A Tribute to Professor Margaret Alarid Montoya

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Margaret Montoya
Margaret Montoya

Written by Professor Christine Zuni Cruz

Take care,
and do not forget that
are also weapons.*

This semester marks the end of Professor Margaret Montoya’s law teaching career at UNM School of Law.  Professor Montoya will leave the Law School to serve full-time as Senior Advisor to Chancellor Paul Roth at Health Sciences for one more year prior to her retirement.  This is my final salute to an inspiration, a valued colleague, a fierce voice, an innovative teacher, a renowned and prolific scholar and a friend.  Her remarkable achievements are truly tremendous and she leaves both a legacy and a huge impression in our legal landscape that will take an effort to fill.

Margaret was born in Las Vegas in norte Nuevo Mexico, at the beautiful foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a place of early Spanish settlement, founded on an 1835 land grant from Mexico, and an important stop along the Santa Fe Trail and later the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad.  Her family roots in this place likewise stretch as far back.  She is the first Latina accepted at Harvard Law School; her tie to the land and her deep family roots drew her back to New Mexico, to UNM, and eventually to its Law School’s professoriate.

In 1992 Margaret left the UNM Office of University Counsel, where she worked as legal counsel to the University.  She began teaching in the Law Clinic, where her work in the Semester in Practice clinic and general clinic was instrumental and brought innovations to the clinical world and recognition to the clinic in the form of her teaching and scholarship on client and small scale or personal narrative; silence and silencing in legal communication; identity; the ethics of using the client story; and critical race praxis. More recently in her work at the Medical School she has become a voice in cultural competency and diversity in the medical profession and has continued her work in cultural and racial literacy, bringing teaching tools and skills to the legal profession.   While at the law school she has worked on P-20 pipe-line initiatives with ENLACE and law students; collaborated with students to prepare first year law students for the rigors of law school; prepared and filed an amicus brief in conjunction with students in the Grutter case before the US Supreme Court; and brought a service learning model of teaching into her courses.  She has most recently created a preparatory course for students to perfect their skills to take the bar exam and served as an Editor in Chief for the eleventh volume of the Tribal Law Journal.  In addition to her service at UNM Health Sciences Center, she has also served as Interim Director of the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, and as a public intellectual for The Line, a KUNM talk-show.  At the national level she has served on the LatCrit Board and is recognized as one of its founding scholars.  Margaret also served as the lead scholar of an initiative aimed at advancing racial/ethnic, gender, disability, and sexual orientation diversity in the legal profession for the ABA and authored its report in 2010; she served as Co-President of the Society of American Law Teachers and has been active in the Law and Society Association.  Margaret was named the Hayward Burns Chair in Civil Rights, taught and was the commencement speaker at CUNY Law School in 2009.

Margaret’s scholarship has been groundbreaking in many areas, including the use of personal narrative, Spanish language in legal scholarship, and she has been instrumental in the development of LatCrit scholars and scholarship.  From Mascaras to Narrative Braids, Antigone to Lone Star, Our Lady to Sotomayor, she is truly, as she self-describes, an academic guerilla moving over a wide terrain of topics including white supremacy, border/ed identities, silence and silencing in legal pedagogy and discourse, religion and LatCrit theorizing, LatCrit theory, class, the history of Chicana/o school desegregation, diversity, morality, critical race feminism and performance art.

Margaret’s inspiration as a teacher, activist, social justice advocate, critical race theorist, and joyful spirit has garnered her awards from all quarters– students, organizations, bar associations, and peers.  She has been recognized locally and nationally including as the recipient of the Kate Stoneman Award from Albany Law School, the New Mexico Hispanic Round Table’s Walk the Talk Award, the Clyde Ferguson Award from the American Association of Law Schools’ Section on Minority Groups, and two lifetime achievement awards from the National Latina/o Law Students Association and UNM’s Graduate and Professional Students of Color.  The Law Clinic at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School was named the Professor Margaret Montoya Law Center.  I name only a few of her numerous awards.

The State of New Mexico, the School of Law, the University, the communities will feel the loss of her great presence in their institutions of higher learning.  However her legacy will continue in the ideas she leaves us with in her existing and future scholarship as she works on her research during her final year at the University and moves into the next promising stage of her career back into the community.  Most of all they live on in her students who are lawyers in all sectors, lawmakers, judges and policymakers

To me, she has been more than a mentor and the honor has been mine.

Abrazos, Lágrimas y un Saludo con Mucho Respeto, Profesora Montoya.

*The world we want to transform has already been worked on by history and is largely hollow. We must nevertheless be inventive enough to change it and build a new world. Take care, and do not forget that ideas are also weapons.  Subcommandante Marcos