Posted on January 11, 2021

The National Lawyers Guild’s Former First ‘Latina’ President Is a White Woman

Tina Vasquez, Prism, January 7, 2021

For years, prominent human rights attorney Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan has positioned herself as an advocate for Latinx communities, most recently identifying as a Puerto Rican woman from New York determined to aid the island and bring attention to the economic and humanitarian crises produced by colonization. Unbeknownst to many in the Latinx communities she worked alongside and claimed as her own, Bannan is a white woman who grew up in Georgia. Since at least 2006, she has accepted opportunities expressly intended for Latinas and other people of color.

The 43-year-old, who is currently senior counsel at LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund, has publicly identified as a Latina for years, though the specifics of her identity and origin story have shifted over time. News of Bannan’s misrepresentation comes on the heels of reports that Hillary “Hilaria” Baldwin spent more than a decade pretending to be from Spain. While the concept of “passing” originated with lighter-skinned African Americans who attempted to pass as white in an effort to evade racial terror, Bannan is part of a recent phenomenon of white women—including Rachel Dolezal, Jessica Krug, and Kelly Kean Sharp—caught cosplaying as Black, Latina, and AfroLatina for personal gain.

Shifting identities

Nothing in Bannan’s lineage indicates that she can lay claim to a Latina identity. According to historical public documents, including census and naturalization records, Bannan’s paternal family arrived in the United States from Ireland and Italy. Her Italian grandmother Lycia, the source of Bannan’s middle name, arrived in the U.S. in 1912. Records also indicate that Bannan’s maternal family all arrived in the U.S. from Russia. Court records from 1994, when Bannan was 17 years old, identify Natasha Lycia Bannan as a white “non-Hispanic.” Nevertheless, in a statement to Prism, Bannan said she has identified as Latina for as long as she can remember because it was the culture she was “raised in.”

In public comments going back more than a decade, she has claimed varying forms of Latina identity, presenting vague and shifting descriptions of her ethnic and cultural origins. In 2007, Bannan told the the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario that she was “a little bit Spanish, a little bit Colombian, and a Sephardic Jew.” When asked about the article, which is no longer available online, Bannan told Prism that she never identified as Spanish.

”I believe I let the reporter know back then that was a misprint in the article,” said Bannan in a statement.

The reporter in question told Prism that she has no recollection of whether Bannan contacted her about an error in the story.

In a 2015 video, Bannan mentioned dancing in a salsa competition while visiting family in Colombia when she was eight years old. By 2017, claims of a Puerto Rican identity entered the public sphere. In one video, Bannan tells Voice Latina that she’s a “cultural mix of Puerto Rican, Colombian, Italian, and some other.”

Shortly after being contacted by Prism for this story, Bannan wrote a Facebook post Monday afternoon clarifying that she is “racially white” and that her “cultural heritage” and her identification as a Latina come from who her family “has been” and not where her “ancestors were from.” Bannan told Prism that she has been public about her white identity but declined to provide significant examples supporting this claim.


In a subsequent email, Bannan shared a private 2016 Facebook post as proof that she has publicly identified as white.

“My biological origins are Italian, atheist Jewish/Sephardic, some unknown (adopted grandfather) and who knows what else. My biological parents were born in the United States, and I was raised with only one of them,” reads the post. “Yet the Colombian family who I grew up with and who were responsible in grand part for raising me, who helped form my character and identity were from many different ethnic identities and backgrounds.”

Bannan told Prism that her maternal grandfather was adopted, however he is listed as white in both the 1930 and 1940 census. Bannan didn’t clarify who her Colombian family is, or how long she was connected to them. Public records indicate Bannan’s mother was married to a man with a Spanish surname for five years, during the time Bannan was ages six to 11. Another marriage record indicates her mother had a subsequent marriage to a different man with a Spanish surname in 1995.


