Gang leaders, undocumented immigrants and hot salsa singers: Latinos in the media

Immigrant rights march, 2006
Photo by Mary Turck

The Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project reports on Minnesota media portrayal of Latinos and how close it comes to the Hollywood stereotypes.

What do gang leaders, undocumented immigrants, and hot salsa singers have in common? This is the way that Hollywood portrays Latinos in movies and television. Unfortunately, this is also the way that Latinos are usually portrayed in the media. As a result, this is increasingly, the damaging way in which Latinos see ourselves and the way the rest of the population see us.

On Saturday, December 8, the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project, an initiative of the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota, presented “The Media Empowerment Report: An Analysis of Minnesota Newspapers’ Portrayal of Latinos in 2006.” Through content analysis, the study tracked the number and content of stories related to Latinos in 20 Minnesota newspapers during a ten-week period in the fall of 2006.

The findings are revealing but not surprising: although Latino-related stories are not uncommon (from about one a day in metro newspapers to one every other day in some greater Minnesota papers), they are usually stereotypical, many times using language considered derogatory to the Latino community. Latino-related stories are mostly in the categories of immigration and crime, with entertainment a distant third. In the area of crime, Latinos are usually portrayed as perpetrators. Immigration, although an important topic for the Latino immigrant community, is at times presented as a problem using derogatory language in relation to Latinos (terms such as “illegal” or “alien”)

To understand the implications, we need to compare these statistics with those for the general population. Most non-Latino stories are about people in the arts and entertainment, politics and law enforcement, all positions of power and influence. The statistics on Latino-related stories in Minnesota newspapers mirror the situation for Latino-related stories elsewhere in the nation. In those states where Latinos are a new population, the stories tend to be more negative in nature than in the states where Latinos have lived for several generations.

Questions and comments from the audience, members of the local Latino community as well as media professionals, were directed at how to remedy this situation. They asked how, in particular, we can increase the amount and quality of reporting about the Latino community in the media; expressing the need for stories about local Latino artists, about real people in our own community. “Why do we have to choose between looking like Jennifer Lopez or a gang leader, without a better portrayal of our reality?”

The Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project, started in 2006 as an initiative of the Department of Chicano Studies, aims to increase in quality and quantity the coverage of Latinos in the Minnesota media. The research analysis was carried out by journalism students from the University of Minnesota and the University of St Thomas. Working closely with the Latino community, the staff and coordinators of the Minnesotano project—the present coordinator is Steven Renderos—met regularly with members of the Latino community for input into the objectives and scope of the project.

As a participant in the community meetings, I saw the excitement that members of the Latino community expressed at the possibility of changing the way we are portrayed in the media. Among the ways that were suggested to achieve the goal were communicating with the media and reporters to encourage reports about what is really happening in the community, producing local stories by citizen journalists, and educating through media literacy.

Teresa Ortiz

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Teresa Ortiz's picture
Teresa Ortiz

Teresa Ortiz lives and writes in St. Paul.