The Largest U.S. Latino Advocacy Group Changes Its Name, Sparking Debate : Code Switch The National Council of La Raza renamed itself UnidosUS this month, causing a rift in the U.S. Latino community. Some see it as shedding a dated name, but others see it as leaving a legacy behind.

The Largest U.S. Latino Advocacy Group Changes Its Name, Sparking Debate

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One of the country's biggest Latino advocacy groups has a new name. This month, the National Council of La Raza became UnidosUS. As NPR's Jessica Diaz-Hurtado reports, the group hopes to appeal to a new generation.

JESSICA DIAZ-HURTADO, BYLINE: National Council of La Raza began almost 50 years ago. It grew out of the Chicano civil rights movement as Mexican-Americans sought equality. La raza is literally the race, but the meaning behind it is the people, and it became a symbol of pride and perseverance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

MARICELA MONROY: La raza for me when I was growing up - it was always, like, you know, the people that are up at 5 a.m., you know, trying to get jobs, the people cleaning the stores, the people picking the food, you know, the working-class folks. Like, that is who la raza was.

DIAZ-HURTADO: That's 26-year-old Maricela Monroy - born in Mexico, raised in Milwaukee. She said she was shocked when she heard of the name change, especially since it's happening under the Trump administration.

MONROY: Because right now a lot of the Latino community, a lot of the immigrant community - I mean, like, we clearly feel under attack. And so in circumstances like that, we would expect leadership to take a firm stance and to go on the offensive. And this - like, this seemed like the exact opposite of that.

JANET MURGUIA: We're not the same Latino community that existed in 1968 when we began.

DIAZ-HURTADO: Janet Murguia is president and CEO of UnidosUS. She says Latinos today are younger and more diverse. The organization did research and found that the name National Council of La Raza is outdated.

MURGUIA: We learned that our name appeared to be a barrier to our own community in understanding our mission and what we do and who we are.

DIAZ-HURTADO: That's the case with 23-year-old Luz Martinez. She's an Afro-Puerto Rican woman raised in Mississippi.

LUZ MARTINEZ: The term la raza is something that not everyone has been able to relate to, particularly people of Caribbean descent like me or Afro-Latinos. It's not a term that we use.

DIAZ-HURTADO: Attorney and NBC contributor Raul Reyes says the term la raza has also been a flashpoint and a distraction.

RAUL REYES: What's happened over the years is many critics of the organization have taken the literal meaning of the word and tried to twist it into some type of moniker of racial superiority or saying that Mexicans wanted to somehow take back the Western United States and made all these crazy arguments.

DIAZ-HURTADO: The new name, UnidosUS, is meant to symbolize inclusiveness and unity. The group hopes to have a broader appeal as it advocates on issues like education, immigration and the economy. But Luz Martinez wonders if a name change will be enough.

MARTINEZ: As far as my friends that are also millennials, I'm not sure that they would recognize the name before, and I'm not sure if they'll be reached with the new name.

DIAZ-HURTADO: UnidosUS seems to recognize that challenge. As part of its rebranding, it plans to do more with social media to reach those young people. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, NPR News.

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