LOS ANGELES –  MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) honored three Latino leaders in Los Angeles last week for their long service to civil rights and the Latino community.

“In the immediate aftermath of another midterm election whose presumed narrative was changed by Latino voters, we recognize the ongoing challenges we face in achieving fair representation when so many fear the growth of our community,” said Thomas A. Saenz.  “What a great opportunity to recognize the strong allies, including our three incredible honorees, we have as we move forward in our challenging civil rights mission.”

Artist and writer Lalo Alcaraz received the Excellence in the Arts Award for his work celebrating the culture and growth of U.S. Latinos. Earlier this year, Alcaraz and his daily syndicated comic strip, La Cucuracha, were awarded the Herblock Prize as an example of editorial cartooning that is “courageous” and “independent.” Alcaraz’s body of work includes writing and producing television shows that highlight Latino culture and community including on the animated Fox show “Bordertown”. He also served as a cultural consultant to Disney and Pixar’s ground-breaking “Coco”, a full-length animated film that centers on family and the traditional celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

“To be recognized for my work in promoting civil rights through the arts by one of my hero organizations, MALDEF is truly an honor,” said Alcaraz. “I have been lucky enough to have collaborated with MALDEF on several important projects and have been inspired by their work protecting the civil rights of Latinos.”

Mónica García, District 2 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board member, was honored with the Excellence in Community Service Award for her many years of advocating on behalf of Latino and all students. García served as LAUSD Board President from 2007-2013. During her tenure, García fought to address discriminatory school discipline policies that often resulted in police involvement for minor incidents and which disproportionately penalized Latino and Black students. Additionally, García worked to increase equitable distribution of funds to Los Angeles schools and increase outcomes for students, including pushing for a 100 percent graduation rate for LAUSD students. García also led the campaign for Measure Q, which invested $7 billion towards repairing and upgrading schools, and building new facilities. The funds also brought health and human services and a $50 million Wellness Center Initiative to school campuses.

“I am deeply honored to celebrate the rich work of MALDEF and to receive recognition for being a member of the movement for educational justice in Los Angeles,” Mónica García said. “Together we have increased graduation rates, ended forced busing, year round calendars and affirmed the demand for greater access, equity and justice for our communities. Mil Gracias MALDEF for your transformational leadership and relentless love in action. Adelante!”

MALDEF also recognized Odilia Romero, with an Excellence in Community Service Award. Romero is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo – Cielo, an indigenous women-led, organization that works to combat racism against indigenous migrant communities. Romero, an interpreter of Zapotec, Spanish, and English for indigenous communities in Los Angeles and throughout California, has more than a decade of experience organizing indigenous migrant communities. Her work has been recognized in major publications across the U.S. including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Vogue magazine. Romero, has lectured and written extensively about organizing indigenous migrant communities and preserving their culture.

“It is a great honor to receive this recognition,” said Romero. “I hope this is a step towards building a long-lasting relationship with MALDEF, an organization dedicated to protecting our communities’ civil rights. These alliances between organizations fighting for human rights are very important to put a stop to the violence we face on a daily basis.”

The event was emceed by attorney and NBC Latino contributor, Raul Reyes.

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