Centro Legal de La Raza honored Maria Blanco, Executive Director of Berkeley Law’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, at its recent 40th Anniversary Dinner Celebration.
Blanco was honored along with a group of former Berkeley Law students who founded the legal services agency in 1969. The group also gave an award to Dolores Huerta, the legendary co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.
Monica Ramirez, board co-chair of Centro Legal de la Raza and staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, presented Blanco with the organization’s 2009 Community Justice Award, in honor of her tireless efforts to promote social justice.
“Maria is an inspired advocate and mentor whose dedication has been a shining example to a generation of lawyers, students and colleagues,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Her leadership and contributions to social justice are matched only by her charm and collegiality that enhance our entire community and everyone with whom she works.”
Centro Legal is a legal services agency serving immigrant, low-income and Latino communities in the East Bay region of Northern California. With more than 20 years of experience as a litigator and advocate for immigrant rights, women’s rights and racial justice, Blanco shares Centro Legal de la Raza’s commitment to defending the rights of and expanding the opportunities for immigrants and people of color.
Berkeley Law alumna
Blanco ’84 is a Berkeley Law alumna. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Blanco served as staff attorney at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then joined the nonprofit firm of Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco, where she successfully litigated pivotal civil rights cases. Among them was Davis v. San Francisco, which brought women for the first time into the San Francisco Fire Department, and Castrejon v. Tortilleria La Mejor, which established that undocumented workers are covered by federal anti-discrimination laws.
She also served as the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, where she oversaw litigation and policy work in the area of immigrant integration and rights, securing the right to vote and expanding the franchise and African-American civil rights.
Prior to her position at the Lawyers’ Committee, Blanco served as the national senior counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she played a key role in passing legislation that provided in-state tuition for undocumented students to attend state universities and colleges.
Blanco joined Berkeley Law in July 2007 as the first executive director of the Warren Institute, a national research, policy analysis and public education venture that engages topics in civil rights, equal opportunity, race and ethnicity in America.
She contributes regularly to national and local media on school integration and funding inequities, the importance of an independent judiciary, and civil rights challenges in today’s post 911 security climate. Blanco was also an advisor to the Obama campaign and named to President Obama’s Department of Education Transition Team.
“As a Boalt graduate, it is an incredible honor to receive this Community Justice Award from Centro Legal, created by a group of visionary law students who have helped make a difference in the lives of thousands of individuals and families,” Blanco said.
Former students honored
Also at its dinner, Centro Legal de la Raza presented its Visionary Leadership Award to a group of former Berkeley Law students who helped found Centro Legal. From the beginning, Centro Legal was truly a student-run organization. The founders, from the Berkeley Law classes of ’70, ’71 and ’72, were Latino law students with a passion for social justice and a desire to provide the Spanish-speaking community with access to the American legal system. Today, the organization provides legal services to thousands of people in the East Bay every year.
Representatives from each of the three classes spoke at the dinner on behalf of all of the founders: Albert Moreno, trustee of the Rosenberg Foundation and former senior vice president and general counsel, Levi Strauss & Co.; Tony Quintero, president, Plaza Investments, LLC; and Jose Joel Garcia, CEO, Tiburcio Vazquez Health Center.
The students were involved in every aspect of the founding, from obtaining funding to furnishing the original office. Moreno spearheaded the fundraising efforts by obtaining the agency’s first grant. With this funding, Moreno and other Latino law students, including Mario Olmos and Quintero, rented an office on E. 14th Street in the Fruitvale district of Oakland. They took turns performing intake and assessing clients’ legal needs. Berkeley undergraduates, including Regina Chavarin and Dora Mesquita, provided administrative support.
The Visionary Leadership Award was presented by Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez, staff attorney at the Alameda County Homeless Action Center and lecturer at both San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley.