These remarks were presented for a live audience at the Second International Conference “Assessing the State of Spanish-language and Other Latino-Oriented Media,” convened by Texas State University San Marcos on February 20, 2009, in San Marcos, Texas. It was part of a panel of the Latino stations consortium titled: Latinos in U.S. Public Radio: History, Current Status and Future.
On Election Day, Radio Bilingüe’s news team culminated its day-long news coverage with Barack Obama’s victory speech. History had been made. The first president of color ever had been elected to the White House. Immediately after, we opened the phone lines. Listeners were in joyful celebration. Here is some of the voices we heard on the air.
“We finally made it to the White House!” (Enrique).
“I am very happy for the first time. I have been in the
“This is a historic day, this will be written in the history books. How we Latinos have helped put in the White House the first president of color.” (Noe)
“The day is coming when politicians will do what’s just for our people because of political need and not because of charity. We are very happy because we are seeing that at the end, our Latino vote counts.” (Josefina)
“Now, our hard work begins. This is only the first step. There are many more responsibilities we have to meet.” (Fernando)
“We are very happy Obama won. Happy indeed. But we will continue to be watchful.” (Leonor)
In no uncertain terms, listeners expressed their conviction that they owned the outcome of the election. They knew that an unprecedented number of Latino and immigrant voters had turned out to the polls and up to 80% of the Mexican and Puerto Rican voters had enthusiastically supported the winning candidate in battleground states. Now these listeners felt they legitimately owned the final decision… and the White House. And listeners believed something else: now it was up to them to get their political dreams a reality.
Radio Bilingüe was an eyewitness reporter of most landmark developments in this election year. Through its special coverage Hacia el Voto 2008, Radio Bilingüe was in the forefront providing public radio stations and Latino voters with timely news stories, practical informational tools, and an open platform to express their feelings and opinions, engage in the discussion of the political agenda, and ultimately make the most informed decisions. This major civic-journalism endeavor allowed Radio Bilingüe to help many stations fill an informational gap for underserved audiences.
To accomplish its goals, Radio Bilingüe developed a number of partnerships and collaborations with fellow news organizations and relied on special coverage that was extended, multiplatform, robust, and interactive.
The election series spanned an extended period of time, beginning on the eve of the presidential primaries and culminating on the week of Inauguration Day. Coverage included exclusive interviews with presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, and other parties, who were asked about health care for migrants, federal raids and family separation, extreme poverty in the border shantytowns.
A highlight of this coverage was Línea Abierta on the Road, an itinerant visit to nine cities around the country to convene community roundtables or live forums in towns with high Latino population. In partnership with affiliate radio stations, local forums were convened to discuss issues of interest to Latinos nationwide. These forums were made available to national audiences via radio, satellite, webcast, and at times network television, thanks to a year-long partnership with HITN-TV, a national cable and direct satellite network from
On most of those visits, Radio Bilingüe’s itinerant team helped catalyze or provide eyewitness reports on landmark political events, including record Latino voter turnout in the
Through our various media platforms, listeners were encouraged to join the dialogue. Traditionally, listeners have used a national toll-free phone line to access the airwaves and express their opinions. During this election season, they also were encouraged to participate by using online tools. Some became citizen reporters by publishing their pictures on our website, others sent email messages or joined chat discussions.
This citizen-participation approach is at the heart of Radio Bilingüe’s mission. Radio Bilingüe was founded to provide a public space for listeners to use it so that they, by interacting with each other, would become active players in the making of public decisions, architects of their own history.
And many of those listeners who have emerged as the new voters and grassroots policy makers are people who would usually find it hard to practice their full citizen duties and rights. They live in the margins of
The communication with these core listeners usually begins with being there when they need it the most. Radio Bilingüe’s news team has been there in many crises. It was there when the mostly Latino town of
“My husband left for work at about 5am. He saw a parked minivan and he never imagined that it was immigration. At 6:30 am he called me and said, “Be very careful. Don’t open the door. They’ve caught me. Immigration has caught me.” I told him, “How is it possible, the kids will be alone and we have a daughter who is ill. She was born premature, has problems with her lungs. She’s continually sick.” He told me, “Make sure to take good care of our children. Be sure to keep the door closed.” If they come for me, I said, “I’m not going to open the door because I’m not going to leave our daughters alone.”
On Radio Bilingüe, listeners like Doña Feliciana, who are invisible for the mainstream media find a voice, a presence. Even more, they become analysts and reporters with stories to tell. Hundreds used our platforms during the election to communicate their opinions, build on each other ideas, exercise public speaking skills, to get out their message.
On Radio Bilingüe, listeners can find a friendly plaza where they can unapologetically speak in public their mother tongue and openly celebrate their cultural roots. This is no minor endeavor, considering that virtually no other radio medium would allow it. There are more than 13,000 commercial radio stations in the country, many of which use immigrants and bilingual peoples as a scapegoat, to ridicule them as aliens, to boost their ratings in order to rake profits from advertising. Having benefitted from a fastly-growing audience, the Spanish-language commercial radio networks are in a position to counter that hostile, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino atmosphere. Problem is, the individuals who rise to the occasion are rare. Those commercial networks are owned by a handful of wealthy non Latino moguls, who determine their programming content, editorial opinion, and agenda. So, shock jock racial and sexual slurs are king on their airwaves. Finally, there are the more than 700 public radio stations that were established to serve “all citizens of the Nation.” Still, four decades after its creation, public radio’s perspective and cultural values continues appealing overwhelmingly to White, middle class, English speaking audiences.
The job of serving Latinos with critically-needed information in the language and culture that they would enjoy and understand falls on the shoulders of Latino stations that have made community service their mission. And there are only seventeen of that endangered species in the country, only thirteen of them are full-power. Radio Bilingüe owns half of them. Understanding its responsibility towards the underserved, Radio Bilingüe goes on the uphill quest of promoting the idea “Ser Cultos para Ser Libres” or “La Cultura Cura”, meaning that for Spanish, Spanglish, Triqui, or Maya-speaking communities, speaking their languages and living their cultures is more than a matter of entertainment, is a matter of survival, of finding the way to be participant and healthy members of this society. Ultimately, La Cultura Cura is about having an equal seat in the
Radio Bilingüe will continue working to build a bigger voice for these communities through community media. Radio Bilingüe will continue promoting media ownership to help underserved communities access the airwaves and media partnerships to magnify their voice. Currently, Radio Bilingue is developing a full time public broadcast service for young Latinos and underserved audiences in