“Latino in America” was screened in an auditorium located at the lower level of the Newseum, the DC interactive museum for the news and journalism. When I walked in, the host was speaking and soon after the screening started. I asked for permission to video record the event, but after trying with three different people I was told that video recording wasn’t allowed inside the premises. I had a seat, but later on I had to get up and stand in the back so I could have a better view.
The documentary starts showing a group of people of different races and origins introducing themselves by name and occupation. Most of them were Brown and Black peoples, Indigenous and Afro descendants not Latinos. It's obvious that the producers wanted to show our different shapes and colors, but at the end a woman says “…and I’m a Latina" although she looked Native American to me.
The strong reference to the Spanish surnames in the film as a sign of our heritage is a mistake, and the surname Garcia is mentioned as one of the top most popular surnames in the U.S. According to this concept, our history as peoples started when the Hispanics arrived and imposed their names to our ancestors. Nothing is said about the thousands of years of earlier civilizations, from where most of our cultures come from.
If you get darker you will look like an Indian
The presentation continued and they showed the story of attorney Lorena Garcia, a civil rights advocate for immigrants in Arizona. She is presented mostly in a positive way–the only person who makes reference to her heritage as being “indigenous to this land”- but at the end she is presented as a radical apologetic woman, the bad apple you shouldn't follow.
During the whole film most of the characters are in fact Indigenous peoples from Mexico and other countries of Central and South America, but they are presented as Latinos. Eventually the term switches to Hispanics. During the 45 minutes screening, there was not a single mention in reference to our African and Native roots, not even once.
At some point a couple walked in the auditorium and passed by me, a woman asked me if I was ‘Carlos in DC’ and she said she follows my blog. I was a bit embarrassed, it happens when people recognize me in public places.
This film basically presented “Latinos” in many stories -some sad but real- and the message I got was that we as people are trying to be accepted by White mainstream America. In that sense, we are willing to accept the labels White people put on our communities, because is the easier thing to do.
As the film continues I am disgusted to see the humiliation of many Native men imprisoned by the racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Our brothers are treated like slaves. At this point Soledad O’Brien does a good job exposing that reality while the film presents Arpaio as a heartless old man, which he is.
Black Hispanic or Dominican perhaps African American
The film allows viewers to take a close look to the differences, contrasts and inequalities that are common among so called “Latinos”. For instance, the new comers tend to segregate themselves in their own groups, speaking mostly in Spanish -to the delight of religious and corporation groups focusing in that market- and here a Native woman mentions having "a Hispanic face". Horror.
The opposite happens in the town of Pico Rivera, next to Los Angeles and which is populated mostly by Native Americans of Mexican heritage, who have assimilated to the “American way” of living: English speaking, baseball games, sugar cotton candy, hot dogs, cute suburban homes with U.S. flags in their porches, looks alright. But these images make the American dream seem like an effort to imitate White people, and the only different thing about Pico Rivera are the surnames. The documentary doesn’t mention that Pico Rivera population were forced to assimilate, and they had no choice. If this is good or bad, that’s another topic.
There are plenty of sad stories in this film: you will see abused undocumented Native and Afro descendant children –the horrendous images made me really angry- and also our Native men as inmates being chained down by Arpaio. In another scene, a female gang member talks about her failed young life while showing her tattoo in her behind -the film shows this for too long. At some point Lupe Ontiveros, a Native actor of Mexican roots talks about her identity, while wearing an ugly yellowish blond wig. The film moves on to show how a White girl can’t say “carne asada” to which the auditorium explodes in laughter, that I think is wrong.
The only personal successful stories refer firstly to Mel Martinez, the former U.S. Senator (R-FL) whom I like the least, he talks about his migration as a Cuban exile. Had he being Mexican and undocumented, probably he wouldn't have become a Senator. Secondly, they show the case of chef Lorena Garcia who works for Univision TV, one of the most racist stations in this country. How wrong is CNN to use Univision as a cultural reference? Anyways, chef Garcia -who tries hard to look White- talks about her growing business thanks to her image as a “Latina chef”. She said her accent used to be a reason for rejection, but now “it’s popular and seeing as cute”. Of course as long as you try to look like them.
Trying to pass as Whites
Throughout the film Soledad O’Brien plays a neutral but “Latino” friendly role at least in most of the production, eventually she appeared again on screen to say “you will see more when Latino in America airs in October…” and then the film is over. At the end some people walked out, the audience clapped but not too enthusiastically.
In general, the production seemed interesting, but the chore of its script is manipulated, fake, imposing and personally it makes me feel sorry for my peoples, not proud as I had hoped. The film is supposed to help overcome racist stereotypes but it promotes them, especially when they deny our true racial heritage. It seems that CNN is trying to get its viewers to feel sympathy for “Latinos” and to show the country how profitable our markets can be.
I was approached by a museum staff who confirmed again, that video recording wasn’t allowed, but she allowed me to walk to walk up the third row of seats, while the panelists was being introduced. After their words, I raised my hand but two people were given the chance to speak first, bth of them mentioned the need for CNN to fire Lou Dobbs. That was received by a loud applause from the audience.
When I started to speak, I said: My name is Carlos Quiroz, I am a writer and a blogger based in DC. I’m not Latino, I’m not Hispanic, I’m a Spanish speaking Native American.” Whispers followed, some clapped. I spoke from my heart and thinking about those peoples misrepresented in the film: Indigenous and African American peoples forced into European identities.
While speaking I denounced white supremacy and racism among our communities –which forces Black women to hide their African hair and Native women to die their hair blond-, and I mentioned why most of us are and should be acknowledge as Native Americans even if we have Spanish surnames, because our history started before the Hispanics arrived.
Also I mentioned that Blacks in the Americas are an important population to be ignored –almost 18% of the Americas including Haiti- and this documentary failed to mention any of that. Not surprising after all, I said, since this is a production coming from a White-owned TV station, obsessed with catching with the money and political capital behind the fake Latino branding and classification.
At the end of my intervention, I reminded the Latino in America producers that as people we don’t need no pity, but to raise the awareness of our true heritages because we belong to this continent. Therefore we must tell the truth about who we are -because we don’t know who we are- to our youth as our history is hidden by an Eurocentric vision of the world.
The future of this country will be shaped with diversity and racial coexistence, and to get there we must respect everyone’s heritages and stop imposing divisions among people. I’m done. Applause, it felt good.
The event's host replied to me directly with excuses but no answers, and at that point I knew what was going to be said by the panelists. I walked out because I knew what they were about to tell me, but also because I wanted to interview attendees outside of the building. As I was leaving the museum, I grabbed a bag with a shirt that says "Soy Latino en EEUU".
I waited outside the Newseum with my camera ready, it was raining a bit. People started coming out, they approached me and we talked.