Professors Paul Ortiz and Nicholas Vargas join UnidosUS Racial Equity Initiative

Latin American Studies faculty part of team working to shift perceptions and policies affecting U.S. Latino community

Professors Paul Ortiz and Nicholas Vargas join UnidosUS Racial Equity Initiative

August 18, 2021

Professors Paul Ortiz (History; LAS) and Nicholas Vargas (LAS; Sociology, Criminology, and Law) have joined a team of scholars, media experts, and policy makers working to address racial inequality against U.S. Latino communities. Dr. Ortiz and Dr. Vargas are among 31 members of the Racial Equity Initiative, established by UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization.

"When it comes to the growing discussion on racial inequality in this country, Latinxs are largely absent from the conversation," says Dr. Ortiz, director of The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and author of An African American and Latinx History of the United States. "UnidosUS is doing necessary work to change the rhetoric and ensure that these perspectives are included."

U.S. Latinxs encompass a diversity of experiences, including Afro-Latinx and Indigenous Latinx communities. One in four Latinxs in the U.S. is of African descent. Yet these multitudes aren’t widely represented in national conversations about race and Latinxs, and the extent of racial discrimination against Latinx communities isn’t widely known. The effects of discrimination can create barriers across significant social, economic, and political spheres, like civil rights, education, healthcare, housing, immigration, and voting rights.

Watch the UnidosUS explainer video on systemic racism against Latinos

"In general, there’s a need for greater awareness of issues facing the Latinx communities in the U.S.," says sociologist Dr. Vargas, whose research examines the racialization of Latinxs. "And a big part of that requires us to understand how ethnoracial inequalities are vast and embedded within interlinked webs of societal institutions, laws, and policies."

To address these issues, the Racial Equity Initiative will publish and disseminate a series of reports outlining systemic challenges Latinos face in the U.S., as well as a narrative change campaign to shift perceptions and educate the public. UnidosUS also plans to strengthen engagement with its network of partner institutions across the U.S. to effect sustained systemic policy changes.

A key partner is the Smithsonian Latino Center, which offers the powerful opportunity to elevate the contributions of Latinos with arts and culture. UnidosUS is the content provider for the SLC, which will open the Molina Family Latino Gallery in spring 2022. The Molina Family Latino Gallery will be the first Latino gallery at the Smithsonian. Looking beyond the gallery, UnidosUS is working to establish a freestanding Latino History Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Artist's rendering showing a gallery where adults and children engage with museum exhibits on Latino culture

“I am excited in particular about the collaboration with the Smithsonian Latino Center,” says Dr. Ortiz. “There are wonderful opportunities to connect our students to this important initiative, enriching both parties working towards the larger goal of visibility and equality.”

The team of Racial Equity Initiative scholars, including Dr. Ortiz and Dr. Vargas, will serve as advisors as the project progresses, consulting on strategies to promote awareness and providing expertise on the range of spheres in which U.S. Latinos face systemic racism.

To learn more about UnidosUS, visit

Read the UnidosUS intro paper on Racial Equity:

To learn more about the Smithsonian Latino Center, visit