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María DeCastro Blake 
Community Service Award
2007 Honoree

Maria "Charo" Juega
Treasurer of the Board of Trustees
Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.

Born in Bilbao, Spain in 1949, Charo grew up in Madrid, the oldest of 3 children. During her teen years the family moved to Montreal, Canada, following her father’s appointment to a three-year diplomatic post. She returned to Madrid with her family and graduated from the Escuela Oficial del Ministerio de Turismo. She worked as a tour guide taking groups of American tourists around Spain, Portugal and Morocco during Spain‘s tourist boom in the early 70‘s. In 1975, when offered a position to head the operations department of a New York area tour agency, Charo came to the United States attracted by the culture of freedom, egalitarianism, and prosperity, with the intention, as many immigrants, of staying a few years but eventually returning to Spain.

While in New York, as a single young woman raised in a very conservative society recovering from decades of economic, political and cultural stagnation, Charo came to appreciate the independence and opportunities this country offered her. Her career in the travel industry took her to Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, before returning to the East Coast, and to the Princeton area where she has been living since 1986. Charo gained admission to the Economics program at the College of New Jersey (then Trenton State College) thanks to the support and mentoring of Daniel Hall, the Dean of that department. She graduated magna cum laude in 1992 at age 43. At that point she made a midlife career change into the financial services sector where she has developed a successful professional practice as a Certified Financial Planner, and personal financial advisor She is currently working in Trenton as an Assistant Vice President for one of the country’s major financial corporations.

In Princeton, Charo become involved as a volunteer and board member in various business and community organizations such as the Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association, the Mercer County Hispanic Association, and the Latin American Task Force. She is a former board member of Habitat for Humanity of Trenton, and Past-President of the Princeton Business & Professional Women chapter, and the New York-based Asociación de Empresarios y Profesionales U.S.A-Spain. Most recently, she is serving as a member of the Board of Delegates, and the Immigration Committee of the Latino Leadership Alliance of NJ, the Princeton Regional Schools Minority Education Committee, and in the Hispanic and Immigrant Student Needs Committee of the Trenton CHANGE coalition.

Through her community work, and as a mentor of several young Latina immigrants, she became increasingly aware of the multitude of social issues that negatively affected the growing Latino immigrant community. She was struck by how different the experience of these more recent immigrants, largely from impoverished areas of Mexico and Central America, was from her own immigrant experience, and the contrast of this reality with the guiding principles of American democracy and justice. In 2004, together with a small group of Princeton-area resident similarly concerned, she founded and served as the first Chairperson of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). Through LALDEF, Charo has been actively advocating in favor of a more rational and humane immigration system at the federal level, and more pro-immigrant initiatives at the state and local level.


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