Opinion: ‘Why Are We Marginalized?’

Mariel Fiori (Photo via La Voz)

[Leer en español.]

A couple of weeks ago, I was a panelist at a discussion titled: Democracy, Journalism and Capitalism, how do they coexist? I was the only woman in the panel, and the only Latina, so I knew I had to voice what nobody else would.

According to the census, Latinos make up almost 18 percent of the country’s population. That is, one in every eight people in the United States is Hispanic. However, we account for more than half the recent demographic growth, meaning that one in every four children is Hispanic. This means that the future of this country is looking more and more Hispanic. In our region we can see this clearly in school districts, particularly in elementary schools, where more than a quarter of the children are Hispanic (in fact, in cities like Newburgh, it’s already more than half).

How can we have a democracy, a government of the people, when almost 20 percent of the population is overlooked from the news and media in general? For the past few decades, study after study has shown that Latinos are not only misrepresented in the news and media in general, including movies and shows, usually under negative stereotypes like drug dealers or maids; but we are also underrepresented, showing up in the news and movies less than 2 percent of the time.

In a study from 2015 (“The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media”), filmmaker and scholar Frances Negrón-Muntaner concludes that: “People largely imagine themselves and their relationship to others according to the stories circulating in the public sphere; they also act according to the information provided through news outlets. So, if Latinos are not part of the story and the information available is limited and biased, this has at least two major consequences. One, many Latinos will internalize that they are not valuable human beings, leading to diminished aspirations and wasted potential. Two, many non-Latinos will also incorporate these ideas and feel that they have a license to marginalize and even physically harm Latinos. Either way, we all lose.” Does this sound familiar?

If the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Latinos in the news and in the media were only a capitalistic issue, then we would be seeing more Latinos in the news and in politics. After all, many national and local companies have already noticed us and when you call their offices, you hear the familiar “para español presione 2 / press 2 for Spanish.” Corporations know that we are a good market to tap into, we have purchasing power; we are a great group of consumers. But Latinos still don’t occupy positions of power, as we should according to our numbers, and not just in the news or in politics; even schools in New York are lagging behind in representation.

The Education Trust of New York released a sobering report this month. In the 2015-16 academic year, the study found that just 16 percent of New York’s teachers are Black or Latino compared to 43 percent of its students. One third of all New York schools have no Latino or Black teachers. What happens when white, Latino and Black children don’t see people of color in positions of power, starting in their schools? We have a lot of work ahead of us, ladies and gentlemen.

First step: Recognize you have a problem, talk about it. Houston, we have a problem.

Why are we Latinos marginalized in the news and media in general, not to mention other spaces? Well, for many reasons. An obvious one: Have you stepped into a newsroom of a local newspaper or a TV channel lately? You won’t see much diversity there. They need more bilingual staff, and we need more Latino professionals, in all fields, by the way.

And as far as politics goes, we know that in the elections of 2016, only 47 percent of the Latinos who are eligible to vote actually did it (compared to 61 percent of the overall population). Could it be that they ignore us because we ignore them? Or is it the other way around? It’s clear that everyone loses with this status quo.

Thus, while you think about how to resolve the other important issues I raised here, I invite you to do one thing right away: go and vote this Tuesday, Nov. 7. They are local elections, but important all the same. If you can’t vote, tell your friends, acquaintances, and family members to do so, and urge them to fulfill their democratic duty. It’s the least they can do.

Mariel Fiori is managing editor of La Voz. This story first appeared in the publication.

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