My goal is to start a conversation about many things which are Latino”
By Cleo E. Brown
Their last names are Garcia, and they are Latino. Thus is the premise of the premier episode of Latino in America entitled Meet the Garcias starring host Soledad O’Brien who is, herself, Cuban and Australian. Unlike Black in America, however, in which O’Brien investigated the struggle of a group of people having no ancestral and cultural identity nor feelings of inclusion within the mainstream culture, Latino in America investigates a larger group of people of whom their ancestral identity is key to their development and their growth with-in The United States.
Ms. O’Brien begins her investigation by speaking to Isabel Garcia ,of Arizona, who is the champion of illegal immigrants in Arizona. Isabel is a fourth generation Hispanic who battles the legal system in The United States to stop the deportation of Ann Estelle Torres, who has lived illegally in the United States since she was seven years old. O’Brien moves onto Lorena Garcia, who is a Spanish Television Chef, who wants her own program on a mainstream (American) station. Cindy Garcia, on the other hand, is trying to graduate from high school on time. Monica and Robert Garcia are more affluent. While Bill and Betty Garcia struggle to instill Latino culture and values with in their children. Latino in America expertly chronicles the plight of The United States’ fifty-one million Latino Americans who are now the largest minority group in America. Illustrating this fact is the growing use of the surname Garcia which is now the tenth most commonly used surname in the U.S.A.
The documentary addresses issues with-in The Latino Community such as immigration, cultural identity, inclusion, teen-age pregnancy, teen-age suicide, and the high school drop out/retention rate amongst Latino people. The role which religion plays in the lives of Latino people, as well as the seriousness with which Latino performers approach their careers, is also explored.
Chasing the Dream is the title of the second segment of Latino in America. Chasing the Dream, which foremost for me - since I lost my Hispanic lover to a hate crime seven years ago - addresses the growing rise of hate crimes against Latino Americans, is a realistic depiction of discrimination in America against The United States growing Latino population. Focusing on the case of Louis Ramirez, who was savagely beat by a gang of high school students in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Chasing the Dream subtly suggests that Ramirez was killed not only because he was Latino but also because he had an American(Caucasian) girlfriend and because he was perceived of as an undocumented worker who took jobs from other Americans. Like Gustavo (my lover) who had an American girlfriend, and who worked on a daily basis (in fact Gustavo had been at work when he was killed), Ramirez attackers , despite the fact that they were witnessed attacking Ramirez, were exonerated on the charge of murder although they were convicted of misdemeanor assault. In Gustavo’s case, his attackers all had alibis placing them elsewhere despite having been witnessed by church goers. Considering the fact that there have been two recent hate crimes against Hispanic men in New York City, New York in 2009, the timeliness of this particular segment of Latino in America is without question.
Other issues in the segment are addressed by Soledad O’Brien as well: The numerous instances of child refugees as depicted by the case of Marta who crossed The Rio Grande River in an inter-tube at the age of seven and sought refuge in the Boys town Orphanage of thirty-one young people; the huge Latina suburb of Pico Rivera, California where 92% of the 67,000 residents are Latina and, in O’Brien’s words are “as American as apple pie”; The influence of Cuba and Latino America on the thriving economy of Miami, Florida; and the importance of learning the English Language to pursue the dream is explored through an investigation of Carlos Robles in Orlando, Florida. Orlando, Florida, according to Soledad O’Brien, is the fastest growing Puerto Rican Community in the United States receiving many Puerto Ricans from New York City. Given the growing rise of hate crimes against Latina Men especially, perhaps the entire two hour segment should have been devoted exclusively to this extremely serious topic. I applaud Soledad O’Brien and CNN, however, for making the instances of hate crimes and discrimination against Latinos an issue at all. Although Chasing the Dream like Meet the Garcias is a wee bit too long for my tastes being two hours in length each, the material presented was gripping, moving, and stirring.
*Eleven roses out of twelve.
About The Author: Cleo E. Brown has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis in Davis, California. She also has a B.A. Minor Degree in Political-Science and has completed course work towards a Ph.D. in Education from The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. She is a Free Lance Writer and a Senior Editor at HHR.