It’s not that the American Media is crooked, as Donald Trump rages against it, they’re blind-sided by their perception of America as white despite the fact that the United States has never been a majority country of white people (David Gandolfo, USA Today, Aug 16, 2017). Nevertheless, owing to the corporate structure of American media, the big dogs patrol the waterfront, albeit myopically. This myopia figure-grounds into invisibility American Hispanics who
“have been present in the United States since its founding in 1776 with Hispanic Jews in the population mix from the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam which became New York, plus the addition of Hispanics to the American population with the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the addition of Florida (1819), the U.S. War with Mexico (1846-48), the U.S. War with Spain (1898), the Mexican diaspora from 1910-1930), the Mexican Bracero Program (1942-1964), and the steady stream of immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean since the founding of the nation.”
American Hispanics receive scant coverage in the U.S. Media despite the fact that they constitute almost 20 percent of the total U.S. population–about 1 out of 5 Americans is an American Hispanic. By 2040 Census projections estimate that 1 out of 4 Americans will be Hispanic. And, according to the Census Bureau, by the end of the century half the American population will be Hispanic not from immigration but from the Census population of American Hispanics—if fertility and motility ratios remain constant.
It was not immigration that destroyed Rome, which Samuel Huntington believed will destroy the United States and which presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, during his campaign run for the presidency, will be the bane of the country, it was the excesses of its leaders who believed that because of the power they wielded they had become all powerful. They were so vain they thought they were invincible.
While immigration is an important consideration in the growth of the American Hispanic population, that growth will be amortized as the “human capital” that will help forge the future of the United States. Despite these promising figures, Hispanics are plagued by the tar baby of The Black Legend, so much so that a bevy of states have enacted anti-Hispanic legislation to curtail their growth and power, under the rubric of “stemming illegal immigration.”
An effort to foil the intellectual growth and self-awareness of Mexican Americans in Arizona, the Arizona state department of Education eliminated Mexican American Studies in the public schools on grounds that they fomented revolution and violence as well as being anti-American. A federal court ruled the ban unconstitutional.
Myopic journalism plagues mainstream journalism today. Not that it was easier in the past. While discrimination was ever present in bygone days, it did not have the genocidal impulse gurgling up from the cabbage patch or from the verbal orifice of the Chief Executive mired in xenophobic cloaca. The inevitable outcome was the garbage of fake news about Hispanics—especially Mexicans and Mexican Americans as was the case when Trump discredited the Indiana-born Judge Curiél by referring to him as a “Mexican” judge when in fact he’s an American judge.
“This is, . . . what Donald Trump did to the United States District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel . . . when he repeatedly cited the Indiana-born Curiel’s identity as a “Mexican” as evidence that Curiel could not be impartial in the California class-action lawsuit against Trump University.”
(Jia Tolentino, Trump and the Truth: The “Mexican” Judge, The New Yorker, September 20, 2016)
The implication of impartiality blankets all Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Fake news about Hispanics in the U.S.—including Dreamers and the exorbitant number reputed to be undocumented rapists, drug runners, abusing the American dole—popped up all over the myopicsphere diminishing the presence and significance of Mexicans cum U.S. citizens and native born Mexican Americans in the country.
By and large, American history tends to obscure or occult the fact that Hispanics have played an important role in the evolution of the United States. Early colonial newspapers carried little or no stories about minorities in their midst. Certainly no thought was given to groups classified as “the other” except for groups listed by Crevecoeur in his census of early colonial populations.
Consciousness of “minority” peoples grew in the American mind with the rise of newspapers as the principle medium for public information. The advent of other forms of media such as film and radio increased American awareness of “foreigners” among them even though most Americans by that time had at one time been foreigners themselves with the exception of ’Territorial Minorities” of Hispanics—Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans.
An old African proverb avers that “The history of the lion hunt will always favor the hunter until Lions have their own historians.” In like fashion the images of Hispanics in the media will not favor Hispanics until Hispanics have more control of their own images in the media. In 1971, the New American Library published a Mentor Book on The Chicano: From Caricature to Self-Portrait which included works by non-Hispanics and their caricatures of Chicanos, followed with works that included portraits of themselves by Chicanos. Since the advent of the “Chicano Renaissance,” a term I coined in the first history of Mexican American literature (Ortego, 1971), Chicano scholars have been busy refuting with counter-texts the lies and misinformation about them in the American media.
