St. John’s Law Students Educate, Empower, and Uplift Queens’ Latino Community


It’s Saturday, March 26, 2022, and Entre Panas Radio is broadcasting live, in Spanish, to some 2,287,390 people who call Queens, NY home. In the studio are St. John’s Law students Camille Sanchez ’22, Gabriel Tejada ’23, Ligner Vazquez ’24, Kamila Sanchez Velez ’22, and Tatiana Zapata ’23. They are there as members of the Law School’s Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA) to present a two-hour program about tenants’ rights.

LALSA has led community education programs in Queens for over 35 years. The outreach roots in the Spanish Street Law initiative that Jose Perez ‘82CBA, ‘85L launched when he was studying law at St. John’s. Now known as Street Law en Español, the program thrives as a robust partnership between LALSA and the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County (LLAQC).

“Street Law en Español is one of the most important aspects of LALSA, if not of the entire Law School,” says Zapata, who coordinates the program this year with Tejada. “Spanish-speaking communities face many issues in accessing accurate and timely legal information. Tie that with the discrimination that these communities experience because of their different language abilities and their other intersecting identities—including immigration status—and there is a lot of room for inequity and injustice. We’ve all seen the disproportionate impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on marginalized communities, and many Queens residents have borne the brunt of that disparity.”

Especially with the end to New York City’s eviction moratorium in January, LALSA and LLAQC saw a heightened need to educate Queens residents about current housing laws, housing court processes, and housing relief measures. Guided by Hon. Karina Alomar ’99 and Hon. Carmen Velasquez—LLAQC leaders and judges who preside in Queens courts—they teamed with the local nonprofit Brigada de Esperanza NY to present the March 26th program.

With materials reviewed by volunteer attorneys Jeanette Malaty and Angelo Picerno in hand, Zapata at the mic, and Tejada coordinating a live chat with listeners, the LALSA students and Justices Alomar and Velasquez reached and informed an audience of hundreds. Malaty and Picerno also led an engaging question and answer session to end the broadcast.

It was a gratifying experience for Tejada, and one with a broad mission. “It’s important to give back to the Latino community as law students because many students come to Queens for the education and leave for greener pastures upon graduating,” he says. “Queens is one-third Latino, but woefully underrepresented within the legal field. Economic conditions need to improve for Latino children if the number of Latino lawyers is going to increase.”

Zapata also appreciated the opportunity to educate, empower, and uplift Queens’ Latino community. “Putting this together was a lot of work, but knowing that we connected with so many people makes it one of the most fulfilling experiences of my law school career thus far,” she shares. That pride in a job well done is shared by the fuller LALSA membership at St. John’s Law.

“Tatiana and Gabriel truly amazed me in their efforts to plan this presentation,” says LALSA’s president, Ciara Villalona-Lockhart ’22. “They were determined to hold this event because they recognized the widespread need in our Queens community for clear, concise, and accurate information relating to tenants’ rights. I couldn’t be prouder!”