Back in 2012, when Luz Elena D. Chapa was campaigning for a seat on the Fourth Court of Appeals, a mutual friend praised her as an “intellectual” and “keen on women’s rights.” I’ve been wanting to reach out to her, and the launch of the new “I am a San Antonio Mom” series at Alamo City Moms Blog provided the perfect excuse. (Previously, Bridget interviewed Katy Mimari of Caden Lane & Nursery Couture.)
Last week, I went downtown to the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center and interviewed Justice Chapa in her chambers. Wearing a tailored black dress and a strand of pearls, she was glowing from her third—unplanned!—pregnancy. In December, a little girl or boy (it will be a surprise) will join her family of two daughters, currently ages 9 and 7, and her husband, Miguel, also an attorney.
A little civics lesson: the Fourth Court of Appeals consists of seven justices (who are, at the moment, all female) who hear appeals in civil and criminal cases from trial courts in 32 counties, including Bexar County—where San Antonio is located. Chapa is currently the youngest justice serving in Texas. As you read this interview, I hope you will agree with me that she is also an amazing mom.
Tell us about your background, and how you got to San Antonio.
I moved to San Antonio in 1993 to attend St. Mary’s University because there is not a law school in El Paso. After graduating [from college], I moved to Washington, D.C. and worked on Capitol Hill. I interned for Congressman Lloyd Doggett, then transferred to a paid position with Congressman Frank Tejeda. When I first moved there, I didn’t have a job, nor did I know anyone. I printed off a resume and went knocking on doors of Texas congressmen. All the stars aligned and it worked out.
I moved back to San Antonio to start law school at St. Mary’s; after graduating, I moved back to El Paso. My boyfriend—now husband—was living in Brownsville; he’s originally from McAllen. Then we moved to Corpus Christi; I worked in a civil litigation firm there. That’s where I found my true calling for trial work and had a great mentor, Darrell Barger.
We planned to move to McAllen to be closer to my husband’s family—our first child was six months old. I was planning to open a satellite office, and my husband was going to go out on his own, but one day he came home and said, “You know, I really think we should move back to San Antonio.” It was the best decision that we could have made. We both love San Antonio. We knew we wanted to plant our family roots here. Both families, from El Paso and McAllen, visit us quite often.
Looking at your bio, you are so involved in the community. What would you like to highlight?
1 in 5 Minds [a project of Clarity Child Guidance Center] is a program to advocate for children’s mental health needs in the community and to help lessen the stigma associated with mental illness. I chose to be involved because I am personally affected by it. My brother has schizophrenia. He was diagnosed in his late teens.
Once we start looking at it as a medical issue, versus a behavioral or emotional issue, that helps to lessen the stigma. If you don’t catch it early on, it progresses and it spirals out of control. Children start to self-medicate, and that’s what happened in my brother’s case. I grew up on the border in El Paso; boys go across the border and drink at an early age. They told my mom that this is a phase, he’ll grow out of it. In reality, he was actually trying to silence the voices.
In retrospect, there is so much that we could have done differently. As a sister [ten years older], I was extremely hard on him, but I never asked him why he was drinking at 14, why he was smoking marijuana, other than to get mad at him.
The 1 in 5 Minds campaign recently held its one year anniversary event, and I gave the keynote. You can watch the speech on YouTube. That was the first time I publicly spoke about it. The more we talk about it, the more people come forward. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my story.
Note: In June, Alamo City Moms Blog published a series about children’s mental health. You can read more about the center, Matt’s Story, Lisa’s Story, and what to do if your child needs help.
What do you love about San Antonio?
San Antonio is an incredible place to live: food, diversity, its people, and everyone is so kind-hearted. Everyone is so accepting; I don’t find the kinds of racial divides that other cities experience. San Antonio is growing and making headlines across the nation, but there’s still a small-town feel in the city.
What’s been the greatest joy of motherhood?
