SAN ANTONIO –  MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) honored three esteemed Latino leaders in San Antonio on Friday for their long service to civil rights and the Latino community.

“It is always a great treat to return to the city where MALDEF was founded and to recognize the extraordinary work being done in this region to promote the civil rights of all ,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz. “With Latinos in Texas recently having surpassed white Texans to become the largest population in the state, this is a particularly appropriate time to focus on the work still needed to secure the equity and respect for rights that all Texas residents desire and deserve.”

Marisa Bono, CEO of Every Texan, received the Excellence in Legal Service Award. Bono, the former Southwest Regional Counsel for MALDEF, is a lifelong advocate for social justice. While at MALDEF, Bono litigated and directed litigation in the areas of education, immigration, voting rights, political access and employment in the Southwest region. The San Antonio native also served as Chief Strategic Officer of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, where she successfully led an initiative to expand service for working families and low wage workers. She joined Austin-based Every Texan in 2021. The non-profit organization researches, analyzes, and advocates for public policies to expand access to health care, food security, education, and jobs. Bono is the first woman of color serve as the organization’s CEO.

“I am so humbled by this special recognition from the staff and board of MALDEF,” said Bono.  “My work was not possible without the fearless clients and the incredible attorneys and staff I worked with and learned from during my legal career, so I am grateful to share this award with them. At Every Texan we look forward to continuing the fight alongside MALDEF to create access to more equitable opportunities for all Texans, regardless of their background or where they are from.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award – Leadership in the Arts Award was given to legendary musician Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez in honor his many years of dedication to the traditional sounds of Tejano music. Jiménez is a San Antonio native and hails from a pioneering family of conjunto. His father, Santiago, was among the first conjunto accordionists to record in the mid-1930s. In his 60-year career, Jiménez has introduced Tex-Mex conjunto music to an ever expanding audience of rock, country and pop music fans. He has collaborated with artists such as Ry Cooder, Carlos Santana, and the Rolling Stones in his effort to spread his joyous style of accordion playing beyond the bounds of South Texas.

“I’m thrilled to be with such wonderful people,” said Jiménez. “This means so much to me, to be here with so many friends.”

Diane Torres-Velásquez, Associate Professor, University of New Mexico College of Education and Human Sciences and President of Latino Education Task Force, was given the Lifetime Achievement –  Excellence in Community Service Award.  Torres-Velásquez worked with MALDEF on a long-running educational equity case in New Mexico called Martinez v. State of New Mexico which brought about systemic changes to the state’s education system. In her work, Torres-Velásquez has run poetry workshops for inmates serving time for crimes of passion and has served as the Hispanic Education Liaison for the state of New Mexico. She wrote the first report on the Status of Hispanic Education in that state, as required by the Hispanic Education Act.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive this award from MALDEF, an organization that I have admired throughout my education and work career,” said Torres-Velásquez. “This award adds to the credibility of the work done together with many communities, especially with the Martinez and Yazzie lawsuits.  I wish to acknowledge all of the MALDEF team for their wisdom and expertise in historically significant landmark cases over many decades, and wish especially to acknowledge the dedicated community members, students, and families who worked by my side as we climbed a steep mountain to create a level playing field for students of all ages in New Mexico.”

MALDEF recognizes the significant contributions of these outstanding leaders and their dedication to advancing civil rights for all. The event drew notable government and community leaders from Texas and around the nation.