The National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) recent name change to UnidosUS is bizarre and incomprehensible and its rationale that their name was “getting in the way of their mission” strains credulity, especially because it was also purportedly trying to be more relevant to the young. This action, coming from the nation’s largest Latino civil rights coalition, simply reeks of outright capitulation — this at a time when the communities that it seeks to represent are under the most relentless attacks in modern history, compliments of the current White House occupant and his allies.
This organization, founded in 1968, no longer merited this name, and has not since perhaps the late 1970s, because by then, it had already left behind its activist roots that had birthed the civil rights organization in 1968. By the 1980s, it had become an accommodationist organization at a time when advocacy and direct action was called for.
Mexican peoples have always been under attack in the US since the 19th century. In recent history, peoples of Mexican descent, including Central Americans, have been under relentless attack, though the worst attacks are happening now as we speak, including peoples from South America and the Caribbean also. One might argue that the current president won the2016 election on the backs of “La Raza” or “The people” with his promise to deport 11 million people and to build an impregnable wall along the US-Mexico border, with Mexico footing the bill. The failure of the US body politic to reject his hate-filled politics paved the way for a contagion of even more hate.
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What has been NCLR’s response? Worse than playing ostrich, it decided to reward the extreme right wing by rejecting its own name while turning to “respectability” politics. It also ran away from their (Indigenous-based) activist roots.
In recent years, the NCLR has not forcefully led in the realm of civil rights, particularly in the face of those hostile attacks emanating from the White House. Truthfully, the only thing NCLR had done in the past generation is permit itself to be led by corporations, which has greatly compromised its ability to lead and provide vision. The organization pegged its reputation on immigrant rights over the past generation, and we all know that part of the reason for the uptick in the nation’s anti-immigrant hate is that the immigration system continues to be “broken.” Expecting politicians to create a humane comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill without a massive pressure was naïve at best. What “passed” for CIR included a “guest worker” program that both resembled the Bracero Program of aprevious generation and provisions that were corporate friendly, sans worker and human rights protections.
But back to the name change. What was its theory?
It is not a secret that the term La Raza is despised by the extreme right wing. They have never hidden their disdain for it. A very good example is Arizona. There, politicians such as John Huppenthal ran for state superintendent on a promise to stop “La Raza.” While he was being generic, in particular, he was targeting (akin to his predecessor, Tom Horne) the elimination of Tucson’s highly successful Raza Studies Department. And this is instructive: The program changed its name to the Mexican American Studies Department, but that did not save it from the chopping block as a result of the racially hostile 2010 anti-ethnic studies HB 2281 legislation. The name change did not appease its many opponents. At least the challenge to the state law, filed by the program’s educators in 2010, emerged victorious last month as the judge ruled that the state had been motivated by “racial animus.”
So do the directors of UnidosUS believe that their “mission” will now be unimpeded? To believe that is, at best, folly. But beyond the naïvety, can the new name be pronounced, spelled out or translated?
“Unidos” by itself is unproblematic because it means and implicitly calls for unity, though the extreme right wing will still object because it is not in English. However, when combined, UnidosUS is hybrid, a combination of “united” and “United States.” It is both awkward and redundant and does not even work as an acronym: UUS. Reading between the lines, it is easy to see that the organization anticipated right-wing backlash and added “US” so that people would know that it is promoting “Americanism” as opposed to some kind of Che Guevara Latin American unity or something else of the sort.
One can endlessly quibble about everything noted above — as the war against migrants intensifies — but the real test is: Does it inspire? A perusal of the letters section of the many nationwide articles on this name change and I don’t see it, especially among the young activists who, if given a choice, would probably include Latinx in their title (which is intended to not accept traditional gender binary form of identification). If anything, the opposite has occurred. The same right wing continues to be invigorated in its continued disdain for “La Raza.” If in doubt, please see Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pardon or the recent elimination of DACA, or the letters section to the above link.
The organization should consider an annulment to that name change.