Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month. From September 15 to the 15th of October, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to reflect, recognize, and appreciate the achievements and contributions from the Hispanic and Latinx communities. Each week, we will be highlighting the stories of our Tillman Scholar community who identify as Hispanic or Latinx and how their commitment to service and heritage have shaped the work they are doing today.
Our first scholar story comes from 2022 Tillman Scholar Nicole Leon. Nicole grew up on the South side of Chicago and was raised by her Mexican father and Honduran mother. After witnessing the struggles her parents faced as immigrants, Nicole was determined to be the first person in her family to pursue a college degree. After graduating from her Oklahoma high school, Nicole attended Columbia University in New York City with a full ride from the Gates Millennium Scholarship.
While at Columbia, Nicole continued pursuing her passion of theater, participating in a total of 12 productions on campus. However, her work within theater was not limited to the stage. As a Latina who understood how theatrical spaces had historically excluded people of color, she explored theater from an academic lens as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, researching plays written by Latina playwrights who had re-imagined the theatrical canon and created a space for themselves within it.
Along with her upbringing, Nicole’s theatrical background pointed to law as being the ideal avenue to enact change via a deep understanding of social apparatuses, the humans within them, and the cultures they create. Theater fueled her passions and skills for empathy, storytelling, and discourse, all of which are paralleled in law. With her legal education, Nicole hopes to impact the immigration and criminal justice system, and advocate for communities of color.
Check out Nicole discussing Hispanic Heritage Month below: