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Lariss Maldonado
Lariss Maldonado is a former president of the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Latina breaks ground as ACLU-MN board chair

Name: Lariss Maldonado

Title: Board chair, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota

Education: B.A., government, Latino/Latina studies, Smith College; J.D., University of Minnesota

Lariss Maldonado’s desire to become a lawyer has fueled her rise from a Latino community in south Texas to law school in Minnesota and now to her groundbreaking new role as board chair American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Maldonado is the first Latina and first woman of color to serve as board chair in the organization’s 70-year history. She succeeded attorney Nicole Moen.

“The way we can grow the numbers of Latino lawyers and Latino leaders is by investing in young people and showing them that there’s a path and that they can set high goals, that they can achieve their dreams,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado joined ACLU-MN’s board in 2016. The organization’s revenue has since grown from $800,000 to more than $1.4 million and its staff from seven to 26.

A former president of the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, Maldonado is a lead counsel with Wells Fargo.

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I love talking about vacations, learning about new places. I could spend all my time researching and traveling to new places.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: I’ve always been a passionate advocate. I’ve always valued seeing things from different perspectives and putting yourself in others’ shoes, looking at things objectively. That led me to develop an interest in the law. It’s been a perfect fit because it’s a profession where you really are continually learning, and I find it inspiring.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I’m reading “Behold the Dreamers,” about a Cameroonian immigrant. It’s a valuable way to help understand how different communities have faced the same challenges and experience the pursuit of the American dream.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: When people don’t have their contact information in their e-mail signatures.

Q: Best part of your ACLU board service?

A: Engaging with the community, staying connected and channeling my energy and passion for community service. Having a place where I can inspire change and direct my resources and time knowing that they’re well invested in an organization that I have a lot of faith in.

Q: Least favorite?

A: I wouldn’t say it’s at least favorite part, but I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old and oftentimes at this stage in life, there are so many competing interests for your time. You have to make a conscious effort at balancing work and your family life, making sure you’re fulfilling the needs of your children. It’s often difficult to engage with community service and invest this kind of time in volunteer work when you have young children. But for me, personally, this is part of what fulfills me.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I’m in a running group and really enjoy running. I didn’t get into it until I moved to Minnesota. It was easy and as a law student a low-cost way to spend time outside in the winter.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I’m from Corpus Christi, Texas, which is on the Gulf Coast. I would take people to the Selena Memorial; Selena Quintanilla, she’s like the patron saint of my hometown. When people are going to visit my city, I tell them to go to the grocery store because I can’t believe the variety of produce in Texas compared to here in Minnesota.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Justice Sotomayor. She’s monumental, not just because she’s intelligent, not just because she’s achieved so much professionally and academically, but because she is such a relatable person. When I was on the board of the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, I was on the planning committee that worked with the federal bar to bring Justice Sotomayor to speak here for a program about the Latino legal experience. It was important for her to meet with young people, to connect with them, to inspire them.

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