MALDEF in History

Celebrating a History of Women Leaders at MALDEF​​

Ambassador Vilma Martinez (left) Thomas A. Saenz (center) and Antonia Hernández (right).
(Photo taken at MALDEF’s 50th Anniversary Gala in San Antonio, Texas.)

As we near the conclusion of Women’s History Month, MALDEF celebrates its organizational history of women in leadership. For the majority of its existence since 1968, MALDEF has been led by women as president and general counsel. Women’s rights organizations aside, MALDEF may be the only national civil rights organization that can make that claim. We spoke with two of these women leaders, women relied upon by MALDEF through their many years of leadership and all the way up to today. MALDEF’s current president and general counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, has benefitted from both these leaders as professional mentors throughout his legal career.

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MALDEF’S Landmark Fight for Education Equality in Texas

For years, low-income students in San Antonio were relegated to decrepit schools infested with bats—yes, bats—where tiles fell from classroom ceilings and underpaid teachers fled as soon as they could get hired elsewhere. These schools lacked funding for classes wealthier districts took for granted such, as art and music. Basics such as math and reading in these schools were just that – extremely basic.

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Proposition 187: The Granddaddy of Anti-Immigrant Measures

State laws attempting to regulate immigration became all the rage in several states across the last decade, but the grandfather of them all was California’s Proposition 187. Voters passed the measure in 1994 after a campaign that bitterly divided residents and was championed by then-Governor Pete Wilson and the state Republican Party.

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White v. Regester: MALDEF Case Helped Kill Off Mega-Voter Districts that Suppressed the Mexican American Vote

Texas is a big state, and it once used big electoral districts, with multiple elected members, as a big way to suppress the Latino vote. After the Civil War, Texas used a big bag of voter suppression laws, such as poll taxes and strict voter registration requirements, to suppress Latino voters and shut Mexican Americans out of the Texas House of Representatives. Between 1880 and 1970, one Mexican American was elected in 1890 and four others were elected between 1961 and 1970.

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Plyler v. Doe

Every child deserves a fair chance to learn and thrive. That might seem an obvious statement today, but it took years of legal battles fought by MALDEF to ensure that “every” child did not exclude any child – particularly, immigrant children.

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Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund