San Antonio, TX – MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) kicked off a series of commemorative events to mark its 50th anniversary last night with a panel discussion on the civil rights organization’s legacy and ongoing work.

MALDEF, founded in 1968, convened the panel in its birthplace, San Antonio, where past and present leaders of the organization discussed its long history of protecting and promoting the rights of all Latinos living in the United States.

Featured on the panel were Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel; Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation, and three former MALDEF officials: Ambassador Vilma Martinez, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina from 2009 to 2013 and MALDEF president and general counsel from 1973 to 1982; Prof. Albert Kauffman, law professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio and former MALDEF Southwest regional counsel; and Theresa Fay-Bustillos, chief program director of the Blue Shield of California Foundation and a former MALDEF vice president of legal programs and MALDEF board member. The panel was moderated by O. Ricardo Pimentel, editorial page editor of the San Antonio Express-News.

The panelists discussed litigation and advocacy efforts spearheaded by MALDEF that have spurred reforms and led to new laws and policies with wide-ranging impact for the Latino community and the nation as a whole.

“Last night’s panel discussion provided a powerful, albeit brief and incomplete, rendition of the strong and consistent work that MALDEF has done for over half a century to promote the constitutional and civil rights of Latinos and all other Americans,” Saenz said. “As current events daily demonstrate, the need for MALDEF’s work is as urgent today as ever, so our commemoration of 50 years is also a recognition of our commitment to living out the legacy of our predecessors and their accomplishments in the next half century.”

Martinez said her views of MALDEF today reflect remarks she provided 30 years for the annual report marking MALDEF’s 20th anniversary. “I take pride in what I was able to do, and more in the knowledge that MALDEF will capture the hearts and minds of new generations of Mexican-American people in our country,” she said.

Martinez also quoted sentiments expressed 30 years by MALDEF’s founder, Pete Tijerina, who passed away in 2003, that she says were prescient. “The times were completely different,” Tijerina said in 1988, “but unfortunately many of the institutional problems remain the same. MALDEF’s work is as important as ever.”

The panel was streamed live on Facebook. A video of the event is posted at

The panel was the first event in a series of 50th anniversary commemorations that will continue this evening with MALDEF's annual awards gala at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel. MALDEF will bestow the Lifetime Achievement, Excellence in Public and Community Service Award on Henry Cisneros, founder and chairman of CityView, chairman of the executive committee for Siebert, Cisneros, Shank & Co., LLC, and former San Antonio Mayor and Clinton Administration cabinet official. Texas State Representative Diego Bernal, a former MALDEF staff attorney who now represents District 123, will be honored with the Matt Garcia Public Service Award. Regina Montoya, an attorney and civic leader who is vice-chair of the Board of Directors of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and chair of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Task Force on Poverty, as well as a former MALDEF board chair, will be honored with the Valerie Kantor Award for Extraordinary Achievement. Frank Herrera, founder of the Herrera Law Firm and chairman of the board and managing partner of Valiente International Ventures, as well as a former MALDEF board member and chair, will receive the President and General Counsel Award.