Press Releases

Honoring The Public Service of Antonia Hernández

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Washington, March 31, 2004 | comments

Ms. Roybal-Allard. Mr. Speaker,

Today, my colleagues Mr. Anibal-Acevedo-Vila, Mr. Joe Baca, Mr. Xavier Becerra, Mr. Dennis Cardoza, Mr. Charlie Gonzalez, Mr. Raul Grijalva, Mr. Luis Gutierrez, Mr. Ruben Hinojosa, Mr. Robert Menendez, Ms. Grace Napolitano, Mr. Solomon Ortiz, Mr. Ed Pastor, Mr. Silvestre Reyes, Mr. Ciro Rodriguez, Ms. Linda Sanchez, Ms. Loretta Sanchez, Mr. Jose Serrano, Ms. Hilda Solis, Mr. Nydia Velazquez and I join together to honor the career of Antonia Hernández as President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a nationally recognized non-profit organization. Through the legal system, community education, research and advocacy MALDEF is dedicated to protecting the civil rights of the nation's 40 million Latinos. We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ms. Hernández on her 23 years of distinguished service at MALDEF and to thank her for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the Latino community in this country.

In so many ways, Antonia Hernández is a role model for all Americans. Born in Mexico, she and her family moved to the United States when she was only eight years old. They settled in the Maravilla area of East Los Angeles where her father supported his wife and six children as a gardener and laborer. As the eldest child, Antonia Hernández learned English quickly and excelled in school. She would later go on to attend UCLA where she received her bachelor's degree, teaching certificate and, in 1974, her law degree.

Soon after passing the California State Bar exam, Antonia Hernández became a U.S. citizen. She later told a Los Angeles Times reporter that her patriotism to this country helped to inspire her interest in public service. "I love (this country) more than most because I don't take the rights and privileges of an American citizen for granted. I remembered there was a knot in my throat when I took the oath (of citizenship)," The Los Angeles Times reported in 1985.

An expert in civil rights and immigration issues, she began her legal career as a Staff Attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice and worked as counsel to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary under the leadership of Senator Edward Kennedy. In 1981, Ms. Hernández joined MALDEF as Regional Counsel in Washington, DC. Ms. Hernández was elected to MALDEF's presidency in 1985 where she was responsible for directing all litigation and advocacy programs, managing a $6.2 million annual budget, and supervising a 75 person staff.

Ms. Hernández's management expertise guided the organization to long term financial stability. In 1991, she created a permanent endowment for MALDEF by raising funds for the national headquarters building in Los Angeles. She has been pivotal in overseeing the national expansion of the organization, which today has offices in Chicago, Houston, Sacramento, Washington D.C., San Antonio, and Atlanta. Most recently, Ms. Hernández directed the opening of the Atlanta office in 2002, to serve the burgeoning Latino population in the Southeast.

A tireless champion for educational equity, Ms. Hernández has numerous accomplishments in this area. She led MALDEF's legal challenge to the state of Texas in Edgewood Ind. Sch. Dist. v. Kirby to counter the economic and racial disparities used in financing Texas public schools. This legal battle, which began in 1984, ended successfully in 1995 when the Texas Supreme Court held that the Texas legislature had the authority to require wealthier school districts to share their funding with poorer districts, in turn creating an educational system that provides greater opportunities for all Texas children.

In California, MALDEF successfully challenged a similar school financing system in Godinez v. Davis. The state had a system that short-changed urban schools while providing more money to suburban areas. This case resulted in the award of hundreds of millions of dollars for urban area schools, many with a significant number of Latino students.

Antonia Hernández fought for the rights of limited-English proficient students by mounting a case against the Denver School District in 1984 for their lack of programs to educate non-English speakers. As a result of their legal victories, MALDEF won the creation of noted bilingual and multicultural programs for the Latino students of Denver.

Antonia Hernández also won key victories for Latino students by expanding their access to higher education. In 1993, MALDEF was victorious in LULAC v. Richards, where the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the lack of higher education programs in the predominantly Latino area of South Texas violated the state constitution.

Under Ms. Hernández's leadership, MALDEF helped to secure the right for undocumented students in California to attend state universities. In 2001, MALDEF developed a successful grassroots campaign in support of legislation that allows undocumented students in California to enroll at any publicly financed California university for the same cost as other state residents. To further this effort nationwide, in 2003, she established the Ellen and Federico Jimenez Scholarship Fund for undocumented students who are ineligible for state or federal financial school assistance. This scholarship makes the critical difference in the lives of students who would otherwise be unable to afford the cost of a higher education

As a mother of three children, Antonia Hernández also realizes the tremendous influence parents have in lives of their children. That's why, under her leadership, MALDEF graduated thousands of parent leaders from its Parent School Partnership (PSP) program, which instructs parents on how to become involved in their children's education.

In the area of employment, Antonia Hernández has provided opportunities for Latinos by mounting legal battles for fair hiring practices. Her work on the landmark legal case of Ballasteros v. Lucky forced the food service industries to allow Latinos to work in every major grocery chain in California. The victory resulted in the hiring of Latinos in several hundred retail stores.

Antonia Hernández has been a tenacious defender of immigration reform. Working with Congress and state governments, she has been a devoted advocate on behalf of fair and just immigration reform. Most notably, in 1985, MALDEF successfully halted the implementation of California's Proposition 187, which would have barred immigrants from receiving public education, medical services, and other public benefits.

Underlying all of MALDEF's efforts is a steadfast commitment to political empowerment in the Latino community. With this in mind, under Antonia Hernandez's leadership, MALDEF has vigorously defended the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1982, she helped to create a new section of the Act that explicitly outlaws discriminatory election practices. She also championed a bilingual provision to protect limited-English proficient voters. In order to ensure a strong political voice for Latinos throughout the country, MALDEF led nationwide census outreach campaigns in 1990 and 2000. Over the years, MALDEF has won many Latino-majority voting districts, one of which resulted in the first Latino seat in 100 years in Los Angeles County (1990 Garza v. County of L.A.) and another which created the state of Illinois' first Latino Congressional district as a remedy for past discrimination in the Chicago area (1995 King v. Illinois State Board of Elections).

Antonia Hernández has worked to ensure that Latinos receive their fair share of public services, including access to medical insurance, language translation for public services, and fair and equitable treatment in land-use decisions. Just one example is the 2001 case in which MALDEF won a case against the City of Poth, a South Texas town that finally agreed to pave the streets in its Latino neighborhoods.

Mr. Speaker, Ms. Hernández is a visionary. Through her work at MALDEF, her service to the Latino community has truly improved lives and helped to carry out the organization's unwavering mission to remove obstacles that prevent the Latino community from realizing its dreams. We thank her for her many years of public service and we are grateful that she will continue her work in the community as she moves on to serve as President and CEO of the California Community Foundation. Her courage, compassion, and, above all, her dedication to helping others have made a difference at MALDEF and in the Latino community. We trust that this is indeed not an end to her work in public service, but a new beginning to even greater victories ahead.

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