Repairing the Latino Image: How Latino in America Failed Us

February 9th, 2011 · 5 Comments

By Matthew Stieglitz

As I peruse the Latino landscape in this country, I can’t help but come to back the same thought: Soledad O’Brien let me down. As many of you will recall, last year Soledad filmed Latino in America, the Latino version of Black in America. Refusing to miss the program, I got my popcorn ready Terrell Owens-style and prepared for what I thought was going to be an insightful view on Latino contributions to the US. Not only was I disappointed by what I watched, I was angry. Stereotypes prevailed the entire program, and our lone example of Latino entrepreneurial success was a chef no one outside of the Univision faithful have heard of. While this all needs to be mentioned, it leaves a great deal to be desired. My anger ultimately subsided, but that doesn’t mean this piece should go unwritten.

Where Latino in America failed is in what I so badly wanted: inspiration. Soledad had the opportunity to do what so few of us can: use her credibility and popularity to both document and highlight the plight of the Latino. This means addressing the negative and the positive. While she found a variety of meritorious topics to touch on, she struck out looking when it came to uplifting this community and advancing an image of Latinos that does not involve pregnant teens, loss of culture, and illegal immigration. None of our accomplishments in business and politics were highlighted, and the program failed in its ability to inspire. Instead, the program did a great job of reminding everyone which immigrants are hated, who holds the highest high school dropout rate, and who isn’t measuring up.

Sure, Soledad trotted out the usual suspects of Edward James Olmos, Eva Longoria, and George Lopez to remind us that celebrity status is right around the corner with hard work and sacrifice. But after that, it was back to the barrage of negativity that essentially illustrated the following: a demographic that just doesn’t measure up.  I didn’t allocate my time to that program to hear that broken record of failing students, subtraction of culture, and anti-immigrant (i.e. anti-Latino) communities. What I wanted to know were the stories we don’t hear but need to hear about what we’re doing right. The stories about how far we’ve come and what wonderful accomplishments are on the horizon. OK, so I didn’t get what I wanted. There are greater ills in the world. But here’s how it’s actually relevant.

For non-Latinos who watched for an inside look of our community, their perception of Latinos right now is probably pregnant teens, loss of culture, and limited success. Taking it a step further is how Latinos felt after watching the program. In general, all we’re fed are the negatives. A down economy, a failing education system, inadequate healthcare, two wars, global warming, anti-immigrant sentiments, and you get the picture by now. It’s a very negative landscape, and one that seldom offers inspiration. Underscoring all of this is a political system that reeks of a pissing contest between politicians who are more interested in blaming their opposing parties than legitimate bi-partisan collaboration. And within all of that is an image of Latinos that these days is not positive, which Latino in America did little to dispel.

Never mind that we have a Latina Supreme Court justice, Latino elected officials, prominent athletes, and a growing presence in every sector of American society. The negatives had to prevail. While knowing how popular the name Garcia is makes for an interesting conversation piece, I’m not particularly interested in triviality. Instead, I’m interested in inspiration, particularly in light of the continual deterioration of society taking place in Arizona. As such, since Soledad got to give her opinion on Latinos in America, here is mine.

To be Latino in America in the 21st century is to be the backbone of this nation. Certain sectors of the economy would crash tomorrow if Latinos stopped working, and our military would be severely depleted without Latino soldiers. We peacefully assemble in the face of bigots who would rather see the entire community deported, and in so doing carry ourselves with a grace we often are not afforded. Beyond that, our culture is rich and our societal contributions will only continue, making our presence in this country significant. Simply stated, we are America. But none of that was highlighted by Latino in America. Thus, I write this piece to call on our community to not fall into the trap that Soledad did. I urge you to find and highlight what we do correctly, find our inspiration, and flaunt it.

Matthew Stieglitz received his BA in Communication from the University of Delaware. He is currently a 2011 Master of Public Administration candidate at Cornell University concentrating in Government, Politics, & Policy Studies. After receiving his MPA, Matthew will attend law school in order to merge his public affairs background with a legal education to most effectively advocate for Latinos.

Tags: Education · health care · Immigration · Latino History · Media · teen pregnancy · Univision

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anna // Feb 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Are you really shocked that CNN broadcast a racist show about Latinos? Please, wake up.

  • 2 Chicano future tense // Feb 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Who the hell died and made Soledad O’Brien the expert on Latinos in America anyway?

