No, Conservative Media, That’s Not What “La Raza” Means In Spanish

Conservative media are echoing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s ethnicity-based attacks on federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel using an incorrect interpretation of the Spanish term "la raza." These right-wing media figures are criticizing Curiel’s affiliation with the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association -- San Diego’s Latino/Latina bar association -- by attempting to smear the group as a radical organization.

During the June 6 edition of his radio show The Sean Hannity Show, Sean Hannity asked, “Why is a judge connected to a lawyers group called ‘the race’?” using a literal but incorrect translation of “la raza.” In a piece attempting to justify Trump’s explicitly racist remarks, Breitbart News made the same mistake: 

“[Judge Curiel] is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine,” Trump told CBS’s John Dickerson. “But I say he’s got bias.” The club Trump was referring to was La Raza Lawyers; an organization with the stated mission “to promote the interests of the Latino communities throughout the state.”

Translated, “la raza” means “the race.” Imagine the outcry if white attorneys from Mississippi, such as this author, started a a (sic) legal association called “The Race” with the stated mission to promote the interest of white, Southern communities. Hollywood stars and entertainers, such as Bryan Adams, would boycott the state in perpetuity.

The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association explicitly notes on its website that translating la raza “as ‘the race’ is not only inaccurate, it is factually incorrect” (emphasis added):

Many people incorrectly translate the name, “La Raza,” as “the race.” While it is true that one meaning of “raza” in Spanish is indeed “race,” in Spanish, as in English and any other language, words can and do have multiple meanings. As noted in several online dictionaries, “La Raza” means “the people” or “the community.”

Translating our name as “the race” is not only inaccurate, it is factually incorrect. “Hispanic” is an ethnicity, not a race. As anyone who has ever met a Dominican American, Mexican American, or Spanish American can attest, Hispanics can be and are members of any and all races.

[...]

Mistranslating “La Raza” to mean “the race” implies that it is a term meant to exclude others. In fact, the full term coined by [Mexican scholar José] Vasconcelos, “La Raza Cósmica,” meaning the “cosmic people,” was developed to reflect not purity but the mixture inherent in the Hispanic people. This is an inclusive concept, meaning that Hispanics share with all other peoples of the world a common heritage and destiny.

Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, confirmed in an email to Media Matters that these interpretations are “indeed a case of loss in translation.” According to Stavans, connecting the name to activist agendas would also be an outdated interpretation, since today the name is just “a relic of more activist times”:

“La Raza” is a charged name dating back to José Vasconcelos’ seminal book La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race, 1925). Often rendered as “the bronze race,” it was indeed a racialized term used to distinguish the civil-rights struggle of Mexican-Americans from the fifties to the seventies. It actually started in Mexico, in working-class neighborhoods seeking to distinguish themselves from the ruling class, and it was attached to comedians like Cantinflas and Tin Tan. Today “La Raza,” as an appellation, is a relic of more activist times.

Conservative media have a long history of attempting to smear Latino civil rights organizations with “la raza”  in their name, based on this culturally incompetent translation.