Minutes after Academy Award nominated actor Terrence Howard watched a screening of The Latino List, a film which will debut tonight on HBO, he told me, feeling very inspired by the compelling documentary, “what I loved most (about the film) was that there were no victims! The stories were unfiltered, honest and unapologetically Latino."
The documentary, by photographer and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, is an assemblage of more than a dozen interviews – think talking portraits – that languorously come to life to tell their own stories in their own voices. Maria Hinojosa and myself, two Emmy award-winning journalists, conducted these intimate interviews over a year and a half long period.
After each conversation, because at the core that is what I felt that I had with these fierce minds and souls, people such as finance expert Juli Stav, Afro Latino cultural advocate, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, radio host, El Piolin, to name a few, I left a little bigger, a lot wiser and very much proud to belong to a group of people who despite, and in spite of societal obstacles, class, gender, color, sexual orientation and immigration status, broke through barriers to fulfill amazing lives.
The feeling of awe and lift that I experienced each time I finished an interview was not mine alone. One of the film’s fascinating subjects, Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull, told me minutes after his riveting interview session that he wished more projects like these existed. I recall the Miami born-and-raised rapper turning to me after we finished and almost shocked, thanked me because ‘nothing negative’ was raised. He also said that it was rare to be part of media projects where Latinos are explored not as a “market but as human beings.”
Pitbull and Terrence Howard’s keen insights are worth noting and exploring not only because it’s a trend that has been slowly blossoming for the past decade since the “First Decade of the Hispanic” was declared in the 1990’s, but because the actor and the rapper’s observations offer a tangible example that Latinos – now at 50 million Americans -- have arrived. When media stops only focusing the Hispanic community’s pathologies – and like the rest of the nation’s many groups, admittedly, Latinos certainly have our issues, ( think for a minute when was the last time any national media outlet delivered a series called, “White in America,” where issues such as teen pregnancy, crime, and awful health are explored within that group), and instead, we see more media projects featuring Latino and Latina achievements, not as paradoxical events, but as normal every day happenings, the ball moves forward, even if its just a tiny bit.
I was drawn to journalism in great part to be able to report on the men and women in the immigrant working class New Jersey town of Jersey City, where I was raised, in a more balanced light. Newspapers, magazines and television shows when I was growing up three decades ago only focused on the crime and desperation of a community of people with names like Garcia, Rodriguez and Martinez. What I seldom saw in media-- and what I wanted to put a spotlight on-– was to report on an honest group of people who worked hard everyday, paid their taxes and raised law abiding, America-loving children. I wanted to be part of a group of journalists who told the whole truth – not the half story.
And for two decades -- whether as a reporter for El Diario La Prensa, a behind the scenes producer at Fox and Telemundo, an editor and writer at the New York Post, or as an author of two books - I’ve kept that promise. Journalism that inspires, educates and entertains is important to me not because it personally lifts my spirit or makes my “people look good” as someone once sarcastically accused me of doing, rather because these stories were and are a fact, an American reality, that happens everyday and that rarely, if ever, made its was to mainstream media stories. When media consumers see only half a story, they get a distorted view of a people and that is how stereotypes flourish. And, tragically, that is one of the ways that self-hate is born.
More than a decade ago, I was part of the first wave of the shift from less “truthy” reportage to use a Stephen Colbert phrase and to a more balanced journalism about Hispanics when I was named editor in chief of Latina magazine. The magazine at the time broke new ground not just because it was targeting an invisible and largely ignored segment of the Hispanic population– Hispanics who preferred to consume media in English – but because for the first time on a monthly basis, Latina women were portrayed in our full breadth, not just as pretty things that made the world look good and smell pretty or clean someone’s homes or raise other people’s children, but Latinas who were making things happen in law, education, politics, science, government, the arts and more. While I was editor of the magazine in 1999 I commissioned the first national feature story of a then rising star on the Federal bench, Sonia Sotomayor, now a Supreme Court Justice. Like Justice Sotomayor, who is by the way, also featured in The Latino List, there were many Hispanic women doing a superb job and yet invisible to mainstream media outlets.
Fast forward to Monday night, and minutes after the screening at the Brooklyn Museum, that I zip to a mid-town Manhattan venue to celebrate another great achievement, Latina magazine’s fifteen-year anniversary.
It was an extraordinary career night for me as a journalist that lifted me because a media that tell the entire story of a group as fully dimensional human beings – not just numbers to try to squeeze cash or votes from or a people with a series of pathologies –tell the story of an American people who are making progress, fighting obstacles, achieving success, and just as importantly, contributing to the betterment of this great nation. That is, at the core, a purely unique American news story and one that it’s exciting to see finally and fully being explored.