La Raza President, Janet Murguia

From ALMA awards to salsa, Hispanic culture influences America

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to promote civil rights and to appreciate the many Hispanic characteristics that have become an important part of the American culture, says Janet Murguia, President of the National Council of La Raza.

"Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time for kids to understand that different cultures exist in America," she told Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Hispanic Civil Rights organization in the U.S. As the NCLR council's president, Murguia says Hispanic Heritage Month helps showcase Latino talents in many sectors: the arts, science, business, and entertainment.

Murguia has a long history of work in the public sector. She served as deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton in the White House and is currently on several nonprofit boards, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. She was named to People en Espanol's "100 Most Influential Hispanics," and Washingtonian magazine's "100 Most Powerful Women in Washington."

In discussing her own cultural background, Murguia highlighted the unique foods, like chips and salsa, that have become mainstream in the U.S. She also noted the importance of the Spanish language, the second most common language spoken in this country. Spanish is a bond for many Americans, she said.

"Hispanic Americans have been here for generations and immigrant families still have ties to the countries of their ancestors," said Murguia. "The American culture reflects an infusion of Latin music with the sounds of the marimbas and the salsa type of music." Flamienco dancing and mariachi bands are other examples of cultural influences that have come to America from Hispanic and Latino countries.

On Friday, September 18, actress Eva Longoria and comedian George Lopez hosted NCLR's ALMA Awards on ABC-TV. Muguria brought back the annual tradition in 2006, after a three-year hiatus. The ALMA Awards are crucial in showcasing Latino influence and success in the music and entertainment business, she said. Alma is a Spanish word for spirit.

La Raza also honors Hispanic veterans and their contributions to America. Many Hispanic veterans have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Another important focus for the organization is to promote civil rights and immigration reform.

"We want to open the door to the American Dream," said Murguia. "The NCLR strives to create opportunity for citizens of the U.S."

You can learn more about the NCLR on their Web site.

To read more Hispanic Heritage Month stories, click here.

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Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps was a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation that brought news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.