Antonia Hernandez, the 1999 Hispanic Heritage Award Honoree for Leadership, has been leading the legal fight to improve the lives of minorities for many years. Described as, “sweetness and fire,” Ms. Hernandez continues to work diligently to help those in need.
Born in El Cambio, Mexico, Ms. Hernandez experienced racism early on in her life. Her father was born in Texas, but sent back to Mexico during the great depression. Her father decided to seek a better life for his children and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1956. Ms. Hernandez was enrolled in the local school district and excelled in academics. Upon graduation, she enrolled in the local community college and then transferred to UCLA, where she was awarded her undergraduate degree in 1970. She then received her teaching certificate in 1971 and her law degree in 1974.
Ms. Hernandez has worked for the California Rural Legal Assistance Office, the Los Angeles Center for Law & Justice, and the Legal Aid Foundation. In 1979, she became the first Hispanic woman to serve on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1981, Ms. Hernandez began her work with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). In 1985 she was elected to serve as the fund’s President and General Counsel. Under her leadership, MALDEF has continued to fight for the rights of Hispanics everywhere.
In addition to her role in MALDEF, Ms. Hernandez has also won numerous honors and awards including the ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award and the League of Women Voters Leadership Award. She is also active in many non-profit foundations and serves on her children’s school board.