An Obama Legacy Already?: Cecilia Muñoz

Univision, as reported by NewAmericaMedia, has an important November 29 2008 story that has not yet made the networks or major Internet sites:

President-elect Barack Obama announced that Cecilia Muñoz will serve as director of intergovernmental affairs, coordinating the White House’s relations with local and state governments, reports Univision. Muñoz, 46, has been at the forefront of the movement for immigrant rights. Born in Detroit to Bolivian immigrants, she currently serves as senior vice president for the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). In 2000, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in recognition of her work on immigration and civil rights.

¡Viva Obama! This is one sign of the difference that President-Elect Obama is already beginning to make in this society. He has appointed too many centrist and conventional white political types, which many progressives have trouble accepting, but gradually he is also appointing some progressive leaders whose views have been marginalized and attacked in the power centers of Washington for a long time. Muñoz is an example of how some influential Americans of color may now be listened to at the highest levels of this society, for the first time in a long time. Not only is she an immigrants rights’ advocate, but she works as a leader in one of the key Latino civil rights organizations in the United States, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), an organization whose anti-discrimination and other efforts and even name have angered many whites and some others. Here is the website listing some of their important research publications. Note the political courage that this took on Obama’s part. Here is the open letter that their president, Janet Murguía, recently wrote about the activism and goals of this organization in response to critics:

Those familiar with the work of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) know that we are the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., and that we are an American institution committed to strengthening this great nation by promoting the advancement of Latino families. Our mission is to create opportunities and open the door to the American Dream for Latino and other families.

We proudly represent nearly 300 Affiliates—community-based organizations providing a range of essential services to millions of Latinos and others in need. Since 1997, NCLR and its Affiliates have helped more than 22,000 low-income Hispanic families purchase their first homes. In addition, NCLR’s network of 115 charter schools provides quality education to more than 25,000 Latino children every year. The health clinics we helped build and the lay health educators we trained provided care and information about prevention and detection of serious illnesses to nearly 100,000 people in 2006. Our Affiliates are working every day to help Hispanic immigrants integrate fully into American society by providing English-language classes, civics courses, and naturalization assistance. . . . We recognize that some people might be confused about our organization’s name, our mission, and our work. Much of this is understandable. Compared to some of our venerable counterparts in the civil rights and advocacy community, we are a relatively young institution representing Latinos, a historically disadvantaged and often misunderstood ethnic minority. We have a Spanish term in our name, “La Raza” (meaning “the people” or “community”), which is often mistranslated. Furthermore, we are engaged in some of the most controversial issues of our time, which we believe is essential if we are to stay true to our mission.

Obama’s legacy on racial and ethnic matters may dramatic, or so it already appears.