First came ‘Black in America,’ a CNN documentary probing into the lives of African Americans. Then the sequel three months ago.
Now CNN and Soledad O’Brien have ventured into “Latino in America.” Though there is no firm commitment, expect ‘Asian in America’ and possibly “Women in America” coming down the pike. Maybe even “American in America” if they really want to open it up.
But more seriously, the two-part four hour series, which airs tonight and tomorrow at 9 p.m.. looks at several issues important to Hispanics in the U.S. Besides the obvious one of immigration, CNN looks at education, health care, religion and language access.
Soledad O’Brien, the host, said there are many similar issues facing blacks and Latinos, especially with education. But Latinos have the extra burden of language, plus the sticky immigration debate.
Executive producer Mark Nelson said they used feedback from the first “Black in America” to create the sequel, which was far more upbeat. They also found out many viewers of that series were Latino, which was taped concurrent with “Black in America 2.”
“An enormous number of Latino children are not graduating from high school,” he said. “Given the fact almost 70 percent of them are born in the United States and they’re the largest minority that we have, it’s an enormous economic impact. The failure is really down the road and it can be quite large. Education is the answer.”
He also said he learned one in seven Latino girls have attempted suicide. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Associaton of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), didn’t mince words during a Q & A session after a screening at Woodruff Arts Center Monday of a 45-minute clip reel of “Latino in America.” While he applauded CNN for taking an indepth look at the Latino community in America, he found it incongruous that the network tolerated the anti-immigration and often anti-Latino stance taken by CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. In fact, he is working on a boycott of Dobbs. So it was pretty gutsy of CNN to have him on the panel, well aware he’d bring that up.
Nelson distanced himself from Dobbs. “Lou has nothing to do with our show,” he siad. “We’re filmmakers. Judge the documentary on the four hours that are out there. Make your voice heard. Watch it and when management sees this was really watched and accepted, that sends a huge message, too.”
O’Brien said she didn’t mind Gonzalez being there. “He’s a community activist,” she said. “We told him to say anything he wants about Lou Dobbs. This is why we had him. You want someone who is forthright and raises interesting issues.”
She said she didn’t face any resistance from Latinos while doing her documentary because of Dobbs. “I do nuanced stories. I go on my reputation as a fair, responsible journalist,” O’Brien said.
Both said one of their favorite stories was the Garcia family. The parents moved from New York to Raleigh, N.C., where they raised their sons, who were often treated like they were African American and more interested in assimilating than absorbing their Spanish roots.
“They don’t know any Spanish,” she said. “The parents look wistfully back and wish they had spoken to them in Spanish.” O’Brien herself could relate to that herself, given her own broken Spanglish. It was frustrating, she said, to not be able to converse with folks in their native language.
And while the mom thought the kids were embarrassed by their culture, it was more the fact the kids were embarrassed about themselves for not knowing Spanish well enough.