December 5, 2003

MALDEF Board Announces the Departure of Longtime President Antonia Hernandez

The MALDEF board of directors has accepted the resignation of President and General Counsel Antonia Hernández, who for 23 years has ably served the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, the past 18 as its leader. MALDEF Chair Joseph A. Stern announced that the search is on for her successor, as Hernández will join the California Community Foundation as its President and CEO in February 2004.

“MALDEF will sorely miss Antonia Hernández, her leadership and her passion,” said Stern. “Her collaborative style and incredible network of relationships have propelled MALDEF into a leader on civil rights public policy issues.”

“She leaves the organization in the strong and capable hands of talented staff who will move forward MALDEF’s agenda of promoting Latinos to the mainstream of American life, and protecting their civil rights. We are institutionally strong with a wonderful team who serves as the backbone of the organization and all that MALDEF represents.” 

Said Hernández: “My life’s work has been dedicated to making sure everyone has a place at the table, and I am proud of the progress we have made through MALDEF. Only a rare opportunity like this one that allows me to forge new paths and serve the Los Angeles community in new ways could draw me away.” 

Said Henry Cisneros, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: “Few members of our society have contributed what Antonia has contributed to the Latino community. The progress that the Latino community has made over the last 20-years has depended on a legal and civic foundation. And more than any other person Antonia Hernandez has been responsible for creating the conditions that are leading to the progress that Latinos are making today. Her courageous and farsighted leadership has paved the way for Latinos to take their place in American society.”

Justice Cruz Reynoso, the first Latino to serve on the California Supreme Court, said: “Antonia has fortified the country in something that is much greater than any one of us. She has been a voice of justice and freedom for American society as a whole, not just for Latinos. Antonia has done that brilliantly for over two decades. She now moves on to a position where she will be able to continue her lifelong mission of change in our American society.”

Among Hernandez’s numerous accomplishments includes her work on the Edgewood case in 1995. The court held that the Texas legislature has the authority to require wealthier districts to share their wealth with poor districts and create a educational system that provides a fair opportunity to all Texan children. Hernandez also led MALDEF in defeating Proposition 187 in the California courts on the basis that the initiative usurps the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration. Under her leadership MALDEF led nationwide census outreach campaigns and oversaw the redistricting process, that for the first time gave Latinos a strong political voice throughout the country.

Hernandez was also responsible for guiding the organization to long-term financial stability. She was pivotal in acquiring and securing the MALDEF Non-Profit Center building in downtown Los Angeles and in overseeing the national expansion of the organization. 

MALDEF was founded in 1968 in San Antonio, Texas, by the late lawyer and activist Pete Tijerina with a five-year, $2.2 million grant from the Ford Foundation. Today, MALDEF has a $6.5 million annual budget, is based in Los Angeles and has additional offices in San Antonio, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.  Its staff of 75 employees includes 22 attorneys, 10 legislative and policy analysts and outreach staff in its Community Education and Leadership Development department, including the Parent School Partnership program.

The MALDEF board of directors has begun the process to find a successor to Hernández.

“There is only one Antonia Hernández, so she is irreplaceable,” said Stern. “We can only hope we can find someone with the same combination of inspiration, vision, and the charisma to make change happen.”

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