NAA Co-Founder and Board Member Emeritus
Raul Yzaguirre was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. His life of service and leadership started as soon as he was old enough to understand the profound discrimination experience by his fellow Mexican Americans. His own grandfather was nearly lynched coming home from work after a curfew imposed only on Mexican Americans in south Texas. As a boy, Raul he attended a political meeting of Mexicans where the town constable and his deputies physically beat the Mexican American participants, breaking up the gathering. These experiences, and many like them, strengthened Raul's resolve to fight injustice.
At 15, Raul began his civil rights career when he organized the American G.I. Forum Junior, an auxiliary of the Hispanic veterans group, to fight for the rights of Mexican American veterans in Texas, especially for the right of an honorable burial commensurate with the burials of white veterans killed in combat. In 1964, Raul founded the National Organization for Mexican American Services (NOMAS).
As the national civil rights movement burgeoned, Raul emerged as a leading thinker in the Hispanic community. A funding proposal he helped craft for NOMAS led to the first comprehensive studies of the Mexican American community and their unique social, economic, and cultural issues. The same proposal served as the conceptual framework for what would become the National Council of La Raza. NCLR began as a regional support organization to help straighten local Mexican American worker and welfare organizations, fight for fair employment laws and access to housing and health care, and promote voter registration.
From 1974 to 2004, he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) as it grew into the largest national constituency-based Latino organization in the U.S. and the leading Hispanic think tank in Washington, D.C. Under his leadership, NCLR emerged as the most influential and respected Hispanic organization in the country.
Illustrations of NCLR's influence are numerous. Raul helped extend federal civil rights laws, restore benefits for legal immigrants which were eliminated in the 1996 welfare reform law, expand Hispanics' access to federal early childhood, elementary, and secondary education programs, shape and push through an historic Executive Order on Hispanic Educational Excellence, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, create a child tax credit for low-income workers in the 2001 tax cuts, and mold the North American Free Trade Agreement to better meet the needs of the Hispanic American community. The consistent presence of candidates, and international heads of state at NCLR's annual conference also shows the important political role that the organization has assumed.
Today, continuing his lifelong mission to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans, Mr. Izaguirre is Presidential Professor of Practice at ASU and has established the Center for Community Development and Civil Rights which focuses on community development, education for practitioners, program-based solutions, and academic scholarship. Additionally, Mr. Yzaguirre is a frequent commentator of Latino issues: he has appeared on NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening New, and The Today Show.
Raul has not only changed how American thinks about the Hispanic community: he has helped changed how the members of that community think about themselves. Raul has always sought to build up the confidence of Hispanics, mobilizing individuals so they become more engaged citizens who secure their rights to economic opportunity and political empowerment.