THE BLOG
12/15/2011 07:53 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Q&A with Janet Murguia, President & CEO of NCLR

  Since it was founded in the 1960s, the National Council of la Raza(NCLR) has been committed to advancing the civil rights of Latinos. At the forefront of this organization is NCLR's President and CEO Janet Murguia.  Under her direction, NCLR led the national boycott against Arizona in response to the immigration law, SB 1070, and organized voter registration drives in the 2008 elections.

Voto Latino recently caught up with Ms. Murguia to discuss what inspires her, the anti-immigrant legislation being considered by states and efforts by NCLR and its affiliates to reverse them. Ms. Murguia also looks ahead to the 2012 elections, the crucial role of the Latino voting bloc and Latinos engaged and consistent voters.

Understanding the importance of education from a young age:
[My parents] instilled in [my siblings and I] a real value for education even though they didn't have a lot themselves, and other values also became very important: a real strong sense of faith, of family and community, and of hard work and sacrifice. Those were all key values that they passed onto us and that we saw them exemplify in the lives that they lived....

My dad had this saying,  "el sol sale para todos/ the sun shines for everyone." And  he really believed in opportunity and creating that opportunity for yourself, and that inspired a lot of us  to seek out and understand that education was going to be a key part of it.

Working on the Hill and the White House, and finding inspiration to pursue a career in public service
When I took that job [at the office of Kansas Rep. Jim Slattery] I got a clear understanding of our different branches of government, a deeper understanding of democracy and how it works. It exposed me to where the gaps were in connecting communities, in connecting individuals to opportunities to advance....

It also exposed me to a broad spectrum of organizations that were doing great work.  And I came to a realization that you don't necessarily have to be in the government to offer real opportunities to change things for the better, that there are efforts throughout this country that could be happening back home in your community or they could be happening here in Washington D.C.

NCLR leading the boycott against Arizona
Leading a boycott is not an easy thing to do, and we did it after giving it great thought.  But we thought it was such an extraordinary attack on our community that it needed an extraordinary response. And so we worked with other national organizations, not just Latino organizations, to come together and say we are not going to accept this law, and we are going to shine a light on this state. We called for a boycott that would ask different organizations to not host events there, conferences and events there, and asked different entities to not do business in that state while this law was in effect.

A victory in Arizona
The [legislators] in Arizona understood that their actions did affect how people perceived Arizona. The boycott had an impact economically on the state, and they didn't want to have that taint on their state.

And while it's been real disturbing to see a law like Alabama being passed, the fact is that 27 states since the Arizona law was passed have rejected Arizona-style legislation. So there is a victory in part of this. And I know we have to be focused on Alabama and what's happening there because that's an extreme law. But I want people to understand that there have been victories across this country by those who reject those extreme approaches to addressing immigration and understand that those are un-American approaches that are not consistent with our values and with the principles that uphold our constitution. We should all understand that there is an opportunity to turn this back...

The Latino voting bloc beyond the 2012 elections
It's going to be important for organizations like NCLR and others to reinforce the fact that [Latinos] have a responsibility to vote, and it's going to be very important to exercise that responsibility in this upcoming election. We'll have a choice, and we are going to have to make a choice as voters in terms of what we want.  We have to determine our future, and we have to determine our destiny, and if we're going to do that we can't say that we are going to stay home. We've got to go and participate and get engaged and make a decision and we'll have to base it at that time on the records and on who we believe will be the best leader to represent our community and our country.

Final words of inspiration to aspiring civic leaders
You need to have high aspirations when it comes to your educational goals. You can't let that slide. And you need to be super committed to getting that high school degree, getting that college degree and getting that graduate degree. All of that education will help to achieve the broader goals that you want in terms of changing the world to make it better, or finding the opportunities to create better outcomes for our community. All of that will come through with experience, but I think that education is the key and you can't let that go.