Inspiring Young Latina of the Week: Joleen Rivera

University of Wisconsin law student Joleen Rivera has already put her vast knowledge and infinite passion to good use by aiding the U.S. Latino population. When she completes her degree this year, she plans on leaving a long-lasting legacy for her community. The Puerto Rican academic is dedicated to challenging existing laws that hinder the progress of Latinos in this country. As a result of her commitment to social justice, Rivera is this week’s inspiring young Latina!

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Here’s Why Joleen Inspires Us:

Joleen was raised by a single mother in a rough part of Brooklyn. She always appreciated the diversity of her community, but by the time Joleen was ready to go to high school her mother and stepfather wanted to make sure she received a quality education. Unable to afford private schooling in the city, Joleen’s family moved to a neighborhood in New Jersey where she happened to be the overwhelming minority. It was during this period of her life that Joleen experienced her first taste of racism, which subsequently piqued her interest in social justice.

After graduating from college, Joleen put her interest in immigration issues to good use by working for former Senator Hillary Clinton as a Constituent Liaison for three years. She worked closely with immigrant families across the state of New York and the federal government. Joleen witnessed families ripped apart where present immigration laws were failing the people they should have been helping. Her frustrations as an advocate in the senate convinced Joleen that changes needed to be made and that if she worked hard, she could help make a difference.

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A grueling academic schedule is simply not enough for this go-getter, however. During her time at the University of Wisconsin Joleen worked for a year for the Wisconsin Innocence Project. She worked to exonerate wrongfully convicted criminals all of whom were facing life in prison. In addition, she earned a legal fellowship last summer at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York City. Among other things, she worked on a lawsuit challenging the racial profiling and unconstitutional 'stop and frisks' of Latinos and African Americans in NYC.

She currently works with the Domestic Violence Immigration Clinic helping undocumented victims apply for temporary status so that they may remain in the U.S. Though she adores working one on one with clients, Joleen’s heart lies in wanting to see large scale change occur. She plans to use her degree to work for a Latino-based organization and influence policy.

“I know that the work I want to do is probably not as rewarding as having an individual client and getting their green card for them,” Joleen admitted about the road she wants to take with respect to her career. “But the experiences I have had so far have really pushed me toward fighting for the bigger picture, the bigger changes.”

Do you know an inspiring young Latina? If so, email us at InspiringLatinas@Latina.com!

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