September 2012 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Lorena Gonzalez

Back Straight, Eyes Forward

By Jeff Robinson

 

On the night before he was killed, Martin Luther King, Jr. told an audience in Memphis, Tennessee, "Whenever men and women straighten their backs up they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent."

These words were spoken before she was born, but evidently Maria Lorena Gonzalez was listening. Her back is straight, her vision is clear - she has become a powerful advocate for those who need it most.

For Lorena, standing up for people who are the victims of race, sex or age discrimination is less about what she does for a living and more about who she is. Lorena is the daughter of immigrant migrant farm workers. From age 8 to 13, she and seven other family members lived across from a cherry orchard where pesticide showers by farm planes were a regular occurrence. When she was 14, she witnessed a farm owner beat a migrant worker so badly that emergency services were required.

She learned quickly about the difference between first- and second-class citizens. In her world, access to the legal system was a rare and frightening experience. Power seemingly always prevailed over what was right.

Where did a young lawyer get the courage, energy and stamina to challenge authority and power on behalf of her clients? Lorena's mother, Elvira, was a strong and steady force in her daughter's life, and Lorena says she was a steadfast oasis of liberal thought in a small town in Eastern Washington. Elvira says that her daughter always had strong opinions and feelings as a child. She excelled in school and her mother says that she was always a bright and motivated student.

Her sister Nancy remembers how their father, who passed away two years ago, would discipline Lorena as a child and tell her not to talk back to him. Their father told Lorena that she "had better be a lawyer because she always had to have the last word." I could write about her experiences on the drill team or as a "Junior Miss," but I will let Lorena have the first word on those topics. If you know her or meet her, make sure to ask.

Social justice has been the central issue of her pursuits. Lorena attended Washington State University where she volunteered for organizations that serve vulnerable women, children and senior citizens. At the university's disability resource center, she read textbooks into a tape recorder so that learning-disabled students would have access to educational materials.


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