Friday, May 9, 2014

Mexican Culture and the News

I read in the news that there were two apologies from journalists on morning network news programs because of things they did on the 5th of May.  That's Cinco de Mayo.  I didn't see the live news segments but, reportedly, a male reporter on MSNBC and Lara Spencer, co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America both visually summed up Cinco de Mayo as a day for wearing sombreros and drinking a lot of liquor, being or Tequila or Margaritas.  Lara mentioned it being a day for increased Margarita sales.  The MSNBC guy went with the drinking Tequila straight from the bottle reference.  On the network news program.

This is actor Michael Peña.
Born in Chicago, the son of Mexican immigrants, he's a gifted young actor who has played significant roles in four films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award:  Million Dollar Baby (winner, Best Picture of 2004),  Crash (winner, Best Picture of 2005), Babel and American Hustle.

This year, moviegoers saw him play the lead role in a big screen biopic.  He played the 1960s civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez, the man who successfully fought for the rights of migrant Mexican farmworkers in California.
America Ferrera, star and producer of the hit ABC sitcom, Ugly Betty, and a Mexican-American native of Southern California, played the leader's activist wife, Helen Chavez.  Diego Luna, the Mexican-born actor who starred in the critically acclaimed Mexican film, Y Tu Mamá También and starred opposite Sean Penn in Milk, the film the brought Penn a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the late gay rights leader, Harvey Milk, directed Cesar Chavez.  I was a 1960s child of L.A. and grew up knowing the significance of Chavez.  I heard about this Mexican labor organizer constantly on the local news, in the national news and in the classroom.  He was important to me.
When promoting that biopic, I heard America Ferrera on KPCC radio say that, when she was a girl, it was so significant for her as a Mexican-American to see the positive racial images in Stand and Deliver.  In that 1988 true life story, Edward James Olmos played the inspirational East L.A. high school teacher, Jaime Escalante.  The math teacher went into a tough school in the mostly Mexican-American community and motivated students to distinguish themselves academically.  Olmos received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.

Here's a pic of Peña, Ferrera and director/actor Diego Luna.
Do you think they would've gone on a live network news program, like those Caucasian journalists did,  wearing sombreros and giving shout-outs to Margaritas or Tequila?  I bet not.  Would musician Carlos Santana, actress Salma Hayek or Mexican director of Y Tu Mamá También and Gravity, Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron, have donned a sombrero and pretended to chug from aTequila bottle on a news program for Cinco de Mayo?
I bet not.                                                                                                                                                     

Which leads me to think that, perhaps, there were no Mexican-Americans on staff working in the control rooms or in top positions of the news productions teams who could say "Are you sure you want to do that?  How do you think minorities are going to react?"  Just like back in the 1990s, I bet there were no Puerto Rican writers or producers present to say to the Seinfeld people in L.A. after reading a script, "Are you sure you want to set the flag of Puerto Rico on fire in this episode?  Do you think Puerto Ricans in New York City are going to find that funny?"  Puerto Ricans, of course, did not -- as NBC quickly learned when that particular Seinfeld episode aired.

If I was a producer on those news teams, in the morning meeting before the show, I would've said to my talent "No sombreros.  No Tequila.  No sarapes.  Nothing that seems like an ethnic stereotype.
we can have fun, but remember...this is still a news program."

I'm glad the MSNBC people and Lara Spencer apologized.

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