René Colato Laínez: Writing About Immigration for Kids

Rene_Colato_Lainez_Writing_About_Immigration_for_Kids I had the pleasure of interviewing award-winning children's literature author René Colato Laínez for the education and literacy organization I co-founded as part of our 2015 Latino Children’s Summer Reading Program. What strikes me about Colato Laínez is how unapologetic he is about the need to write about the topic of immigration for children, specifically immigrant kids themselves. The sign of a good book is its universality. Politics and power aside, this is why centuries later, we still read Miguel de Cervantes, Shakespeare and contemporary authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and William Faulkner.

Still, almost every journalist, artist, politician, and author I've interviewed squirm when I ask the question about their work and representing their ethnic or racial group. They rightfully strive for the horizon that universality offers. They want to be a great actor and not be limited to being only a great African American or Hispanic actor.

Not René. In my pre-interview, I lobbed some questions about immigration.

His answer: Bring it.

So I did.

René is unapologetic about his books touching on the theme of immigration and featuring immigrant kids. He writes:

"My goal as a writer is to produce good multicultural children's literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future. I want to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the States."

It's personal. In the interview, he talks about his journey to the U.S. as a child crossing illegally, fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. He also speaks about his long path to becoming a resident. But another critical motivator are his students, many who are immigrant. René is not only an author. He is a teacher and like so many of his peers, he is approached by children who are going through a hard time. In his students' case, the family is dealing with the fear of deportation or a member of the family who has already been deported. These children may be struggling in school because they're still learning English. In our interview, René reveals his frustration at having a toolbox limited to his advice. He didn't have a book he could recommend that could help his immigrant students because they didn't exist. So he decided to write those stories himself.

Of course I had to ask him about Election 2016 and Donald Trump's inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants when he announced his presidential bid:

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."

Again, René focused on the kids and the damage these words and scapegoating has on children who constantly hear themselves, their families, and communities described solely in criminal terms. By writing books about immigrant children and representing them through the complexity of their humanity, René offers a powerful counter narrative to the one in the political and media arena.

This debate should happen and before a presidential election, this is truly the time for candidates and parties to clearly articulate their policies on key issues to voters. But when race baiting and dog whistle politics meant to incite fear and hate takes center stage, we should celebrate that an author like René, by example and through his work, continues educating students and helping teachers, parents, and librarians approach tough topics. What's more, he sends them a personal message of reassurance that, kid, it's gonna be O.K.

Click below to watch this Lunchtime Author Google Hangout on Air that forms part of the 2015 L4LL Latino Children's Summer Reading Program.

I have written extensively on politics, beginning with the 2008 Presidential election. Please click here to read more and click here to read more posts on education and diversity.

 

The Summer Slide: on Univision's Despierta América

Summer_Slide_on_Univision_Despierta_América-Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub More than a professional "core competency," the topic of education is truly one of my passions. I am the beneficiary of the opportunities a solid education can afford a scholarship-child-of-immigrants kid, with my good grades and my parents' expectation that we did well in school the underpinning of every degree and accomplishment I've earned. If education is truly the great equalizer, it's even more the case for students who come from low-income and/or immigrant backgrounds. Unlike their wealthier peers who can perhaps attend private school or have a family business and connection to fall back, these students don't have the luxury of that options afford.

That's why I was so excited to be on Univision's top-rated national morning show Despierta América! I reported on an important issue facing students. Remember when summer vacation was just that? Nowadays, students needs to keep their minds sharp to prevent the so-called "summer slide"--when a student can lose up to two months learned during the school year. Researchers also state that this phenomenon is cumulative, meaning that students in the fifth grade who didn't keep "learning" over summer break can be up to two years behind their classmates who did.

Parents can give their kids an advantage by structuring learning into summer vacation. Options include summer school, a learning-focused summer camp, and a reading program such as the one I started with a partner--the 2015 L4LL Latino Children's Summer Reading Program in English and in Spanish.

Click here to watch the interview on Despierta América with anchor Satcha Pretto.

Click here to read more posts on education.

