November 11, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - - MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) hosted its annual 2016 awards gala on Thursday. The premier Latino awards program brings together a diverse group of individuals, leading corporations and law firms that are dedicated and committed to civil rights. The gala highlights the accomplishments of these groups and individuals in advancing the rights of all Latinos living in the United States.

"Now more than ever, MALDEF depends on a broad coalition of supporters to sustain its work on behalf of the Latino community," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. "The presidential election results will demand greater vigilance and additional advocacy in the months and years to come; we are grateful for this opportunity to celebrate our honorees and to renew our coalitional commitment to advancing civil rights."

This year’s gala paid tribute to the work and achievements of three individuals who have been pioneers in their respective fields:

Rita Moreno, legendary award-winning actress, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in the Arts. Ms. Moreno is one of only a dozen performers who have won all four major annual entertainment awards, including the Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony.

Don T. Nakanishi, Ph.D., Director Emeritus of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Professor Emeritus of Asian American Studies and Education at UCLA, was posthumously awarded the Excellence in Community Service Award. Dr. Nakanishi played a founding and critical role in expanding Asian American and ethnic studies across this country, and was a leader in recruiting Latinos and other people of color to higher education.

Sonia Marie De Leon De Vega, the conductor and director of the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, was awarded the Excellence in Community Service Award. She has been an activist and sponsor of teaching classical music and instruments to low-income and minority schools and children in Los Angeles, California.

MALDEF’s annual Gala is attended by notable leaders from Los Angeles and across the nation, and honors recipients promoting and progressing Latino causes in the communities of California and throughout the United States.

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