I didn't grow up crazy poor or drowning in gangsta crime, but life for me did start in a neighborhood that was far, far away from fancy. I'll call it a wanna-be-barrio, near 13th Street and Buckeye. In 1974, my Nana Trinnie and Tata Chonito sold their little house on that block to my newlywed parents for $14,000 after my Air Force captain dad completed his service at Norton AFB in San Bernardino, California.
I still love that neighborhood. I drive through now and then. I look at the Santa Rita Center where César Chávez held one of his most famous fasts in the '70s. I'll cruise by our cute little swamp-cooled house, and recall playing Super Friends with Paul and Marcos Lopez, sons of Chicano activists Ronnie and Angie. We would safety-pin mismatched towels to our backs and fly around. My sister Regina usually played Wonder Woman because she was the girl.
My neighborhood was small, it was modest, it was Latino. Do me a favor, drive through there and let me know if it's a ghetto. I honestly can't tell. I don't think so, but looking back, we were definitely on another side of the tracks. We were separate, but equal. I think.
As an adult, I'm not sure I still like this paradigm. Especially when it comes to news and information.
Let me not be a total hypocrite. I am part of the separate but equal trend in the modern-day media. I write a column called Brown Town here at New Times, and I cover the Latino community for public radio and television.
I enjoy my work. I hope I do it justice. When not done right, this media trend ghetto-izes Brown Town. Case in point: The state's largest daily paper and its sister TV station.
It turns out, the Arizona Republic and Channel 12 (KPNX) are right now in super-secret talks to launch a multimedia-rich niche Web site aimed at Latinos. I hear it might première as early as this spring, and I'm guessing it harks back to that section of the paper they had a few years ago called ¡Extra!
You remember ¡Extra!, don't you? There were stories about boxers and mariachis and mini-columns about Spanish vocabulary courtesy of Dr. Trino Sandoval. Editors sprinkled Spanglish throughout the pages; upside down exclamation points and question marks mingled with commas and dashes. It was like speed dating at Food City — but in the middle of Scottsdale. The bourgeois mixed with the brown. It was revolutionary in its day, even though that was only, like, three years ago. It was kind of charming, kind of cholo.
I hated it. It was an absurd foil stuffed inside a gauche piñata.
I first gleaned a reincarnation was coming when I sat on a media panel earlier this year with KPNX news director Mark Casey. He pointed out, with noted sincerity, that KPNX and the Republic want to reach out to the Latino community and tell our stories. But, Mr. Casey quickly cautioned, don't expect more tear-jerking tales of the undocumented immigrant struggling to survive in a new country. In his newsroom, Casey avowed, reporters shan't bring him another immigrant story unless they are "burning down City Hall and demanding Phil Gordon's resignation." Instead, he wants narratives about how Latino leadership has failed miserably and handily.
Kudos to the mainstream for reaching out to Brown Town. Though I'm genuinely grateful, the hand's a bit grabby. Casey was honest when he described a very specific focus on a very specific demographic: that coveted 25- to 39-year-old disposable-income set who is Latino and bilingual, but English-dominant.
So is this about earnestly covering the community, or saving a frumpy, floundering industry with online banner ads in Spanglish? What do you think?
Gannett already has had success with online sites for mothers, cleverly named with versions of www.moms.com. Think of a talcum and vomit-scented online nursery filled with summer camp oratorios and diaper rash rants, coupled with a digital companion guide filled with inane reader comments. No word yet on what our aforementioned Latino page will be called; hopefully it's not something overly pithy like Hispanicworld.com or Tumundo.com. We are a smart bunch who does not need cuteness to determine our preferred ¡news! destination.
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This town demands more brown reporters, photographers, copy editors, producers, and anchors. Bilingual, monolingual, multilingual, what have you. Representation is key. But leadership is more so, my dear Mr. Casey. Newsrooms need leaders who can think bigger thoughts about brown people than images of us burning down public buildings. Imagine a world of news directors who can see thousands of Latinos — immigrants and longtime citizens alike — marching in the street one day, who then become a million-strong voting bloc the next, through efforts of (gasp) Latino leadership.
Give us smart niche reporting that shows up in the A-block or on the front page without pandering to a food, flag, and fiesta thematic schematic.
From the vantage point of this admittedly ghetto-ized brown reporter, who grew up in an awfully charming wanna-be-barrio, I'm not sure we need anything ¡Extra!
Gannett might, particularly for its bottom line. But we don't. We just need welcome mats in every neighborhood.