Having one-on-one time with the kids. Reading, just piling up on the same bed. Sharing quiet time. Our lives are so busy. Those moments of solitude, where the four of us are just piled up on our bed, and we have a book and are reading out loud, or just sharing the details of our days. Yes, quiet time is the greatest joy of motherhood for me.
What’s been the greatest challenge of motherhood?
The greatest challenge for me is to make it appear that I have everything under control. [laughing]
There is a team in place everywhere. My husband is a very hands-on dad. His schedule is very demanding as well, but we tag-team a lot. The kids feel more comforted and more confident within themselves when things are not chaotic at home.
A challenge for me is to keep things organized, but also to allow myself to be human in front of my daughters. No one is perfect by any means, and they need to see the human side of us as well.
If we peeked in your purse right now, what would we find?
If it’s time to pay bills, I have bills in my purse. [laughing] You would know that the owner of this purse is a multitasker. I have a bad habit of changing purses, and so half of my stuff is in another purse. I always have lipstick. I feel somewhat undressed without lipstick.
How do you hope your life influences and/or inspires other women?
There are so many different ways to be a parent and to be a mother. I don’t feel that there is any wrong or right way, so long as your heart is in the right place and you’re grounded.
At the end of the day, we need to be happy with our decisions. There are pros and cons of both. It’s by no means easy to be a stay-at-home mom, or to be a working mom outside the home. There are challenges to both. Both types of women are professionals.
The conversation should be a civil one, and full of respect, because moms are challenged every single day. We second-guess our decisions all the time, but I truly believe that we know what’s right if we follow what’s in our hearts.
Every single day, wherever you are, motherhood is a challenge. We put so much pressure on ourselves. It’s unfortunate.
Note: Different perspectives from a working mom and a stay-at-home mom.
Describe your typical weekday.
This year, we’re trying something new with the girls. They have their own alarm clocks in their bedrooms. They feel so independent and so responsible, by setting their alarm clock at night, and getting up in the morning, and getting themselves ready.
My typical weekday is getting up early, getting dressed before the girls wake up. I make breakfast every morning because they need to go out to school with something substantive in their tummies: oatmeal, blueberry pancakes, protein shakes, gluten-free breads, etc.
My husband drops them off at school. We all go our separate ways, and I come to the court. And read. [laughing] Read and research, all day. I typically bring my lunch, so I can maximize my time at the court.
I pick up the girls at school, and we go home. I try to make dinner ahead of time, on Sunday evening, using something like ground turkey to make meatballs, or meat sauce, meatloaf—different types of things using the same base ingredient. We have fresh salad a lot. My girls eat raw broccoli.
We try to get them in bed between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. We have maybe two and a half hours to get so much in. The nightly routine is dinner, dishes—my husband and I take turns, baths, reading time, and to bed. If they don’t finish their homework at school, then we finish it at home. They practice their piano.
How will things change with the new baby?
The baby is big surprise, but an even bigger blessing. This wasn’t planned! When this new baby arrives, our world will definitely be rocked. New challenges will arise; we are giving more responsibility to the girls.
Note: This is sort of technical court stuff . . . but it’s such an amazing coincidence, I have to mention it. More than a year ago, long before Justice Chapa knew she was pregnant, she and Chief Justice Catherine Stone traded their “off-docket” periods, in preparation for Chief Justice Stone’s retirement in December. Because of the switch, Justice Chapa will be “off-docket” in January and February—right after the baby is born. She feels that God had a hand in this all along.
I will definitely keep working. We all have our own iPads; the court network is linked to our iPads. I can work from home.
I plan to nurse. From the moment a baby is born, for six months, those are the moments I cherish the most. There’s a restroom here in my chambers, and I have a lock on my door. There’s a refrigerator in the kitchen.
The more we advocate for ourselves as mothers, the more things tend to get better. I remember being out of town at a deposition, and a woman having to take a break. At that point, I wasn’t a mother, and didn’t fully understand why she had a little backpack. Later we had a conversation, and she said that’s the toughest part, having to travel and pump, and pump in places like airport restrooms.
Note: posts on nursing.
