PHOENIX – A new, more inclusive name for the largest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S. will help it gain support for its growing battle against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies, the group said.
The National Council of La Raza, or NCLR, will announce Monday that it will become UnidosUS, a change three years in the making that is in response to group members who felt “raza,” meaning “the people,” was outdated, President Janet Murguia said.
She insists it was not a reaction to outside critics, including conservatives and others who say the term promotes ethnic exclusivity. It comes as the group gears up for a wider fight for Latino rights with many in the community seeing hostility from President Donald Trump, Murguia said.
His administration wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, has heavily stepped up immigrant arrests and targeted funding for cities and states that don’t co-operate with federal immigration authorities.
At least one other Latino group supports the name change and agrees with Murguia that Latinos have more at stake than in the past decade, including battles over health care access and immigration.
“I think this is viewed as an opportunity and we see it as an opportunity to strengthen our organization, broaden our reach and expand our growth,” she said. “And that’s going to be important as we see the challenges that we’re facing at this particular time.”
Literally translated, “raza” means “race,” but that is not the definition of the word. The term for “the people” was coined to describe the various races Mexican people come from. Chicano civil rights activists popularized it in the 1960s and 1970s and it’s faced backlash today.
During his campaign, Trump criticized a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against him by mentioning that he was a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.
Other organizations have held on to their names amid criticism that they are outdated and even offensive.
The NAACP, which stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has been criticized for keeping “colored,” which many consider offensive. The organization says it’s out of respect for its founders and history.
The Latino organization was founded 49 years ago and advocates for health care and for better education, housing and job opportunities for Latinos. It lobbied for President Barack Obama’s health care law and against the Republican attempt to repeal it in Congress and has focused on increasing Latino voter registration.
Immigration also has been at the forefront of its mission. The group is credited with coining the term “deporter-in-chief” to describe Obama’s deportation policies, which became popular with immigration activists unhappy with those policies.
UnidosUS has a bigger battle now under Trump and has to escalate its battle for Latino rights, Murguia said.
“For us, the mode did shift from a lot of the building on the success to protecting and defending the gains that we have made up to this point. It’s been our primary focus in the Trump administration,” she said.
Murguia pronounces the “US” in UnidosUS like the abbreviation for United States but says the name is purposely missing the punctuation so that it can be interpreted as either “us” or “U.S.”
It’s a good idea to include the concept of unity in the name of an organization because people in the Latino community identify themselves in different ways, said Dennis W. Montoya, New Mexico director for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
He said the change would require aggressive outreach because the previous name was so well-known.
“It doesn’t just seem that the atmosphere is more hostile. The atmosphere is more hostile,” Montoya said. “Every advocacy group for Latinos and other minority groups that have been targeted feels that pressure to increase public awareness and be more active.”