By Caleb Simpson
Candelario Saldana’s path to becoming an attorney was not easy, requiring patience, persistence, and change. Saldana recalls when he first learned when he was undocumented: He was assigned a career project in junior high school and was drawn to the legal profession. When he went home and told his mother he wanted to become a lawyer and what it would take to enter the legal profession she told him, “Hijo, sit down – never let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams, however, you are undocumented and it will be almost impossible for you to attend college let alone law school.” Despite receiving this life-altering news, Saldana persisted. When it came time to apply for college, he reached out to his high school counselor for assistance. He learned that Utah allowed undocumented students to attend state universities and pay in-state tuition, but he could only apply for private scholarships to afford his attendance.
“I applied and received a scholarship through the Chicana/o Scholarship Fund through the University of Utah. Initially, I was told that although David Ibarra, the individual that had funded the scholarships through the Ibarra Foundation, had selected me as a recipient, I did not qualify because the rules for the scholarship required the recipients to be U.S. citizens. When David Ibarra learned that I wasn’t going to receive the scholarship, he rewrote the contract to ensure I would be able to receive it. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for David’s willingness to make that exception for me.” Saldana graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Political Science and Gender Studies and a 3.81 GPA.
Despite his successful undergraduate career, Saldana’s status as undocumented remained, and he was unable to initially attend law school immediately after graduating from the University of Utah. He says, “A quote that I penned to keep me going is ‘you can put your dreams on pause, so long as you do not stop dreaming.’ I had to put my dreams on pause, and in that time I experienced personal growth that feeds into my work today.” For six years, Saldana filled his time by managing restaurants and hoping that something would change so he could resume his dream. That wish came true when DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals federal administrative rule) was implemented, and later he was able to change his status to a legal resident. In 2019, Saldana’s resiliency was rewarded, when he graduated from the University of Miami School of Law and began practicing as an Associate at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Importance of Community
Community is diverse in its purpose: it can be used for political advocacy and to strengthen morale by being a consistent source of comfort, protection, and love. In response to the many attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, Saldana believes we need to reconnect with each other to
use our values and strength to galvanize them into action. “A lot of us in this profession are insulated from what’s going on in this country. We have healthy work environments or supportive parents or live in cities that are progressive where you don’t have this daily fear when you’re just trying to live your life. We feel generally safe to go out with our partners and be expressive but there are so many individuals who don’t have this luxury and are faced with the constant threat to their existence.”
Saldana continues, “We need to start reaching out to people and reconnecting with the community. Our previous successes stem from our ability to come together with love and empathy as a community in spite of the attacks from government officials. We can’t forget about other groups in our community. We haven’t done a good job as a community with making sure everyone was coming along at the same pace and we need to do better. The most vulnerable groups in our community are trans people and our youth. We have to be brave and stand up to the challenges that face us because our complacency has set us back.”
Today, Saldana is an accomplished and highly recognized lawyer, seen for his leadership and advocacy of LGBTQ+ people in the legal field. In 2019, he won the National LGBTQ+ Bar Student Leadership award for his work at the University of Miami School of Law. He was also a recipient of the National LGBTQ+ Bar 40 Best Lawyers Under 40 award in 2022. He is currently a board member of the National LGBTQ+ Task Force as well as President of the Pauli Murray LGBTQ+ Bar Association, an affiliate of the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association. Saldana’s long-term goal is to open an LGBTQ+ Center that provides assistance with legal issues, medical care, and temporary housing.
We congratulate Candelario Saldana on his persistence and all of his success, and look forward to watching his career and supporting his LGBTQ+ advocacy!