5 Coding Bootcamps for Diverse Adults

5_Coding_Bootcamps_Targeting_Diverse_Adults-TheWiseLatinaClub

The only employer is Johns Hopkins Hospital and we don't have the education or training to get a job there.

Of the many heartbreaking story lines of the Baltimore uprising sparked by Freddie Gray's death while in police custody, these words from a neighbor in the city's depressed west side, stick. The issues of generational poverty, historic racism, public policies that in practice backfired, corruption, frayed police and community relations are central to any discussion and action to rebuild this and scores of other communities across the country. But we must ask what the stability of a good paying job in a lucrative, thriving career could do to empower people economically. What could the opportunity afforded by a steady, well-paying job do to strengthen social ties in a community that can transform from a so-called dead end to one where its residents are going places?

This is where a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) comes in. In 7 Coding Programs Targeting Diverse Students, I make the case for a larger investment, driven by Silicon Valley, in youth coding education, targeting low-income and/or minority students. But what if you're an adult with few or zero job prospects? In an economy that continues to slowly recover since the global financial meltdown, a significant number are considered "missing workers" or those who are unemployed and/or have given up looking for work, according to the independent think tank the Economic Policy Institute. Additionally, Silicon Valley has a statistically documented diversity problem: less than 25% of those working in STEM fields are women and only 3% are Latina, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Now square the "missing workers" and the dearth of diversity with the much quoted fact that by 2020, 1 million computer science jobs could remain open because there won’t be enough qualified computer science grads to fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's hard to not connect the dots and see that our technology industry can assume a leadership position with computer skills training for diverse workers, helping to revitalize local and the broader economy while solving its tech worker shortage.

Critics will say my analysis is too simplistic. Perhaps. Although I don't know if the West Baltimore neighbor who begins this post would think so. The question that must be posed and answered is:

How do we bridge a potential employee's computers skills gap with the IT needs of our economy?

One answer: the so-called coding academies that are giving students a crash computer skills course in areas like programming and web development, dispelling along the way the notion that you have to be a math or science whiz.

5 Coding Boot Camps for Minority Adults

  1. New York City's Flatiron School (hat tip: PBS Newshour's economics correspondent Paul Solmon): For about $15,000, this academy offers a 10 week course that claims to have a 96% job placement rate in positions averaging $65,000/year. While not exclusively focused on future programmers of color, it offers scholarships to underrepresented students such as women and minorities, including a full tuition subsidized by the city.
  2. Sabio.la : A comprehensive software engineering program in Los Angeles focused on "cultivating exceptional talent." Sabio, which means wise in Spanish, has developed a 24 week methodology focused on pre-work, computer skills training, career placement, and mentoring. Between $3,500 and $13,000 as of publication, financing, although not scholarships, are available.
  3. Code Year: Created by Codecademy, online interactive tutorials teach web developer skills, computer languages, and APIs in lessons that take about 5 hours to complete. While not specifically targeting diverse techies, the program is free. If you don't have a computer or an internet connection at home, go to your local library or a friend's house to learn to code!
  4. Code Fellows: With in-person full day courses in Seattle, Portland, and Chicago, this program offers nearly full tuition scholarships for applicants who are women, veterans, or minorities. Courses average $12,000 and this year, this academy has set a goal of awarding up to 40 scholarships worth $250,000.
  5. Free Code Camp: This program not only teaches computer skills for free. But in exchange for free learning, coders build projects for nonprofits, in this way providing real world experience to help students build their resumes and portfolios.

For any coding program to be successful, students need to be singularly committed and the program needs to feature excellent teaching and corporate connections. But for a true economic transformation to take root and be sustainable, we need Silicon Valley to broadly commit to scaling these programs. One look at the economic decay in some of the communities in the news and it's clear that the time for tech giants to act was yesterday.

This may very well be the best start-up yet.

Any programs I missed? Please leave your recommendations below as a comment.

Click here to read more posts on technology and diversity, including the role of education and politics.

