Media Images of Hispanics

In 2010, Hispanics, also called Latinos, became the largest minority in the United States, with 15.8 percent of the population, or 47.4 million people. It is expected that that percentage will nearly double by the middle of the 21st century. The importance of how they will be portrayed by the media will grow as their population grows. Most of what the public learns or perceives about Hispanics comes from the news media. A recent study has found that these perceptions do not come from focused straight reporting and coverage about the life and time of the Hispanics, but rather from event-driven news items in which Hispanics are the focus of the story. Most reporting tells of crimes perpetrated by Hispanics and this leads to the stereotyping of Hispanics.

The media, especially television, do not represent Hispanics in a very positive light. Hispanics are often portrayed in scenarios that are connected to crime, or they are participating in conversations about the preparation for or participation in violence or crime. They are portrayed as people who are uneducated, unintelligent, strong-accented and inappropriately dressed. Various Hispanic characteristics are displayed along gender lines. Hispanic men are hot tempered with a short fuse and women are characterized as aggressive, lazy and having very bad work ethics.

In the fast-moving world of the 21st century, the news media play a pivotal role in helping to shape the opinions of the masses. Images that are constantly transmitted, and opinion polls that are broadcast, influence and shape public opinion and perceptions that guide the nation. Among the most influential media that help shape opinions is the entertainment media. It is quite difficult to get into that industry and networks are very secretive about how they choose those who can be admitted. Most of the time, it is a matter of having the right connections and knowing the right people. As there are very few Hispanics in the entertainment industry, the chances of a Hispanic getting a job in any capacity in the business are very slim. When writing for media programs, writers usually write about what they know and what they are exposed to. Since there are so few Latino writers, who would be able to portray a positive image, what is left is an image that comes from the writers who use stereotyped information.

In 2003 the National Association of Hispanic Journalists reported its findings. These include the following items:

66 percent of all network news stories reported about Latinos involved terrorism, poverty, rapes, crime, illegal immigration, welfare fraud, car thefts, etc. Though Latinos are a major percentage of the United States population, less than 1 percent of news stories or special programming involved Latinos.

When Jose Padilla was arrested for allegedly trying to detonate a dirty bomb, the networks carried the story a disproportionate number of times. It was reported in great length for a quite a long time.

A favorite topic among the networks is illegal immigration. The networks focus on that topic by reporting in great detail all that occurs on the U.S.-Mexican border.

What people hear on the radio, what they see on television and movies and what they read in the news media has a great influence on the attitudes that are shaped and molded. How Asian Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are portrayed can bolster any stereotypes or negative images one may have toward that ethnic group. With little or no diversity in the media those negative images are reinforced. There are very few members of ethnic minorities in the media profession to give a balance to the reporting.

A study conducted by Children Now showed that in particular the television viewing hour between 8 and 9 p.m., known as "family hour," contained almost no ethnic diversity. The portrayal of the Hispanic minority was very stereotypical and sent the wrong message to children. The Screen Actors Guild reported that the number of actors of Asian-American, African-American and Hispanic origin actually began to decline since 1998, even though their percentage of the population has increased.

Media Images of Hispanics: Selected full-text books and articles

Dangerous Curves: Latina Bodies in the Media By Isabel Molina-Guzmán New York University Press, 2010
Patterns of Bias in Hollywood Movies By John W. Cones Algora, 2012
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Race-Based Portrayals"
Whose Home on the Range? Finding Room for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino Americans in the Revisionist Western By Hoffman, Donald MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 2, Summer 1997
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The George Lopez Show: The Same Old Hispano? By Markert, John Bilingual Review, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 2004
Classic Hollywood, Classic Whiteness By Daniel Bemardi University of Minnesota Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Delores Del Rio, Uncomfortably Real: The Economics of Race in Hollywood's Latin American Musicals"
Tilting to the White? By Tsubata, Kate The World and I, Vol. 19, No. 01, January 2004
Smashing the Stereotypes on the Big Screen By Ford, William J Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Vol. 26, No. 13, August 6, 2009
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