Revise Your Styleguide: On Usage of ‘La Raza’

by Guest Contributor Daniel Hernandez, originally published at Intersections

A little Mexico detour, because I’m wondering: Do news media outlets refer to the NAACP as “The Colored People” or the AJC as “The Jewish Committee”? No, they don’t. Yet while covering this month’s NCLR conference in San Diego many outlets including the L.A. Times, Washington Post, and other generally reputable sources like RealClearPolitics felt it okay to refer to NCLR as “La Raza.” This means that the mainstream press has adopted the semantics tricks of the right-wing propaganda machine to conflate together two very different things: NCLR — the largest and most middle-of-the-road, big-money-backed, non-partisan Hispanic (their word) advocacy organization in the United States, and the codeword for reconquista hallucinations advocated only by an extremely small, extremely fringe, and extremely irrelevant batch of Chicano nationalists.

Doing this plays directly into the ignorant fears of paranoid immigrant-bashers. The double-standard is unacceptable. Because there are real dangers of coding and bigotry at play here: look at what just happened in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Another hate-fueled illegal immigrant lynching. Listen to the story at Free Speech Radio News. A week later, still no arrests.

We have opportunists like Lou Dobbs and the soft racism of politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for laying the rhetorical groundwork for such a climate. It needs to stop. “La Raza,” once for all, is an historical term. Its use in the NCLR name merely reflects the period of the organization’s founding: the 1960s. (Does anyone in the NAACP even utter the words “colored people” anymore?) It’s a question ultimately of accuracy, as Carla Marrinuci blogs at SFGate.

On its end, NCLR generously takes the pains to answer its uninformed critics, but one needs only to look at the Mexican American Princes to understand just how “dangerous” are the ambitions of modern Latinos like the kind who gathered in San Diego last week to hear speeches by Barack Obama and John McCain.

* Above, Obama at the 2007 NCLR conference in Miami Beach.

Edited to Add:

Dear Racialicious,

I appreciate the posting and the discussion of my Intersections post on the media usage of “La Raza.” I think a couple things need to be clarified, though. I meant to point out that to the careless (or prejudicial) reader the words “La Raza” connote Chicano nationalism, not the group, National Council of La Raza. I know and understand that La Raza is a term to be proud of, a term that NCLR members and associates themselves use, a term that Mexican Americans of all backgrounds often use to mean “community,” “family,” “friends,” etc. What I am merely pointing out is that as the media uses it to refer to NCLR it conflates in the public eye a mainstream lobbying entity with an amorphous concept that causes all kinds of drama in the public landscape: see the raids, confrontations, demonstrations, killings of immigrants. I don’t have a solution, but I think we should all be thinking of one. Language is lived, after all.

Daniel H.