By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Three weeks ago, as a senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, Cecilia Muñoz was part of the Hispanic lobby pressing the incoming Obama administration for significant Latino representation in the new cabinet.
A few days after the presidential election, in a story by Politico, Muñoz said Latinos expected to be prominent in the Obama administration. “It’s a foregone conclusion that we should be at the table for policy debates and in a position of authority,” she said.
Wednesday, Muñoz was given a seat at that table, when the Obama transition team announced she will join the White House staff as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Muñoz was born in Detroit in 1962 to immigrant parents from La Paz, Bolivia. According to The Detroit Free Press, her father was an automotive engineer who moved there to attend the University of Michigan.
Muñoz obtained degrees from the University of Michigan and Berkeley. “While studying at the University of Michigan, she tutored Hispanic Americans incarcerated at the state prison in Jackson,” the Free Press reported.
Muñoz started her pro-immigrant activism in California after college. She later joined NCLR, where she has worked for over twenty years. In 2000, she received a MacArthur Foundation $500,000 “genius grant” for her work on immigration and civil rights, The Washington Post said.
In a 2005 essay for NPR‘s Morning Edition, Muñoz said her activism was born of the outrage she felt at injustice leveled at Hispanics. She remembered a conversation with a friend of her family:
He told me that he thought the U.S. might someday go to war somewhere in Latin America. He looked me in the eye and told me that if it happens, he believes my parents belong in an internment camp just like the Japanese-Americans during World War II.