not only broadened my understanding but also instilled a newfound confidence in my potential,” she said. “I will encourage and support initiatives that promote representation of Hispanics in various fields, including business, politics, media and education because I want all Hispanics who may feel as though they are not represented that they are.”


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