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When Margaret Montoya was trying to get into Harvard University, she says a professor told her: “I’ll never help a Mexican get into law school.” It was 1972 when Montoya, a senior at San Diego State University, believed she needed her department chairman’s signature to complete her Harvard Law School application. He refused to sign it. She walked away feeling defeated, but eventually she found others who were helpful and able to sign the form. Montoya was the first Hispanic woman accepted at Harvard Law. She graduated in 1978. Today, Montoya is a law professor at the University of New Mexico and keeps busy helping students nationwide get into and through law school. She attended five colleges over six years before graduating from San Diego State University in 1972. While in California, Montoya said, she decided to pursue a law career because she was interested in improving the lives of Hispanics. She helped get college money for Hispanic students as a member of student government and a Chicano activist group. “There’s a lot of activism around law,” said Montoya, sitting in her Southwestern-style home in Albuquerque. “The people who know the rules are the people who know the game.” Through her career, Montoya worked in law firms, created diversity programs, implemented affirmative action plans and revised hiring policies. Her goals are to help fight discrimination and help Hispanics succeed. “I have always felt that I have a debt to the community — that it’s incumbent on me to work to keep the door open for others,” she said. Montoya, a petite woman with short brown hair and trendy dark glasses, said her role models are her students because they keep her hopeful and growing. “We learn by imagining what they need us to be,” she said. “We invent ourselves as we go along.” Growing up, Montoya’s parents emphasized the importance of education. She grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., and later moved to Albuquerque with her parents and older brother and sister. She is a 1966 Highland High School graduate. Her late mother, Virginia, never went to college, and her late father, Ricardo, quit high school but later got a bachelor’s degree and was a social worker. Good grades, going to class and getting into college were top priorities in the Montoya home. “My dad always said, ‘You can lose everything in life … but you can never lose your education,’” she said. Montoya married Charles Boyer, a UNM math professor, in 1980 in Albuquerque. The couple, who met in Mexico City, moved around North America before they settled with their two daughters in Albuquerque in 1988. Montoya said she loves being a mother, adding that it’s important that her daughters respect and learn about their Hispanic culture. “I want them to feel proud of who they are, understand family stories and community history,” she said with tears in her eyes. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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