Tuesday, October 27, 2009
About Being Latino in America
Last week I took a swing at CNN for their sensationalist depiction of Colombia as a country consumed by violence that worships at the cult of the drug lord, so I wasn't expecting much from the network's much vaunted Latino in America series. I wasn't expecting a ratchet job, but I was bracing myself for a condescending look at our community, a report that would be half Cosby Show (or, I guess, the George Lopez Show)and half "serious" journalism - perhaps a day in the life of a migrant worker or a maid. Such is the spectrum of Latino identity in the media today so what can one expect?
However, I thought the series was quite good - it was, in fact, bold. It addressed an issue that our community still hasn't figured out on this side of the border - the issue of identifying ourselves and asking: who are we? Ethnically, socio-economically, politically...we haven't figured out whether we're Hispanic or Latino, we still have issues surrounding color, and yet, by virtue of a shared language - which some of us may or may not speak - and the label of "other" that's imposed upon us in this country, we are, carajo, a community. For me and the millions of Latinos in this country (well, maybe not all of them, we do have some backwards people who couldn't care less what you call them but let's keep this post positive) this is a riveting topic - but why the hell would middle America care about it? That's a big question to ponder when you're a network competing against the right wing propaganda machine that is Fox News.
Still, CNN put forth all sorts of stories from within our community, some of which made my blood boil (like those about violence against undocumented immigrants, and teens who act out and make life difficult for themselves and their families because they feel they don't fit in) and others which were inspiring (Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the work Latino actors are doing in Hollywood). These stories set the tone for an informed, objective series - and what I had feared most, that somehow CNN would justify everyone's misconceptions about Latinos, even those that us Latinos harbor about ourselves - just didn't happen.
I worried that somehow the series would give some Latinos a free pass on issues like education (our high school drop-out rates are way high)and language - I worried that the series would focus on how hard some Latinos have it in this country and thus only discourage some people from even trying to better themselves and roil those Americans who feel they've been blamed enough for other people's problems. It's a tall order to tell the story of millions of people who, even among themselves, haven't reached consensus on who they are. But CNN took on this challenge and delivered a terrific program.
I think I've talked lots on this blog about what it means to be Latino - so if people aren't flocking here for the gospel, I hope they'll tune in to CNN.