By Stella Pope Duarte
2016  – a BIOGRAPHY, by Stella Pope Duarte

From the segregated barrios of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, to the halls of Congress and the White House, comes a story based on the memoirs of one of America’s premier Latino civil rights leaders: Raul H. Yzaguirre. Born in San Juan, Texas in 1939 to Mexican American parents; his family legacy goes back to the early days of Spanish colonization. Living in a divided city, “the north was for Mexicans and the south was for Anglos,” he learned how to enter both worlds with success through the guidance of his beloved grandfather, Gavino Morin. On a quest at age thirteen, he ran away from home and became the youngest sailor on board the Barbee Nell in Corpus Christi. There he met Dr. Hector P. García, founder of the American GI Forum who took the runaway under his wing, and inspired him to dedicate his life to serving his community. Elected as President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in 1974, his three decades of leadership built NCLR into the largest constituency-based, national Latino organization in American history. Raul Yzaguirre’s life’s story has empowered America’s Latinos, seating them at tables of power. His life’s motto has become a reality: “To leave the world a better place.”

Raul H. Yzaguirre: Seated at the Table of Power, is Stella Pope Duarte’s masterpiece, celebrating the life and legacy of one of America’s most prominent civil rights leaders.

Christine Marin, Ph.D.

Arizona State University, Professor Emerita

Duarte proves herself a writer with great style and a unique voice that

will hopefully continue to speak for la gente.

Gaile Robinson, Ventura County Star on Let Their Spirits Dance

Writing the Story of an Icon
Inception of the Project

On January 23, 2005, Raul Yzaguirre was appointed as Presidential Professor of Practice in Community Development and Civil Rights at Arizona State University. His task was to direct the new Civil Rights and Development Office established at the New American University at ASU’s downtown Phoenix location. He also became active as one of ASU’s board members for the North American Center of Transborder Studies (NACTS). 

It was at this time that I became personally acquainted with Raul Yzaguirre and was impressed with his accomplishments as former president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). His three decades of leadership built NCLR into the largest constituency-based, national Hispanic organization in America, and one that is considered a leading Hispanic “think tank” in Washington, D.C. Through the establishment of the NCLR Policy Analysis Center, Yzaguirre often testified before Congress and influenced policies, programs and legislation affecting Latino Americans and other ethnic minorities nationwide. Latinos are a large and young population in the U.S., with numbers exceeding 50 million. NCLR affiliates and community-based programs that serve this population are extensive, involving millions of individuals working as CEO’s, management, staff, board members, and community supporters. One of the longest serving CEO’s in the nation, Yzaguirre’s tenure at NCLR lasted for thirty years, ending in 2004 when he left the organization in the “capable hands,” of Janet Murguia.

On August 17, 2010, I began a series of interviews with Yzaguirre at ASU downtown. The interviews were a mutual commitment between us, initiated by Yzaguirre who had become acquainted with my work by reading my novel, Let Their Spirits Dance, (HarperCollins, 2002) which is an historical work depicting a Chicano family’s struggle in coming to terms with the death of their son/brother in the Vietnam War. Yzaguirre related to me his plans to document the history of San Juan, Texas, his birthplace, and the struggles of the Mexican American communities he had witnessed there. It was then that I envisioned a biography of his life that would begin with his birth on July 22, 1939 in San Juan, Texas, and proceed to the present time. Yzaguirre authorized me to write his biography, and thus began a series of face-to-face interviews, recorded, and now transcribed, which continued until September 9, 2010, and resumed again in the Dominican Republic in May 2012.

Over forty interviews have been conducted to complete this biography with well-known community and national leaders, NCLR staff, staff from affiliates and community organizations, long-time friends and acquaintances, and Yzaguirre family members. Insights from key leaders both living and deceased are included in the biography, as well as their personal stories and connection with Yzaguirre. A trip was taken to the Dominican Republic to continue interviews with Yzaguirre, his wife and other family members visiting there at the time. Another trip was taken to South Texas to visit his birthplace, San Juan, and to follow the road to Corpus Christi, tracing Yzaguirre’s steps as a 13 year-old who decided to try his luck as a sailor.

Additional material, some of it Yzaguirre’s personal mementos are housed at Arizona State University, and this information has been carefully researched and documented. Books, periodicals, journals, web pages, dissertations, and newspaper articles crucial to this biography have also been researched and information documented. Personal family photographs, as well as photos of major life events, and significant community and national figures are also included in the biography.


