Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Mariana Olaizola was surrounded by a culturally homogenous world. It was largely Hispanic, Catholic, and conservative. That all changed when she enrolled in public school in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Witnessing the unraveling of Venezuela's sociopolitical fabric, Mariana's parents had decided to leave their jobs and support network behind in search of a safer environment and a better education for Mariana and her brother. The new environment fueled Mariana's curiosity and interests.
Invigorated by the US's liberal arts education system, offering virtually limitless opportunities, Mariana enrolled in Princeton University. She studied political theory and piano performance, graduating summa cum laude in 2013.
Mariana confronted the need for a universal right to citizenship while doing research among stateless populations in Myanmar. She spent more than two years traveling to borderlands inaccessible to the general public, gathering stories from populations caught in ethnic violence and writing reports read by senior members of the Burmese government. While conducting interviews and focus groups, one issue repeatedly surfaced: the absence of a robust international guarantee of legal status, resulting in the systematic neglect of some populations' human rights. Having arrived in Myanmar as a volunteer piano teacher with a vague mission of public service, Mariana left with a plan to master the law and build a career addressing this injustice.
As a legal director of the International Refugee Assistance Project chapter at Yale Law School, Mariana coordinates outreach and manages students' legal work in support of refugees. In addition, as a volunteer with the Asylum Seekers' Advocacy Project, she is preparing to defend her first clients at an asylum hearing in immigration court. She also conducts research on potential legal reforms to ensure a human right to citizenship in the context of mass cross-border migrations.