Chicago, IL – A diverse group of civil rights supporters, government and community representatives, and notable leaders from the Chicago area and around the nation gathered Thursday night to celebrate the achievements of three exemplary leaders as MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) hosted its 2017 awards gala at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, recognized the contributions and sacrifices made by the honorees to advance Latino causes across the U.S. “In uncertain times, it is critical that we come together across regions, races, and religions to reassert the national primacy of constitutional values, of civil rights, and of our continuing immigrant heritage,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Our honorees inspire us in this unprecedented era to put aside our petty differences in service of a nationwide imperative to preserve the enduring goals of equity and inclusion.”

This year’s gala paid tribute to the work and achievements of three pioneers in their respective fields:

Carlos Tortolero, the Founder and President of the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago, was presented with the award for Lifetime Achievement, Leadership in the Arts, for his vision and decades of dedication in disseminating the Latino experience through art. Under his guidance, NMMA has become a nationally recognized venue for its exhibits, performances, arts education programs, and advocacy of cultural equity issues.

Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), was honored with the Excellence in Legal Service award. Under her stewardship, NIJC has been renowned nationally and globally as a leader in immigrant and human rights advocacy, contributing to national and international analysis, debate, and reform of immigration law, policy, and practices.

Phil Fuentes, Chairman of the McDonald’s Hispanic Operators Association, was recognized with the Corporate Social Responsibility Award for his role as a prominent leader and promoter of Latino causes throughout the Chicago area. The owner and operator of six McDonald’s restaurants, he was honored by McDonald’s in 2004 with its Global Award for Outstanding Owner/Operator of the Year. He also serves on the boards of the Regional Transit Authority, the Urban Partnership Bank, and the Smithsonian Latino Center, and he is chairman of the Institute of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.