Each year in September and October, Willenken celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month by paying special tribute to the heritage, culture, and accomplishments of Hispanic people. This year, the firm recognizes the Hispanic roots of its lawyers and staff by spotlighting Willenken’s senior counsel Mayra de Aguiar.
Mayra is a seasoned litigator who represents Fortune 500 companies in contract disputes, complex civil litigation, class action litigation, product liability, and employment litigation. Prior to joining Willenken, Mayra served as in-house counsel for The Wonderful Company, a multibillion-dollar food industry giant. Mayra is an active member of the Latina Lawyers Bar Association.
Mayra spends her spare time with her two adult children and a house full of four-legged creatures. Tapping into her creative side, she enjoys reading, painting, cooking, and playing the guitar. We asked Mayra to describe her roots, journey, and career, as well as provide an overview of the successes and obstacles she has encountered as a Latina lawyer.
Mayra was born in the United States to native Spanish-speaking parents. Although both of her parents spoke English, she was only introduced to the English language in kindergarten because her parents wanted her to speak Spanish fluently and enforced strict Spanish-only rules in the home. Mayra is incredibly grateful for this as she is equally fluent in English and Spanish, a skill that has served her well in life and in her career. Growing up in Los Angeles, most people assumed that she was Mexican, but in fact Mayra is of Peruvian and Cuban descent. This unique ancestry combination makes for a highly interesting background with lots of cultural, culinary, and social influences from both Peru and Cuba.
It wasn’t easy growing up Latina in the United States. Race issues have obviously always posed a threat, but they also helped shape Mayra into an adult that is strong, compassionate, empathetic, and understanding of human frailty. And they do not take away from how fortunate she feels to have grown up in a home where family came first, with a strong work ethic a close second. Mayra’s background has given her a unique perspective that has helped her relate to others in life and in law.
While attending the University of Chicago Law School in the late 1990s, Mayra was the only Latina in her class. She was also one of only two Latinas at her first large law firm job, although a third Latina lawyer was hired after a few years of Mayra’s employment. In those days, there were a lot of misconceptions about being a Hispanic female lawyer and Mayra constantly felt that she had to prove herself to earn a spot on the team. During those times, being a female attorney, let alone Latina, posed great obstacles.
Unfortunately, she experienced inappropriate comments and stereotypical assumptions, but Mayra knew that only by working hard and successfully representing her clients would she be able to gain respect. To that end, she worked endless hours on her cases and caught the attention of the named partner at the firm who recognized her talent and provided her the opportunity to gain valuable experience early in her career. Mayra never allowed the obstacles to define her, and although acknowledging them, she pushed forward, always wanting to be a role model for her children.
Favorite Hispanic Foods
Mayra loves the authentic Hispanic food from her childhood and spends many hours in the kitchen preparing those meals for her family. This is one way that Mayra connects with her roots, but she also likes to put a modern twist on her dishes to reflect her upbringing in the United States. Some of Mayra’s favorite dishes include Peruvian ceviche, lomo saltado, and tallarines verdes con bistek empanizado. From her Cuban side, Mayra enjoys preparing arroz con pollo, classic black beans, Cuban sandwiches and of course, a lechon asado, each year for Christmas.
As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the firm’s lawyers and staff enjoyed tasty Hispanic treats specially curated by Mayra. This included a dessert called Tres Leches, which is a delicious vanilla sponge cake soaked with three milks, topped with vanilla meringue. This dessert is found across Latin America, including Peru and Cuba.