This is to say that commensurate with their numbers in the American population, Hispanics do not have sufficient writers getting the story of Hispanics out to the general American public. And those Hispanic writers, we do have, face obstacles and outright rejections except in Spanish-language venues. In 1973 The New York Review of Books rejected my proposal for a piece on Chicano Literature in favor of a comparable piece by a white non Chicano academic with only passing knowledge about Chicano literature and its writers. This was a rejection despite being the author of the first literary history of Mexican Americans and principal scholar of the Chicano Renaissance—the efflorescence of Chicano writers in the 60s and early 70s.
The story of American Hispanics is woefully deficient and lacking in the textbooks of American education, in the anthologies of American literature, and in the newspapers and magazines of the American public. The stories about American Hispanics that are “out there” for the American public are stories full of misinformation and distortion, consistent with The Black Legend.
Hispanics in general, and American Hispanics (U.S. Hispanics) in particular, have been the butt of historical distortion, defamation, slander, libel, and stereotyping in an unbroken string of public perceptions since the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Queen Elizabeth lost no time in turning the inglorious destruction of the Spanish Armada into a major public relations campaign “defeat” against the Spaniards. The result has been a 429 year assault on the Hispanic character via what has become “The Black Legend.” Never mind that it was the weather—a perfect 10 storm, not the English navy—that destroyed the Spanish Armada of the most powerful nation at the time.
Capitalizing on the demise of the Spanish Armada as proof of English naval superiority, the English lost no time in launching a propaganda blitz against the Spanish by characterizing them as “inherently barbaric, corrupt, and intolerant; lovers of cruelties and blood-shed.” Moreover, Spaniards were said to be in league with the prince of darkness himself which is why God punished them by destroying their navy and rewarded the English not only for their naval prowess but for their religious steadfastness.
Protestant Europe seized this opportunity to paint Spaniards as repressive, inhuman, and barbaric. Never mind that the Spanish Armada was crippled by a storm against which there was little or no wiggle room. Out of the turmoil of the Spanish Armada, La Leyenda Negra “charges that the Spanish were uniquely cruel, bigoted, tyrannical, and treacherous” (Powell, 16).
None of this is to exculpate the Spanish excesses of its colonization in the Americas. Demonization of Spaniards transmogrified into demonization of Hispanics in general. Maria de Guzman calls this “Spain’s long shadow.” It’s this “long shadow” that has given American
Hispanics a bad press. There are other motives, of course—white supremacy, xenophobia, Aryanism, ignorance, intolerance.
True to form, the post-9/11 Hispanic Threat Narrative posits that Hispanics are not like previous immigrant groups “who ultimately became part of the nation” (Chavez, 2). The core group of territorial Hispanics were not immigrants. They became Americans by conquest. Never mind that the roots of those American Hispanics go back centuries before the arrival of the English in America.
In the April 2004 issue of Foreign Policy, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington declared that Mexicans and other Hispanics “have not assimilated into mainstream U. S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American Dream” (Huntington, 30), adding that if Hispanics expected to achieve the American dream they had to dream in English.
There is no doubt that media influences public attitudes about Hispanics. Across the United States, Hispanics are disadvantaged by misconceptions non-Hispanics have about them in the community created by mainstream media. In a Washington DC interview with Bob Butler of the National Association of Black Journalists and Felix Sanchez of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Michael Martin host of the NPR show Tell Me More elicit-ed from Felix Sanchez that “the lack of diversity is a problem that goes well beyond television news” (NPR). This is actually a problem everywhere in the news media, exacerbated perhaps more in the broadcast media than in the print media because of the iconic imagery of the former, much of it a direct outgrowth of The Black Legend.
Anent this imagery, Ruben Navarrette wrote in a San Jose Mercury News piece that one of the things Hispanics “find galling about the mainstream media is when they turn on the television and four pundits are sitting at a table discussing Latinos or some issue that impacts Latinos—there isn’t a single Latino present.” This is the situation most often at CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and National News Channels. All of them spouting out what little they know about American Hispanics, ending with expressions in mangled Spanish.
