October 27, 2006

Univision Anchor Jorge Ramos: US-Mexico Wall ‘A 700 Mile Mistake’

By Odette Alcazaren-Keeley

SAN FRANCISCO—Jorge Ramos is a former journalist in Mexico, and is the Emmy-winning anchor of Univision’s nightly newscast, Noticiero Univision for the last 20 years. Univision is the country’s largest Spanish-language network. Ramos is also a best-selling author, a nationally syndicated columnist and radio commentator. He joined Odette Alcazaren- Keeley, anchor and producer of New America Media’s newscast on its radio program, “Upfront,” by telephone from Univision’s Miami studios. He told Keeley that he wants to continue being the voice for voiceless Latinos in the United States.

New America Media (NAM): In a recent column, you called the proposed border fence a “700-mile mistake” and pointed to a great irony about the construction of this border wall.

Jorge Ramos (JR): The great irony is that undocumented immigrants might end up building a wall that’s supposed to prevent other undocumented immigrants from coming to the United States.

As long as we have immigrants or Mexicans or people in Central America without a job, or people making $4 or $5 a day, and jobs for them in the United States in which they can make the same amount of money in 30 minutes or one hour, they’re going to keep on coming. Immigrants are contributing incredibly to the economy of the United States. So not only are those immigrants needed in the United States, we’re going to be needing even more immigrants in the future to keep on having the growth that we’re so used to here.

NAM: In the early part of this year, we saw historic protests all over the country for immigration reform. Did Univision play a role, as did Hispanic media in general, in mobilizing thousands to take to the streets?

JR: I should point out that we at Univision follow exactly the same journalistic principles as other major networks. In other words, we are not supposed to, and we do not, give our opinion on the air. On the other hand, many people working in radio stations, especially in Los Angeles, with names that many Americans are simply not familiar with — like El Piolín or El Cucuy — people who are simply well-known in the Hispanic community and in the immigrant community, they were responsible for mobilizing hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the streets for the first time since I can remember, and I have been in this country for 23 years.

These mobilizations, these immigrants, made visible what has been invisible to many Americans. In other words, when you go to a restaurant, you simply do not realize that the prices you are paying are lower thanks to the labor of undocumented immigrants. And this happens in every single aspect of economic life in the United States.

NAM: El Piolín and El Cucuy — these 2 Spanish DJs rose to the forefront of the coverage of this issue. Many argue that it wasn’t their sole mobilization or efforts that made thousands join the marches. They say the movement was a convergence of many factors.

JR: You’re absolutely right. The reality is, there were dozens and dozens of immigrant groups that got together and made this possible. However, the two DJs’ role in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of immigrants, was, in my opinion, fundamental.

NAM: There were reports about Univision putting its foot down at one point and not supporting the opinions or efforts of El Piolín or El Cucuy about these marches. Were those reports true at all?

JR: As I was telling you, Univision has exactly the same journalistic rules as any other American network. We are the fifth largest network in the United States. I would challenge any one of your listeners to try to find out what is going on, for instance, in Bolivia or in Ecuador today or in Nicaragua, or what’s going on with the Hispanic community. Tuning in to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, it’s almost impossible. So I think we’re doing a great job — providing a different angle to what’s going on in this country.

NAM: But there are critics, not of Univision specifically, but of Hispanic media in general who say that the way Hispanic media practices its reporting is more like advocacy journalism than objective reporting.

JR: Well, I would love for them to speak a little Spanish and realize and notice what we’re doing on a daily basis. What’s so interesting is that they might criticize us, but when it comes to ratings, we are in many cities — like Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Chicago, New York — we are beating English-language newscasts every single day. So, I think we’re doing something right. For instance, about 10 years ago, only 25 percent of Latinos got their news in Spanish. Now that percentage has grown to almost 50 percent.

NAM: The battle cry in the marches was “Mañana vota-mos,” [tomorrow we vote]. But according to a recent report in a Texas newspaper, Al Dia, the marches did not significantly increase the Latino registration numbers in Dallas. How critical and effective is this effort to mobilize voter registration and civic participation?

JR: It is incredibly important, because as you know, the Hispanic community is under-represented politically. Latinos are fifteen percent of the population in the United States but we do not have 1fifteen senators — we only have three senators. We only have one governor, Gov. Bill Richardson Lopez out of New Mexico. Because of this political situation, it is incredibly important that more and more Hispanics register and vote. This would be the only way in which Hispanics and their interests could be well represented both in Washington and in every single city in the United States.

NAM: But how do you think that effort should be improved?

JR: Latinos tend to register, most of the time, after major events. I mean presidential elections, and after 9/11. So I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers would increase right before the elections in November. But especially right before the presidential election in 2008. The number of Hispanics becoming U.S. citizens and voting has increased dramatically. In the year 2000, there were six million Hispanic voters; in the year 2004, there were 9 million Hispanic voters, and we’re expecting 12 million voters for the year 2008. The Hispanic presence and the Hispanic voter is a group that’s growing proportionately much, much faster than any other electoral group in the United States.

NAM: At a recent national immigration summit in Los Angeles organized by New America Media, a Minnesota organization raised the question of immigration terminology — whether the media should use “undocumented” or “illegal immigrants” in their reporting. What is the rule in the Univision newsroom and its various platforms?

JR: We use the word “undocumented.” We do not use illegal, because there is no illegal human being in the United States. We do understand that many of the undocumented immigrants broke the law by coming illegally to the United States. But we also understand that many of them are here because millions of Americans provide them jobs, and because thousands of American companies hire them. So in other words, if we call them illegal, we would be forced to call illegal also those who use their services and actually benefit from their work.

NAM: Next month you’ll be celebrating your 20th anniversary as anchor for “Noticiero Univision,” Univision’s newscast. The Wall Street Journal has called you Hispanic TV’s No. 1 correspondent and key to a huge voting block. You’ve sold thousands of books, your column is in more than 30 newspapers nationwide, you’re on the radio... What arena will you be conquering next?

JR: I’m in the process of writing two books, one of them a children’s book. But what’s so important is, I still feel like an immigrant. I came to this country 23 years ago and I sometimes feel this need, this responsibility for speaking for other immigrants who are not as privileged as me, to be on the air every single night, reporting in English and Spanish.

(Odette Alcazaren-Keeley is chief of staff of New America Media and also hosts and produces “Headlines from the Ethnic Media” on “Upfront,” aired on 91.7 FM-KALW in San Francisco. She is a former news producer and anchor for ABS-CBN International — The Filipino Channel TV.)

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