National Institute for Latino Policy members respond to CNN’s ‘Latino in America’

By Refugio I. Rochin, Ph.D., Debbie Porcayo, Lorenzo Canizares, Mickie Luna, F. Chris Garcia, Ph.D., Michaelangelo Rios, Gloria Montealegre,  Elena Rios, MD, Lourdes Colon, Margarite Fernandez Olmos, Ph.D. and Lorraine Lopez
 
It was interesting that we received a number of responses from NiLP Network members who do not own televisions or do not have cable (which, I think, is un-American!) but wanted to chime in anyway. Then there are those who tie the series to the issue of the campaign to remove Lou Dobbs from CNN, which we will address in separate emails.

Charlie Ericksen, the legendary publisher of The Hispanic Link Weekly Report also wrote to inform us that his publication has asked some prominent Latinos to comment on the series. In the next installment, we plan to include the responses he received that he generously sent us.

We hope this generates a lively discussion in our community, not only about this documentary, but also about how Latino images are projected by the American media and what we need to do to change this, concentrating for the moment on CNN and their parent company, Time Warner, and what their next steps should be.
—Angelo Falcón
 
Refugio I. Rochin, Ph.D., Founding Director of the Smithsonian Latino Center 1998-2002:
I’m pleased to respond quickly while my memory serves me. Hope I don’t distort any of Soledad’s interviews and aims.

I commend Soledad for keeping her cool and generating responses to a number of questions covering Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American and Mexican immigrants in America to interviews with non-Latinos on sensitive topics. She touched the surface of topics and issues. I’d definitely like to see more.

What she exposed was heart warming and sometimes troubling. I’m Mexican-American and the blatant discrimination shown by non-Latinos was sad but true to my experience. The thing to note is the Anglo perception of all laboring Latinos as being illegal Mexican aliens. Some Anglos who were interviewed even called Puerto Ricans, “Mexicans.” Just being Mexican was a negative connotation among Anglos.

In one short she looked into the Cuban impact in Orlando and Miami and Congressman Martinez’s rise from being a child immigrant without parents, surmounting the Peter Pan syndrome. His story is remarkable and Soledad showed him to be a man who cares for all immigrants.

The story of the child from Central America who entered the US on her own, in search of her mother, was eye-opening. Reminded me of my father’s entrance into the U.S. when he was 15 years old – all alone.  But in the case of this young 15 year-old she became a quasi-prisoner in Boys Town because her mother couldn’t take her. There was a good outcome for her with a famous Cuban cantante, [please add name], a foster home, and a resident visa. I can only surmise that Soledad did a lot to bring peace and happiness to this young woman – I suppose she is now a high school graduate.

Soledad carefully examined Latinos in Pennsylvania – Shenandoah – a small town with high unemployment, inter-marriage between Latinos and local Whites, and anti-immigrant discrimination. On top of this the violent killing of a Mexican man with two children by a local white women who loved him dearly. They were set to get married when high school kids beat him to death for being Mexican.

Pico Rivera – Los Angeles – was beautifully portrayed as a community of 90% plus-Latinos that eliminated gangsterism among troubled youth by supplanting gangs with Latina/o familia values and community building. Any town facing gangs and killing would benefit by seeing this part of Soledad’s coverage.
Debbie Porcayo:

The first thing I think about when I think of “Latino in America” is the young DominicanRican boy saying “They call me Mexican. I don’t like being called Mexican.” What up? I am Mexican-American and I feel so proud of being part of such a beautiful culture. I would like this young man to know it. Does he know something about Mexicans that I don’t know? First of all God, then beautiful colors, aromas, tastes, celebrations, music, dancing, pride (good pride), art, charity, community, happy babies, unity and family are things I think about when describing the Mexican culture. Yes, God first. On the real.

I think LinA accurately represented the realities of the Latino population in this country today but only the realities of the people on this particular program. There are a zillion stories to be told. I think this should be an ongoing window into the Latino life to educate people about our beautiful and wonderful culture. Knowledge IS power. Cultural sensitivity they call it. I believe it is important to be culturally sensitive. Hey, let’s make a reality show called “Real Latina Housewives of Yuba City, California”. This is where I am from. ha ha ha. 

I choose not to see negative in anything because I believe God’s word in Romans 8:28 in the bible which says “all things happen for good for who believe in the Lord, our God and are called according to His purpose”, thus the saying “It’s all good”. I believe attitude is everything.

As far as the young Latina images projected in the program, again, a tip of the iceberg was touched. I wish there was a program created to talk to and council directly to young Latinas and that would plant seeds of desire for all that is good for the purpose of advancement in their lives.

