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Local civil rights leader wins 2013 MLK Servant Leadership Award

Antonio Bustamante
November 26, 2012

Antonio Bustamante has been selected to receive the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Servant Leadership Award.

Growing up in Douglas, Ariz., Bustamante knew from an early age that his passion lies in civil rights and advocacy. Inspired by his mother’s desire to stand up for what she believed in, Bustamante learned to fight for social justice, human rights and against discrimination.

The ideals were only further engrained while watching the civil rights movement unfold on television, as leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. sought to bring peaceful change to members of the minority.

In the summer of 1973, Bustamente took up the plight of the United Farmers Workers Movement (UFW). He was thrust into Cesar Chavez’s inner circle, and began learning from the man he grew to deeply admire.

“What do Latinos have in this world that is truly ours, that we can cling to and that was recognized as great? It was Cesar. Cesar was ours,” he said.

“The biggest lesson I learned from him was that human beings can do anything. He would tell us that you never lose as long as you’re fighting. It didn’t matter that you won contracts, because the real lesson was that you will always win when fighting for your dignity and self-respect.”

After his time with the UFW, Bustamante went on to bring justice to undocumented farm workers who were beaten and tortured by members of the Hanigan family. The court case made national headlines for the brutality of the incident. Bustamante organized the National Coalition on the Hanigan Case to push the case to a federal level. After six years of courtroom battles, Patrick Hanigan was convicted and sentence to prison.

“The Hanigan case started as something small and snowballed into a movement. None of us expected to get them prosecuted – that was impossible. The law was against us and the political will was against us. But we kept hearing Cesar’s voice saying “nothing is impossible,” said Bustamante.

Now an attorney in Phoenix, he has spent his law career advocating for the human and civil rights of those in the Chicano/Latino community and immigrants.

“Working on civil rights issues has been the greatest thing in my life outside of my family and loved ones because it allowed me to fulfill my life’s dream,” Bustamante said.