Expecting Hispanics to find their voice on Univision or Telemundo is like expecting French Americans to find their voice in Paris Match. It doesn’t matter that many of us are “coordinate Bilinguals,” at home linguistically in Spanish or English. Little attention is paid to the fact that American Hispanics are essentially an English-Speaking population and that fifteen percent of American Hispanics are essentially a Spanish-Speaking population who do find their voice on Univision and Telemundo. These are important media venues for them. But it is egregious for American media (and marketers) to think that the only way to reach American Hispanics is through Spanish-language media. This is a clue that “they” don’t know who American Hispanics are and a further clue of the extent to which American media is influenced by The Black Legend. Eventually, however, all this must give way as the American Hispanic population increases.
My efforts at reformative journalism began when I was an undergraduate Comparative Studies major at Pitt on the G.I. Bill right after World War II with an undergraduate minor in journalism. After Pitt I interned at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and in subsequent years while pursuing graduate studies in English wrote for a string of newspapers, landing as Assistant Professor of English and Associate Director of the Freshman Writing Program at New Mexico State University, teaching students how to write successful four paragraph essays.
I had a heady spell of writing for The Nation, Saturday Review, The Texas Observer, and other national publications, all the while cranking out academic pieces for The Chaucer Review, The American Scholar, The Shakespeare Quarterly, and others in the evolution of my academic career as a professor of English and Writing.
My aspirations as a journalist came to a head when I threw in with Dan Valdes in Denver in 1972 to form La Luz Magazine. We were way ahead of the Hispanic curve with a public affairs magazine in English for American Hispanics whom everybody thought spoke and read only in Spanish. We were an unknown factor, plowing new ground.
In 1982 I moved on to Washington DC where with other Hispanics we organized The National Hispanic Reporter, a floundering enterprise to deliver national news to American Hispanics in English.
The future of Hispanic journalism lies with the Internet domain with sites like Historia Chicana, Somos Primos, LatinoStories.com, Latinopia.com, Somos en Escrito, and a host of others. This is not to say that aspiring Hispanic journalists should not shoot for slots on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and other mainstream print, electronic, and broadcast venues, for every American issue is an American Hispanic issue and needs an Hispanic voice. This doesn’t mean that Hispanic journalists should be ear-marked solely for Hispanic assignments. Foremost, Hispanic journalists are journalists first who happen to be Hispanic.
Copyright 2017 by Phillip de Ortego y Gasca. The NBC logo is used under “fair use” clause in the copyright law. All other photos are in the public domain.
Works Cited and Consulted
Chavez, Leo R. The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. Stan-ford University Press, 2008.
Crevecoeur, Hedctor St. Jean de. Letters From an American Farmer, 1782.
de Guzman, Maria. Spain’s Long Shdow: The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness, and Anglo-American Empire, University of Minnesota, 2005.
Huntington, Samuel P. “The Hispanic Challenge,” Foreign Policy, March-April 2004, 30-45.
Lilley, Sandra. “Poll: 1 out of 3 Americans inaccurately think most Hispanics are undocu-mented,” National Hispanic Media Coalition and Latino Decisions, September 12, 2012.
Motel, Seth and Eileen Patten. “Characteristics of the 60 Largest Hispanic Metropolitan Ar-eas,” PEW Hispanic Center, September 19, 2012.
National Public Radio, Tell Me More hosted by Michel Martin: “Bleak Picture for Minority Managers in Newsroom,” September 19, 2012.
Navarrette, Ruben. “Latinos not at the Table,” San Jose Mercury News, September 14, 2012.
Ortego y Gasca, Felipe de. La Leyenda Negra/The Black Legend. LatinoStories.com; Scribd. 2011.
_________________________________. Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature, University of New Mexico, 1971.
Powell, Philip Wayne. Tree of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudice Affecting United Sates Rela-
tions with the Hispanic World. New York, Basic Books, 1971.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. “The Significance of the American Frontier in Western Histo-ry,” 1893.
Author’s Note: This essay draws extensively from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: The “Bipolar” Hispanic in Contemporary Mainstream News Media” a presentation I gave at the Conference on Hispanics and the Media: The Emerging Power Conference, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Florida International University, Biscayne Bay Campus, Florida, October 18, 2012.