Alena Suazo, who had passion for justice, dies in Guatemala
Alena Suazo, 30, is remembered for the intensity of her caring and the courage of her convictions. Ms. Suazo died Feb. 9 in Guatemala from an unidentified illness. She was just starting what promised to be a long career trying to make the justice system work better for the least powerful and the most troubled.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Alena Suazo is remembered for the intensity of her caring and the courage of her convictions.
Ms. Suazo died last Wednesday (Feb. 9) in Xela, Guatemala. She was two days away from her 31st birthday and at the beginning of what promised to be a long career pursuing her goal to make the justice system work better for the least powerful and the most troubled.
Ms. Suazo, who once seemed destined to spend her life on the wrong side of the law, graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 2010.
One of her law-school instructors, Brenda Williams, said, "Everything she did that was related to law, she did because of her passion for justice and her willingness to take that extra step to do what was needed to effectuate change."
"She had a big heart," Williams said, "Whatever the adventure or the challenge she would say yes."
Ms. Suazo volunteered with the Tulalip tribal court, co-chaired the Latino Law Students Association, spent last spring break helping migrants along the Arizona/Mexico border, and worked with survivors of domestic violence.
Ariana Flores, who was a couple of years behind Ms. Suazo in law school, was impressed by her. She said her friend was a strong person who never shied away from speaking out on behalf of people who were not receiving justice.
"The pedagogy of law school is that if you read a decision in a book you're supposed to take it as truth," Flores said.
"Alena always reminded us that those decisions in books affected real people."
Ms. Suazo was born in San Dimas, Calif., on Feb. 11, 1980, and grew up mostly in Camarillo.
When her father faced a prolonged illness that the family feared would be fatal, Ms. Suazo spun out of control.
In an interview for a Seattle Times column last summer, Ms. Suazo said she got in with a group of neighborhood kids, doing drugs, fighting, stealing. She was kicked out of school twice, before going to live with relatives in Montana.
Looking back, she said she wondered why they took kids from her school to jail to show them what could become of them rather than to a college to show them what they could become.
She turned her passion for life to education, with the goal of helping people who need a hand up.
After graduating, she won a Bonderman Travel Fellowship. She was to travel for eight months in Africa and Latin America, learning about the struggles of people elsewhere.
She arrived from Africa in Guatemala with an illness that has not been identified.
Her mother, Debbie Suazo, said her daughter died of multiple organ failure.
"She lived her life, and she lived it her way," her mother said. "I want people to know how special she was. I'm not just saying that as a mom. She was special, more giving and more loving and caring, and that was such a gift, and I'm glad God picked me to be her mom."
Ms. Suazo is survived by parents Miguel and Debbie Suazo, of Billings, Mont.; sisters Donna Ruttan, of Billings, and Maggie Fasbender, of California; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
The UW School of Law will have a community gathering to celebrate her life at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, in Room 138, William H. Gates Hall.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Smith Funeral Chapels, 304 34th St. W., in Billings.
Remembrances can be made to the Latina/o Law Students Association at the University of Washington, which will hold contributions until the family decides which of Ms. Suazo's causes will receive them. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
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