Hispanic Heritage Month: Jose Mendez Valdez

Hispanic Heritage Month takes place each year from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Throughout the month, The Daily will highlight members of the university community who are of Hispanic heritage to celebrate their accomplishments and shed light on their experiences at CWRU.

Photo of Jose Mendez Valdez

Jose Mendez Valdez has dreamt of a career in immigration law from a young age. For him, the dream was personal—his family immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala City when Mendez Valdez was just a year old, launching a series of struggles caused by inadequate access to the legal system.  

“I want to be an immigration lawyer because I know what it is like to feel hopeless and alone,” he said, pointing to his family’s experience as an undocumented and low-income household. “I want to ensure that no one seeking a legal remedy feels that way.”

Now, Mendez Valdez is a second-year student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, which, growing up in Cleveland, he’d always “heard great things about.” 

“During the law school application cycle, I decided to apply because of the location and because of CWRU’s highly ranked immigration law program. … After spending a year here I know it was the right choice,” he said. “I have made great friendships and I have had opportunities I would not have had at other schools.” 

Mendez Valdez hopes to specialize in immigration or international law—and is passionate about helping those who are disadvantaged, regardless of their legal status or economic position.

“This past year I have also worked with asylum seekers and helped them apply for work permits, so I am also interested in getting into asylum and refugee work,” Mendez Valdez said. 

From Guatemala to Cleveland

After immigrating from Guatemala City, Mendez Valdez and his family have lived in and around Cleveland, which the law student has dubbed “the greatest city in the world.” 

“Although it may not seem like it on the surface, Cleveland has so much to offer if you take the chance to check it out,” he explained. “I really enjoy going to the Cavs and Guardians games, walking around E. 4th street and hiking at the Metroparks. Cleveland is my Paris.”

Cleveland doesn’t share much in common with the Central American country he was born in—which is known for its rainforests, volcanoes and ancient Mayan sites—but he’s made sure to be loud and proud about his Guatemalan heritage, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month. 

Though he feels a month is not nearly enough time to celebrate, Mendez Valdez said he tries to make the most of the opportunity by teaching people about his culture and making his voice heard. 

“The beauty of Hispanic heritage is that it is a mosaic of cultures and traditions, with each country, region, and group adding their own voice to the mix,” he explained. “There is so much to explore, and it is amazing when we all come together and celebrate what makes us unique.”

A community at CWRU

Mendez Valdez has had plenty of opportunities to share aspects of his culture with the Case Western Reserve community, notably in his role as president of the Latinx Law Students Association

Growing up, Mendez Valdez said there weren’t many Latinx or Hispanic students at his school, so having this community has been especially meaningful to him.

“I’ve made connections and friendships that are lifelong and done some incredible things,” he said. “With the number of Latinx and Hispanic students at the School of Law almost doubling with this incoming class, I am excited for all the great things we will be able to do.” 

Stay tuned to The Daily through Oct. 14 to learn about other Hispanic members of the university community.