How much are we worth? I am not referring to monetary value. Those kinds of calculations are best left to actuaries and class action lawyers. I am referring to the impression we make on others. Do people look our way when we enter a room or just ignore us? Do people listen to us? Do people take us seriously? Are we respected?
We all have moments when we believe, correctly or not, that we are being ignored. Sometimes we just feel invisible. Some would argue that being ignored, shunned, or given the silent treatment is one of the worst things one can experience.
Sometimes we want to be invisible. But what if feeling invisible happens too often? And what if being invisible is true not just of us as individuals but as a group, as Ellison’s Invisible Man understood? Latinos often feel like we, as a community, are not often noticed. That feeling is often not easy to document. It’s almost impossible to prove the lack of something, what does not exist.
We do know, however, that the media ignores our accomplishments, culture, concerns, needs, and leadership. We know that we complain about garbage, crime, dilapidated housing, and poor schools all the time. We know that nothing happens until hipsters move into our community to ignite our displacement. We know that we are not only ignored in life…but also in death. We know this especially when others point to whom they give worth and attention… and leave us out.
On December 23, 2015, the New York Times again published a list of notable dead in 2015 and, again, barely mentioned Latinos. Out of the 34 dead featured in long and short obituaries, only one was a Latino. That was A$ap Yams, a producer/promoter of rap music. Yams’ main contribution was making the newcomer A$ap Rocky into “New York’s most exciting rapper in a generation” (NY Times, Magazine December 23, 2015). The Times admitted that A$ap Yams was a “20-something nobody” who made “another 20-something nobody into a star.” So why did they include Yams in their compilation? Because, they write, he was a “cultural polyglot” who used the internet to figure out what “15-year olds were into.”
A$ap Yams, born Steven Rodriguez, was an interesting young man. He had great creative potential. He would have certainly made a bigger splash in the music business had he lived beyond his 26 years. But his insertion in this Times compilation happened because a white audience was impressed by his ability to get young people to like the violent and explicit lyrics of the music he produced. He titillated white music listeners.
A$ap was Dominican and Puerto Rican. But he did not get into this Times death issue because he represented Latino culture. Nor was his presence in this issue likely to encourage others to pay more attention to Latino culture and music. Latinos have been involved in Hip Hop music from the very beginning and continue to make contributions to this music style. But it is not perceived to be a significant part of Latino culture.
Yes, the Times had to make choices. They only published 34 death stories in the magazine. Thus, who they left out is as important as who they included. There was limited space, after all. Their choices reflected priorities and vision. But it is absurd to think that there were few notable Latino deaths in 2015 that compared to those the Times included.
Just looking at the 2015 deaths in January alone, I found several significant Latino deaths in that one month. This included the radical Chicano preacher Reies Lopez Tijerina who helped lead a group that tried to take over a small New Mexico courthouse in 1967. This Chicano raiding party tried to liberate Chicano prisoners who had been arrested in a land grant dispute as well as to place the district attorney under citizen’s arrest. The land had been taken from their ancestors by Spain and Mexico, then legalized by the U.S. after acquiring the territory.
Tijerina became known as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Chicano rights movement, along with Cesar Chavez,, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.” Tijerina died on January 19, 2015. Certainly his story is worth reporting and remembering?
Nipón Sevilla, the Cuban born, but Mexican based, movie actress and dancer died on January 1, 2015. Sevilla, whose real name was Emelia Pérez Castellans, had a long and stellar career performing in scores of Mexican movies from the 1940s till the 1990s. She was highly regarded and received the “Silver Goddess Award “Dolores del Río” in 2009, for her film career, and in 2014 she received a homage by the Mexican Academy of Art and Cinema-tographic Sciences and the National Film Archives, for her career and influence in cinema.”
Mexican movies made vital cultural contributions to almost every Latin American country during a time, from the 1930s to 1960s, when Hollywood provided little that resonated with Latino culture and history. This Golden Age of Mexican cinema brought Latino sensibilities to the screen. Latinos from Bogota to Buenos Aires to the South Bronx and Brooklyn sat in dark theaters watching Mexican films starring Cantinflas as well as Sevilla and others. A vezes una de mi tias me llevaba a ver peliculas Mexicana en un teatro en el Bronx cuando yo era un nino. So, Sevilla definitely had a lasting impact on Latinos from all over the world.