7 Coding Programs Targeting Diverse Students

7_Coding_Programs_Targeting_Diverse_Students-TheWiseLatinaClub In my post "How to Change Silicon Valley’s Brofest: Diversity" I noted the importance of creating what I identify as "ladders in" to technology to combat Silicon Valley's lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity brought into focus by the Ellen Pao and Kleiner Perkins trial. The statistics about the dearth of gender, racial, and ethnic difference are not alarming as detailed by this National Center for Women and Information Technology infographic which illustrates the steep decline as you filter in gender, ethnicity, and race. What should prompt outrage is that in 2015, the numbers and the social and educational conditions they document have remained consistently and abysmally low for the two decades since the tech field exploded. Why does this matter? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, 1 million computer science jobs could remain open because there won't be enough qualified computer science grads to fill them.

This too is not new. We must go one step further and start connecting the dots. Look at the large role of unemployment and low educational achievement in some of our nation's communities marked by civic strife. Now imagine what a lucrative career in technology could do to help rebuild the lives and cities of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.

Instagram and Snapchat are cluttered with girls, low income, and students of color. Latinos over-index on the use of mobile devices and social media. These are clear indicators that these students are exposed to technology. But they are consumers and not creators of tech. Tackling poverty is a daunting prospect that requires a focus on the basics--food in one's tummy and a roof over one's head. But once these needs are met, how do we create a sustainable future for families?

Exposing students to programming at an early age offers a clear way out of the barrio. Let's convert all those selfies and harness creativity to build the platforms and apps that can solve problems--the world's and their community's, big and small challenges alike.

Is computer science taught in elementary schools? Actually, it's only offered in about 10% of K-12 schools, according to data collected by the AP test. That means it is left to parents and community groups to fill this gap.

I hopped online to search. Instead of pages upon pages of online and brick and mortar programs, I found few that teach coding and even fewer to female and minority kids. This differs from a search of fashion or social apps.

Why are Silicon Valley giants and ubiquitous apps such as Facebook and Twitter not leading the charge? The former made a big hire in 2014 to lead diversity initiatives throughout the company. Facebook and Twitter are representative of a whole industry leveraged by innovation. Surely, they can benefit from a more educated homegrown workforce of engineers and developers.

Silicon Valley companies have infinite globs of money to help shape the labor force required to stay competitive. What is lacking is leadership in the form of more robust partnerships and support of local organizations that are engaged in this education and economic fight. Today's urgency should boraden the question from one more local program to support to how can the programs developed in East Palo Alto be scaled to reach children in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, Detroit, and the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C.?

We don't need any more studies or commissions. We need action and leadership from a group of people who stand to gain the most from their social, educational, and economic investment. Until the tech titans step up, I've identified these 7 groups--two online, another only available in the city of Baltimore, the others in between--that offer computing skills to minority and female students.

7 Coding Programs Targeting Diverse Students

  1. Girls Who Code: Clubs and summer immersion programs around the country to teach girls computing skills.
  2. Teens Exploring Technology (TxT): Focus on teaching computing and life skills to junior and high school male students of color in South Los Angeles.
  3. Black Girls Code: Clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Memphis, plus events such as hackathons and summer camps, expose black and Latino girls to programming languages and the development of games and apps.
  4. Code in the Schools: An upstart organization that is bringing computer science instruction to every student and school in Baltimore through programs for schools, libraries, and community groups, plus an annual Game Jam, and mentoring. Psst: Mark Zuckerberg, given the recent events, this may be a good organization for you to bankroll.
  5. Code Studio by Code.org: A national program offering online classes for grade school children which claims to reach 1 in 10 grade-school students in the U.S. with nearly half of them female or African American or Latino.
  6. DIY Girls: Teaches technical skills to Los Angeles area Latina girls necessary to program an app or design and build toys through classes, after school programs, workshops, and mentoring.
  7. Google CS First: An online national program for schools, libraries, and community groups targeting 4th through 8th graders and teaching coding through the program Scratch. Disclosure: a summer reading program for Latino children I co-founded received seed money from Google.

Click here to read more posts on technology and diversity, including the role of education and politics.

4 Questions Presidential Hopefuls Should Answer to Win Latino Voters and the Election

4_Questions_Presidential_Hopefuls_Should_Answer_to_Win_Latino_Voters_and_the_Election It's not every day that a famed political operative like John Podesta sends me an email inviting me to a conference call for "community leaders like you." But that happened as Hillary Clinton announced in a video that she is running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016.

