Friday, October 16, 2009

From Erica: Meet the Garcias

There's a new documentary a-brewing from CNN, according to syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. Called "Latino in America," the documentary seeks to explore the variety of lifestyles and cultural mixes that people of Latin, Hispanic, Mestizo, and Chicano/a heritage live in the United States. For Navarrette, the point of the documentary:
For those of us in the Latino community who worry that those of us in the media are missing the best and most nuanced stories about America's largest minority because we're too busy harping on stereotypes and accentuating the negative -- "I'll take an order of high school dropouts, with a side of gangbangers and mix in some gardeners and housekeepers" -- there was a concern that CNN would blow the assignment.

At least the cable network had the courage to take it on. Many of its competitors -- ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. -- still broadcast in black-and-white and haven't grasped the absurdity of producing Sunday morning talk shows where journalists and pundits gather for roundtable discussions that touch on Latino issues without a single Latino at the table.

He goes on to articulate a strong desire that the documentary illustrate how,
following the script laid out by the Irish, Italians, Germans and Jews who came before them, Latinos are learning English, having smaller families, starting businesses, moving to the suburbs, joining the PTA and sending their kids to college. Many of them are just -- like the Irish, Germans and Jews who came before them -- trying to find ways to do all that while still preserving their culture and heritage.

In the meantime, many of them are in a kind of holding pattern. They're considered too Mexican or too Cuban or too Puerto Rican to be Americans. And yet at the same time, were they to visit their ancestral homelands, they'd be considered too American to be Mexican or Cuban or Puerto Rican.

So the documentary- which deliberately gave all its characters the last name "Garcia"- aims to illustrate, as realistically as possible, the positives and negatives of life as a person in a society that hates your heritage.

I'm interested to see this documentary, which was produced by Soledad O'Brien, and see how it tackles the question of assimilation in particular. For Navarrette, who described the moment as "time to exhale," the documentary apparently did a decent job of representing the ambivalence of assimilation for the folks who have chosen that route. And I'm glad that he, and hopefully the documentary, brought up the historical connection between majority America's current witch-hunt for Latinos and majority America's treatment of just about any large group of people with a particular heritage.

I find it worth asking though, in advance of the documentary, what the socioeconomic (and geographic) influences are on a person's decision of how much to assimilate. Given the high amount of pressure for Latinos to have smaller families, learn English, and behave like mainstream majority middle-class Americans, I would imagine that the decision to assimilate is in part determined by the amount of social and economic power one wields. A person who's highly respected in the majority eye- who probably has done their fair share of assimilating to be there or to stay there- might have a better chance of assimilating and being "allowed" to do that without harassment than the person who has to work two full-time jobs in order to survive. I would imagine, too, that geography plays a role in assimilation choices, given that overt acts of racism and exclusion (particularly "round-ups" for deportation) are more common in certain areas of the country and are generally targeted at Latino/as who don't meet majority definitions of "American."

Regardless, I'm looking forward to this documentary, and I'm interested to hear about the responses it will get from the folks who view it. At the very least, I hope it begets a positive change in the way people of Latin descent are portrayed in majority (especially White) culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment