Setting the Record Straight About Latino Images

Heritage presumes records — tales captured for retrieval. This
nation’s most relentless archive is the media — but not for Hispanic
women and youth. Their images are absent.

This is the case even though Latinos will soon be the largest
minority population in the country, with the bulk of their numbers
falling within the childbearing years.

Of the 546 hours of news on the three networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC
— in 1997, only four hours and forty minutes related to Latinos. This
is down by 25 percent from the year before, when 1 percent of all news
was related to us. At that time, of 12,000 news stories aired, 121
concerned Latinos. More than two-thirds of those dealt with crime,
affirmative action, and immigration. These are mostly problem-driven
images that distort reality.

For example, studies show that immigrant families are stable. Dr.
William Julius Wilson III, drawing on research by the Center for the
Study of Urban Inequity, notes that Mexican immigrants have a stronger
attachment to the workforce. He also notes that they have stronger
households, networks, and neighborhoods than any of their inner-city
counterparts.

Only 1 percent of all television programming is aimed at or about
Latinos. In 1997, only twenty-five Latino regulars appeared in comedy
or dramatic series broadcast by the six largest networks. Almost all
dramatic regulars are adult male detectives on fictional police shows.
The shows depict them as unmarried or divorced, even though most
Mexican American Latinos marry between the ages of twenty and
twenty-one, and 68 percent of all Latino children live in two-parent
households. Three-quarters of Latino families in this country’s inner
cities are husband-wife teams. That’s the largest percentage of
traditional homes within any population group.

Latina mothers care about the depiction of their children. The most
familiar stories of inner-city youths include gangs, yet most minority
youngsters are not gang members. This reporting skews public
perception. A 1994 Gallup Poll found that the average respondent
believed youth responsible for 43 percent of all crime, although
federal records show they commit 13 percent — a figure that’s steadily
dropping.

The negative images frighten Latina mothers. And they mask youth
vulnerability. Ninety-one out of every 1,000 youth will be victims of
violence, compared to four out of every 1,000 of the elderly.

The news media’s stigmatization of minority youngsters scapegoats
them by making them appear to threaten traditional family values. But
Latinos are the most likely Americans to be living these values.

So as we celebrate heritage, perhaps this year we should put women
and children first. Latinas merit recognition as heroines too, doing a
good job in often grinding circumstances.

??Ay, mamasita! Serenaded within the family, her song is yet to be broadcast.

MERCEDES LYNN DE URIARTE and CRISTINA BODINGER-DE URIARTE were the
first mother-daughter duo to share Yale graduation ceremonies.
Mercedes, a former Los Angeles writer and editor, is now an associate
professor at the University of Texas-Austin. Christina is associate
chair of the sociology department at California State University-Los
Angeles.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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