The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the name of the largest Latino advocacy organization is no more. It has been replaced by something called UnidosUS.
Why the name change? It is said that the term “La Raza” has been offending people in power and is getting in the way of the organizational message and mission.
In addition, Latinos of various other nationalities like Cubans and South Americans that populate much of the east coast see the term as too “Mexican” and not representative of their own identity and nationality. To be sure, questions were raised about this almost as soon as the organization changed its name from the Southwest Council de La Raza to the National Council of La Raza and moved its headquarters from Phoenix to Washington D.C.
Recently, I had an opportunity to travel through north Texas and visit the towns that hold so many memories of our migrant and cotton-picking days of old. There was a moment in this trip that I will forever hold as special because it depicts a scene that is very much a metaphor for the changes that are occurring in the country.
Picture this: a sea of working oil pumps from far away look like miniature iron horses galloping in place, surrounded by an another sea of windmills creating the energy for electric power, an electric power plant in the distance and a mile-long train going south pulling cars full of coal. It was as though a series of energy making models were passing before me: a coal train representing the passing past, the oil wells that form the core of the present drive to energy independence and the gigantic windmills that carry in their seeming slow turns the coming drama that perhaps says goodby to the internal combustion engine and welcomes an all-electric era.
The windmills in particular held an aura of magic realism, recalling Cervantes’ Don Quixote and his epic fight with the windmills of his time and a battle that he lost. There was one particular windmill in the distance that appeared with another windmill behind it and placed in such a way that it gave the illusion of a unique synchronization whirling together through space.
The future is now and that is perhaps the best reason that can be offered for the change in the name of NCLR. Perhaps UnidosUS is the organizational equivalent of the windmill that together with solar panels represents the energy of the future.
Historically, minorities have had to negotiate with the majority to achieve a desired status in national priorities. If the term “Raza” is in the way of this, the new name may make it easier to navigate these issues in America.
However, demographic projections indicate that by 2055 the majority as we know it will be less than that and this creates a major question. The question to be asked is: With the majority gone, who is going to negotiate with whom?
That question makes the challenge for the organization much bigger than a name-change can resolve. It is clear that planning for Latino advocacy in the future will call for different approaches with accompanying dynamics that are radical departures from today’s practices.
Even more difficult is another question related to what will happen when Latinos become a demographic majority and have a major say in the affairs of the country. A name change does not begin to replace the solemn responsibility of being a central factor in governing America.