The Way We Are Perceived Is How We Will Be Treated

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in Spanish on

Protests in Murrieta, California
Immigrants’ rights advocates in Murrieta, California

Have you ever wondered why, despite overwhelming support, immigration reform still hasn’t been passed? Or why anti-immigrant laws that permit racial profiling, like Arizona’s SB1070, are popping up across the country? Or why so many—mostly white—people in Murrieta, California are coming out in droves, holding signs and chanting racist slurs, to prevent youth escaping humanitarian crises from entering the U.S.?

When you consider the fact that Latinos are still largely absent, or depicted stereotypically, in mainstream English-language media, this is not at all surprising.

What people watch and read shapes how they view and treat their neighbors who are different from them. Media that not only includes but also fairly depicts Latinos prove that we are connected through common, human experiences; and as a result, we are increasingly welcomed into a society that respects difference.

If you watch news in Spanish, you see thousands of Latino experts, working to improve the country for all Americans–whether they’re educators, scientists, lawyers or leaders working for rights of domestic workers or immigrants. But you wouldn’t know that by watching the news in English. As important as Spanish-language media has become and will continue to be, the truth is that the majority of Americans and our nation’s decision-makers watch news and entertainment in English.

Not seeing Latinos in news and entertainment is not a matter of small consequence. The way we are perceived is the way we will be treated. This is one of the biggest barriers to achieving equality in this country.

Studies have found that underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Latinos and immigrants in media have fueled prejudices and misconceptions about them among non-Latinos.

Take English-language news coverage about immigration for example. It glaringly lacks Latino and immigrant voices and expertise to counter unsubstantiated and inaccurate rhetoric, and to put a Latino face and perspective. Among the consequences is that one-third of non-Latinos inaccurately thought that more than half of American Latinos were undocumented, according to a 2012 poll commissioned by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC).

In our poll, non-Latinos also reported seeing Latinos mostly portrayed as criminals, gardeners or housekeepers — but not as lawyers, doctors, or judges. With all due respect to the hard and dignified work of gardeners and housekeepers, Latinos need to be seen in a wider array of roles.

That is why NHMC works to make the media fair and inclusive of Latinos. Currently, Latinos are largely absent from newsrooms and television writers rooms; not many Latinos own media outlets; and we’re rarely invited as expert guests on news programs. The reality is that news coverage and entertainment portrayals won’t be fair and accurate until more Latinos are employed at all levels in media, and own media outlets–and this is what we aim to achieve.

I am proud to say that we recently launched the Latino Experts Program to increase the visibility of Latino experts in local news coverage in English and Spanish. We traveled to the 12 largest cities in the country, training more than 100 Latino leaders to speak on television.

We are now connecting these leaders with executives at local television stations across the country so that their news coverage can offer a Latino perspective and, as a result, better serve the diversity of their communities. For non-Latinos and Latinos alike it is important to see Latino views and faces in news discussing the most important issues of the day in this country, both in English and Spanish.

At NHMC, we believe that our Latino stories and our Latino experts should be a part of the national conversation. The strength of our democracy depends on it. The Latino talent and expertise is there, and it’s time for media to reflect that reality.

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