Clinton's announcement is wedged between Republican presidential wannabes Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio who is expected to announce Monday evening. Interestingly, I haven't heard a peep from the GOP which is not new since this was my experience while covering the 2012 election where I developed an obsession with Latino voter participation.

Not a party hack or shill, my writing and reporting is independent which is at the heart of this post. Not meant to plug any candidate, I want to focus on a critical part of the campaign to reach and engage Latino voters. As a growing segment of the electorate, securing this group's vote is mandatory to winning the White House, according to every statistician and pollster of repute.

But to win Latinos' vote, candidates and parties must answer these four questions now, when campaign teams are still forming:

  1. What does my inner circle look like? Do Latinos occupy the tippy top positions? Not only can these staffers and advisors give vital campaign strategy advice but insight into the most effective ways to reach and engage Hispanic voters.
  2. Is Hispanic voter outreach and engagement included at the very beginning, you know, when staffers are meeting in Brooklyn coffee shops? Speaking with campaign veterans from Senate and presidential campaigns, Latino voter outreach becomes a priority in the last few months, when campaigns are in the stage of: "Oh f*ck, we're in a dead heat. ¡We need every voto we can get!" This is crucial because most voters are "high touch" meaning, you need to make several contacts with them over time to earn their vote. Hispanics are no different.
  3. When looking at a total campaign media budget, what percentage is devoted to Hispanic outreach? This is defined as Spanish-language media. Once again, campaign veterans tell me that in a state like California where the media buys total millions, the ad and placement budget is a sliver of what campaigns spend on mainstream media, despite having the largest Hispanic population in the country. Note: while not the only way to reach Latino voters, Spanish-language media is a very powerful and efficient tool. This may change as the number of English dominant and U.S. born Hispanics increases.
  4. At what point are partnerships with civic-focused communication organizations forged? How are these groups supported with funding for voter education and outreach? This combines the "high touch" aspect of Hispanic voters with the boots on the ground needed to register and educate voters on key issues, in this way laying down the foundation for a lifetime of civic participation.

The 2014 midterms proved dismal for Latino voters who failed to cast votes, contributing to the Republican takeover of Congress. While it is true that Hispanics are a growing segment of the electorate, is the impact measured solely as a numerical value due to sheer demographic growth? Or can strategy and methodical execution consistently activate voters in numbers that make them game changers for elections ranging from school boards to who becomes the next President?

As the Republican takeover and the stalling of immigration in Congress demonstrate, voter quality trumps quantity. Answering and acting on these four questions will be crucial not only to the success of any candidate. It will be critical for voters who will have the power to shape a campaign and how the country is governed.

I have written extensively on politics and voter participation, beginning with the 2008 Presidential election. Please click here to read more.

How to Change Silicon Valley's Brofest: Diversity

"Brofest" epicenter. Courtesy: CNN Money Ellen Pao's lawsuit against the famed venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins has done more to shine a harsh spotlight on Silicon Valley's lack of diversity, specifically the dismal number of women and the humiliating practices to which Ms. Pao was allegedly subjected. However, to rectify the diversity gap and foster workplace equality and innovation, we must move from a conversation of discrimination to action items that will break the Valley's brofest and create "ladders in" to one of the most creative and lucrative sectors of our economy.

Let's begin by broadening the definition of diversity that's been circulating in the media. Ms. Pao's case focused on discrimination against women such as being excluded from travel because a woman would complicate the bunking situation or being exiled to the periphery of a conference table. The gender element strikes a cord and has been magnified in part by a more diverse media--the reporters and editors on this story and the tech beat are increasingly women.

