New Director Is Named for Latino Legal Defense Fund
'There is a lot of work to be done; it's a wonderful challenge,' says Ann Marie Tallman, who starts June 1.
By Christiana Sciaudone
Times Staff Writer
A Mexican American businesswoman with a history of Latino rights activism has been chosen to head the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, officials announced Monday.
Ann Marie Tallman, 40, will become president and general counsel of the national advocacy nonprofit organization on June 1. She is the senior vice president of mortgage lender Fannie Mae and has been on the MALDEF board for six years.
"I am very humbled by this opportunity to serve MALDEF," Tallman said in an interview Monday. "There is a lot of work to be done; it's a wonderful challenge."
MALDEF has led the fight for civil rights, educational equality and political involvement for Latinos since it was founded in 1968. The group serves the 40 million Latinos living in the United States, reaching out in grass-roots campaigns and lobbying in Washington.
The organization was involved in a landmark lawsuit that lead to a finding that Texas' funding system for schools was unconstitutional. MALDEF also launched a battle against Proposition 187, the California initiative that sought to deny immigrants public services. The organization has trained Latinos to serve on policy-making civic boards and commissions and is pushing to guarantee that all Latinos are counted in the U.S. census.
Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, the group also has offices nationwide. There are 22 staff attorneys, along with policy analysts and outreach staff.
Tallman replaces Antonia Hernandez, who headed the legal fund for 18 years and left in February to head the California Community Foundation. Tallman was chosen by MALDEF's board of directors from a pool of 80 candidates after a nearly five-month search.
"Having worked closely with Ann Marie since 1989, I have complete confidence in her abilities to lead MALDEF," Hernandez said. "She is an innovative visionary whose track record proves that she will be able to take MALDEF into the future. I am delighted she was willing to take the position; the future is looking bright for MALDEF."
"Ann Marie has proven her commitment to MALDEF's mission as a dedicated member of the board," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a co-chair on the search committee. "We feel very fortunate to have enlisted this very talented woman" to lead America's most influential Latino civil rights organization.
Tallman said her activism stemmed from her parents. She grew up in Iowa, where she walked picket lines with her factory worker father, who is of German descent. Her mother, whose parents were Mexican migrant workers, helped elect the first Latina delegate at an Iowa caucus roughly 30 years ago.
"I knew based on that experience with my father, it was important to always have a voice," Tallman said. "My sense of commitment and my sense of service comes from my parents."
Tallman first became involved with MALDEF in 1987 as a law student at UC Berkeley. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.
Throughout her career, she has promoted Latino causes. She launched the Hispanic Heritage Award Foundation's Youth Awards, which in six years awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to hundreds of students across the nation. Tallman was also a founding board member of Hispanic PAC USA, a federal political action committee.
Some expressed concern Monday that Tallman lacked enough nonprofit experience. But officials of the ACLU, which works often with MALDEF, were optimistic at the appointment.
"I think that Ann Marie Tallman's credentials are very impressive," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU.
Ripston said Hernandez had done a tremendous job as president, raising money and garnering national attention for Latino rights. "It's encouraging to know that the strength and leadership of Antonia Hernandez will be continued," Ripston said.
Franklin D. Raines, chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae, called Tallman a remarkable leader and said he was sad to see her leave.
"With all of her success at Fannie Mae, some of Ann Marie's biggest accomplishments stem from her commitment to the community — particularly her work to enrich the lives of young Latinos and Latino immigrants," Raines said. "She understands how taking a small interest in a person greatly enhances their chances of success."
Fannie Mae, a Fortune 500 company, is the biggest buyer of U.S. mortgages. Its net income last year was $7.9 billion.
Tallman received a bachelor's degree in psychology and political science from the University of Iowa and her law degree from Berkeley. Tallman's sister is an attorney for MALDEF in Atlanta.
"I always wanted to be a MALDEF attorney," Ann Marie Tallman said. "This is a dream come true."