Our mission is to create opportunities and open the door to the American Dream for Latinos.

NCLR Menu

Letter from Janet Murguía,
NCLR President and CEO

Those familiar with the work of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) know that we are the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., and that we are an American institution committed to strengthening this great nation by promoting the advancement of Latino families. Founded in 1968, NCLR is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization headquartered in Washington, DC, serving all Hispanic subgroups in all regions of the country. Our mission is to create opportunities and open the door to the American Dream for Latino and other families.

We have state and regional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Phoenix, and San Antonio, and proudly represent more than 260 Affiliates—community-based organizations providing a range of essential services to millions of Latinos and others in need. Since 1997, NCLR and its Affiliates have helped more than 32,250 low-income Hispanic families purchase their first homes. In addition, NCLR’s network of 100 charter schools provides quality education to more than 20,000 Latino children every year. Since 2013, NCLR and its Affiliates have trained more than 500 community health workers and provided over 155,000 Latinos with face-to-face health information and education. Our Affiliates are working every day to help Hispanic immigrants integrate fully into American society by providing English-language classes, civics courses, and naturalization assistance.

NCLR is also among the most recognized organizations in the nonprofit sector. Our work in the health arena has been honored by the Surgeon General of the United States and numerous professional organizations. Among the many awards NCLR has received, both our former President/CEO and a past Chair of our Board of Directors earned the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and The Nonprofit Times has recognized NCLR’s leadership with its coveted “Power and Influence Top 50” award, honoring the top 50 leaders shaping the nonprofit world. In addition, NCLR is featured alongside Habitat for Humanity and the Heritage Foundation in Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, a book that analyzes the practices of 12 nonprofit organizations that have successfully created social change (released in October 2007 and revised in May 2012).

Our staff, leadership, and governing bodies reflect the great diversity of our nation. Our bylaws require that the NCLR Board of Directors include representatives of all geographic regions of the U.S. and all Hispanic subgroups, that one-third of the Board represent NCLR Affiliates, and that the Board includes equal representation of men and women.

We recognize that some people might be confused about our organization’s name, our mission, and our work. Much of this is understandable. Compared to some of our venerable counterparts in the civil rights and advocacy community, we are a relatively young institution representing Latinos, a historically disadvantaged and often misunderstood ethnic minority. We have a Spanish term in our name, “La Raza” (meaning “the people” or “community”), which is often mistranslated. Furthermore, we are engaged in some of the most controversial issues of our time, which we believe is essential if we are to stay true to our mission.

As a nonpartisan advocacy organization engaged in the public arena, we know that some will disagree with our views. As Americans committed to basic civil rights, we respect anyone’s right to do so.

But it is also clear that some critics are willfully distorting the facts and deliberately mischaracterizing our organization and our work. Recently, we have been the subject of a number of ad hominem attacks that we believe cross the line of civility in public discourse.

At times, we have ignored these attacks, preferring to invest our precious time and resources in our work, believing that the quality of our labors speaks for itself. At other times, we have responded in a civil fashion through private correspondence or by requesting a meeting with a critic so we can discuss our differences. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this in every case, especially when our private requests for civil discussion are responded to with further unfounded attacks, often echoed in the media as if they were accurate.

So, today we are engaging in an unprecedented step to make sure that the record is as clear and accessible as we can possibly make it. We do so in the interest of full disclosure and in the spirit of complete transparency. We trust that, after reviewing all of these materials, readers will come to their own conclusions about the merits of these and similar attacks to which we have been subjected.

Janet Murguía
President and CEO
National Council of La Raza

The translation of our name

Many people incorrectly translate our name, “La Raza,” as “the race.” While it is true that one meaning of “raza” in Spanish is indeed “race,” in Spanish, as in English and any other language, words can and do have multiple meanings. As noted in several online dictionaries, “La Raza” means “the people” or “the community.” Translating our name as “the race” is not only inaccurate, it is factually incorrect. “Hispanic” is an ethnicity, not a race. As anyone who has ever met a Dominican American, Mexican American, or Spanish American can attest, Hispanics can be and are members of any and all races.