Point of view is critical, making an issue out of a once overlooked topic. However, we must be cognizant and vigilant of all exclusions. In the case of Silicon Valley and technology, if women are not well represented, minorities such as African Americans and Latinos are virtually invisible. "Ethnic minorities and women are generally underrepresented, sometimes severely so--particularly in management roles. White and Asian males often dominate their fields," according to a CNN Money investigation which also revealed how many tech companies "stonewalled" the journalist's attempts to get this information. In 2014, Google attempted to get in front of its own gender or minority gap when it released a self-ordered autopsy of workplace diversity (disclosure: I co-founded a summer reading program targeting Latino students supported by Google). The numbers of women and minorities (again with the exception of Asians and Asian Americans) are dismal, especially at the highest management levels.

These examples show how the gender and minority tech gap has become a mainstream conversation. But what is it going to take to create structural change that will create "ladders in" to the tech field? Companies such as Facebook point to employee resource groups (ERGs), Facebook pages, and events such as the Pride Parade or Women's History Month as evidence of their commitment to support diversity. I consider these "ladders up" in an organization once a person is hired. Mentoring and creating community are crucial to recruiting, retaining, and promoting employees from diverse backgrounds. But are ERGs enough to change the game and its rules or even more basic, how do these efforts help a talented candidate get hired in the first place? Does the virtual absence of diversity in the management and employee organizational chart from Day 1 at white hot start ups such as Uber and Airbnb suggest it's business as usual?

A total workplace shift will have a seismic impact on the economy and our society. Look no further than your iPhone and its solutions as evidence of the critical role of different points of view to foster innovation. There's also the ripple effect for students and future employees from minority backgrounds who make up a growing segment of the U.S. population. A better paid labor force not only strengthens a community's tax base. But imagine the impact a well-paying job in tech can have to lift out of poverty not just one worker but all who look up to her in her family and neighborhood.

When faced with big issues, you will often times hear leaders and experts begin their change theory with the phrase:

It's not a question of if, but when.

Tech leaders have the money. But do they have the political will and muscle to make this cultural and workplace change?

If so, when?

Please check back since I'll be exploring the topics of  technology and diversity in future posts, including the role of education and politics.

Immigration: Is Europe a Warning of What Could Happen in the U.S.?

Immigration_Bill_SiriusXM_Viviana_Hurtado-TheWiseLatinaClub In many interviews after the #CharlieHebdo attacks, European academics and journalists pointed to the lack of integration as a key motivator by so-called radicalized Europeans of Muslim faith. Unlike America, experts argued that these immigrants and their citizen children have been socially and politically excluded from society. As someone who has spent more than a decade reporting on immigration's impact on the U.S., from Texas' Rio Grande Valley to the immigration marches of 2006, to the current immigration impasse in Washington, I was shocked by this assertion. Didn't Europeans know about the recent anti-immigration measures in Arizona and Alabama penned to exclude immigrants, specifically Latinos? Did they miss the news that the Department of Homeland Security is close to a shutdown as Congressional Republicans attempt to thwart President Obama's immigration executive actions?

As the current tenor of the immigration debate in America becomes more toxic, we should look to Europe as a case study of the most extreme consequences derived from systematically excluding a large group of people. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. or their children will commit an act of terror. However, Republican lawmakers and judges are engaging in rhetoric and creating policies and laws that target and marginalize unauthorized immigrants. This exclusion not only limits these immigrants' social and economic opportunities. It also impedes the natural process of integration that occurs with each successive generation. In the most extreme case, alienation of a large group of people could create the conditions that lead to tragic consequences.

America is "a nation of immigrants" includes the mass arrival in the 19th century from Europe and Asia and today's surge from Mexico and Central America. But immigrants are more than a quaint quote from our country's mythology. They cost money, needing to be educated and treated when they get sick. Years of political inertia and now paralysis in Washington have stuck local communities with an increasingly expensive bill, a festering social resentment I observed when I lived in Brownsville, Texas. This is why it came as no surprise when federal Judge Andrew Hanen whose court is located in this border town recently issued a decision to block President Obama's executive action to expand deportation protections.

Yet in the final cost/benefit analysis, immigrants have always provided the labor force upon which industry, transportation, cities, and the economy thrive. This success could only happen in a society tolerant of religious, racial, and ethnic difference. Opportunity is the great integrator--and that comes in the form of jobs for workers but also policies which integrate and tighten these threads from difference nations who contribute and become an integral part of the American social quilt.

