Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Silicone Bitch: Rick Sanchez Wants Me to Own My Cuban Ass

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

Young journalists, time to break some old stereotypes!

Attending the National Association of Hispanic Journalist’s Convention last June was a real eye-opener for me. I never even considered thinking of myself as a “Latina” writer until fairly recently, when I began to connect with other women writers and bloggers of Hispanic descent and understood the impact of the LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) movement.

The truth is, I never liked the idea of being a Latina writer, blogger or Latina anything. Sí, I’m Cuban-American, sí, my roots are in Spain and sí, yo hablo Español perfectly, but I am loath to label myself, to pigeonhole myself into any category. That's simply too limiting.

I’m even uncomfortable with the word “Latin” because it was fabricated as a reaction to government census stuff. (For a great explanation of “Latin” versus “Hispanic,” listen to Dan Grech’s interview of demographer Maria Aysa over at WLRN Under the Sun.)

And sometimes in the often overly-enthusiastic, crazy world of social media, cultural labels can get out of hand and become gimmicks. (Yeah, I know I'm gonna get some shit for saying that.)

However, going to NAHJ helped me come full circle and see things from a broader perspective. No matter what I write, I really can't take my ethnic and cultural background for granted.


I’m white and blue-eyed and can get away with not looking Latin. Perhaps because of my appearance, being Latin has never, to the best of my knowledge, held me back personally or professionally.

Or maybe it has and I don’t even know it.

It's a whole other song and dance for Latinas who don't look like me. I can't speak for them, but I think it's safe to say we've all had different experiences because of and in spite of our backgrounds – some negative, some positive.

And this is ridiculously screwed up, because Hispanics, Latins, whatever you want to call us, come in many shapes, sizes, colors and variations of humanity. Judging a book by its cover doesn’t work here. But that’s what “they” seem to be doing – or at least according to the overwhelming consensus at this convention – despite the fact that Latins are a huge force in this country. “They” being that part of America that puts a mirror to us and says: “hey, you’re not like us.”

Whenever someone asks me how I could possibly be Cuban, I simply sigh. They’re ignorant, I tell myself.

This is especially palpable for me living in Miami, where I am perfectly comfortable, yet constantly listening to the “why can’t Miami be like the rest of America” chatter. Get over it, people. Not all of us wear fruit on our heads.

(If you want to see how Hispanic culture is coming soon to every corner of America near you, see this video by Univision: The New American Reality.)


When I look at the bigger picture, I find that I do have to stake a claim on my Hispanic heritage. It just feels right in my gut. Because we’re not all alike and if we don’t make that clear, if we don’t represent who we are, nobody will listen.

But regardless, as writers, we all want and need the same thing; I don’t care where you’re from or what you look like. This is about owning every aspect of yourself and not denying any side of you just because someone will think less of you if you do. It’s about having the freedom to do that and being able to express yourself. It’s about embracing your passion to share and educate through words.


Rick Sanchez and other panelists (all stellar female journalists) drove the point home in a talk entitled “Latina Journalists Wanted.” Despite the phenomenal growth of the Latin population in the U.S., there is still a dearth of Latina journalists in the newsroom. There are some, but not enough.

Why aren’t more Latin women taking advantage of this to carve a niche for themselves? Today, Latinas in journalism -- and blogging, for that matter, all self-publishers and communicators -- have the opportunity to become trailblazers.

I caught Sanchez, the Cuban-born journalist who started his career in Miami before eventually moving on to CNN, at a cocktail party after the panel. Sanchez, who was fired from CNN last year for a politically incorrect rant, has never been one to mince his words. People either love him or hate him.

In this quick interview, he pretty much summarizes what was discussed in the panel.

(Incidentally, Sanchez just announced he’s back in Miami and about to begin a stint as a broadcaster for FIU’s football team. Read that story over at the Miami Herald.)

After attending NAHJ, will I still refuse to label myself as Latina? Yes and no. I will certainly not label myself as anything just to cater to brands or because it’s trendy. I have one foot in two worlds and that's my real writer’s identity.

