Class of 2021

Claudia Quintero

Staff Attorney, Central West Justice Center; Age 32

Growing up in Los Angeles, Claudia Quintero saw plenty of disparities — by class, race and ethnicity, gender, and more — and wanted to do something about it.

“But I was undocumented,” she said. “So I didn’t know if I could go to college, much less law school.”

In high school, though, she met a lawyer who helped her attain legal status. “I was so inspired by this attorney — who was also a Latina, and was very kind and very effective in her advocacy — that I wanted to go to law school and do for others what she had done for me.”

That law school was at Western New England University, where she knew she wanted to focus on social-justice work. Fittingly, she landed a job with Central West Justice Center immediately after achieving her juris doctorate. “It seemed like the right fit … like work I was meant to do.”

As a subsidiary of Community Legal Aid, Quintero explained, “we provide legal civil services to indigent clients, people who can’t afford lawyers for things like eviction defense, state and federal benefits law, family law, wage-and-hour claims, immigration … that’s just a smattering of the different projects we have.”

Central West’s migrant seasonal farmworker project, her area of focus, provides holistic legal advocacy to farmworkers across Massachusetts on housing, work conditions, and other protections, while advocating for these workers on the state level. “A lot of farms are located in rural parts of the state where the workers might not even know we exist,” she noted.

The performing and visual arts are a big part of Quintero’s identity; she’s a classically trained pianist, was a Mexican folkorico dancer for 15 years, and is an amateur photographer. The work she performs today at Central West has become a critical part of that identity as well — and a continuing tribute to her journey and those who helped her along the way.

“It’s a really gratifying job. I feel like it’s kind of my responsibility, since I was given such an amazing opportunity getting legal status in the United States,” she explained. “That’s not an easy feat; not everyone is eligible to become a lawyer in the United States, and even to be a legal citizen is such a huge privilege for me. So I know I have to do something worthwhile. I know it’s an opportunity I shouldn’t squander.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

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