In contrast, years of intolerance towards difference, combined with a lack of economic opportunity, left a vulnerability in the heart of Europe. In 2008 with the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London terror attacks still fresh, I was selected as a European Union fellow to compare the integration of immigrants there and in America. Spending a week meeting with members of the European Parliament and social agency heads in Strasbourg and Brussels, all handed me reports documenting how great things were for immigrants and their kids, especially Muslims! But after work hours and with the help of alcoholic truth serum, a member of the European Parliament confided that Muslims "just didn't integrate." I wandered immigrant neighborhoods, speaking with many Muslims, including a Moroccan busboy who said he wanted to immigrate to America because no matter his education or ambition, in Europe his options were limited. Why? He would never be seen or accepted as European. He would always be an outsider.

Is everyone who is made to feel like an outsider going to blow up a building? Absolutely not. But the terror attacks in Europe should prompt a conversation and actions among citizens and leaders about the costs of long-term marginalization measured against short-term political gains such as picking up legislative seats. Policies, rhetoric, and laws that promote tolerance of difference, champion integration, and create opportunity strengthen countries and cultures. As we continue grappling with immigration, which values will the U.S. embrace?

We Created the Brian Williams Media Monster: Who Will Fall Next?

We_Created_the_Brian_Williams_Media_Monster_Who_Will_Fall_Next Brian Williams has no business embellishing his experiences reporting from the field. In falsely claiming his helicopter was hit by RPG fire, he made himself a hero and the story at the expense of the servicemen and women who fought an unpopular war, often times serving several tours. As is the case with many politicians who are war hawks, if the NBC newsman had served in the military, perhaps he would have resisted the temptation to spin his own war story. Still, I've been taken aback by the hypocrisy of those who are piling on, especially those who call themselves journalists (when in fact, they're entertainers or "suits"). These people hurling stones from high places are central to the culture that created the Brian Williams Media Monster.

Before coming to Washington, D.C., I came up as a local reporter through two Texas markets and Rhode Island. Veteran reporters and cameramen always warned:

We report the story. Never become the story.

This is yet one more reason why William's "misremembering" (in PR spin-ese) is a significant professional and ethical breach. But so is no one at 30 Rock reeling him in. The institutional silence is a sign of a deeper structural and cultural problem: his deification by a chorus of executives and producers, the latter who are supposed to work with a trained critical eye. This institutional #fail comes when broadcast news has transitioned to entertainment, with Brian Williams to date its biggest star and now emblematic victim.

Talent executives and producers who a final candidate meets during round robin interviews talk a good game when it comes to journalism. But even during the glory days of Edward R. Murrow with his dashing looks, TV news has always been more blow-dried Barbie and Ken than scrappy Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Exceptions include the late CBS war correspondent Bob Simon who had the increasingly rare combination of good looks, better reporting, and decades of solid field experience. Competition brought by technology and the recession left the business model in the mid-20th century, ushering in the bald-faced Hollywoodization of network news.

With US Weekly apps and the whole concept of trending, we ourselves are complicit in the stories that become clickable. I see it on my Facebook page: stories about educational attainment and achievement and affordable housing barely register a blip. Stories about people--gossip--go viral, the many comments and likes proof of performance. Executives and anchor/reporters feel the pressure and use these very digital tools to brand and market themselves. It's within this context that TV journalists became and indeed, some see themselves as celebrities. Look no further than the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Reporters are asked: what are you wearing? Like the celebrities at their table, they respond! Who cares what the scholarship recipients are donning or how the funds will help them pay for college.

Celebrity status.

Executives prizing "likeability" and "looks" over field experience.

Brian Williams' glee when appearing on Saturday Night Live and the Late Show with David Letterman.

Vanity pervading "the business" comes at a time when critics slam networks for the increase in, for example, weather at the expense of foreign coverage. Yet Williams is not alone. In a video with sister network Fusion, ABC News rival anchor David Muir teaches his interviewers "how to make a listening but concerned anchor face." Click to watch the video:

From this point forward, can a viewer watch a David Muir interview and not wonder if Muir is acting and putting on his anchor face? What's really behind the mask--the passion to hold a person in power accountable who has abused his position or when appropriate, compassion when moved by human suffering or strength of spirit? Maybe he wishes he were playing Candy Crush?

