According to a recent Chicago Tribune story, some people are frightened by the name of the National Council of La Raza, (NCLR), one of the leading Latino civil rights organizations in the United States. They are holding their annual conference in Chicago this week.
Literally translated la raza means "the race." But the term refers to "the people" or "the Hispanic people of the New World." It comes from "The Cosmic Race," or "La Raza Cosmica," a term coined by writer Jose Vasconcelos about the racial fusion born in the Americas.
A handful of right-wingers, namely former Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, attacked the group and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's association NCLR. Tancredo called it the "Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."
I'm here at the NCLR conference at the McCormick Place, and I can tell you there is no reason for conservatives, Republicans or anybody else to be fearful of what is going on here.
There's nobody walking around with hoods. There' s no hate speech. There are no reverse racists here.
The truth is NCLR is a pretty mainstream organization and it has attracted corporate sponsors including Kraft Foods, McDonald's, Best Buy and Starbucks. Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was here Saturday.
Plenty of elected and government officials have come to the conference held in a different U.S. city each year. Among them: Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.
At the start of today's luncheon, a young Latina sang the National Anthem with an American flag behind her. A special award was given to a World War II veteran Benito Morales. Can you get any more American than that?
I decided to ask a few of the conference attendees what they thought of the group's name and what the word la raza means to them.
Sonia Lopez, 32, is a bilingual education teacher in Waukegan, a suburb north of Chicago.
"A literal translation really leads to a misunderstanding of what (la raza) means," Lopez said. "To me la raza means passion and impulse towards something positive. It also means courage."
Juan Maldonado, president of Laredo (Texas) Community College, said,
"It could give the impression it's a very ethnically biased title,"
said Maldonado, 60.
But he explained that it's a term that encompasses all the people of Latin America.
"It denotes a sense of pride," he added.
At the luncheon Illinois Congressmen Luis Gutierrez said la raza "speaks to who we are."
He added, "It means a forum exists for our views to be heard."
But Gutierrez noted that we cannot forget la raza who are outside working the longest hours and in fear of deportation.
Jonathan Garcia, 19, who works with Youth Development in Albuquerque,
New Mexico, said the conference brings together la raza from around the
He said the fear mongers like Tancredo are upset because "they're losing control of their power."
"They're not ready to embrace a multicultural America," Garcia said.
There's no need to question the patriotism of the la raza, the Latinos, gathered here this week.
They are working on many issues to make sure Latino youth stay in
school, to help Latino families facing foreclosure, to help pass
comprehensive immigration reform, just to name a few issues.
When you are part of an ethnic minority facing higher unemployment
rates, higher drop out rates and the separation of families, those who
have the education and the resources feel a responsibility to help
their own. This is what la raza is all about.
And there's no reason to fear it at all. If Latinos can help each other
improve their quality of life, it will only strengthen the fabric of