Jose Cardenas of KAET’s Horizonte Has a Front-Row Seat to Latino Culture in Phoenix

Jose Cardenas
Jose Cardenas
Pablo Robles

The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, featuring a series of "as told to" profiles that explore how our city's proximity to Mexico makes it better.

I’ve been in the Valley since 1978, most recently from law school. I went to Stanford, and then moved to San Francisco, and then to Phoenix. I practiced law with Lewis and Roca for 30 years, and in January of 2009, became general counsel for ASU. I’m the chief legal advisor, and our office handles everything from bond financing to student discipline to athletic compliance. Also, all the educational things like Title IX, First Amendment issues, and dealing with protesters who want to demonstrate on campus.

All of that is great, but most people know me as the guy from the TV show. My involvement with Horizonte came from a meeting with Channel 8 back in 2002 or so. They decided they wanted to do some greater outreach to the Latino community, so they held a meeting. I missed it. There was talk at that meeting about a show patterned after Horizon, which had been a long-running success on KAET for years. And at that meeting, my name was mentioned as a possible host. I thought they were kidding when I heard about it. We did a couple of pilot episodes, and I thought I was just terrible. I’m sure I was! Janet Napolitano was among the guests, and I managed to slur and mispronounce her name, even though she was my former law partner. It was an inauspicious beginning, to say the least.

I’ve gotten over the anxiety a little bit. We tape on Wednesdays, and I used to beat myself up for 24 hours afterward for the mistakes I’d made. My friends would say to me, “If you hadn’t mentioned your mistakes, I wouldn’t have noticed.”

One of the things we try to do on the show is to help shift people’s perspective. Very explicitly, we have DREAMers on, so we can see what bright, talented people these immigrant kids are. Other times, we’re more subtle: We’ll have a cancer-research specialist from the Mayo Clinic to discuss a more general health issue, and of course, you don’t say anything about the fact that he’s Latino. But he is, and people see that. It goes a long way toward changing stereotypes.

Another thing that’s changing is the awareness of Latino culture and art. I served on the board of Xico Arte Y Cultura for years; they have more than three decades of arts support behind them, yet so many people don’t know about them. So we’ll have ASU Art Museum Curator Julio Morales on the show to talk about exhibitions, or we’ll have someone like Zarco Guerrero on, who people have maybe heard of, and we’ll talk about how he studied with Chinese mask makers, which is something that people may not know.

I’m optimistic. We seem to be coming into our own as a community that appreciates the importance of Latino arts in our culture. There’s more attention being paid to it by mainstream organizations, whether it’s performing arts or the presenting arts. And the only thing better than seeing that happen is having a bit of a front row seat while it’s happening. — As told to Robrt Pela

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