Life-long Community Activist and Chingona

chingona (noun):  a woman in her place of power when she’s  following her own intuitive-driven direction

Rita Montoya empowers herself and other women like her by flipping the oppressive term chingon on its head. Like many modern Latinas, Rita reclaimed the masculine Spanish slang term (that loosely translates to “f**ker” and is used to dominate and oppress women,) as a means of empowerment. Casually referred to as meaning “badass woman,” Rita emphasizes that chingona is not a woman’s title but her process, her journey and her chosen path.

A Native Opata and Mexican mother of two, Rita is a life-long community activist and advocate for underserved communities. Suffering from chronic illness and pain since childhood, Rita tried anything and everything she could to lessen the debilitating pain and fatigue she eventually discovered was from a chronic, incurable, inflammatory spinal cord disease. After finding herself unable to function in her life or career due to the medications’ side effects as well as their inability to effectively manage her disease, she tried medical cannabis and never looked back. On the verge of not finishing her undergraduate degree, she not only graduated from the University of California, Davis but also secured a full-time position before graduation and moved across the country to attend law school at the American University, Washington College of Law. While at American, in addition to serving as the Vice-President for Student Affairs of the Student Body Association, Rita was an Executive Board Member of the Latina/a Law Students’ Association as well as on the Editorial Staff of The Criminal Law Brief. She also received the American Bar Association Award of Excellence: Law School Newspaper Editorial for an article about abolishing the death penalty.

During Rita’s subsequent service as a Public Defender, she had the privilege of providing zealous advocacy to thousands of criminally accused children and adults in their pursuit of justice, fairness and equality in Colorado, California, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Rita litigated, negotiated and advocated for clients facing a range of crimes from traffic, property and drugs to assault and capital murder in small rural towns, large cities and prison jurisdictions. During her service as a Public Defender, Ritaresearched and wrote an interlocutory appeal and presented oral argument to the Colorado Supreme Court; assisted in securing a non-death plea agreement for a client potentially facing the death penalty; secured recusal of a juvenile magistrate prior to preliminary hearing of a juvenile jury-trial eligible case solely upon written motion alleging violations of right to privacy (mental health records) and appearance of impropriety and unfairness toward the child accused; and prevented a developmentally delayed non-citizen juvenile, turning 18 years old while in custody, from being sent to federal immigration authorities. Rita once received an inter-office Public Defender award for “Representing More Clients than Jesus on a Good Day.”

After leaving the career she loved so dearly due to decline in her health, Rita maintained her commitment to serving the underserved through the provision of pro bono immigration law services. In her first immigration case, Rita secured Withholding of Removal under the Convention Against Torture for a client from Nigeria facing torture and death by his own government if deported by the United States. Despite the many hurdles and quickly approaching court deadlines, she prepared and submitted a lengthy brief to the court, obtained substantial supporting documentation originally believed to be unavailable, and located and obtained the pro bono services of an internationally recognized expert on Nigeria to testify in support of the application. In spite of the odds — the law’s high standard of proof; the client’s status as automatically removable; and the prolonged detention of the client — Rita successfully stopped her client’s deportation, torture and death and positioned him for release from incarceration and securing of legal documents to live and work in the United States.

Rita’s personal and professional experiences with the criminal justice system drive her personal commitment to advocacy on behalf of brown and black men negatively affected by draconian drug laws and over-policing. Rita is Founder of The Takoma Park People of Color Collaborative, a community group aiming to elevate and empower voices of black and brown people by promoting community, access and representation. She also serves as a Member of the Takoma Park Police Chief’s Advisory Board and the Takoma Park Racial Equity Working Group.

Rita’s health experiences, combined with her inclination toward activism and her legal training, naturally led her to become an advocate and promoter of the medical use of cannabis to treat chronic pain and illness with a goal of a natural decline in the abuse of opiates. Owner of chingona consulting, Rita is now actively working to bringing her knowledge, patient experience and professional training to the Maryland cannabis industry and other emerging markets. She serves on the Tea Pad Advisory Board (a sister company of CannabizMD,) with that focus and drive. Her patient story underscores how one’s being a medical cannabis patient in no way compromises professional achievement and success.