But spending a couple of days with hundreds of other writers with ties to Hispanic culture made me realize that I am in fact carving a niche, one blog post at a time. Like it or not, I am part of that bigger picture. I am "Latina." And I am everything else, too.


Many thanks to GM Southeast for sponsoring my trip to NAHJ.


Michelle Loretta said...

I can relate to so much of this... lots to think about. I've never wanted to be labeled (or label myself) as Latina or Hispanic or White or _____. Part of the reason is because I'm all of the above and I just don't want to choose a team. Part of it is that I was taught (by mi mamá) that my heritage is not a handicap... and labeling something gives it the connotation that a crutch is needed.

I'm new to Miami (from LA) and I feel it very strong here - as a person with an Uruguayan mother & an American-Mexican father (yes you read that right an American who grew up in Mexico)... but *I* am *just* from LA. People don't know what to make of me and my 'whiteness' yet 'confusing accent' mixture... but the listener knows that it sure as hell isn't Cuban that I'm speaking. :) {how is it that you speak Spanish so well?}

This labeling is very strong here in Miami. I have learned now that it's not to exclude, but to better understand someone's history... give context to someone's past. I've come to like that.

Anyhoooo... you've given me much to think about... and the need to hear more of the "Latina / Hispanic / Mezcla de no-se-que" FEMALE voice...

Carrie at Tiki Tiki Blog! said...

Maria, great points and I totally relate to what you said.

I went to journalism school and never dreamt that I would be focusing so much on the fact I am of Cuban background. I thought my notebook and my brains and my writing would be enough to just be a journalist.

And then I hit upon stories where my background, my language, my culture were necessary to fully understand the story, to tell the story: Stories of racism, immigration, food, dance, music, you name it.

Fortunately, it became clear to me in my early '20s and I got to spend my career (nearly 20 years) telling the stories my non-Latino co-workers could not have told as well.

Beyond that, I remember telling an African-American reporter/co-worker that I had not felt any sort of labeling from my editors or other reporters. Her answer: "You don't hear what they say when you're not here."

While I did not consider myself "other" I simply was.

When I embraced my "other" I embraced all of me...and I kicked ass. And, I showed my Southerners that, really, we're not That different, after all.

We, for sure, need more Latina and Latino writers and journalists out there...not just to educate and enlighten the reader, but to educate and enlighten the editor and the newsroom.

Pa'lante y Pa'rriba!

AutismWonderland said...

Great post!

FOODalogue said...

Very well said.

Roxana A. Soto said...

Muy bien dicho, Maria. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. As a Latina journalist who's been attending NAHJ since the beggining of my career, I'm glad you got to go to the conference and that it got you thinking...

I found a lot of truth in this particular part of your post: "...we’re not all alike and if we don’t make that clear, if we don’t represent who we are, nobody will listen."

I just had a long conversation with Ana about this very topic. I recently started writing as a contributor for Fox News Latino and the second post I wrote, which was published at the beginning of the week, got a lot of backlash from readers who had obviously NOT read the post. The reaction for those who think like us was: "what do you expect from Fox?" and my answer is, "whenever I have a chance to spread the word in terms of what it means to be Latino in the US today, I will jump on it!". I think there's a lot of education that needs to be done to get rid of the overwhelming ignorance that permeates this country as to who we are, where we come from, what we have to offer, where we're going, etc. etc.

You are right, we Latinas – bloggers, writers, journalist – not only have the opportunity, but also the obligation to become trailbrazers! Como dice Carrie, pa'lante!!

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ said...

fantastic read..... I'm Cuban, Jamaican, Chinita, Latin, whatever the hell ppl want to classify me as... but at the end of the day, I am me. I talk from my vantage point based on experiences, wether those experiences are rooted in Latin thought or not... on the flip side, there have been great opportunities in the "other" world where I've been able to benefit from being Latina. like you said: one foot in two places.... works swell for me! : And, I had no idea Rick moved back to Miami... We miss him here in Atlanta... tried to play softball with him once!

Maria de los Angeles said...

Ladies, thanks so much for sharing and your comments.

Anonymous, I don't like to discuss with anonymous posters and while I do appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment, I will respectfully disagree with you. People are far more complex than dictionary definitions.