The issues were also covered well but there are so many more issues to cover. Health care for the illegals, education for illegals, how to unite as a community for the good of all, the high school drop out rate, teenage pregnancy rate, drug dealing, addiction, latchkey Latino children and solutions to the problems & so much more needs to be addressed.

I do believe there should be more documentaries on Latinos. As I said before, this should be ongoing (and I will add) & forever. I also think there should be ongoing documentaries of all cultures. I would love to be educated about all cultures.
All in all, I was very pleased to be able to watch this documentary on CNN (one of my favorite TV stations) and that it was so easily accessible to non-hispanics as well. I hope many watched it. Keep up the good work CNN. I thought Soledad Obrien did a great job as well.
Lorenzo Canizares wife (he didn’t give her name):

1. Did “Latino in America” accurately represent the realities of the Latino population in this country today? Yes.

2. What were the most positive contributions of this documentary? How Latinos influence a community, for example Miami,in fostering growth and prospering a community. By working together Latinos have shown the capacity to influence the political sphere surrounding them, and overcoming the fear of their presence.

3. What were its most negative aspects? None

4. What images or images of the Latino community do you think this series projected to the non-Latino American public? The truth which reflects all aspects of human beings. We are just simply like everybody else.

5. Did you find the series’ focus on personal profiles, especially its examinations of the problems faced by young Latinas, effective? Yes. It covered the hardship that women face in America. From the immigrants facing deportation or separation from their children to how they overcome to achieve success.

6. Did the series adequately look at issues beyond that of individuals to examine the role of social structures and institutions in affecting Latino realities? Yes. because it identifies the pivotal issues with relevance today that needs correction.

7. Were all significant segments of the Latino population (national origin groups, age and gender groups, social classes, etc.) adequately represented in the series? Yes, it was very evenly portrayed.

8. Should CNN follow-up with another documentary on Latinos? Why or why not? Yes, because we must relate the struggles of Latinos in America to share with others our wonderful culture, and look for solutions to remedies the obstacles in our way.

9. If CNN produces another documentary on Latinos, what issues do you feel they need to cover? I feel they should follow up with another documentary with emphasis just on immigration. it is essential to recognize the need for reform to validate the hardwork of Latinos in the USA.
Mickie Luna:

1. Did “Latino in America” accurately represent the realities of the Latino population in this country today? Not all segments of issues pertaining to Latinos, especially immigration were not fully covered.
 
2. What were the most positive contributions of this documentary? Students staying in school and never giving up, opportunities that follow persistence if you really want to achieve something in life.
 
3. What were its most negative aspects? SHENANDOAH PA! This small community needs to be organized by Latinos. We should all make an effort to descend upon this community once a year to develope programs and citizenship training for latinos. The murder of that young latino and the way people reacted to his death was appalling to say the least.
 
4. What images or images of the Latino community do you think this series projected to the non-Latino American public? Latinos give back to the community by working at jobs others will not do, pay into social security and leave never receiving the benefits that they contributed to.
 
5. Did you find the series’ focus on personal profiles, especially its examinations of the problems faced by young Latinas, effective? Yes it was touching to see young latinas struggling to prove themselves, to be persistant in achieving something in life.  I hope there is a followup on what these young ladies have accomplished in the future.  It would be nice to keep the public informed on their successes.  These stories are inspiring to other young women.
 
6. Did the series adequately look at issues beyond that of individuals to examine the role of social structures and institutions in affecting Latino realities? I think it is a beginning, Soledad O’Brien did a very good job in asking the right questions when the situations arose that needed clarification. Some well known Latinos who were interviewed did not seem to have a clue of the suffering that continues within the Latino communities. Some could not even speak spanish. What a shame!
 
7. Were all significant segments of the Latino population (national origin groups, age and gender groups, social classes, etc.) adequately represented in the series? I don’t think many farmworkers who still live and work in areas of this nation that are deplorable were covered. It would have brought attention to the housing needs of this segment of our communities.
 
8. Should CNN follow-up with another documentary on Latinos? Whay or why not? I definitely think that CNN should do a followup on this documentary, especially the stories of descrimination and the struggles of young latinos.
 
9. If CNN produces another documentary on Latinos, what issues do you feel they need to cover? Stories on Shenandoah Pa and how Latinos are combating discrimination. Stores about the young ladies who are working toward accomplishing higher education through all the problems and struggles at home, and children who are being held in immigrant camps all alone and the possibility of someone adopting them or becoming foster parents for these children.

 
F. Chris Garcia, Ph.D., former president of the University of New Mexico:

This is a great idea! I have been struck by the small amount (so far) of commentary on the show.

I myself had mixed feelings about it, overall and about each different segment.

