To be a Latino in the United States is to be forever imagined as the newcomer.
Latinos are always linked to the latest wave of Spanish-speaking immigrants, even though the majority of people who can be described as such — be they of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South American or Central American descent — are U.S. citizens.
There have always been Americans who benefit by portraying Latinos as outsiders, an invading force that will damage and endanger the country. We just elected one such person president.
Donald Trump plied that myth about Latinos throughout his campaign in a number of rude attacks against individuals, such as the Mexican-American judge who was hearing a case against the failed Trump University. Trump also made blanket statements about Mexican immigrants as drug-dealers and violent criminals.
And he’s still preaching the ludicrous idea that a wall will be built across the entire southern border, paid for by Mexico.
Unfortunately, too many people lap up this sort of nonsense. It’s still too difficult for many to understand that it is possible to pledge allegiance to the United States and also have an identity connected with the land of one’s ancestors.
So the news that the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization for Latinos has changed its name from National Council of La Raza to UnidosUS shouldn’t shock.
The National Council of La Raza has long been demonized for its name alone. “La raza” can be translated literally to “the race.” But its usage in Spanish is far different, a reference to the collective body, the people. It’s a flashback to the group’s founding nearly 50 years ago, and the Chicano movements of the 1970s. The term “la raza” also denotes the truth that Latinos aren’t a race but an ethnicity that includes all races.
It’s a term of inclusion, not separation. But that’s a fact that has long been lost on critics who have crudely called the group racist and anti-white. The notion is so off-base it’s ridiculous.
Most Latinos in the U.S. are racially white, mixed with indigenous roots. To accuse them of being anti-white is to suggest self-hatred.
Among the most conspiratorial accusations the organization faced was the idea that NCLR was pressing for a reclaiming of Southwestern states for Mexico. While it is true that huge swaths of the United States were once Mexico’s land, no sane person believes that the property should or will be relinquished.
Another source of never-ending grief for NCLR and other groups pressing for congressional immigration reform was the false claim that this was akin to calling for an open border.
This sort of cultural and factual confusion was part of the decision by NCLR to rebrand as UnidosUS. The D.C.-based organization announced its new name at the conclusion of its recent convention in Phoenix. The convention’s theme is worth noting too: Nuestro Movimiento/Our American Journey.
“UnidosUS” translates to “united US.” The emphasis is on the wide range of diversity among Latinos today belonging in North America, a group that is “us” in the United States.
Frankly, this change might not have much of an impact. Ardent critics aren’t working with facts anyway.
And UnidosUS leadership knows that what the group accomplishes is far more important than how it is referenced.
Kansas City, Kan.-raised President and CEO Janet Murguía is a savvy professional with deep roots in Washington political circles.
She recognizes that the organization’s work is more important now than ever.
Through its 260 affiliate organizations, UnidosUS works in a wide range of areas. There is programing to raise Latinos’ high school and college graduation rates, home ownership, business development, civic involvement and engagement with political leadership.
This is not subversive work but rather an emphasis that strengthens the nation as a whole.
Rebranding a national organization is a huge undertaking. It’s expensive and involves buy-in from many different people. The decision was not made lightly.
For more than a decade, Latinos have been the nation’s largest minority group numerically. Based on demographics alone, they are crucial to the future of the United States.
Like it or not, Latinos long have been and will always be a part of the American fabric. And one thing is not up for debate: How Latinos fare, so fares the nation.