The term “La Raza” has its origins in early 20th century Latin American literature and translates into English most closely as “the people” or, according to some scholars, as “the Hispanic people of the New World.” The term was coined by Mexican scholar José Vasconcelos to reflect the fact that the people of Latin America are a mixture of many of the world’s races, cultures, and religions. Mistranslating “La Raza” to mean “the race” implies that it is a term meant to exclude others. In fact, the full term coined by Vasconcelos, “La Raza Cósmica,” meaning the “cosmic people,” was developed to reflect not purity but the mixture inherent in the Hispanic people. This is an inclusive concept, meaning that Hispanics share with all other peoples of the world a common heritage and destiny.

And this is not just NCLR’s interpretation. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, “La Raza” means: “…Mexicans or Mexican Americans considered as a group, sometimes extending to all Spanish-speaking people of the Americas.” The Free Dictionary, available online, similarly finds that the term “La Raza”:

“…embodies the notion that traditional, exclusive concepts of race and nationality can be transcended in the name of humanity’s common destiny.”

Support of separatist organizations

NCLR has never supported, and does not support, separatist organizations. Some critics have accused MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán or Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán) of being a separatist organization and denounced NCLR for being a purported “major funder” of the organization. The reality is that in 2003, NCLR provided one chapter of the organization (Georgetown University) with a $2,500 subgrant to support a conference of Latino students—mainly from the Southwest and West Coast—who were attending East Coast colleges but could not afford to travel home for Thanksgiving. These Latino student groups hold mini-conferences with workshops and speakers, bringing together students who are often the first high school graduates and college attendees in their families.

According to its mission statement, MEChA is a student organization whose primary objectives are educational—to help Latino students finish high school and go to college, and to support them while at institutions of higher education. NCLR freely acknowledges that some of the organization’s founding documents, e.g., Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, contain inappropriate rhetoric, and NCLR also acknowledges that rhetoric from some MEChA members has been extremist and inflammatory. 

NCLR has publicly and repeatedly disavowed this rhetoric as we have others that we believe are inappropriate, as we did when we criticized a pro-separatist Latino website for its racist and anti-Semitic views. We will continue, however, to support programs and activities that help more Hispanics enter and finish college.

Throughout its history NCLR has supported numerous initiatives to oppose all forms of unlawful discrimination; for example:

  • A series of campaigns in conjunction with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund calling on all Americans to be tolerant of diversity
  • Joint initiatives with the National Urban League, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics to identify and denounce hate crimes and other acts of intolerance
  • Educational seminars and roundtables to expose and explore the causes of discrimination against Afro-Latinos and Indigenous Latinos, including instances of discrimination perpetrated by fellow Hispanics
  • Public service campaigns with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and other partners to prevent housing discrimination against minorities, families with children, and individuals with disabilities

Reconquista and segregation

Another misconception about NCLR is the allegation that we support a “Reconquista,” or the right of Mexico to reclaim land in the southwestern United States. NCLR has not made and does not make any such claim; indeed, such a claim is so far outside of the mainstream of the Latino community that we find it incredible that our critics raise it as an issue.

NCLR has never supported and does not endorse the notion of a “Reconquista” or “Aztlán.” Similarly, NCLR’s critics falsely claim that the statement “Por La Raza todo, Fuera de La Raza nada,” [“For the community everything, outside the community nothing”] is NCLR’s motto. NCLR unequivocally rejects this statement, which is not and has never been the motto of any Latino organization.

NCLR’s work as a civil rights institution is about inclusion and participation in the American Dream, including extensive efforts to assist new immigrants in the process of fully integrating into American life. In fact, NCLR and its Affiliates work everyday to provide English classes, support naturalization efforts, and offer other services that help integrate immigrants fully into American society.

Many of these critics claim that NCLR supports dividing up sections or regions of this country by race or ethnic heritage. In particular, this claim was made by one outspoken critic of NCLR, the late Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA). As the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, NCLR has a long, proud, well-documented history of opposing segregation based on race or ethnicity. Toward that end, we have actively contributed to the enactment and enforcement of fair housing and other civil rights laws and supported numerous measures to ensure that all Americans have the freedom to choose where to live.

NCLR has also supported:

  • Removing barriers to voting for all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, or disability; In 2006, Rep. Norwood opposed an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Solely serving Hispanic programs

Critics also argue that NCLR’s programs only serve Hispanics. This is simply not true. NCLR and its programs are covered by civil rights laws administered by independent agencies at the federal, state, and local level. We helped enact some of these laws, and we take them very seriously.

