(as prepared for delivery)
I am thrilled to be with you this evening. Events like this always warm my heart. To see so many accomplished Latinos from so many walks of life makes me truly orgullosa.
I wanted to speak this evening about Hispanics and the media from my position at the FCC. Letís start with some good news. In the music business, Latino performers and the Latin sound are everywhere. Ricky Martin. Carlos Santana. Jennifer Lopez. Marc Anthony. Enrique Iglesias. Amazing. And Latino culture in general is "hot." Itís like the national media finally woke up to the fact that we exist. National news shows and magazine covers talk about our growing political and economic clout. It feels pretty good.
But while itís good to remind ourselves how far weíve come, we always need to remind ourselves how far we have to go. If you need any help reminding yourself, just turn on the radio or TV.
Let me start with radio, and specifically what I call "hate radio" Ė radio that targets people for attack because of their race, sex, ethnic background or sexual orientation. It isnít hard to find. In 1998, a station here in L.A. spent weeks promoting its morning drive show by giving out "black hoes." In Washington D.C., after playing part of a song by Lauryn Hill, a morning DJ remarked "No wonder people drag them behind trucks." A San Francisco station has hosts who advocate the shooting of illegal immigrants as they cross the border. I could go on, but you get the point.
The recent example that you are probably familiar with is Don & Mike. For those of you who donít know, Don & Mike is a nationally-syndicated radio show that is carried in about 60 markets around the country. Last August, Don & Mike telephoned a small town in Texas called El Cenizo, just outside Laredo. As I understand it, El Cenizo had decided to conduct its city council meetings in Spanish to meet the needs of 95% of its residents, and Don & Mike were calling to complain about the city making Spanish its "official" language. A woman named Flora Barton answered the phone. She has become one of my personal heroes for the strength and the dignity she displayed during the verbal abuse she was about to receive. These two shock jocks submitted Ms. Barton to some of the most hateful, racist, bigoted and demeaning pieces of radio that I have ever heard. The abuse went on for about twelve minutes. You really have to hear it to get the full flavor of how offensive it was. Comments like residents who donít speak English "should get on their burros and go back to Mexico."
Last month, a complaint was filed at the FCC regarding Don & Mike. Ms. Barton and several leading Latino organizations, including this one, charged that the broadcast violated the FCCís rules on indecency and failing to notify Ms. Barton in advance that the telephone conversation would be broadcast live. This is a pending matter, so I canít express a view on whether the show violated FCC rules. But on a moral level, this broadcast should be condemned for the disgusting trash it is.
Now some might suggest, and rightfully so, that our First Amendment protects speech Ė even when its hateful, racist, bigoted and demeaning. But I would argue that we need to exercise our First Amendment right to speak out against speech that is hateful, racist, bigoted and demeaning to Hispanics. We need to exercise our First Amendment right and speak out against speech that is hateful, racist, bigoted or demeaning to African-Americans. We need to exercise our First Amendment right to speak out against speech that is hateful, racist, bigoted or demeaning to anyone.
Now Iíd like to turn to television, where the problems are more subtle, but no less real.
We in the Hispanic community are very much tuned in. More than 99% of us have TVs in our homes. And over 64% of us watch those TVs more than 4 hours a day, compared with less than 45% who watch that much TV in Anglo households. The impact of television -- especially on our children, who spend far more time with television than any other medium -- is well-documented, and I won't go into it here. Suffice it to say that TV is not only a reflection of our societyís values, but it is also one of the most powerful instruments for shaping and changing those values.
But the Hispanic community faces two problems. The first is that we're mostly invisible on TV. According to a 1998 study by the Tomas Rivera Institute, 42% of Hispanics reported that there were never Latino characters in the entertainment shows they watched. Here's what one Latina teen had to say in another recent study:
TV programs are mostly about White families. They don't really show Hispanics or African Americans. And we, in Newark, that's like the whole population, Blacks and Hispanics. So how are we actually going to relate to something when they're all White?
Our second problem is that, when we are visible on TV, much of it is based on harmful stereotypes. Children Now released a study of children's perceptions of race on TV. The study found (not surprisingly) that negative stereotypes of minorities on TV remain widespread. White actors are more often seen as having money, being well-educated and being leaders, while characters of color are often criminals, lazy and "act goofy." Likewise, a La Raza study found that Hispanic characters on TV were four times more likely to commit crimes than African-American or white characters.