I did find it amusing that the bad name used against many Latinos was to call them Mexicans! Of course, I have the perspective of a Manito.

Cruz Sanchez:

I was very disappointed with the documentary. I think that It put too much emphasis on the negative/stressful experience of the Latino community, 

I was also disappointed on how young Latinas were portrayed in it. The piece of the young Latina who had to stay home to baby sit and help run the family store does not represent the reality of the majority of young Latinas. 

I was expecting a more balance coverage of  the negative and success stories of the Latino community, The documentary mostly emphasised the stresses of the life of Mexicans and barely touch on the life of other Latinos.

CNN needed to conduct better research about the realities of Latinos in the United States. Total disappointment.
Michaelangelo Rios:

I will think a little more about it in depth.

Sam Lopez of Brevard County Florida was furious and disappointed how they still portray the Latinos/Hispanic.

I rather classify myself as a Hispanic and not Latino, because my Puerto Rican blood is of Spaniard descent. Others should have to right to call themselves what ever they want, but I know for certain my bloodline. CNN can portray non-America heritage culture and ancestry however they want. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, do not fall under the same category.

But, we need CNN to portray Puerto Ricans of today, and their factual struggles and accomplishments.
Gloria Montealegre:

Here are my gutt reactions to the series.

1. Did “Latino in America” accurately represent the realities of the Latino population in this country today? My answer: yes
       
2. What were the most positive contributions of this documentary?
My answer: the exposure to Latino culture. No sugar coating.

3. What were its most negative aspects? My answer: perhaps we need to also look at communities that are more upwardly mobile … not just the down trotten and the kids with all the drug and juvenile problems.
       
4. What images or images of the Latino community do you think this series projected to the non-Latino American public? My answer: we look like white trash. (hahaha)
       
5. Did you find the series’ focus on personal profiles, especially its examinations of the problems faced by young Latinas, effective? My answer: yes, on the few Latinas they focused on given the length constraints.
     
6. Did the series adequately look at issues beyond that of individuals to examine the role of social structures and institutions in affecting Latino realities? My answer: no. The explanation that Latinos are in the US because they want a better future for their famiies never, never examined the fact that their economies are controlled by the US. Everything they do. from the food they are eating to the clothes they are wearing…Latin America and the Caribbean is an extension of the US.
       
7. Were all significant segments of the Latino population (national origin groups, age and gender groups, social classes, etc.) adequately represented in the series? My answer: it was okay.
       
8. Should CNN follow-up with another documentary on Latinos? Why or why not? My answer: Yes, we need to do more…we have Latino inventors, professionals and CEOs, we have Latinos in none traditional jobs and Latinos who are at the White House. We need to see them too. Not just the gang bangers.

9. If CNN produces another documentary on Latinos, what issues do you feel they need to cover? My answer: issues that block their progress. For instance, NY City firefighters exclusionary tests that keep people of color out of the profession; the same as construction industries and the higher paying jobs. There are real obstacles that keep Latinos out. and the fear by Latinos to network and help each other, what will my colleagues at work think if I help you ??? attitude. Or the fact some Latinos are actually less sympathetic to their own. 
Elena Rios, MD:

I really didn’t see much of it — but did see part of the segment on Pico Rivera — where I grew up. In fact, my picture from history was in it —the Miss Pico Rivera and her court (1973) — I was a runner up — the only Mexican American in the photo …

I tell you the family life, struggles of working class — were not at all focused on — the changing demographics, some success (Lupe Ontiveros who used to work with my mom at a huge ELA Clinic in the home health care of poor Latino elderly all over the area) was the focus without an insider’s view telling their side of the story — you could tell someone from outside wrote the script (telling what they saw)

Lourdes Colon:

Yes – I did watch LATINOS IN AMERICA with Soledad O’Brien, Part I and Part II.
 
Unfortunately, I was disappointed. For the most part, the presentation focused on recent/illegal immigrants, the challenges they face, with which we sympathize totally. A segment on a young girl (from Central America) who, for personal reasons, could not live with her natural mother and she was placed in a detention center. Fortunately, through a good lawyer, she fought deportation and she won the right to stay in the U.S. Thankfully, she was placed in a good foster home with a Cuban couple.
 
Ms. O’Brien barely mentioned Puerto Ricans, if at all — their arrival in the U.S. (not just New York) in the late 1890’s, shortly after World War I, the 20’s and 30’s, how they were the trailblazers that made it possible for other Spanish-speaking groups, our contributions: in service of our country, politically, culturally, ithe media, in the sports and entertainment fields, etc. Antonia Pantoja and her efforts, the NILP and other groups are perfect examples of these contributions.
 
Of course, this is my personal opinion. I hope it helps.

