Reflection by FBANC Pinay Powerhouse 2 Scholarship Recipient Erica Chu

"It was an honor to be selected as the recipient of the FBANC Pinay Powerhouse 2 Scholarship, and a privilege to attend the conference in Los Angeles. I came into the conference with eyes wide open, not knowing what to expect for this year’s conference. During the conference, Christine Start said: “magic happens when you share what you feel.” As I am reminiscing about last weekend’s experience, I realized that magic happened to me. I shared how I felt, and I came back to the SF Bay Area a stronger woman—more empowered, excited, hopeful, and ready to take on the world.

At first, I was reluctant to go to the conference (nonetheless apply for the scholarship) given my present post-bar and financial status. To my surprise, I received the Pinay Powerhouse 2 Scholarship. I convinced my mentee and first-time Pinay Powerhouse attendee, Jazzy Ratzer, to drive to Los Angeles and attend the conference with me. I figured it would be a nice “women’s only” getaway, and a chance to reunite with other sisters in law. During that 6 hour drive, we shared our dreams of becoming Public Defenders, discussed our common experiences as newlyweds, and laughed along the way. When we arrived at my biological sister’s place in West Hollywood, we were greeted with a warm welcome and rested for the next day. Although FBANC was generous enough to let me stay at the FBANC house, I decided to stay at my biological sister’s apartment because I do not see her frequently.

On Friday afternoon, Joanna Padua, a 1L at Santa Clara University whom I never met before, arrived at my sister’s place in West Hollywood. Mari Bandoma Callado connected us because she needed a ride from the conference back to the Bay Area, and prior to the trip I told her she can stay with Jazzy and me at my sister’s apartment. Although I never met her before, I took a chance on her and I loved ever moment of it! The three of us got along really well. Shortly after Joanna arrived, she got a call from the Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office to be a summer law clerk. Jazzy and I were so excited for her, and we shared some tips on how to gain courtroom experience during her clerkship. Later that evening, the three of us got ready, took an Uber, and headed to Oue Skyspace. None of us knew anything about the venue, other than the fact that the reception was going to be held on the 70th floor.

When we arrived to Oue Skyspace, I was in awe. The building was modern, high tech, and really tall. We checked in, and the volunteers informed us that the elevator will stop on the 56th floor for the “Skyspace experience.” I had no idea what that meant, or what I should expect. When we arrived on the 56th floor, I was impressed! There was a photographer and a museum—kind of like the Exploratorium in Oakland. When we got to the 70th floor, we saw the “big glass slide” that wraps around the building. Jazzy, Joanna, and I all wanted to go down the slide but we asked too late (it closes at 9:30pm). We walked into the reception, and we were all astonished by the LA skyline views. It was truly breathtaking! The food was bomb; we ate numerous bowls of arroz caldo champorado, and desserts. I spoke to a scholarship recipient, FBANC board members, and Jamie Juni (who was taking pictures and encouraged us to dance at the end of the night). Overall, the first night was a lot of fun and I was very impressed with the venue!

The next day, Jazzy, Joanna, and I woke up “early” (not early enough to do yoga with Christine Start) and arrived to Onmni Hotel at about 8:00am. As we were waiting for the first panel to begin, I was able to catch up with Kim Cruz, who I volunteered with at last year’s Pinay Powerhouse and recently passed the bar. I also caught up with Angelica Leonardo, who is now a Public Defender in Solano County. I told Angelica that I still want to become a Public Defender, and she encouraged me to apply as a volunteer in her county (I never considered volunteering until that moment). She motivated me to “seize the opportunity” and to not give up this shot.

My favorite panel was the “Voice and Visibility” panel, which discussed sexual harassment and the legal effects of the #metoo movement. This panel was particularly important to me because I have my own #metoo stories. Learning about the law and listening to the panelists’ own #metoo stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey. If they, powerful pinay attorneys, can get through their experiences then so can I.

My favorite part of the conference was when we divided into small groups. There were about 12-15 women in my group. In the morning, we shared our personal stories and struggles in the legal field, and how we can stand together to overcome these hardships. The young attorneys received helpful and insightful tips from experienced Pinay Powerhouses in the field. It was truly an amazing and vulnerable experience. After the morning breakout session, I approached one of the attorneys in my groups because she looked familiar (and we made eye contact several times during the discussion). The attorney was Kristina Buan, my classmate from the Law Forum program when I was an undergrad at UC Irvine. I haven’t seen her in over 7 years! It was crazy and such a blessing that we were matched in the same group. We quickly caught up, and finally discussed what it was like being the only two Filipinos in our Law Forum Program at UC Irvine.

During the afternoon small group session, we discussed the struggles of the work-life balance. It was an honor to literally sit right next to Rachel Juliana, a past FBANC president who was appointed to the school board in West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey, and to hear her insight on how she balanced her career and family. These women are my heroes; and listening to their stories put my anxieties of planning for a family and balancing my legal career at ease.

During the drive back up to the Bay Area, Jazzy, Joanna, and I extended our conversations and opinions about the panels and the conference. Our discussions were beautiful, dynamic, and uplifting. Overall, I had a blast and I loved every minute of Pinay Powerhouse 2. I will definitely strive to make Pinay Powerhouse a yearly ritual. It was a nice reminder that my voice matters; that I am powerful, despite the hurdles I am currently going through in my life. Thank you FBANC for this scholarship; no words can really express how grateful I am for getting it. It was truly a blessing and an honor to be surrounded by fellow pinay revolutionaries, to reunite with familiar faces, and to form new sisterhoods in law."

– Erica Chu