National Hispanic Heritage Month begins each year on September 15 and, for many Latinos, is both a celebration of identity and a reminder of a painful and long-standing truth: that the power of community is without. commensurate with its role in society. Last week, President Biden kicked off this year’s celebration by declaring that “Hispanic heritage is American heritage,” a statement that echoed the words of Lyndon Johnson, who created the annual celebration in 1968 and has describes the Hispanic heritage as “ours”. More than half a century later, it is worth asking why there is still such a disconnect between rhetoric and reality.
Hispanics set foot in this country long before Pilgrims, one of the many truths lost in the telling of American history. Now more and more Latinos are demanding answers from those who don’t recognize this continued amnesia. Compared to white Americans, Latinos earn less, face more barriers to education and health care, and find themselves under-represented in higher-paid sectors of the workforce, as well as in popular culture. . As long as our stories and voices continue to be written in textbooks, omitted in movies, television, and print media, and minimized in the halls of power, people will continue to see Latinos as something other than inherently American.
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from the Twentieth District of Texas, wants to change that. A native of San Antonio, Castro was elected to Congress in 2012, after a decade in his home state’s House of Representatives. An advocate of what he calls “the infrastructure of opportunity,” Castro has made education and racial equality a central focus of his work, priorities he shares with his twin brother, Julián, a former candidate. as President and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Joaquin Castro’s work on behalf of the Latin American community intensified after the mass shooting in El Paso in 2019, the deadliest assault on Latinos in modern US history. On Tuesday, Castro spoke to the National Press Club and shared the preliminary findings of a report on the under-representation of Latinos in the media industry, released by the US Government Accountability Office. The report found that community members made up eight percent of workers in the information and publishing industry – the media had the lowest rate of any industry in the country – indictment ruthless in a country where Latinos make up nearly twenty percent of the population. In his speech, Castro criticized several news outlets, including the Times, Washington To post, the Los Angeles Times, and also this magazine, for their under-representation of Latinos. “The worst offenders in the industry are actually the news agencies and the publishing houses,” he said. “Some of America’s most renowned media institutions are the greatest and oldest perpetrators of cultural exclusion.”
In a recent conversation for The New Yorker Radio Hour, Castro discussed the report’s initial findings, the consequences of American ignorance on Latino history, and its efforts to achieve greater representation of Latinos in Hollywood and in the world. media. Our discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Member of Congress, we are here to talk about an issue that you have been fighting for for years, and that is the missing Latin American narrative in our society. To begin with, I would like us to talk about education, which you could say is really at the heart of it. You grew up in San Antonio, a city with an incredibly rich Latino heritage, and yet it seems like Latino stories are barely present in your school’s curriculum. So take us back in time, if you will: who are the Latinos that you remember hearing about, and how have you filled that void in the narrative over the years?
I see this as a fundamental problem for the Latin American community and other communities in the United States – that we have been excluded from most of the narratives of American history and the history of our states, including in my home state of Texas. And so, when I was growing up, the only Latinos in that case, mostly Mexican Americans, that I remember – or Mexicans, in fact, that I remember – were the defenders of the Alamo, and really not much. else. Maybe Henry Cisneros, who was mayor of San Antonio when I was in school, but he was a very sparse presence in the storytelling of American history and Texas history. It’s in a state that’s now almost forty percent Latino. And this has been a pervasive problem, not just in Texas but across the country. I’m convinced Americans don’t know who Latinos are. They do not associate us with any particular period in American history.
They do not know who among us has contributed to the prosperity or the success of the nation. And they have no sense of where to place us in American society.
You have two children who, if I’m not mistaken, are five and seven years old. Is it correct?
Yes, it’s true.
How, how does their school experience so far compare to yours? Do you see a reason to hope? What do you see now with the new generations?
Well, I think it’s gotten a little better over the years, but it’s still not – we’re still not at a point where you have proportional representation in a state like Texas, with the enormous Latino role in terms of the state’s economy, state culture, and the importance of Latinos to the development of Texas. And now there is a counter-movement against ethnic studies and critical race theory, and so I wonder, in the years to come, if there will be any improvement in terms of representation, in the storytelling of stories.
And, of course, schools are important storytelling institutions, but they are not the only ones. There is Hollywood, there is the news media, there is American business, the government, and so on. And it’s no secret that there is little Latin representation in all areas. I remember after last year’s election Latino Victory reported that only one percent of local and federal officials were Latinos. I suspect that number is slightly higher now, but not nearly where it should be considering that there are over sixty million of us in this country and now represent the largest minority voting group. And I wonder, as one of the few and, truly, the most influential Latino politicians in the country, what are some of the challenges you have faced in raising the issue of representation – in Hollywood, in the media and in the world? beyond – and demand more responsibility from Washington?
Well, in addition to the influences you mentioned on education, I think the media – and Hollywood in particular, I think – is the primary institution for image definition and storytelling in American society. In the way he tells stories and the stories are told and who he allows to be a part of the storytelling, it affects the way Americans see themselves, including how Americans see Latinos and how we see ourselves and the numbers in terms of representation and representation. Latinos. The representation numbers are terrible in the media industry, and whether it’s Hollywood or tough news. For example, in entertainment, Latinos make up about three to four percent of people in front of and behind the camera. So we’re woefully under-represented in front of and behind the camera, and that affects the stories that come out of Hollywood and the way they’re told, and that often leads to very negative portrayals and stereotypes of Latinos as traffickers. drug, as criminals. , as the dregs of society, as illegals, and it affects the way other Americans see our community and the way our own children see themselves. And part of the reason I got involved in this issue is that there has now been, for several years at least, this dangerous connection between the portrayal, portrayal and abuse of Latino stereotypes coming out of the media, abuse of these by politicians who abuse them for their own political gain. And in this dangerous mix, in its – in its worst form, you get what happened in El Paso, Texas, in August of 2019, where a madman drove ten hours and killed twenty-three people because he considered them to be Hispanic invaders. in Texas. And so all of this represents, for me, a very dangerous narrative void. And it really came to a head in May 2020, when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had a meeting with editors, and there were about 30 of us to call, and I had a chance to ask the one of the CEOs of one of the largest publishing houses in the country, which publishes textbooks. And I asked him a very simple question: I asked him if he could name three Latinos or Latinas who had made a significant impact in American history, and this very intelligent, ambitious, accomplished man thought about it for a few seconds, and he finally said, uh, no, I can’t. He didn’t mean to be rude to me. He wasn’t firing me. We all had a serious discussion, but I think the pity is if you ask this question, I’m sure 90% of Americans, you’ll probably get the same answer.