CNN On Latinos: Use Them Bootstraps

By Daisy Hernandez Oct 21, 2009

I’m here with my colleague Alfredo DeAvila and we’re brainstorming something nice to say about CNN’s new special on Latinos in the United States: At least they don’t ignore us. All the Garcia girls were cute. It could have been worse. Did you see Black in America? CNN’s two-part series, Latino in America, begins tonight at 9 pm EST, with “The Garcias,” a two-hour documentary about people whose last name is Garcia (it’s the eight most popular surname in the U.S.) and who represent in broad strokes what it means to be a Latino today. The cameras traipse after a mother from Mexico who’s undocumented, a Chicana immigration lawyer, a Venezuelan celebrity chef; a Guatemalan teen struggling to finish high school, two Dominican-Puerto Rican brothers who want to belong to the Black circles of their Charlotte neighborhood, and the list goes on. Altogether the stories from Latino in America are less about Latinos and more about the gringo mythology of the good immigrant. Frame after frame, “The Garcias” is about the fantasy of people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps without need for help from family, community or government. And what about the institutional problems and solutions facing Latinos? According to CNN like much of our media today and even President Obama at times, the primary institution to find at fault is…drum roll please…la familia. In these documentary vignettes, families are portrayed as the obstacle to staying in school, to pursuing your dreams, even to your mental health. Take the story of Cindy Garcia. Having once ditched high school classes, Cindy is now trying to avoid becoming one of the 70 percent of students who don’t graduate from her Los Angeles high school. Although the school board president admits that a school meant to handle 1,500 students actually serves 4,800 students, CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien focuses on Cindy’s real challenge: her family responsibilities. She has a mom who needs her to translate and help at the family store and a young niece and baby brother to take care of. When she ends up pregnant, we know now presumably what Cindy’s real hardship will be. What’s going to help Cindy finish high school? O’Brien could have suggested an overhaul of the education system. She could have analyzed the impact of the more recent and severe budget cuts for students. She could have examined why Cindy’s stepfather is in jail (prison industrial complex anyone?) or what the state of reproductive health education is at Cindy’s school, where a number of Latina girls are facing unplanned pregnancies. But O’Brien skipped these questions and the real world solutions. We’re told instead is that what Cindy needs to make it is grit, focus, and hard work. In short: her own bootstraps. The heartbreaking part of this story is that Cindy believes the lies she’s being told. She blames herself for getting pregnant, for not finishing high school on time, for having missed classes. She thinks it’s her fault at a time when someone could have given her a picket sign protesting budget cuts and told her that a school with 4,800 students is failing her—not the other way around. All of this is enough to make a rational blogger like me want to take off my boots—my red hooker boots—and fling them at O’Brien’s head on the television screen.