Bannan appears in a multitude of videos across the internet, mostly focused on Puerto Rico, as she has positioned herself as a Puerto Rican attorney and expert on the sociopolitical conditions facing the island and its people. No subject is off limits. In one video, she appears alongside survivors of Hurricane Maria. In a DemocracyNow clip following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in which 23 of the 49 victims were LGBTQ+ Puerto Rican people, Amy Goodman offers her “deepest condolences” for the tragedy to show guests Bannan and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, along with her co-host Juan Gonzales, appearing to operate under the assumption that all three were of Puerto Rican ancestry. Bannan accepted without comment.


Bannan has maintained that her identification as a Latina comes from her “lived experiences” and is an “authentic expression” of who she is. “Given that Latinx is not synonymous with race,” Bannan said, it “does not discount” her “lived experience as a racially white person.” There are certainly white Latinos, but all available evidence, including Bannan’s own statements, indicate that she is not one. Ethnicity does not come through osmosis. Being in proximity to Colombian and Puerto Rican people does not make one Colombian or Puerto Rican.


Latinas account for less than 2% of American lawyers and the opportunities available to them in the predominantly white legal field are limited—a fact Bannan acknowledged in a 2017 video in which she said she “can’t stress enough the importance of having Latino lawyers.” But that did not stop Bannan from siphoning resources, positions, and other opportunities intended for Latinas and other people of color in spaces where she already had a significant leg up as a white woman—and in spaces where her claimed Latina identity was never necessary for her to advance in her career.

In 2006, she was one of just 22 Latina fellows chosen to participate in the National Hispana Leadership Institute. In 2008, she was the recipient of the Peace, Health, and Justice Award from Casa Atabex Ache, an organization in the South Bronx that facilitates “collective transformation and social change for women of color.” In 2009, Bannan was President of CUNY Law School’s Latin American Law Students Association, and also served as one of two law student fellows at the school’s Center for Latino/a Rights and Equality (CLORE). Despite her resume identifying herself as a fellow, Bannan was an intern in 2010 for the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Ella Baker program, named after the African-American civil rights and human rights activist. Bannan became the National Lawyers Guild’s (NLG) president in 2015 and was heralded as the organization’s first Latina president. In 2016, she attended the Aspen Institute’s invitation-only Justice and Society Seminar as a Ricardo Salinas Scholar, courtesy of the Ricardo Salinas Scholarship Fund aimed at increasing the participation of Latinos in the Aspen Institute’s highly coveted events. Her writings have also been featured in a series of anthologies showcasing Latinos, including the 2018 book Latinas: Struggles & Protests in 21st Century USA and the 2019 book Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm.

Bannan declined to comment on whether she regrets accepting benefits and opportunities intended for Latinas and people of color, but the harm is real. {snip}


Despite more than a decade of misrepresentation to organizations, community members, and Latino and immigrant clients, Bannan’s current employer LatinoJustice—where she has been employed since 2015—is standing by her side.

“Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is a valuable member of our staff serving as Senior Counsel to us for years. Her race and ethnicity have had no bearing on the quality of her work for LatinoJustice and for our clients,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, in an emailed statement to Prism.


However, members of the National Lawyers Guild’s United People of Color Caucus and Anti-Racism Committee sent Prism a statement acknowledging the “harm” of Bannan “misrepresenting herself as a Latina/Puerto Rican and a person of color when in reality she is white and of european descent.”

“ARC is initiating an accountability process with Natasha that is rooted in our abolitionist politics and focused on addressing the harms she has caused, internally and externally, by claiming and performing a culture and ethnicity that are not hers and by taking up leadership space under the guise of being a person of color,” reads the statement.

“As abolitionists, we recognize that carceral logic is harmful to everyone involved and will do nothing to further the healing or reckoning process. We wish to navigate this conflict in ways that center the people harmed by Natasha’s actions without losing sight of Natasha’s humanity, so we are asking people not to call for Natasha’s disposal from the Guild or other punishment.”

Despite whatever process the National Lawyers Guild has initiated to repair her harm, Bannan continues to assert a Latina identity in statements to Prism and on her Facebook account. {snip}

The NLG’s United People of Color Caucus and Anti-Racism Committee told Prism that an “internal process” related to Bannan’s deception was triggered in mid-2020, however she remains co-chair for the Guild’s Puerto Rico Subcommittee, Colombia Subcommittee and Taskforce on the Americas.