Hispanic Journalists' Work Cut out for Them

Article excerpt

Latinos comprise 9 percent of the population and are expected to outnumber African-Americans in a few short years. We will soon be 50 percent of the U.S. Catholic church.

Is the country ready? I don't think so.

Many white progressives, schooled in the black civil rights movement, remain woefully ignorant of our history and of the legacy of racism following the U.S. takeover of half of Mexico's land mass in 1848. (We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us, as we like to remind people.)

Likewise, white Americans often see the world in black and white.

The media contributes greatly to our invisibility.

The Washington-based Hispanic Link News Service in a recent article cited some typical examples of how Latinos get overlooked.

On April 9, The New York Times editors filled a page with pictures of 24 persons -- including politicians, academics, businesspersons and religious and union leaders -- along with their assessments of the first 100 days of the Republican Congress. Latinos were left out.

On April 12, USA Today editors picked 14 people, including actors, authors, academics and politicians, to tap their memories about Franklin Roosevelt and the day 50 years earlier that he died. No Latino was interviewed.

"Perhaps USA Today's slight is more understandable," editorializes Hispanic Link. "Thousands of Mexican-Americans who might have responded to the nostalgia question were illegally deported to Mexico during the depression years of the Roosevelt presidency. It would take a foreign correspondent to find them now."

Unfortunately, progressive publications are sometimes the worst offenders in this regard. Very often, pictures and comments of Latinos are used in stories about poverty or other problems that involve us as "victims." Seldom are we cited as experts. Such omissions reinforce the idea that Anglos -- experts and activists -- have all the answers.

Latino civil rights history did not begin or end with Cesar Chavez. Ours is a long history that includes lynchings, separate water fountains and restrooms, discriminatory wages, denials of everything from housing to loans and even burials after our soldiers returned from World War II -- where Hispanics won 38 Medals of Honor, more than any other ethnic group. A quarter of the names on the Vietnam wall are those of Latinos.

Yet Pat Buchanan can get away with declaring, as he did earlier this year in a Washington Post column about affirmative action: "Hispanics were not victims of 100 years of racial discrimination. There were few Hispanics even in the United States 40 years ago. How, then, can the feds justify favoring sons of Hispanics over sons of white Americans who fought in World War II or Korea? …