The Chicana Rights Project was established by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1974 to address the legal rights of poor Mexican-American women. The project focused on discrimination in employment and health but also addressed education, housing, and credit. MALDEF was founded in 1968, and in 1974, shortly after Vilma Martínez of San Antonio became its first woman director, the Chicana Rights Project was initiated. The Ford Foundation provided funds for the project for San Francisco and San Antonio. In 1978 national director Patricia M. Vasquez coordinated the project out of the San Antonio office, and Carmen A. Estrada operated the San Francisco office. In 1980 the project was headed by Estrada in San Francisco, and Norma Solis, staff attorney, and Elsa Giron Nava, a full-time paralegal, operated in San Antonio.
The project consisted of three units-litigation, research, and community education. In 1975 it began monitoring the impact of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program on Mexican women in San Antonio. In 1976 the project filed the administrative complaint Hernández, et. al v. Cockrell, et. al. against the city of San Antonio. After the complaint was filed, the number of women and minority members in the San Antonio CETA programs rose from 20 to 50 percent. This case was unique at the time because it was one of a few in the nation filed under CETA on behalf of women that ended in an agreement. Consequently, CETA programs were restructured to designate women as a priority group.
The project also filed a class-action suit against the Texas Employment Commission seeking unemployment compensation benefits for pregnant women. It filed lawsuits in California and Texas to challenge sterilization abuses and cutbacks in health services. The project obtained compliance reviews and audits of the five largest banks in the San Antonio area under an executive order to assure equal employment opportunities for women.
The project initiated an informational pamphlet series in 1975. Some of the pamphlets were Profile of the Chicana, A Statistical Fact Sheet (1975, 1978), which included census data; Chicanas: Women's Health Issues (1978), which addressed abortion and sterilization abuse; CETA: An Economic Tool for Women (1979); and Chicanas and Mental Health (1979), which dealt with cultural sensitivity in mental health practices. Hispanic Women: Immigration Issues (1979) addressed the preference system, deportation hearings, voluntary departures, and immigrant rights; Hispanic/Women's Employment Rights (1980) focused on employment issues. The 1980 Census: Impact on Hispanics and Women and Texas Women's Legal Rights Handbook, a guide to federal and state laws, were both produced in English and Spanish in 1980.
Project members participated in panels, legal workshops, and community outreach at the local, regional, and national levels. The project served as a resource and liaison for Hispanic women's organizations in the United States. It also provided written and oral testimony to state and federal agencies.
The project depended on foundation grants. It received funds from the Ford, Rockefeller Family, Revlon, and Playboy foundations. Around 1982 the project staff noted that it was underfunded; by March 14, 1983, its director had resigned. When the project lost its funding, MALDEF discontinued it.