CHICAGO – MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) commemorated its 50th anniversary at its annual Chicago Awards Gala, and honored the work and achievements of three exemplary leaders in public and community service on June 7, 2019.

The gala, part of the organization’s year-long celebration of a half-century of fighting for Latino civil rights, was held at the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent  Mile Hotel.  Enrique Rodriguez, News Anchor Univision Chicago was the master of ceremonies.

Among the honorees at this year’s gala was Illinois State Comptroller, Susana A. Mendoza, who received the Excellence in Government Service Award for her distinguished career in local and state government.

“It’s a huge honor to receive this award from an organization as highly-regarded and impactful as MALDEF. I will continue to work hard as your Illinois Comptroller, protecting the most vulnerable among us, holding our elected officials accountable and increasing transparency in government. Thank you again for this award and the work you do every day,” said Mendoza of the award.

Among Mendoza’s most notable achievements is her work with lawmakers to craft and pass a slate of measures to guarantee transparency in government, including the Debt Transparency Act, the Truth in Hiring Act, the Budgeting for Debt Act, and the Vendor Payment Program Transparency Act.

MALDEF also bestowed its Excellence in Community Service Award on Maria Saldaña, general counsel for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.  Besides decades of public service as counsel and investment banker, Saldaña has served on the boards of the Chicago Public Schools, the Illinois Tollway Authority, and several non-profit organizations, including MALDEF and The Resurrection Project.

“I am honored to have MALDEF recognize me with the Excellence in Community Service Award,” said Saldaña. “ I first heard of MALDEF when I was a law student at UC Berkeley and have followed their work ever since; as a former migrant farm worker I know how important their work has been in defending and fighting for the rights of farmworkers. I served on MALDEF’s board for a number of years and grew even more familiar with their work; MALDEF was and remains the leading legal civil rights organization for Latinos.”

Finally, Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin, Northwestern University Vice President for Student Affairs was honored posthumously with the Excellence in Community Service Award for her long career working for students, especially low-income and marginalized students, in higher education.  More than once in her decades-long career, Telles-Irvin was the first Latina to hold a position, and she was nationally recognized as an expert in student affairs.  Dr. Telles-Irvin passed away on June 3, and the award was accepted by her colleague, Dr. Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson.

“Congratulations MALDEF on your 50th anniversary,” said Brown-Henderson. “Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin was a giant in the field of higher education. Her passion and advocacy for students fueled the change she led on college campuses throughout her career as Vice President for Student Affairs. Her legacy of fighting for justice and equity of experience for marginalized students will always be remembered.”

Dr. Tellez had planned to dedicate the award to her family, and in particular her father, who “taught me about the importance of an education and giving back to my community,” she wrote shortly before her passing. “Please continue to pursue our shared dream of equal rights and opportunity for our community.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz also made remarks reflecting on MALDEF’s 50th anniversary.

 “Today, MALDEF faces challenges as serious as any in our history, including efforts to dis-count or undercount millions of Latino community members in Census 2020,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “In confronting what can fairly be characterized as an attempt at statistical genocide, our history tells us that we can prevail through concerted work in collaboration with Latino and non-Latino allies, such as those who joined us at the Chicago gala.”

MALDEF recognizes the significant contributions of these outstanding leaders and their dedication to advancing the Latino community.

This year’s event drew notable government and community leaders from Chicago and around the nation to celebrate the contributions made by the honorees to advance Latino causes across the U.S., as well as MALDEF’s half-century of work to promote the civil rights of all Latinos in this country.