June 21, 2018

Chicago, IL - Civil rights, government and community leaders from the Chicago area and the nation joined MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) last night at its 2018 awards gala to honor the achievements of three exemplary leaders.

MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, recognized the contributions and sacrifices made by the honorees to advance Latino causes across the United states at the event held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

“Our honorees exemplify the skill, intellect, creativity, and courage that exist in abundance within the Latino community,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Our community is prepared, in these difficult times, to lead our nation to a better future, with a more humane and enlightened approach to the rights of all persons, whether citizen or not.”

Attendees also heard remarks from MALDEF’s newly appointed Midwest regional counsel, Griselda Vega Samuel. She and her Chicago-based staff are responsible for MALDEF’s work in 11 Midwest states.

This year’s gala paid tribute to the work and achievements of four pioneers in their respective fields:

Luis Ricardo Fraga, professor of political science and director of the Institute for Latino Studies University of Notre Dame, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement, Excellence in Community Service award for his countless contributions as an extraordinary scholar. For more than 30 years, Dr. Fraga has studied and written about voting rights, immigration, education and much more. His lifetime of scholarship includes authoring five books and more than 40 articles. As part of his current role at Notre Dame, he established the Latino Studies Scholars program, the only merit-based, academic scholarship program in the country for high school students who have worked to empower and serve the Latino community.

Hon. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, Illinois State Representative of the 24th District, was recognized with the Excellence in Government Service Award for her tireless effort to improve the lives of Latino and low-income residents in her state. Her support for a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary driver’s licenses was instrumental in gaining passage of the measure. She has also worked to safeguard immigrant families, especially the 42,000 Dreamers who reside in her state.

Jesse Iñiguez and Mayra Hernandez, co-founders of Back of the Yards Coffee Company, were honored with the Excellence in Community Service Award. They were recognized for their commitment to operating a business that is dedicated to serving and revitalizing their community. They have established an award-winning coffee company that employs local students, provides scholarships, while working to reduce its carbon footprint. Their dedication to helping communities extends to Mexico, where they have partnered with coffee growers to help them produce a higher yield of crops and retain more of their revenue.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund