Brokaw’s cluelessness shows why we need more Latino journalists
CHICAGO — I don’t usually write about the shortage of Latino journalists in American newsrooms because the issue is well-known to those who have the power to change it (yet never do) and dull inside baseball to everyone else.
However, the issue was brought to the fore on national TV Sunday morning when Tom Brokaw essentially whipped out a salt shaker, seasoned his foot, stuffed it in his mouth and proceeded to chew during NBC’s political show “Meet the Press.”
He started out by noting the rise of an “extraordinary, important, new constituent in American politics: Hispanics.” Then he immediately began spouting false information.
He declared with complete confidence that Latinos “will come here and all be Democrats.” First of all, the country of origin of most Latinos 35 and younger is already the United States. And furthermore, both polls and actual election voting data show that large swaths of Hispanics are Republican and voted for Trump in the last two elections.
Then Brokaw really chomped down: “I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.”
This is plain and simple cluelessness about Hispanics in America.
Latinos in the U.S. have been studied to death by academics, statisticians and government agencies, and there’s no question that they assimilate as fast as other ethnic groups historically have, and that it’s even happening so quickly that Latinos are starting to worry about a loss of language and culture that aids in family cohesion and other issues of identity.
I fretted that my two monolingual sons could not communicate with their Spanish-only grandmother, and then she passed away, leaving no one in my entire family who didn’t primarily use English in their day-to-day lives.
English is so commonplace among Latinos that they get most of their news from major English-language media organizations — who are failing them if their most respected journalists can’t even be bothered to learn basic data points about one of the largest populations in this country.
There was much outrage over Brokaw’s comments — which he weakly backpedaled via Twitter, offering an apology that felt forced. He then topped it off with a lame joke implying it was all an effort to get attention.
There was anger and, frankly, hurt, over Brokaw’s remark about assimilation — and his equally offensive anecdote suggesting that older white Americans have anxiety about “brown grandbabies.” But there was also a sense of outrage that once again a white man was on an important national TV show serving as an unquestioned expert on Hispanics.
Veteran journalists like Maria Hinojosa and Ray Suarez are ready and willing, as am I, to talk about the border, immigration, Latinos and much more. Others who would be more than eager to talk about these issues include journalists like Tanzina Vega of The TakeAway, political-show anchor Soledad O’Brien, the investigative reporter Aura Bogado and so many others
To restate the obvious, in an age when news is losing its credibility and fake news is proliferating, no one needs non-Hispanic “experts” misinforming the public and turning off one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country.
That said, let’s end on a high note.
Many Asians, Latinos and Native Americans often lament that most organizations that pride themselves on diversity and inclusion end their efforts with black folks. But let me say definitively that — even though it would be better if organizations accurately reflected this country — we sure are glad to have our black brothers and sisters around to speak up for us.
As the “Meet the Press” episode wrapped up, the last word went to Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for the PBS “NewsHour.” Of Haitian descent, Alcindor set the record straight:
“We also need to adjust what we think of as America. You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.”
It is terribly upsetting when educated people like Brokaw reveal their common misconception that bilingualism or biculturalism is anything less than an asset in an increasingly diverse America and global economy.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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