October 16, 1998


Hispanic Heritage Includes Certain Voids

by Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte and
Cristina Bodiner-de Uriarte

Heritage presumes records —tales captures for retrieval. This nation's most relentless archive is the media. But not for Hispanic women and youth. Their image is absent.

This is the case even though Latinos will soon be the largest minority population here with the bulk of their numbers falling within the child-bearing years.

Of the 546 hours of news on the three networks —ABC, CBS, and NBC— in 1997, only 4 hours and 40 minutes related to Latinos. This is down by 25% from the year before when 1% of all news was related to us: then 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. William Julius Wilson, drawing on research by the Center for the Study of Urban Inequity, notes that Mexican immigrants have a stronger attachment to the work force, and stronger households, networks and neighborhoods than any of their inner-city counterparts.

Only 1 percent of all television programming is aimed at or is about Latinos. In 1997, only 25 Latino regulars appeared in comedy or dramatic series broadcast by the six largest networks. Almost all dramatic regulars are adult male detectives of fictional police shows. The shows depict them as unmarried or divorced, even though most Mexican-American Latinos marry between the ages of 20 and 21 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. 91 out of every 1,000 youths will be victims of violence, compared to 4 out of every 1,000 elderly people.

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 took doing a good job in often grinding circumstances.

¡Ay, mamasita! Serenaded within the family, her son is yet to be broadcast.

Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte and Cristina Bodinger-de Uriarte share a keen interest in the image of Latinas. In 1978, they 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 at Austin. Cristina is associate chair of the sociology department at California State University in Los Angeles.

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