Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 9-11-2019


In the 1970s, many people from Hispanic backgrounds, whether their first language was Spanish or English, who had graduated from law school took the New Mexico Bar Examination. A disproportionately large percentage of them (compared with their counterparts who did not come from Hispanic backgrounds) did not pass the Bar Examination. They therefore were denied admission to the bar. This dissertation examines how this came to be.

The study centers on the history of identity politics in New Mexico for Spanish-speaking people and their descendants. It examines the relationship between language and ideologies about race and ethnicity, as well as their effect on power politics. It explores controversies related to educational testing and how they may have been implicated in the results of the Bar Exam in New Mexico in the 1970s that were largely unfavorable to people from Hispanic backgrounds. The research includes personal interviews with Spanish-speaking native New Mexicans and other New Mexicans from Hispanic backgrounds, along with a detailed analysis of the legal proceedings and transcripts. The legal cases are considered within the context of the history of New Mexico.

This dissertation argues that personal and group identities are socially constructed and always emerge in particular contexts that are affected by the dynamics of power, money, privilege, tradition, family, religion, and place (among other dimensions). The petitioners of Spanish-language heritage in 1972 chose to challenge the meager representation of Nuevomexicanos in the legal profession in the State even though they were not sure that they would prevail. Their efforts, although not directly successful, did reshape the trajectory of history and the legal profession within the State of New Mexico. Although the petitioners lost their suit, the enduring result of their efforts was an increase in the pass rate for Nuevomexicanos, who now comprise a greater proportion of lawyers and judges in New Mexico.


discrimination, Bar Exam, law school, essay, testing

Document Type




Degree Name

Educational Linguistics

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Melissa Axelrod

Second Committee Member

Pisarn Bee Chamcharatsri

Third Committee Member

Carlos Lopez Leiva

Fourth Committee Member

Damián Wilson