State Representative Elect, MA 16th Essex District
By: Frank Morris
At age 29, Juana Matías is the first Latina from Lawrence to be elected as a state representative, and in January, will be one of only two women of color inside the Massachusetts State House. She will also be one of the youngest Democrats in office, representing the 16th Essex District.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Matías moved to Lawrence at age 5. She says she feels her immigration story helped propel her to office, unseating a longtime incumbent.
"We were a family of six and my dad was having trouble finding a good-paying job … so we came here looking,” she said. “The first generation, things take time. But this young population is bicultural, bilingual, understands how the system works, have had access to education, are breaking barriers and doing what others haven’t been able to do.”
Matías, who is also a lawyer, has worked to represent unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings in Boston Immigration Court. She has also worked as an immigration attorney at Community Legal Aid as a justice AmeriCorps attorney in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. She received her Juris Doctor degree in 2014 from Suffolk University Law School, and had previously served as a student attorney for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.
"What really motivates me is my passion and love for public service,” Matías said. “One isolated moment that really made me want to get involved in public service was in high school, I was doing an internship at a district court, and there was such a huge difference in representation minorities were getting in court. From that moment on, I decided I wanted to become an attorney. Our community has so much need.”
Matias says that once she is in office, changes she would like to make include public school system reform, criminal justice reform and reducing the rates of recidivism. Other issues facing Lawrence, she says, are domestic violence issues, homelessness and unemployment.
Since being elected, "To me it's an honor to be named one of the [El Mundo Boston Latino 30 Under 30]. This whole initiative is shedding light on the great contributions that Latino young professionals are having on their community. I hope other young Latinos can look up to us and do the same and break barriers and continue to succeed,” Matias said. says she already feels she’s making a difference.
"Just a week-and-a-half ago, I met with a high school student doing his project on me. I think it's great,” she said. “I think that's what we need to provide our generation. I never had that role model, so I think the fact that people like me have reached these positions is really inspiring for young Latinos today."