Linda Zuba has dealt with many hardships in her life, including discrimination. Find out how this Rockford attorney overcame her struggles and discover how she’s fighting for the rights of immigrants.
One of Linda Zuba’s favorite Bible passages is Luke 12:48 – “to whom much is given, much will be required.” You might say it’s a creed the Rockford attorney has followed her entire life.
Zuba has come a long way from her days in Colombia, South America, where she was born but later left with her mother, Zaida, and older sister, Maria, to find a better life in the United States. Growing up in Los Angeles and later in Rockford, she and her family endured many hardships – little money and discrimination – but also received love from many people who helped her family along the way.
“So much has been given to me in my life,” she says. “And a lot of who I am stems from those experiences.”
And now Zuba is paying it forward as an attorney. She’s a partner at Zuba & Associates with her husband, Jim, a former CPA and federal prosecutor. Zuba handles personal injury, pro bono and public interest law, but her passion is advocacy work and helping those in need.
“Think of all the issues we could resolve if we would sit down and talk,” she says. “There’s so much anger in the world. We have to watch what is happening to our youth. If we don’t help them, our community is doomed.”
As a child, Zuba felt plenty of angst. She remembers little about her short time living in Colombia, besides the local fish market she frequented with her mother; riding her tricycle; and spending time with her grandmother. She does recall the long plane ride to California, where she, her mother and Maria went to live near relatives, after her parents split up.
“My mother wanted to give us a better opportunity and was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen,” she says. “It’s hard to survive in Colombia unless you come from money.”
In Los Angeles, Zaida took a job as a seamstress. She logged grueling 12-hour days, taking long bus rides just to get to and from work. “We were definitely poor,” Zuba says.
But Los Angeles was where Zuba learned about diversity. She developed friendships with people from all over the world. And she and her sister were well cared for, even when their mother was at work. For example, it was a German couple who taught Zuba to speak English. It was an elderly French couple who offered to pay for her elementary education at the neighborhood Catholic school. It was their church family that provided furnishings for their home. In fact, Zuba still cherishes a cherrywood marble table that was a gift from church members.
“I feel fortunate for that part of my life,” she says. “It was a time I felt secure, loved and accepted. I did not experience any form of discrimination until I moved to the Midwest.”
Zuba was in eighth grade when she and her mother moved to Rockford to follow Maria, who was now married. In Rockford, Zuba felt like an outcast. She was called derogatory names by some. She didn’t fit in with other groups and was among just a handful of Latinos who attended Boylan High School at the time. “Coming from a diverse community to a non-diverse community was difficult for me, and I’m sure it must have been hard for some to be around a Latina girl from California.”
Zuba didn’t want to leave the mountains and the ocean in the first place. Moving to the Midwest, with its harsh winters, was more than she could take. “I threatened my mom that I wouldn’t eat or study if we moved here,” she says. “I was leaving my cousins and friends. I was devastated.”
Eventually she adapted and moved past the culture shock. She met Jim – her future husband – in high school. Now married 36 years, the couple has three adult children.
After graduating from Boylan in 1976, Zuba went to Rock Valley College, but dropped out when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. They moved back to Los Angeles to be closer to family, where Zuba went to junior college for a year-and-a-half, before transferring to Arizona State University. She was captivated by whales and oceans and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, before ultimately choosing a career in nursing.
Zaida died in 1988, but lived to see her youngest daughter earn Bachelors and Masters degrees. “My mom left everything and everyone she loved in Colombia to sacrifice for us. I didn’t want to let her down.”
Zuba’s first job as a critical care nurse was here at a Rockford hospital. She later worked as a flight nurse. And she was good, earning respect from peers and patients alike, during the 15 years she worked as a nurse.
“I took pride in the care I provided,” she says. “I treated my patients the same way I want to be treated. This is life and death. To have someone by their side and show compassion, that’s who I am. That’s how I was treated growing up. When I decided to leave nursing, people didn’t understand. I was an advocate and I still am.”
It took Zuba four-and-a-half years to earn her law degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It wasn’t an easy decision to take this step. She had two small children and was pregnant with a third.
“I woke up one day and had this immense revelation,” she says. “I was working in the community with people who were being discriminated against. My life was leading me to a place where I needed to advocate in another place. It was a calling.”
Today she handles a variety of cases, but it’s her work helping immigrants that really fuels Zuba’s fire. In addition to her legal work, Zuba is a member of the Coalition of Latino Leaders, a local organization that addresses issues and concerns for Latino residents.
“She’s very caring,” says Armando Cardenas, a fellow coalition member. “Linda really believes in people’s rights and family unity. We’re all people and we should be treated with dignity and respect. With regard to Hispanics and the plight of the immigrants, Linda doesn’t just talk – she takes action. She’s passionate but fearless. She brings people together for a common cause.”
And now her cause is fighting for the rights of immigrants.
“Since 2015, there’s been an onslaught of attacks on immigrants,” she says. “I have friends who say Latinos are causing the most crime locally or nationally. No, they’re not. Many of them work three part-time jobs. They pay taxes.
“We have an immigration system that is flawed and broken. It’s a lack of understanding that is causing so much resentment. We have to sit down and understand what they’re going through. If you don’t work with them, you don’t get it. We spend so much time judging people that we don’t take the time to understand.Unless you live it, you don’t know what these people are going through. I know where these people are coming from.”