When I was a local reporter in Rhode Island, investigative reporter Jim Taricani from the rival local NBC station (who was held under house arrest for not revealing a source) reminded me we weren't members of the media, but of the free press. In the media culture of 2015 and in the face of significant domestic and international crises, it's a given that our democracy needs a vibrant press to inform the citizenry. Actors or comedians who play journalists have a space on the small and big screen. But when it comes to the news, credibility and truth are a precious currency to the craft and calling of journalism. Keep an eye for those who don't honor this but rather embrace celebrity.

They'll be the next to fall.

Click here to read more of my media commentary and reporting.

 

ABC Waited 18 Years to Hire a Latina. Now The View May be Stuck with Rosie Perez.

ABC_Waited_18_Years_to_Hire_a_Latina_Now_The_View_May_be_Stuck_with_Rosie_Perez I didn't follow the news that actor and activist Rosie Perez was hired as a co-host of ABC's The View. The time had come and gone to make the hiring of the show's first Latina a social statement or game-changing for ratings. In eighteen years, technology has given us more choices to hear the point of view of the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Furthermore, the show has lost relevancy, reflected in part by vapid competitor The Talk on CBS closing the ratings gap. But when the rumors earlier this month trashed Rosie, in part for not being able to read a TelePrompter, I was offended.

I wasn't alone as the firestorm on my social media proved.

Writer and former Latina Magazine editor Sandra Guzmán tipped me off on Facebook. There and on Twitter, I saw:

#YoSoyRosie

Literally meaning "I am Rosie," the hashtag reveals how personally Latinos are taking the Hollywood Mean Girls tiki tiki likely generated by internal show staff, as reported in Variety. Soon afterwards, an open letter demanding an apology to Rosie from ABC executives circulated, generating hundreds of thousands of page views. Latino Rebels founder and media producer Julio Varela described the signatories a "rockstar-like" list of Hispanic women.

Then Perez Hilton picked up this list, sending our outrage into the ether's stratosphere.

Personally, I feel meh about Rosie--neither a critic nor a fan. But the egregious rumors sounded similar to the trashing of Sonia Sotomayor by the Senate Judiciary committee which I covered as a Washington, D.C. based correspondent for ABC News (which in a reorganization oversees The View). Remember when then Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) channeled his inner Ricky Ricardo, saying Sotomayor had a lot of: "'splainin' to do"?

Click to watch:

Translating for white network executives: the rumors went from the typical Hollywood playbook to oust someone to an ethnic slight not just to Rosie, but all Latinas:

  • Rosie can't read a TelePrompter = all Hispanic women are stupid (cuchi cuchi).
  • Sagging ratings are not the fault of cast chemistry, producer judgement, unimaginative guest bookers and writers but the fault of the Hispana (who can't read prompter).

The View, ABC executives, (who have a joint venture--Fusion--with Univision) and their diversity consultants have poured over reams of data which document the rise of Latina power--heading the consumer spending and decisions of Latino's $1 trillion dollar spending power. With rapid-fire organization and response reminiscent of the Karl Rove White House, this open letter's dozens of influencers in politics and business drew a line in the sand with their stilettos, catching the attention of the Latino advocacy community, TV execs, advertisers alike.

Soon afterwards, the rumor mill began churning again. But this time, the word on the street is that Rosie was never going to be fired but on leave to rehearse for her role in the Broadway show "Fish in the Dark" and is scheduled to return to The View this week.

With films such as Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Broadway, and TV shows under her belt, there's little doubt that Rosie is talented. But is she the best choice for The View? In addition to better producers and management as noted above, a daytime co-host needs to be more Oprah than Bernadette Peters--informed, curious, sharp-witted yet warm, accessible, spontaneous, and confident. Rosie may not have that Q score magic--right now. But given how badly The View and ABC bungled the hire of their first Latina host, they may be stuck with her.