For example, in 2006, as part of NCLR’s homeownership program, NCLR Affiliates served about 29,000 clients. Almost 20% were White and approximately 12% were Black. The program targets low-income neighborhoods that contain large Hispanic populations, where NCLR Affiliates are often among the few institutions to offer their services in both English and Spanish. For these reasons, and due to the demographics of the neighborhoods served and the type of services offered, NCLR Affiliates tend to attract a Hispanic clientele, although not exclusively.

We note that throughout NCLR’s history, its staff have been represented by Americans from a wide spectrum of racial and ethnic groups—White, Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and so on. We note further that NCLR’s bylaws, personnel policies, and institutional values contain explicit prohibitions against discrimination.

Border security and immigration

Unfortunately, NCLR has been called an “open-borders advocate” and the “illegal alien lobby” numerous times. NCLR has repeatedly recognized the right of the United States, as a sovereign nation, to control its borders. Moreover, NCLR has supported numerous specific measures to strengthen border enforcement, provided that such enforcement is conducted fairly, humanely, and in a nondiscriminatory fashion. For example:

  • NCLR helped draft and advocated for bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which included tough enforcement measures against unauthorized migration.
  • NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía served on and endorsed the recommendations of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future, an independent, bipartisan, blue ribbon commission chaired by former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and former Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI), which recently released a set of recommendations on immigration reform, including more than a dozen new enforcement measures.
  • In a major address in San Diego in 2005, Ms. Murguía stressed that any comprehensive immigration reform needed to include a strong, effective, and humane enforcement component.

Earmark of federal funds

Some critics have implied that federal funding earmarked to NCLR for housing and community development financing has been used, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, to advance our public policy efforts on immigration. This is simply untrue.

Our housing and community development financing is carried out through our subsidiary, the Raza Development Fund (RDF). Established in 1999, the mission of RDF is to bring private capital and development assistance to local organizations serving Latino families in areas such as affordable housing, primary health care, and educational facilities. The RDF board of directors includes experts in housing and community programs as well as representatives from a number of prominent private financial institutions, including Bank of America, State Farm Insurance Company, Citi, and JPMorgan Chase.

In 1999, the Department of the Treasury certified RDF as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Today, RDF is by far the nation’s largest and most successful Latino CDFI. Since its inception, RDF has made more than $50 million in loans. More than half of RDF’s capital comes from private financial institutions including Bank of America, State Farm Insurance Companies, Allstate Insurance, and other sources. RDF uses these monies, along with other public and private funds, to finance charter schools, health clinics, day care centers, other community facilities, affordable housing developments, and small businesses.

RDF uses the funds appropriated by Congress under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Fund for the sole purpose of supporting its lending activities. Moreover, RDF’s policy is that all earnings from its lending activities are to be reinvested in the fund for the sole purpose of advancing its mission. Thus, no federal funding earmarked to RDF has been retained by NCLR for any purpose; on the contrary, NCLR supports RDF by deploying considerable resources of its own to assist Latino-serving community-based organizations in developing community facilities and housing programs.

Other issues

Some critics mistakenly assert that activist Professor Jose Angel Gutierrez was a founder of NCLR. In fact, while Gutierrez was a key player in a number of Mexican American organizations, including the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), the Brown Berets, and the Raza Unida Political Party, he never had any connection to NCLR. Indeed Jose Angel Gutierrez himself has articulated a clear distinction between himself and his allies and NCLR, an organization he criticizes as being “cautious and careful.”

Others who note the NCLR’s many mainstream supporters and stakeholders make veiled references to a “radical” past or suggest that the organization must have a “hidden agenda” since its programs, publications, and public statements appear “moderate.” In fact, the institution has been well within the American mainstream from its very beginnings. Soon after its founding in 1968, in the midst of urban riots following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, at a time when some elements of both the African American and Latino civil rights movements were urging the use of violence to achieve social change, the first two chief executives of the organization, Herman Gallegos and Henry Santiestevan, issued "A Call to La Raza for a Personal Pledge to Non Violence," which said in part:

"Violence must be courageously and consistently resisted, or we will corrupt the integrity of our cause and deepen the despair and suffering of our people…We must have change in America…[but] we will achieve change through community organizations and positive community action. Non-violence must govern our efforts or we will destroy far more than we will create."