By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
Soledad O’Brien says she wants Latino In America to “start a conversation.” Unfortunately for viewers, the series’ message seems to be, what? Woe is us? Abandon ship? What did Brown ever do to you?
Grounded in depressing case studies and missed questions, the series’ first installment was less “Latinos In America” and more like “Latinos For Lou Dobbs’ Audience.” Most of the people featured were not “changing” their communities – they were being victimized in or by them. They were pregnant, suicidal (or pregnant and suicidal), caught in an immigration raid, losing their cultural roots, facing an uphill job struggle or isolated in their churches. The premiere’s first profile, of Univision TV chef Lorena García, was the only one that focused on somebody doing something positive – in her case, building her own brand in spite of skepticism over her “accent.”
Most of the rest of the Garcías profiled – a disparate group “united” by having the 8th most popular surname in the U.S.; take that, Velazcos! – were, to put it mildly, in very bad places in their lives. And more damning from a journalistic perspective, we never got to see O’Brien ask crucial follow-up questions: how responsible does Cindy García’s mother feel for her inability/unwillingness to learn English obstructing Cindy’s studies? How did Cindy (pictured above) figure unprotected sex was a sensible idea in the face of a 70% failure-to-graduate rate and a sister who was also a teen mother? And what in the blue hell was her boyfriend thinking having sex without a condom?
Similar questions came to mind in the feature on Araceli Torres, the young woman facing impending deportation despite living here more than two decades. Was there something preventing her from seeking citizenship once she turned 18 years old, or was her story nothing more than an excuse for CNN to hype the grand-standing Anderson Cooper, who saw fit to follow the show by giving a platform to anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The feature on Latinos in Hollywood was also clumsy: sure, it’s sad to see Lupe Ontiveros still doing the (NSFW) Hollywood Shuffle after 30 years, but Eva Longoria-Parker’s blithe dismissal of the issue (Latinos need to get behind the camera? Thanks, CNN, for the breaking news) didn’t help the segment as much as, say, asking Screen Actors’ Guild president Ken Howard how he feels about his POC members working in an industry bent on excluding them would have.
O’Brien’s best moment came during the feature on the St. Louis church struggling to integrate an increasingly Spanish-speaking membership into its’ ranks, when she got both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking factions to admit neither will hang out with the other. That acknowledgement boosted the segment’s finale, with members from each community awkwardly attempting to communicate at a church fundraiser – and made the earlier omissions all the more glaring.
In fact, the most compelling discussion of the “Latino condition” of the evening wasn’t even part of the documentary: on Campbell Brown, John Leguizamo told L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigoza that visiting Los Angeles felt “like traveling into South Africa,” leading to this exchange:
Villarigoza: We have the biggest Latino middle class in America. We have the biggest Black middle class in America.
Leguizamo: Where are they?
Unfortunately, their face-off was cut short. Part 2 of Latino airs tonight, and as it moves to cover the murder of Luis Ramírez, you have to wonder: will it acknowledge not just anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment on American airwaves, but on its’ own network?
Recommended: Brown Is The New Green