Margarite Fernandez Olmos, Professor of Spanish, Brooklyn College (CUNY):

Regarding the CNN Special, as a New York Puerto Rican I was personally offended by the piece. Why the obligatory court scenes? The outcome was clear from the start and they did their best to locate attractive girls for the general audience.

Not enough historical context, losing an opportunity to educate the public and too much reliance on sentimental pap. And finally, boring. It’s hard to make a story on Latinos boring but the piece accomplished that by focusing too much on these individual cases. I was looking forward to seeing the program and was sorry that I did.

Hector (netrey@ . . .}:

1. Did “Latino in America” accurately represent the realities of the Latino population in this country today? No, it did not. Latino in America used a very superficial approach when describing America’s Latinos.

2. What were the most positive contributions of this documentary? The most positive contribution of this documentary is that it might very well be informative for many Americans that still don’t realize that we are here to stay.

3. What were its most negative aspects? No negative per se, just incomplete. The documentary didn’t focus on Hispanic communities’ contributions, but rather on individuals’ achievements.

4. What images or images of the Latino community do you think this series projected to the non-Latino American public? I am not quite sure about that. I am hesitant to say it, but I do not think that the producers and Soledad achieved their objectives.

This show didn’t raise to the level of its predecessor “Black in America”. It doesn’t provide enough elements for non-Latino American public to develop an accurate understanding about our community.

5. Did you find the series’ focus on personal profiles, especially its examinations of the problems faced by young Latinas, effective? Yes indeed, it concentrated on some Latinos individual success stories. But, it fell short in presenting the Latino community’s contributions and aspirations.

6. Did the series adequately look at issues beyond that of individuals to examine the role of social structures and institutions in affecting Latino realities? No, it didn’t. The series covered stories of several successful Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican individuals, but ignored many, many other Latino communities.

It is impossible to identify Latino realities from the series. The extensive number of pictures, and videos do not provide a comprehensive report of US Hispanics.

7. Were all significant segments of the Latino population (national origin groups, age and gender groups, social classes, etc.) adequately represented in the series? No.

8. Should CNN follow-up with another documentary on Latinos? Whay or why not? It would be nice to see. That would give an opportunity to fill the blanks.

Even though, the series didn’t meet my expectations, I must say that was a serious attempt to tell America about us.

9. If CNN produces another documentary on Latinos, what issues do you feel they need to cover? Contributions of Latinos to the economy. The impact of Latinos in healthcare, education, construction, agriculture, industry. Latino or Hispanic professionals in Science, technology, research, engineering, etc. US Latino economy trends. Current and future Latino political representation in government.

Lorraine Lopez:

To be completed honest, I was quite disappointed with the CNN portrayal of Latinos in America. Now to be advised that I wasn’t able to view the 2nd section in its entirety; therefore, some of my comments might not apply.

I had two main problems with the CNN report:

1) The situations/problems presented, though they occur in Hispanic households, were not specific to only Latinos; and

2) Examples of the successes Latinos have experienced were not emphasized (again maybe this happed during the second segment).

The problems the three Garcia families faced are indeed problems faced by many Latinos in America. They are not problems specific to Latinos, though. These are problems any low-socioeconomic family of any minority group can face on a daily basis.

I was very upset when CNN presented the program which helped children stay focused and in school. But this is more a personal issue. I don’t agree with programs that place children in jumpsuits and handcuffs to show them what a prisoner’s life is like in order to dissuade them from entering a life of crime. There are many, many positive programs encouraging Latino children to stay in school that do not use the methods portrayed on CNN.

My opinion is that CNN’s Latino in America did not accurately represent the realities of the Latino population in this country. In order to present an accurate portrayal of Latinos, CNN needs to air many episodes that will include the various Latino cultures.

These two episodes portrayed Latinos as one group in America with commonalities that, as a Latina, I know are misunderstood. As a 1st generation Puerto Rican Latina, my children and I (as well as most of my friends) have not experienced any of the situations presented on CNN.

The images of the Latino community that were projected to the non-Latino American public, were extremely negative. It reminds me of the non-Latino who visits Puerto Rico for the first time to discover that English is spoken on the Island and to their surprise, businesses such as Walmart and McDonalds co-exist side-by-side.

CNN’s negative portrayal of Latinos in America confirmed images that non-Latinos, who barely come in contact with Latinos, have; that is, that Latinos are school drop-outs, criminals who can’t speak much English. They believe that the Latino success stories can only be seen in Latinos like Sotomayor or Mayor Villaraigosa.

I’m an educator in NYS and know first-hand the struggle that many Latino children and their families, especially immigrant families, face and do not want to understate the harsh realities these families face on a daily basis. I just think CNN dwelled on the negative too much.