SOTU: What President Obama Can Say About Foreign Policy and Latin America (It's Not Cuba)

SOTU_What_President_Obama_Can_Say_About_Foreign_Policy_and_Latin_America_It's_Not_Cuba President Obama has previewed the state of the union (#SOTU) with a roadshow which includes proposals on community college funding and reports of breaks for the middle class by taxing richer Americans. He will not only lay out his domestic agenda but also his foreign policy priorities. My hope is that Latin America, not just Cuba, is included in his first major speech of 2015.

Interests are jockeying to get a mention in the #SOTU. I suggest that President Obama say something along the lines of:

We not only stand with the people of Cuba as we work to normalize relations with the island nation. We renew our commitment to the people of Mexico as many are in the crosshairs of the drug cartel wars. We support strengthening the judiciary so criminals truly pay their price to society and stamp out government corruption and impunity, to grant the government legitimacy in its efforts to practice a basic tenet of civil society: no one is above the law. We also pledge to do our part, by curbing consumption as Mexico's top drug market and stemming the southward flow of the guns that kill innocent civilians.

President Obama's most significant Latin America policy is his recent announcement to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. Indeed, Cuba has symbolic value, evidenced by its status as historic sticking point at summits with U.S. and Latin American leaders. Still, Cuba's strategic and practical value should not be overstated, a rookie mistake by younger journalists new to the topic but feeling entitled all the same to write authoritatively on the topic du jour. The President's policy changes such as easing travel restrictions and re-opening an embassy positions the U.S. to influence the political, economic, and social changes that will come once octogenarians Fidel and Raúl Castro die. But because of its 50 year isolation exacerbated by our embargo, Cuba is not a trade, economic, or innovation powerhouse. At first, significant investment will be required to help its citizens transition, providing basics such as medicine.

Click here to read my post on Obama's first trip to South America "Mr. President: Try Substantive Instead of Equal Partnership with Latin America."

Mexico, however, is not just geographically strategic. After Canada, it buys the most products from the U.S. and has a unique product sharing deal with results including "forty cents of every dollar spent on imports from Mexico comes back to the U.S.," according to the nonpartisan think tank the Wilson Center. From a national security standpoint, drug, guns, and human trafficking should compel more U.S. involvement with its southern neighbor with which it shares a nearly 2,000 mile long border. The U.S. must demand the continuation of reforms in government and the judicial system. A stronger Mexican economy and public safety in light of the missing 43 students allegedly ordered by a local mayor, could do as much or more than just "10'xing" U.S. border security to stem the northward flow of immigration. Simply put, people immigrate out of hardship, few out of choice. Furthermore, as it reevaluates its drug policy, besides interdiction and enforcement, what is the U.S. doing to curb its insatiable drug consumption? How can the U.S. stem the southward flow of guns to the cartels that turn them on innocent bystanders?

Any foreign policy statements will take second place to the threat of Islamist extremism in the wake of the #ParisAttacks on the satirical magazine #CharlieHebdoe. Although an ocean away, I'm reminded of where we were following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. When President Bush entered office months before 9/11, he expressed his desire to re-engage Latin America. Although Latin Americanists had heard this before, we were hopeful because unlike other presidents, as governor of Texas, Bush had first-hand experience with the border. He understood the significant political, economic, social, and cultural impact of immigration, drug and gun trafficking, as well as trade on the Lone Star state.

After the 9/11 attacks, Bush rightfully focused on the war in Afghanistan. While the war raged there and then in Iraq, U.S. influence in the region receded as the "pinking" of Latin America progressed with left-wing governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Brazil. During this time, Mexico spun out of control as the drug cartels waged an epic and bloody struggle for dominance, institutions tasked with upholding the law and protecting citizens as detailed above, unable to or in the the worst cases, have been complicit in the rampant crime and violence.

Mexico surely is not the only Latin American country with strategic significance. Brazil and Venezuela come to mind and have received in the U.S.'s place, significant investment from China. Still, as the President lays out this year's vision with a focus on policy and actors that can be game changers, I challenge the Administration to not just include a line about Mexico but to renew its attention and commitment. A safer Mexico with a more vibrant economy will have significant benefits throughout that country, the region, and in the U.S.