When we moved back to San Antonio, my husband opened up his own law firm, and we established it together. I gave up the opportunity to open a satellite office. As mothers, we need to follow our hearts; I did what’s right for my family. It was the best decision that I ever made as a female lawyer, to help my husband establish his firm. And it gave me a lot of flexibility as well, being the mother of two girls, both asthmatics, and our youngest one had a lot of health issues. Had I been working in a traditional law office, I don’t think they would have allowed me to work from home so much, or take off for a few weeks at a time, such as when the pulmonologist said, “Your daughter can’t go outside for six weeks; she has to be at home because of the pneumonia, to let her lung heal.”
What four words best describe you?
Mother. I’m defined by being a mother. Hardworking. I consider myself loyal.
We can just go with three.
Where would we find you on the weekends?
Both girls have dance on Saturdays; they are in an intensive dance program. Weekends are dictated by their schedules. [laughing]
My husband and I try to go out to dinner at least once a week on our own. We all go to church on Sunday mornings and go out to lunch afterwards, then we go swim on Sunday afternoons.
Friday night are family movie nights; we’ve done that for years. I’m not a big fan of TV, and so we created movie night as family night, and it’s something special because they are not watching TV every day. Those quiet moments are the ones we embrace the most and remember the most.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
When I’m not pregnant, champagne and chocolate. My palette has changed since I am pregnant, so I like anything tart or salty, like salt-and-vinegar chips. Chocolate doesn’t taste good to me right now. Isn’t that weird?
What are your San Antonio favorites?
Date night: Definitely Bliss. That’s yummy.
Entertainment: We’re big movie people: Alamo Drafthouse.
Shopping: The Shops at La Cantera
Relaxation: Books, but only children’s books, because I don’t get to read a lot of books for myself. When I have downtime at home, I’m actually reading briefs. [laughing] Our 9-year-old is getting into Greek mythology, such as Tales of the Odyssey. Our 7-year-old daughter likes books by Judy Blume and the Junie B. Jones books.
Favorite family-friendly activity: Swimming and watching movies
Beverage (when not pregnant): Champagne
Dessert (when not pregnant): Chocolate
While pregnant: Salt-and-vinegar chips. Lemon water. We make cucumber water in the Vitamix: Peel the cucumbers, throw it all in with some ice, and it’s very refreshing. It’s a little spin on water. Just drinking water constantly can get boring.
How has working in public service impacted you and your family?
I grew up going to the courthouse; my uncle was a district court judge in El Paso for nearly 40 years. I always knew that I was going to run for public office, it was just a matter of when. But, once we get here in the judicial setting, politics are left at the door.
The girls go with us to vote, every single time. When we would arrive to a campaign event, with 500 people, the girls would disperse with push cards in hand, and go around asking for votes. Note: Chapa’s daughters also appear in this campaign ad.
We represent 32 counties, and the girls got to do some traveling. On the drive from Eagle Pass to Del Rio, you can see that there are many areas in our district that are in need of great help.
Even here in San Antonio, I remember, we were stopped at a red light. It seemed like this red light took forever to turn green. We all witnessed this gentleman in a big trash bin, standing inside, collecting something in a bag. My husband drove into the parking lot, got out of the car, and went to talk to him. The man came out of the trash bin, and my husband shook his hand, regardless of how he looked. My husband gave him some money, and got back into the car. My girls were so deeply affected by that. We had a great conversation about helping mankind.
My nine-year-old, when she was five, on her own decided that she wanted to donate her birthday gifts. So, every year, since she’s been five, she’s chosen a place and donated. The girls actually go and deliver their donated items. It’s extremely important to us that they grow up with respect for mankind.
If we make a little bit of a dent, that’s all we can do.
Thank you, Justice Chapa, for the wonderful interview![hr]
Do you have your tickets to our epic First Birthday Bash on September 17? Come down to the San Antonio Children’s Museum for a chance to mingle with other San Antonio moms, enjoy yummy food and beverage, and even get a little massage. Make sure to register here before we sell out!