Meena, a paralegal at the firm, is a big fan of memes. She is very pleased to let me know that she was watching the Dr. Phil Show when the “Cash Me Outside” girl first uttered her now infamous words. “I was actually in a laundromat when it first aired,” Meena says. “I saw it live! I didn’t realize though what an internet sensation it was going to be at that moment.”
“What’s your favorite meme currently?” I ask.
“Right now the one of Donald Trump pushing objects away from him like a cat.”
Meena grew up in pre-meme times in Columbus, Ohio, where her mother works in insurance and her father is a neurobiology professor. “It’s a great place to grow up but I couldn’t live there now,” she says. “Living standards are great. It attracts a lot of young people from California, from more expensive urban centers, because it’s really cheap. And it’s hard to leave the Midwest when you’re from there. I did feel a nice sense of safety being in that community. But I think that’s also what attracted me to New York, the danger.”
She graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in history and political science, and hopes to obtain a master’s degree before she goes onto law school. Working at the firm has confirmed her desire to possibly work in immigration law. “I’ve always disliked borders,” she says. “I’ve always been more of an internationalist. There should be more communication and travel between countries, more democratic international institutions—more equal and participatory institutions. I genuinely think being around immigrants and being around people of different backgrounds is good for your brain, and good for society.”
What is your least favorite word?
It’s a tie between “coolio” and “lit.”
What sound or noise do you love?
I love the sound of leaves crunching in the fall.
I also love the sound of traffic. I find it soothing. This is probably because I grew up between a freeway and a train track so I’m used to always hearing some sort of traffic.
What sound or noise do you hate?
I hate when I can hear people’s mouths when they’re eating. Although, admittedly, I have a habit of making an “ah” sound after taking a sip of something (like how in advertisements people go “ah” to let you know the drink was refreshing), which I have been told is equally annoying.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to be a college professor. I don’t know in what subject, but probably history. I studied comparative colonial history in college and loved it, but don’t presently feel like pursuing a PhD to become a professor. I love academia, but I also want a hands-on career. Ideally, I could eventually find a balance between teaching/conducting research and also working in a more hands-on field.
What is your idea of happiness?
Eating something delicious (right now I’m craving pho) and drinking a beer on a warm beach with grass in the sun on a long weekend while listening to Brazilian Portuguese music and excited about what’s for dinner.
Really anything involving food, beer, and music.
What would your last meal be?
Lomo saltado. It’s a Peruvian dish where the French fries and the beef are stir fried together! It’s so greasy and delicious. My favorite lomo saltado is at Flor de Mayo on Amsterdam Avenue in the 80s.
What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?
I would gift myself an amazing singing voice.
How do you wish to die?
Old in bed. I used to want an exciting, adventurous death, but that’s becoming less appealing as I get older.
What is your present state of mind?
Presently, I’m in a contented state of mind. Life has been good over the past year since I graduated. College was incredibly stressful, juggling between working full time, taking on a full course load, studying for the LSATs, and still trying to have a social life. I always felt like I was going going going, and never had any time to relax. Since I graduated, I’ve had the free time to read books for pleasure again, or do nothing but watch Netflix when I get home from work, or waste time with friends all weekend. I know I’ll be busy again in the near future when I return to law school, but for now I’m really enjoying my time off from school and feel very content with where I am.
For what fault have you most toleration?
I think, in general, I am a very tolerant person. My friends and significant others have been of many different backgrounds, political leanings, temperaments, educations, etc. I think I could potentially be friends with almost anyone, so long as they are also open-minded and not quick to judge me or others by how we dress or look. So the main quality I can’t stand is when people are quick to judge, if they walk into a room of people or a party and say, “Oh these aren’t my type of people,” or, “I can’t get along with these people,” because of an initial assessment of how people look.
What makes you laugh?
I love memes. I waste way too much of my free time scrolling through memes on Instagram or Facebook.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
I hate to pick something so obvious, but computers. I can’t imagine how we’d go about daily life without them now, especially in a big city like New York. We would have to get lost and read maps every single day; stick to plans and not reschedule at the last minute via text; hail cabs manually; write by hand; etc.
Whatʼs the best advice youʼve been given?
This isn’t advice per se, but about a year ago I had a conversation with a friend who is in his late thirties that really changed my perspective on life. After making a radical career change in his thirties, he told me that he is still figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up and will probably always still be figuring it out. Even though I am just barely passing as an adult at this point, I have always put a lot of pressure on myself to find that “one thing” to dedicate my life to and have forced myself to really focus on that thing, which has caused a lot of stress.
Presently, I know that I want to be a lawyer, and I know that I want to work in public interest law, but it’s a huge relief to know that I can change my mind, or also do other things, like teach. I think it’s a much better outlook to tell yourself this is what I want to do right now because I enjoy it and am passionate about it, but am by no means stuck because I decided to major in “x” when I was nineteen.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Not sure if it’s my earliest, but one of my earliest memories is of a game my brother and I would play every time we walked past a rock when we were about three to four years old. We would climb the rock, jump off it, and shoot our fingers in the air like a gun, yelling “Heather! Phew!” Heather was our first babysitter and would bring us candy.
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
This is a hard one given our present political climate. There is so much I would like to change. If I had to pick one thing though, I would make an international law that requires every person in the world to spend a year abroad in a country very different from their own during their teen or young adult years.
There would be some sort of international fund or multilateral exchange program so that everyone could participate equally regardless of their wealth. If everyone had some sort of foundational experience adjusting to another culture early in their life like this, perhaps they’d be more accepting of differences and less quick to blame an abstract “other” for all of their problems.