How Latinos Can Win the Culture War

tags: racism, media, journalism, popular culture, Latino/a history

The story about Latinos in America is an old one. And it isn’t true. Created generations ago by whites to demonize Mexicans and then Puerto Ricans, the racist caricature of Latinos as a menacing foreign monolith persists, even as two-thirds of us were born here and we come from more than 20 different countries.

While we are everywhere in this country, from big cities to small towns, Latinos are largely missing from American media and culture, which makes us vulnerable. President Trump knows this and exploits these fictions for political gain.

Mr. Trump has accomplices. White gatekeepers in media, art and entertainment have long excluded or misrepresented Latinos, particularly Indigenous and Black Latinos, building the cultural scaffolding for the current administration. To defang these old falsehoods, we have to go after their enablers, transform media and cultural power structures and amplify and defend Latino storytellers. We must flex our power as a community.

Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas gave voice to this in a recent column for Variety: “There is a dangerous nexus between the racist political rhetoric and the negative images of Latinos as criminals and invaders that Americans see on their screens.” Mr. Castro added, “Hollywood needs to reckon with its systemic injustice and exclusion of our communities.”


Plenty has been written about the toxicity of narco stereotypes, and industry insiders have been organizing against them too. Latinos can learn from Color of Change, which has investigated how TV crime shows misrepresent Black people and campaigned to shut them down, resulting in the demise of the program “Cops." Never underestimate the power of bad publicity and people power.

The facts are as important as the fictions. In the mid-19th century, when white mobs were lynching Mexicans, Spanish-language media covered those murders, leading to public protest and eventual change. Latino journalists from Ruben Salazar (killed by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy during the Chicano Moratorium 50 years ago) to Juan González, Roberto Lovato, Sonia Nazario, Maria Hinojosa and Tanzina Vega have played herculean roles, but their numbers are small, particularly when it comes to opinion writing.

This means that we don’t set the national agenda, and that too many abuses of our community, from police brutality to wage theft, are never exposed. Organizing inside and outside the newsroom is the primary reason this country’s mainstream media has begun to represent the people it covers, as documented in Juan González and Joe Torres’s indispensable book “News for All the People.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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