Corrupt politicians in Mexico must have also been pleased to see that journalist Julio Scherer García died on January 7, 2015. García helped to expose some of the most important scandals in Mexican history. This included
“probing a secret army unit set up to combat guerrillas, a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account of a president’s brother, and official involvement in the assassination of a journalist.”
Scherer Garcia riled corrupt presidents, wrote more than 20 books about Mexican politics, won Columbia University’s prestigious Maria Moors Cabot in 1971, and was so respected by most Mexicans that, in 1994, “the Zapatista rebels invited Mr. Scherer to participate with a Catholic bishop and the Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu as intermediaries in a dialogue with the Mexican government.” Certainly the paper that prints the news that is “fit to print” should have recognized the importance of the journalistic work done by Julio Sherer Garcia.
The reason we should be concerned about the Times omitting worthy Latino deaths is not just that we may want to satisfy our own vanity or cultural and nationalistic pride. The Times sends out messages by these lists and who is in it. They devote an entire issue of their Magazine because they think it is important for their audience to know who these people were. They are, thus, telling their readers who they consider worthy.
There are many more notable Latino deaths in 2015. The three individuals above were only a few of the hundreds of notable Latinos who died in 2015. The Times is also not the only paper that ignores Latinos in life and death. Both analog and digital media and news sources have done a very poor job of reporting on the Latino and minority communities of the U.S. The Times, however, possesses a special prestige, top recognition, and authority in the U.S.
The Times’ “The Lives They Lived” issue sends subtle but devastating messages to teachers, journalists, researchers, students, politicians, and especially to our Latino community about who to admire and respect. The Times’ omissions will have a negative impact on the Latino public image. Their exclusion from the list of notables reinforces discriminatory beliefs and practices, weakens social mobility, limits economic opportunities as well as political participation, and, ultimately, dampens Latino social and political power.
Is the Times aware of the negative impact of their choices? Can’t tell from their short intro. They wrote only about “Remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year“. There is no discussion of how they deliberated and made their choices. It likely that the omission of Latinos reflects the linguistic and cultural limits of current Times management and reporting.
The Times is simply not connected to Latino leaders, institutions, and community. Latinos do not appear in their existing corporate leadership, networks, college alumni groups, or neighborhoods. And that reflects the extremely limited presence of Latinos on the Times editorial, reporting, and governing boards. There are no Latinos, for instance, among their ten top executives. Out of the 14 members on their Board of Directors, only one is Latino, an Argentinian corporate mogul, Raul E. Cesar, who has directed U.S. corporations since 1977.
The news staff at the Times is also lacking. They were sued in 2015 for racial discrimination. That lawsuit, claiming that over 30 minority journalists were fired because of their race and age, is not yet settled. However, the overall numbers do not look good. As of 2015, only 19% of their newsroom employees are minority. This compares unfavorably to other newspapers like The Washington Post which has 31% and Newsday which has 26.5%.
The reality is that even these numbers are suspect since they do not address the lack of support, opportunities, and respect that minority journalists often experience on the job. Diversity programs, like the one the Times has, are often used to mask discrimination and a real lack of diversity.
Why do Latinos get ignored? Much of it is due to class, race, policy decisions, as well as the segregation of Latinos from the mainstreams of American life. The New York Times takes note of A$ap Jams because he appeared on their radar. He produced Hip Hop and not Latin Music. He was interviewed in English-dominant journals, newspapers, and media. The Times actually wrote an obituary of Yams when he died in January 2015. He was in their networks and memory banks.
Interestingly, even A$apYams thought he and his crew had been ignored and dismissed by the music business. In a 2014 interview, he stated “We still don’t get the props that we deserve as a legitimate record label, despite us releasing two debut albums from two new artists in a six months time span that were both top five albums on Billboard, which is a crying shame.” The shame continues for Latinos in general…the shame that we continue to accept being ignored, shunned, and disrespected… in life and in death.