NAHJ president Hugo Balta discusses media portrayals of Latinos

Olivia Exstrum, Reporter

Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, spoke on campus Friday about stereotypical depictions of Latinos in the media coverage surrounding issues such as immigration.

Balta, who works as a producer at ESPN and has worked for WCBS, MSNBC, NBC and Telemundo, spoke to about 40 faculty and students in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum. During his hour-long speech, titled “Understanding The Latino Community,” Balta discussed the portrayal of Latinos and Hispanics in both American and Hispanic entertainment, news and media. Balta supplemented his speech with a slideshow of graphics, pictures and videos demonstrating this relationship.

Balta began his speech by pointing to Latino characters and actors such as Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz, of “I Love Lucy,” cartoon mouse Speedy Gonzales and Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, played by Sofia Vergara, of “Modern Family.” He highlighted stereotypes surrounding Latinos —that they’re maids, waiters and criminals or that they’re voluptuous, passionate, sensual people.

Balta also showed a video clip of Bill Dana’s portrayal of the character Jose Jimenez — a hard-to-understand, heavily-accented Latino man — on “The Steve Allen Show.” Balta underlined the stereotypes that are perpetuated by these kinds of images.

“If you’re a Latino, of course you have a thick accent,” he said. “It’s this perception, this misconception that you’re not from this country unless you fit a particular look. (Dana’s) caricature was of a Latino person who can’t hold a job. A lot of stereotypes were born from entertainment, and they are still relevant and true today.”

Balta continued by discussing the emerging role of Latinos in the political arena, and the use of the word “illegal” in media coverage of immigration policy. People have to keep pushing for the media to stop using the term, he said.

“No human being is illegal,” he said. “Illegal is an action.”

In April, the Associated Press elected to drop the phrase “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook.

Balta went on to say that it’s not about condoning illegal immigration but about being “accurate about what you’re describing.”

Balta then contrasted two advertisements for different news networks that were attempting to start airing bilingual programming before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

After the speech, Carlos Martinez, a Medill senior and president of NU’s chapter of the NAHJ, said he became involved with the organization last spring, which is when “we got together and realized that this is a really great organization that we can offer students.”

NU’s chapter of the NAHJ was active several years ago but died down when it didn’t have enough faculty and staff support. Martinez said he and other NAHJ members believed the organization’s presence was needed back on campus.

“The NAHJ is dedicated to providing academic, social and professional support for students interested in Hispanic and Latino media and to increasing Hispanic and Latino presence in the newsroom,” Martinez said.

Martinez said the NAHJ has internship workshops and national and regional conferences as well.

Throughout his speech, Balta emphasized the importance of diversity in a community.

“Ignorance breeds fear,” he said. “It’s not about learning the language. It’s about embracing what makes this country great. It’s that diversity, that exchanging of ideas. Our country is redefining what it is to be American.”

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