More than one hundred persons attended the daylong summit “The Mass Media and Latinos: Overrepresentation and Underrepresentation” held on Friday, July 15th in East Lansing, Michigan. The summit included keynote presentations by Efrain Gutierrez, pioneer Chicano filmmaker, and Alex Lozano, President and CEO of the National Media Coalition. The summit also featured panels on Internet and traditional Latino radio, mainstream media, local Latino print media, and cinema. The event addressed the underrepresentation of Latinos in the mainstream media except as subjects of stories based on the use of negative stereotypes, the growth of local Latino media, and need for collective efforts for positive change in the industry.
Speakers stated that a focus on the successes of the Latino population by the mainstream media would have many positive consequences, including a decline in the negative portrayal of Latinos generally. Panelists recommended highlighting the skills and talents of Latinos, and more generally showcasing how Latinos have contributed to the economy, not only in Michigan but across the nation. Additionally, speakers made a call for the expansion of roles for Latinos in movies, advertisements, and television. Today, too often Latinos are depicted through only a few characters, such as tomato pickers, bandits, sex objects, gang members and drug lords, to name a handful. The common view among summit presentations was that it is time that the mainstream media accurately reflect not just the diversity of Latinos in the U.S., but the fact that they constitute a pool of untapped potential and that they are a positive force in this country as it moves into the future.
To address the need for an increased Latino presence in the media, the summit presenters supported the mentoring and representation of Latinos on and off screen. The purpose of mentoring and promoting Latinos, and other minorities, is to address the exclusion of Latinos and increase their voice and contributions in this sector. Support for Latino filmmakers, for example, ensures that their creative views and perspectives will be seen and heard as part of the larger cultural mosaic that is the United States.
Speakers agreed that Latinos must be the source of positive change, if it is to occur. Through positions of leadership in the community, as innovative business owners, media operators, and as labor and political leaders, they must take it upon themselves to create and promote opportunities for other Latinos. National leaders, for example, must be encouraged to promote positive legislation that increases opportunities for the Latino population. Locally, Latino events could be promoted by the mainstream media along with those of other diverse communities. Moreover, providing bilingual programming, in English and Spanish, to vulnerable communities ensures they are not left out of the communications loop during times of crisis, such as what happened during the recent water crisis in Flint.
Finally, media in general should address the questions and the information needs of the Latino population. Radio broadcasts that serve communities with sizeable populations of Latinos should strive to inform them of local, national, and global news of interest to Latinos. The presenters with social media pages stated that they frequently host flyers and event notices on their sites to help the community stay informed of critical issues. Most presenters stated that they are open to receiving emails and telephone calls from the community for information on specific topics of interest and current issues. In response to these requests, follow-up services are provided by several of the Latino media outlets. Examples included hosting lawyers on the air, having a rotating help column with respondents of varying credentials, and broadcasting public health announcements.
Summit participants heard the personal trajectories of Latinos and Latinas in the industry, and discussed several critical issues on the relationship between Latinos and the media. It was made clear by presenters that there is still need to improve Latino and Latina presence in today’s media. At the close of the 2016 Latino Statewide Summit on Media and Latinos, participants were encouraged by Dr. Rubén Martinez, Director of Julian Samora Research Institute to view the current status of Latinos in the media industry as changing and improving in the face of historical structural barriers, and that it will take advocacy on the part of Latino leaders to facilitate desired changes. The event was co-sponsored by the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Michigan Alliance for Latinos Moving toward Advancement.