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For Latinos, a smut alert

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Esther Cepeda
August 1, 2011
— Here’s one thing that every Hispanic person in the United States should do this week: face up to the violent, sexist and homophobic smut that gets pumped out over the airwaves through Spanish-language television and radio shows.

If you care about the well-being of the U.S. Latino community, your time will be well-spent by going to YouTube (http://youtu.be/VcUnxxfxuxw) to watch a short, bilingual video recently produced by the California-based organizations La Clinica de La Raza, the Bay Area Video Coalition and ZeroDivide, an organization leveraging the digital technologies that Latinos have so lovingly embraced to benefit low-income and underserved Hispanic communities. It illustrates how the raunchy content that gets pumped into Hispanic households and workplaces through Spanish-language media harms the very communities such media claim to help.


Then email a link to your parents, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors and anyone else you know who never gives a second thought to the garbage that makes up the soundtrack and backdrop of countless Hispanic households at breakfast and dinner, during family get-togethers, and is ubiquitous at Hispanic restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores.


Then, discuss.


Those who don’t consume Spanish-language media because of the language barrier don’t have any idea of the shocking content that is regularly broadcast in Spanish. Many others, like myself, vowed long ago not to tune into Spanish-language media because of the highly sexual images, crude language and offensive stereotypes.


Ignoring it, however, is not good enough anymore. For all the talking Latinos do about empowering their communities, it’s time for us to wake up to how toxic this programming is to our families.


The first step is watching the eye-opening, 12-minute video, which was put together for the express purpose of bringing this little-addressed issue into the spotlight. It came to my attention through Twitter via the stream of ZeroDivide.


The filmmakers expertly weave in footage from radio and TV, including shocking talk shows and perennially favorite telenovelas, and, through experts’ analysis, ask of those who ingest this stuff: “We’ve sacrificed so much to come to this country … for a better life. Is this really better than what they left behind in their country?”

Pointing to commonplace domestic violence in the soap operas, routine harsh swearing that flies under the radar of the English-oriented Federal Communications Commission, and trashy talk show segments like “women who were raped by their fathers—and liked it,” the short video touches on the consequences of such unchecked content for a low-income community that tends to use the television as a nanny, and how to combat it.


Commentators on the video universally said that now is the time for Spanish-language media to take responsibility for how this over-the-top programming promotes violence in the Latino community.


True. But they won’t do that until all Hispanics take responsibility for recognizing what a drain these types of shows are on the community—and either demand that they be changed, or simply turn them off.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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