Delivering a National Hero

My goal in writing a comprehensive biography of Raul Humberto Yzaguirre is to deliver to this nation the story of a national hero on par with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez. There is no doubt that the leadership and accomplishments of Raul Yzaguirre have reached national and international levels as he has taken on the struggle of Latino Americans and other minorities struggling to achieve equality in areas of: education, housing, employment, health, media, immigration policy, voting rights, community empowerment, and the arts. One of Yzaguirre’s goals has been the mentoring of youth to positions of leadership and to this end he has been instrumental in fostering leadership for thousands of current policy-makers and community activists who trace their success to his help and inspiration. A tireless community leader, Yzaguirre’s philosophy of leadership may be summed up in his own words: “I am a great believer in servant leadership. A leader is not there to order people around, but to serve them. A leader is not a cacique nor a knight on a white horse; but someone who empowers others to succeed.”

Scope of Biography

This is the first comprehensive biography of the life of Raul H. Yzaguirre; therefore, the scope of this biography will encompass his entire life, beginning with his birth in San Juan, Texas, to the present time. The following is a sample of areas which will be addressed, always keeping in mind that Yzaguirre has asked that his biography include stories of family, friends, community leaders, acquaintances, legislators, and many others who have impacted his life. His biography will be a history of Latino politics as well, and how the present platform, serving the needs of Latinos nationwide, is evolving and continuously adjusting to new challenges in addressing the needs of over 50 million Latinos nationwide.


I.  History and early life. Yzaguirres are given a land grant by the King of Spain and become one of the founding families of Texas. Birth, July 22, 1939 in San Juan, Texas. History of parents, grandparents, other family members, and their influence on his life. Conflicts with Texas Rangers. Community life in San Juan, and challenges faced by Mexican Americans as witnessed by Yzaguirre. Greatest influence – maternal grandfather: Gavino Morin.


II. Beginning of activism. Age, 13, “ran away from home,” to travel to Corpus Christi to become a sailor; met a member of the G.I. Forum who changed the course of his life. At age 15, formed G.I. Forum Juniors, and faced a school board on behalf of the Hispanic community. High school and college years (George Washington University) will show further involvement in community issues. Greatest community mentor: Dr. Hector P. García.


III. Military Service –Air Force. 1958 joined Air Force and served in medical corps. Based in Washington, D.C. In his work as lab assistant met his wife, Audrey Bristow in Washington, D.C. Marriage: January 2, 1965. Children and family life.


IV. National Leadership. National Organization of Mexican American Services (NOMAS); Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO); Interstate Research Associates (IRA); Southwest Council of la Raza (SWCLR); Chicanos por La Causa (CPLC, 1972) one of the most successful nonprofits; National Council of La Raza (NCLR, 1974) became president and CEO). Establishing long-term relationships with national organizations, affiliates, corporate America, key leaders of social reform, federal and state legislatures and the news media. Challenges and conflicts faced in creating a pan-Hispanic organization. Establishing NCLR Policy Analysis Center for lobbying Congress on issues critical to Latinos.


V. Major Policy Initiatives., Spearheaded effort to address educational needs of Hispanics through initiation of Hispanic Education Executive Order during H.W. Bush’s administration. Appointed by President Clinton as Chairperson of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Opposed passage of English-Only legislation, and discriminatory aspects of the Welfare Reform Act. Supported Affirmative Action legislation, Voting Acts Reform Act, and fair labor practices for Hispanic Americans. (See extensive list from NCLR Policy Analysis Center).


VI. Highest Awards. First Hispanic American to receive a Rockefeller Public Service Award for Outstanding Public service (1979). First Hispanic Fellow of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (1989-1990). Honored by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico with the Order of the Aztec Eagle (1993). Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award (1993), Charles Evan Hughes Gold Medal Award for courageous leadership in Civic and Humanitarian Affairs (1998), John Gardner Award for Leadership (2004).


VII. Most Current Presidential Appointment: American Ambassador to the Dominican Republic (September 30, 2010). Discussion of his service in the Dominican Republic, and experiences in the Caribbean.


VIII. Vision for Future of Latinos in America. Reflections on personal struggle with Parkinson’s disease; forming new leadership in Latinos; creation of new agendas to serve multiple needs of the growing Latino population and insights on increasing international constituency/affiliations for world-wide Latino organizations. Insights shared on life issues: marriage, raising children, health, religion, the after life, the meaning of macho, Latino gender roles, leadership, education, activism, love of family and community and searching out one’s purpose.


IX.  Acknowledgments and Bibliography