The Spanish-Language Press Delves into Racial Complexities

By Shore, Elena | Nieman Reports, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Spanish-Language Press Delves into Racial Complexities


Shore, Elena, Nieman Reports


Absorbing this political season's English- and Spanish-language coverage can leave a person with a severe case of whiplash. It's like trying to follow two completely different elections.

When I started working for the ethnic media news site New America Media in San Francisco six years ago, I didn't fully understand how "ethnic" and "mainstream" media differed. What I have discovered since has taught me that the language is perhaps the least of what separates them.

At New America Media, journalists translate and report on news that appears in ethnic media in communities across the country. As an editor and Latino media monitor, I've tracked stark differences in the ways the Latino press cover political issues when compared with the English-language press. These differences become clearer when we compare the coverage of and commentary about the presidential campaign. And these differences get magnified when one analyzes coverage about the "Latino voter" in the context of racial voting patterns.

During this primary season, the presidential candidates paid more attention to Latino media than ever before. For example, some of the Democratic and Republican candidates appeared for the first time in Spanish-language forums on Univision. And it is certainly the case that Spanish-language media have played an important role in driving people to the polls--thereby exemplifying the words heard at pro-immigration marches: "Hoy marchamos, manana votamos." ("Today we march, tomorrow we vote") (1) These trends have not been accompanied, however, by a corresponding shift in thinking by most Americans. What seems apparent to Latinos is that most people in the United States still think of their country as being a black and white society. And as the topic of race dominated much of the English-language press's political coverage, many articles dealt with questions about whether Latinos would vote for a black candidate. Racially tinged spars between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made the front pages of major English-language newspapers, but such stories were rarely found--and certainly not featured--in the Latino press.

For a while, at least, the Spanish-language press ignored this racial issue entirely. For some, this decision might have been based on the volatility of this issue--and a desire not to further inflame tensions between blacks and Latinos. For others, there might have been a sense in Latino newsrooms that the race issue was being hyped by the English-language media and simply didn't merit such coverage. Whatever the reasons, the absence of this story in the Latino press seemed to be clearly a conscious editorial decision.

Instead, the Spanish-language press focused on the issues deemed important by members of Latino communities--the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration reform, health care, and education. While the English-language news media tended to focus on horserace aspects of the race, the Latino news media devoted much more of its coverage to what the candidates were saying about these key issues.

Even so, there came a time when the Spanish-language press had to turn its focus to the topic of race because of the sheer volume of commentary and articles circulating about how it might affect the Latino vote in the Democratic primaries. Three weeks before the February 5th Super Tuesday, an editorial in New York City's Spanish-language El Diario/La Prensa observed that speculation about how Latinos would vote was being framed in the English-language news media around a "false dichotomy" of race vs. gender.

In essence, mainstream news reports were attempting to explain Latinos' support for Clinton in the context of an old paradigm of black-white politics--with the assumed result being that antiblack racism would be to blame in the anticipated vote against Obama.

The factors that compel Latinos to vote as they do are far more complex. At the same time that public opinion polls were finding that Latinos overwhelmingly favored Clinton, La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the country, endorsed Obama. …

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