    Being one quarter Irish myself gives me just about the same level of expertise and credibility to be conducting a TV special on Univision entitled “Los Irlandes en America”…hosted By Chicano future tense.

    Hell why not? what’s good enough for the goose is good enough for the gander..right?

    I mean what will I feature on my TV special about the Irish ??
    Oh, let’s see-that they are a bunch of drunks who live for a pint of ale or a even better a bottle of Irish whiskey?
    let’s try this one..that Irish love to get smashed and then fight like maniacs destroying everything around them..
    How about-that the dumb Irish really do believe in Leprechauns,Banshees and the Wee People..

    I’ll even better that..let’s ask our British friends for some advice about the Irish..I’m sure they would have some positive things to say about them-that they are born criminals,moral ingrates,and satanic Catholic worshipers of the satanic papal “whore of babylon”..

    Hey! who knows maybe Soldedad did her research with the help of such experts such as Tom Tancredo,Gov.Jan Brewer,Frosty Woolridge,and hell maybe even Jennifer Lopez that intellectual Latina giant..??

    Me thinks Soledad is about much of authority on Latinos as I am of the Irish.

    I mean after all I am one quarter Irish OK…Happy Saint Patrick Day! Erin, Go Bragh!…. and pass the goddamn bottle please…
    and if you don’t I will break your face..

  • 3 Melissa // Feb 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Matt, I agree with many of your points.
    You can ask those who were around when I watched it, I was quite angry that she portrayed Latinos in such a stereotypical light. But you also have to take into consideration that the project was funded by CNN, a major corporation. Maybe Soledad didn’t have as much freedom of expression as she would’ve liked? Regardless, the notes I took when I watched it last year reflect much of what you wrote in this piece, so nice work!

  • 4 Eliana // Feb 10, 2011 at 6:01 am


    Thank you for writing this piece, your words remind me a lot about how I felt when I watched the documentary. I was very disappointed and sad because I feel that the story as a whole only helped solidify the stereotypes that individuals who are not Latino might have believed.

    Keep up the good work, I love reading your blog!

  • 5 Jaango // Feb 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    When I write for the Cactus Juice Commentaries for the Chicano Veterans Organization, I keep two elements of any focus in mind and they are the 1) The Native American/Chicano Construct in front of me at all times, and 2) the Census Bureau analytics on full display.

    Therefore, Soledad O’Brian was a Journalist for a number of years here in Phoenix, Arizona, and she demonstrate no exemplary behaviors that I found to be significant. E’nuff said?

    However, when I think of “leadership and entrepreneurship” I have found that social networking can pay dividends, and if one looks to both Tunisia and Egypt, it was this two-year effort by the Young Adults, that has captured the hearts and minds of us, the Oldsters, yes, the grumpyies like myself.

    Consequently, it’s the responsibility and duty of the Young Adults to “announce” themselves and in their determined “loud” voices. Otherwise, you will abjectly ignored or cavalierly dismissed.

    And for those of us and who have laced up the combat books and strapped on the body, in years past, we too look to the future, but in the following manner. Here are some pivotal examples for the future and to be considered by the Young Adults.

    1. a federal law that prohibits political parties from accepting memberships from America’s bigots and racists.

    2. a Federal Reserve System that advocates the primary element of its charter and as designed by Congress and that is to address full-employment. If the Fed can create trillions in “digital dollars” to ameliorate the damage done by both the banking and financial services industries, addressing full employment, should not be much of a stretch for even a self-limiting success, but then, I have to remind myself that both Obama and Biden have adopted the mantra of the Neo-liberal camouflage among the ‘base’ of the Democratic Party.

    3. an established infrastructure for an academic-military draft, and in which completed, the Federal Reserve System would supply the financing to complete a third and fourth year of academics and done at the equivalent rate that banks borrow monies from the Fed.

    Of course, I could go on and on here in this post, but being reminded that in two generations, or forty year and equivalent to the year of 2050, 75% of America’s population will be “diversity” and of course, the remaining 25% of a white population will be insufficient to sustain and maintain a Republican Party. Therefore, imagine if you will, a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Part Two, and in which the arch-conservatives (both Neo-conservatives and Neo-liberals preaching their Ignorance and Hate) can voluntarily deport themselves to either Canada or Mexico and paid for by the taxpayers. And where will these monies come from? Our foreign aid will be equally distributed between Canada and Mexico and done in order to “buy cooperation” as per our diplomatic/state department systemic.


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