These stereotypes have an impact, especially on our children, who are still trying to figure out how they fit into the larger society. According to the Children Now study, "when asked about how they see their race in the news, young Latino children said 'Gangs. Accidents. Drug dealers. Churches. When they go to jail. Murders.'"
So what can we do?
The most important thing we can do is to get Hispanics and other minorities on the inside. In the room when the scripts are written. When the shows are cast. When the video tapes are edited.
Thatís why Iím proud that last week the FCC adopted new Equal Employment Opportunity rules for broadcasters. These rules are designed to ensure that broadcasters reach out to all segments of the community when filling job openings. The rules did not go as far as I would have liked in some areas, but the current legal environment has not always been friendly to affirmative action efforts.
In addition to employment, we need to increase the number of Hispanic and minority owners. The numbers have always been abysmal, and with all the consolidation going on, theyíre not getting any better. We need to look at access to capital. We need to look at education and training. We need to encourage Congress to revive the minority tax certificate program. And we need to look at advertising, the life-blood of broadcasting, including so-called "minority discounts" under which advertisers pay less to advertise to minority audiences.
Minority ownership and employment are important because they affect what you see on TV and hear on the radio. I have no doubt that more Latino owners, more Latino writers and more Latino producers will have a major impact on the way the Latino community is portrayed. It's not that only Latinos can write about Latinos, or that only Latino reporters can cover the Latino community. But we have a lifetime of experience as Hispanics to bring to the table. We know the realities and the subtle nuances of our community that others don't. Which is why, I think, that so much of what is shown about Latinos on TV seems like such a caricature of who we are.
You may remember one of the last Seinfeld episodes Ė the one that depicted Puerto Ricans as car thieves and criminal mobs during the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York. If there were Hispanic writers or producers on the show, donít you think they could have had an impact? That they could have said that those stereotypes arenít funny because they are used against Latinos in their everyday lives? As the columnist William Rasberry said over twenty years ago to those who argued that the Frito Bandito was just a cute and harmless character:
"When you show that you believe the stereotype to the degree that you make it tough for a man [or a woman, I might add] to get a decent job or home or education, don't expect him to laugh at your jokes based on the stereotype."
Beyond structural changes like ownership and employment, there are more immediate things we can do to improve the portrayals of Latinos in the media.
When you see or hear a stereotype, don't just sit there. Turn it off. Tune it out. I'm pleased to report that we're doing pretty well in this regard. Almost half of Latinos report that they turn off a program when confronted with a negative stereotype.
But don't stop there. Pick up the phone. Call your local station. Get out the stationery. Write a letter to the network. Call or write the showís advertisers. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Let all of them know you don't appreciate what you just saw or heard. Let them know you don't find stereotypes funny and ask them to stop. We need to make our voices heard.
We also need to make our collective voices heard through groups like this one. The issue of minorities on prime time television has received so much attention over the past six months because we pushed and pushed and pushed. Last fall, I was proud to participate in the network "brownout" coordinated by La Raza and to add my voice to those calling for a television industry that reflects the diversity of America. As Congressman Torres reported, the NAACP, the National Latino Media Council and other civil rights groups have been negotiating agreements with the major networks to increase minority participation in the industry. We need to watch closely to see whether these fine promises are followed by meaningful action.
Whenever I think about these issues, I think about mi abuelo, the late United States Senator Dennis Chavez, a democrat who represented the State of New Mexico in Congress for 32 years. My grandfather was a tireless advocate for civil rights, fairness and decency. He also was known for his courage and willingness to speak out on unpopular subjects. There is a statue of my grandfather in the Capitol building in Washington, which I visit whenever I can. His statue has an inscription in English, Spanish and Navajo. The Spanish portion reads "Dejo este Señor una vereda trazada que nunca se olvidara. Lo hizo con la esperanza que otros la sigan." -- "He left a mark that will never be forgotten in the hopes that others would follow." His mark, his commitment to fairness and equality, and his courage to speak up should guide us all. I am told the Navajo inscription on his statue means "We have lost our voice Ė our voice is gone forever." We need to make sure our voice Ė nuestra voz Ė is loud and clear and lives on.