Cuban-American to head National Council of La Raza

One of the nation's foremost Latino civil rights organizations has selected for the first time a Cuban-American to chair its board.

The National Council of La Raza was expected to announce Wednesday that Miami native and public relations guru Jorge Plasencia, 38, will lead its board. He is only the third non Mexican-American to serve in that role in more than four decades. Plasencia replaces Phoenix attorney Daniel R. Ortega.

The move signifies, in part, the heavily Mexican-American group's growing recognition of the important role Florida plays in Hispanic politics. It also signifies the group's recognition of the influence Florida and its Hispanic voters could have in this year's presidential election.

"Jorge Plasencia has clearly demonstrated himself as a talented and innovative entrepreneur, as well as a dedicated community leader," NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguia told The Associated Press on Tuesday. She also said he represents the nation's increasingly diverse Hispanic community.

Murguia said Plasencia will help the organization as it expands its voter registration and other civic engagement work in Florida, but that he is someone who knows how to build bridges at a national level. That has been a top priority for Murguia, who has sought to work with a broad array of Hispanic and other groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League.

"As a Cuban-American and a Floridian, I think NCLR has been a true champion for all Latinos," Plasencia said.

"We're living in a historic moment in the U.S., Hispanic community," he added, referring to the growth in Hispanic buying power, cultural influence and the potential role of Hispanic voters in November.

"I look forward to working with our board, staff and affiliates to continue to improve opportunities for the over 50 million Latinos who call our country home," he said.

The National Council of La Raza was born in the Southwest during the 1960s civil rights era. Although a nonpartisan organization, it has historically had ties to the Democratic Party. It has long advocated for Latinos on issues like housing education and immigration reform. Plasencia is a Republican who has worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle. He is the group's current vice chair.

Before opening his own communications firm, Plasencia was a vice president in the radio division of the Spanish-language media giant Univision. He also was a marketing executive for the then Florida Marlins and worked for Emilio Estefan's entertainment company. In 1991, he co-founded a nonprofit to help low-income Latino youth.