What are you going to do?

Janet Murguia’s President’s Message: Delivered at the National Affiliate Luncheon at the 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference

Janet Murguía, UnidosUS President and CEO
UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía

These are difficult times. We have every right to be angry.

What we are experiencing today is deeply unfair, unjust, and un-American. There are no easy solutions. There are no quick fixes. The challenges we face are real and entrenched, and difficult to counter.

Yet, at the same time, I am struck by—and deeply proud of— the resilience  our community has shown.


At every step of the way, we have responded with tenacity, with courage and with purpose. And it makes me think, there could not be a more appropriate time for our new name, UnidosUS.

For our salvation as a community will come from our unity. In our unity, there is strength; and in strength there is power. And with that power I know we can change the course of history.

Fifty years ago, Ernesto Galarza, Herman Gallegos, and Julian Samora brought together our first seven Affiliates into what was then called the Southwest Council of La Raza.

And over the past five decades—with their vision and the leadership of my predecessor Raul Yzaguirre—we have worked in partnership with Affiliates across the country to open the doors of opportunity to Latino children and families.

Today, we count in our network nearly 300 Affiliates in 37 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico in what is now the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the country.

But, in many ways the challenges we faced in 1968 are still with us. You don’t have to look far to see the intolerance and bigotry that plagued our community—and our country—50 years ago.

Like then, our nation is fractured along massive fault lines of disagreement. We are divided by race, by ethnicity and by our very vision of what America is and what it is supposed to be. And like 1968, we have an obligation to stand up for our community.

We have a responsibility to stand up to the voices of hate and discrimination. We have a responsibility to resist the assault on our community. And make no mistake; we are under assault—led by the president of the United States.

In policy and in practice, he treats our community with derision, calling us, “murderers” and “rapists” and even “animals.” He thinks this makes him look strong. But, that is not who we are. And it is not who he is. From day one, he has lied to the American people.

Rather than target criminals, this president has militarized immigration enforcement that hurts our children and rips our families apart. Two weeks ago, I and hundreds of others demonstrated outside a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. I saw firsthand the impact of our nation’s policies on those families. And I will tell you this, separating children from their parents is barbaric.

It is an ungodly act disguised in the rhetoric of our national interest. As a country, we’ve been down this road before. At the core of nearly every stain on American history is the ethnic segregation of people and the separation of families: slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the forced assimilation of American Indian children, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—they too were justified as in our national interest.

They too shame our national conscience. But, what is happening at the border to families seeking refuge is just the tip of the iceberg of what is happening to Latino families all across the country.

Nearly six million American children live with an undocumented parent. Six million. Both the president’s zero-tolerance, and mass deportation policies put every one of those children at risk.

Imagine the trauma of living every single minute, of every hour, of every day in fear that your parents will be taken from you—that the next letter in the mail will demand that your Mom appear at a deportation hearing—that the next phone call will be from your Dad,
who instead of coming home from work is calling to say goodbye because the plant where he works just got raided.

I have seen the faces of children whose parents were taken—right in front of them. I have heard them cry for a parent uncertain whether they will ever see them again. It is not something you can unsee. These are not criminals. They are not gang-members. They are just little girls and boys.

With every stroke of the president’s pen, more children are put at risk: One quarter of the 700,000 DREAMers are parents who have U.S. citizen children. When the president chooses to end DACA, he is separating families from their children.

TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti—many of them in this country for almost two decades—now have nearly 300,000 U.S. children. When the president decides to end TPS, he is separating families from their children.

Even the president’s response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is pathetic compared to his response to Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

More than 4,500 Puerto Ricans—all American citizens—died in the fallout from that storm and nearly 200,000 had to flee for the mainland. It’s impossible not to conclude that Latinos are the President’s scapegoat.

His assault is on us. In the politics of demonization, Donald Trump is Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, and Pete Wilson all rolled into one. Now, the president may not mind such a comparison because he fancies himself a strong leader. But how strong is it to hurt and traumatize children?

How tough is it to pick on toddlers and young teens? Mr. President, I’m from Kansas. And where I come from, cruelty is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of weakness. Callous inhumanity is not a sign of power; it is a sign of cowardice.

In this moment, we—as a community and as a country—must unite against this assault. We cannot let it stand. Our voices must be raised—wherever they can be raised—in social media, in cities and towns across the country, in the streets and in the hallways of power.

We need people to own the fate of these children just as we own it. Public pressure works, but alone it is not enough. In our democracy, there is only one answer that has ever mattered. We will vote.

We must vote. We will naturalize; we will register, we will take people to the polls, and we will vote on Election Day.

We will own our voice. We will own our narrative. And we will own who we are. No longer will we allow anyone else to define us. We will define ourselves.

Let me tell you what we’re going to do—by Election Day, UnidosUS will add 100,000 registered voters to the 600,000 we have registered in the last decade. I look at that as a good beginning, and my commitment. Each of us can do more.

What are you going to do? If we want change, it is up to us to make it. What are you going to do? The responsibility is ours. This must be our turning point. What are you going to do?

This election needs to be a watershed election for our community. It needs to be our Basta Ya moment—our Basta Ya election. This election is also about more than change. It is about hope for our community and the promise of this great nation. The power of our community is based on our values. Family. Faith. Sacrifice. Hard work. Service to our country…And our incredible optimism.

Last month I was in Reading, Pennsylvania and met a young woman named Adriana. When she came to this country from Mexico, she and her parents lived in a 3-bedroom apartment with 20 other people.

Her dad eventually got a job in a mushroom factory, and her mom works on a dairy farm. They recently were able to move into their own apartment.

Every Saturday, Adriana helps her mom from 7 pm to 2 am milking cows. Through hard work, she excelled in high school, and I am proud to say she just graduated and will be going to Lehigh University this fall. Family. Hard work. Sacrifice.

Now more than ever, we need to lean into those values and grab on to that optimism, and bring along our fellow Americans to see that future as we see it.

I see a future where our children no longer live in fear of being separated from their parents. I see a future where our people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I see a future where the college dreams of our youth are realized, where our young families can actually afford a home and all of us can have access to healthcare.

I see a future where a path to citizenship is not a pipedream or a political sound-byte but a real and accessible way forward. I see a future where all Americans—regardless of race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation—can live without fear, without prejudice and with full rights as citizens protected under the law.

What are you going to do? You are the vanguard of this generation’s civil rights movement. You stand on the shoulders of giants. You and young people like Adriana are the hope for our community. You are its next 50 years.

It is our responsibility to move this country forward. It is up to each of us to shoulder this burden and lift up our community. It is up to each of us to lead with tenacity, with courage and with purpose.

Let’s be bold; let’s be fearless. Be the champions of a future that is filled with promise, with potential and with dignity.

Unidos we will rise. Unidos we will engage. Unidos we will vote. Unidos we will persevere.



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