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Fear, Visibility, and Latinos

Attacks on Latinos living in the U.S. have ranged from harassment for speaking Spanish to unwarranted detainment to deadly violence. The man charged with murdering 20 people Aug. 3 told police he was targeting Mexicans.

“Latinos across America are feeling shaken and terrified,” writes Graciela Mochkofksy (Craig Newmark School of Journalism) in The New Yorker. People are afraid to speak Spanish in public, she wrote, and are being told to “go back to Mexico.” She cited a 2018 Pew Center poll that found “half of Latinos saying that it has become more difficult for them to live here.”

But while the fear and urge to hide are understandable, Mochkofsky proposes a different response: “To fight this fear, I think that we have to go against our instincts to blend in and to pass undetected. What is needed is more visibility.”

She adds that “Latino visibility is not a responsibility that should only fall on Latino communities. The news-media industry must play a role, and that role starts with reviewing the way it portrays Latinos in its coverage.” Part of the remedy as she sees it is to portray Latinos in all their diversity, from families that have lived in the Southwest U.S. for centuries, to emigres from countries all over the Spanish-speaking world. Staff diversity matters too: Mochkofsky cites a 2018 survey that says Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population but just 7% of newsroom journalists. Meanwhile, in the entertainment world, Latinos are visible but tend to be stereotyped as criminals or sexpots.

Mochkofsky says it was “important” that several Democratic candidates made a point of speaking Spanish in the first debate, adding that it was “troubling that they were mocked for doing so.”

“Latinos should be seen for what we are,” she wrote, “not ‘the other,’ but a part of ‘us.'”

Mochkofsky launched the bilingual journalism program at the Newmark School a year ago. In 2018, she also received the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on the Americas.

Beyond SUM

Work By

Graciela Mochkofsky (Tow Professor and Director of the Spanish-Language Journalism Program, Journalism) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Graduate School of Journalism

Bonus Content

"2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize Winners Announced" (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism)