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Amid the continuing debate over immigration reform, one person who has been looking past the headlines is Maria Hinojosa.
She’s host and executive producer of the nationally syndicated public radio program “Latino USA,” which has been telling the stories of immigrants and Latinos for the past 20 years.
“The original impetus for this show was that Latino news was not being covered by the mainstream across the board,” Hinojosa told Here & Now. “We are central characters … These are basically American stories. So it doesn’t just matter to Latinos, it matters to everyone.”
Covering these stories for 20 years, it’s kind of sad that in many ways we are talking about the same things.
Twenty years on, Hinojosa says the way Latinos are covered in the media continues to be problematic.
Latinos in the media
“It would be great to be able to say there’s been total and utter progress, but in fact, covering these stories for 20 years, it’s kind of sad that in many ways we are talking about the same things,” Hinojosa said.
She calls America’s relationship to Latinos the “U.S. Mambo,” meaning Latinos take one step forward but two steps back.
“On the one hand we have huge stars in the mainstream — everybody knows them — big success stories,” Hinojosa said. “[But] Latinos have the fastest growing prison population, and the fastest growing population detained in immigrant detention centers, and a spike in hate crimes against Latinos.”
These “mixed messages,” as Hinojosa calls them, are most apparent in the national conversation about immigration.
Immigration policy under discussion is currently based on securing the border, but it does not focus on the 11 million people living in the United States without documents, Hinojosa said.
“Even with immigration reform, those numbers of 400,000 people being deported every year will continue, if not increase,” she said. “That insecurity people are living with, and think might go away with immigration reform, will not. And it could get worse.”
Hinojosa says the way the United States treats undocumented immigrants says more about its values than the immigrants who come here.
“For our country that has based itself as an immigrant country, what does this mean about who we are?”