Joan Martínez Evora was a lawyer in Cuba before coming to the U.S. and now teaching at the University of Miami.
Joan Martinez Evora awoke each Monday morning and dressed in the shadows of the farm before the sun and roosters would greet him. He’d drink milk for breakfast, gather his belongings and begin his hours long journey on foot under the cover of mountains in San Cristobal, Pinar del Rio, Cuba. If he was lucky, he’d catch a truck off the main road that would take him to the University of Havana, where he would spend the week studying law.
As a student in Cuba’s capital city, Martinez Evora would arrive unsure if the electricity would work, if the food he brought in his backpack was enough for the entire week, or if the textbooks he needed were available. What he did know was that he had a calling from deep within to learn the law and in his words, “fight for the underdog.” He graduated from the University of Havana with top honors in 2004.
More than a decade later, Martinez Evora is a lecturer at the University of Miami School of Business Administration who inspires his students through his personal stories of perseverance, as well as his deep belief in and understanding of the law. He teaches business law courses in English and Spanish and has taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In the spring 2017 semester, more than 70 students were enrolled in his courses. He’s been teaching at UM since the fall of 2011.
“Studying and teaching law in Cuba first and now here in the United States has been, and currently is, an immense opportunity and a unique chance to share my experiences,” he says. “Teaching is a wonderful joy, and the greatest privilege and accomplishment of my professional life.”
Martinez Evora captures the attention of his students in the classroom, passionately explaining the deep differences between civil and common law, and the history surrounding those, while weaving in stories of his personal journey.
“I have learned through Joan’s stories to be resilient despite the obstacles,” says Donald Nelson, who is a senior at UM, graduating in May 2017, studying finance and entrepreneurship.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Nelson feels a connection with his teacher.
“I came to the U.S. when I was younger, but just like him, I had to make the transition to a new education system, language and culture; we both have had to acclimate to change in a different country and culture than our own.”
Martinez Evora began teaching civil procedure at the University of Havana shortly after he finished law school there, and from that moment he knew the direction of his life would change.
Inspired by his mentors, he decided to come to the U.S. to practice law and teach. The journey to the U.S. was not easy. In addition to working and living in a new country, he had to begin his studies over again because his University of Havana law degree did not transfer to the U.S.
When Martinez Evora started law school over again at the University of Miami in 2005, his wife was pregnant with his son and his daughter was just a year old.
Today, Martinez Evora holds a Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Miami School of Law. He graduated in 2011.
“I could not do it without my wife’s support,” he says. “I always say, the cum laude is mine, but the magna is hers.”
During the long commutes along the mountainside to the University of Havana, Martinez Evora would think about the doctors, lawyers and other professionals struggling to put food on the table.
“With economic difficulties and discriminatory travel restrictions, there wasn’t much incentive to study or to graduate from high school or from university,” he says. “I’m very grateful that my family never objected to my decision to study.”
The number of hours spent studying and traveling would be hard to calculate.
Martinez Evora says of his long journey to success, “I wanted to prove to myself that it was possible.”
- CHARISSE LOPEZ-MASON / UM News