SAN ANTONIO, TX – MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) celebrated the careers and achievements of three extraordinary Latino leaders on Friday night in San Antonio at its annual awards gala.

Among the honorees was Jose Garza, litigation director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and voting rights counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award – Excellence in the Legal Profession.  Garza has fought for Latino voters’ rights in state redistricting cases and testified before Congress on the re-enactment of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. He also argued before the United States Supreme Court in Perez v. Perry in 2012.  Previously, Garza served as voting rights program director for MALDEF.

“When I was in high school, I saw a news report about MALDEF’s representation of Mexican American school children from south Texas fighting for integrated schools,” said Garza. That was in 1969, and I have followed with admiration and pride the remarkable work of MALDEF ever since.” “To receive this award and recognition from the most accomplished and most important legal advocacy organization for Latino civil rights is an honor and the crowning moment of my legal career.”

MALDEF bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award – Excellence in Community Service on Dr. Diana Natalicio, President Emerita of The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for her long and distinguished career in higher education. Named president in 1988, Dr. Natalicio committed to bringing access to education to the residents of the Paso del Norte region and helped draw national acclaim to the school.  During her tenure, UTEP enrollment increased by 10,000 with 80 percent of the students being Mexican-Americans; 90 percent local residents. Additionally, UTEP’s research budget increased by about $89 million annually, and the number of doctoral programs grew from one to 22. In 2017, Dr. Natalicio was named one of Fortune magazine’s Top 50 World Leaders.

“I am deeply grateful to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for recognizing me with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Community Service,” Dr. Natalicio said. “You honor all of us at UTEP who have worked so hard over the past three decades to create authentic opportunities for historically underrepresented Latino students to achieve their full potential.”

Finally, noted Latino arts scholar, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, Ph.D. was given the Lifetime Achievement Award – Leadership in the Arts.  Dr. Ybarra-Frausto, an independent scholar of Latino/Latina culture, is also former Associate Director of Culture and Creativity at the Rockefeller Foundation. A former tenured professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University, Dr. Ybarra-Frausto has served as the chair of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and the Smithsonian Council.  In 2007, the Mexican government bestowed “The Order of the Aztec Eagle” medal on Dr. Ybarra-Frausto, citing his work in fostering cultural understanding between the United States and Mexico.

“The MALDEF award is significant to me at a time when our civil rights are being eroded and our cultural heritage is being maligned,” said Ybarra-Frausto. “MALDEF projects are urgent and consequential in our continual struggles for educational parity, economic prosperity, cultural equity and social justice.”

Pamela Silva Conde, co-anchor of Univision’s Primer Impacto, served as master of ceremonies, and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg addressed the crowd at the event held at The Westin Riverwalk.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz provided remarks.

“The work of MALDEF, of our esteemed honorees, and of all of our allies is so critically important in an era when racist, anti-Latino rhetoric streams regularly from the White House,” said Saenz.  “Our community’s tenacity and resilience will win out against this extremely disturbing Latino-phobic campaign.”

Each year, MALDEF recognizes the significant contributions of outstanding leaders and their dedication to the Latino community. This year’s event drew notable government and community leaders from San Antonio 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 over half-century of work to promote the civil rights of all Latinos in this country.