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Positive Latino Images Don't Evolve, It Takes Hard Work!

In media, movies and on stage, we are gaining, slowly, but steadily

By Joe Ortiz
Published on LatinoLA: October 11, 2009


Positive Latino Images Don't Evolve, It Takes Hard Work!


There are many Latinos throughout the country who feel they are not getting the respect they deserve. Personally, not getting respect is not as important as knowing you did the best you could with the tools we have been given.

For example, Latino entrepreneurs are the largest self-employed, innovative business leader group in the country, because they are bold and adventurous. Latino legislators (albeit few in the national window) are strewn all over thousands of small cities and counties throughout the nation, biding their time and learning the power game for the future. In sports, especially in baseball, they are becoming the majority of players. In media, movies and on stage (an arena I have been working since the mid sixties), we are gaining, slowly, but steadily.

As I rapidly switch from channel to channel with the remote control in my hand, I'm sometimes moved almost to tears as I see more Hispanic faces on the TV screen than ever before. We still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, I marvel at the handsome and beautiful Latino faces, playing roles on various series that do not depict solely gang bangers, gardeners, maids or hookers. Latino actors like Rosalyn Sanchez, Sara Ramirez, Michael Peña, Vanessa Marcil, Adam Rodriguez, Judy Reyes and Eva Longoria (to name a few) now play leading roles as detectives, doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers and politicians.

It's no accident these fine actors are playing significant and non-stereotypical roles. Back in the late 60's and early 70's, there were hundreds of Hispanics in the front lines doing battle with executives of the television, radio and motion picture industries to open their once closed doors.

In those days, there were virtually no Hispanic images Latinos could look up to. Yes, Desi Arnaz of I Love Lucy fame was visible; however, what wasn't known was many Hispanics had to anglicize their names to enter the arena, such as Margarita Canseco, Anthony Rudolph Oaxaca and Luis Antonio Damaso De Alonso - better known as Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn and Gilbert Roland, respectively. Yes there were a few back then who made us proud as we witnessed stars like Rita Moreno, Ricardo Montalban and Cesar Romero, who were the most notable of great actors with a Spanish surname.

Unknown to many in the Hispanic population, as well as the current faces we see on television and the movies now, there existed a vanguard of Hispanic warriors that were struggling to open the ways for positive Latino images. What they contributed to this movement may not appear as significant as those who today are reaping much glory and fame, but their building-block efforts lay a prolific foundation that has to be remembered.

n television news, especially in Southern California, early broadcasting pioneers such as Bob Navarro (who in 1967, as a young high school dropout who grew up near USC), landed one of the most sought-after jobs around: a news writer at then-KNXT-TV Channel 2 on "The Big News," considered by many to be the premier local TV newscast in the country. Then followed other Latino journalism pioneers such as Frank Cruz, Joe Ramirez, Joel Garcia, Henry Alfaro, Yolanda Nava, Luis Torres, Pete Moraga and Diana Muñatones, who were a few of the media gladiators who fell on the barbed wire fences of Los Angeles' media institutions, providing a new generation of Latino actors, newscasters and television personalities the opportunity to piggy-back on their achievements and move into those arenas. Public service program hosts, such as Fernando Del Rio, Ray Gonzales, Alicia Sandoval, Mario Machado and Linda Alvarez (who is still reporting the news at CBS), also laid their heart and soul to the current foundation.

There were but a handful of Latino print and broadcast news folk back in the early 70's. One of the founders of the California Chicano News Media Association, Frank Del Olmo, took the Latino journalism baton from the slain journalist, Ruben Salazar, who was killed by a LA Sheriff's Deputy during the Chicano Moratorium march in East LA on August 29, 1971. Del Olmo (now deceased) wrote thousands of articles and commentaries about Latinos for 33 years at the Los Angeles Times. The Godfather of Chicano Journalism, Professor Felix Gutierrez, has quietly prepared thousands of Latino journalists at USC' School of Journalism throughout his tenured career. Other print medium pioneers that helped shape positive images of not only actors, politicians and community leaders as well, include Dolores and Jonathon Sanchez of Eastern Group Publications, and one of its finest writers, Rose Soto.

There were also many advocacy groups that helped pry the door open for positive Latino images. Beginning with Ray Andrade's JUSTICIA organization, many others followed the quest of opening doors to Latinos in the motion picture and television industry including renowned Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban, who founded NOSTROS (Us) in 1970 to improve the image of Hispanic actors. Other groups such as IMAGEN (founded by Helen Hernandez), Bilingual Foundation of The Arts (founded by actress Carmen Zapata) and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, (founded by Alex Nogales and Esther Renteria), have played more than a significant role in their quest for positive Latino images.

In motion pictures, Moctesuma Esparza has made more than a significant impact on the Latino image, a filmmaker whose credits include Gettysburg, The Milagro Beanfield War and Selena, which featured Edward James Olmos, a Latino media icon himself. Luis Valdez' movies Zoot Suit and La Bamba are now cult films if not legendary. Jesus Treviño, a film maker who documented much of the Latino struggle during the Chicano Movement era now directs many of today's network television shows, some featuring the Latino stars of today.

Each and every one of these individuals mentioned, as well as many others too numerous to include, may not be household names to the current crop of Latino actors and broadcasters. But each, in their own unique fashion, played a significant role in shaping the positive Latino images we see today. Those who contributed to this valiant cause and who played unique roles in that struggle, seek no reward or recognition for their efforts. They merely ask that the new guard conduct themselves with the same dedication, dignity and honor we displayed during our respective struggles.

Originally published on: http://ourdailybreadbyjoeortiz.blogspot.com/2009/10/positive-latino-images-did-not-evolve.html

About Joe Ortiz:
Joe Ortiz has the distinction of being the first Mexican American to host an English-language talk show on a commercial radio station (KABC Talk Radio, 1971).
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