Latino USA

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#1435 – Best Bits

Latino USA looks back at some of our best bits from the past year. First, we ask our staff: are you The Worst Latino? We hear from a Latina voice actor, learn about the invention of Hispanics as a census category, talk about flirty racism (yes, it’s a thing), and discuss how stock photos might be getting women’s images wrong. We learn about Zorro and his impact as the first American superhero. And writer Michele Carlo tells one of the funniest stories we’ve ever aired.


Photo via Flickr. 

You Are The Worst Latino

We’ve all had that experience of feeling like the worst Latino in the room, if not on the planet. Senior producer A.C. Valdez talks with several Latinos about the insecurity of being Latino, how buzzfeed lists and stereotypes reinforce it, and asks listeners to speak out about it.


Photo via Angelica Portales on Flickr.

Sabiduría: In a (Bilingual) World

A native Angeleno, Sylvia Villagran grew up with the “only Spanish spoken in the home” rule. Now she thanks her parents for her serious bilingual skills. Those skills, along with the ability to switch her voice from sophisticated to urban hip have made Sylvia one of the most versatile voice actresses working today, in both the English and Spanish market.


cropped image Sylvia Villagran is a voice actress working in Los Angeles






Photo by Andrew Taylor on Flickr


The Invention of Hispanics

Before 1970, the US Census Bureau classified Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants as whites. Each community of Latin American origin would go by their nationality and by the region where they lived in the United States. But all that changed in the seventies, as activists began lobbying the US Census Bureau to create a broad, national category that included all these communities. The result was the creation of the term “Hispanic”, first introduced in the US Census in 1970.

Then it was up to Spanish-language media to get the word out. The network that would later become Univision released this series of ads calling on “Hispanics” to fill out the 1980 Census. The ads feature “Hispanic” sports stars and… Big Bird:

By the 1990s, Univision was creating the images and sounds associated to Hispanics in the US. The 1990 Census ads feature the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz telling Hispanics to fill out el censo:

Maria Hinojosa interviews author and scholar G. Cristina Mora about origins of the term, the people that crafted it, and what it actually means to be Hispanic in the United States today.





Cristina Mora

 G. Cristina Mora is a sociology professor at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses mainly on questions of racial and ethnic categorization, organizations, and immigration. Her book, Making Hispanics provides a socio-historical account of the institutionalization of the “Hispanic/Latino” panethnic category in the United States.






Videos courtesy of Univision Communications and the Univision News library in Miami, Florida. 

Photo courtesy of El Telecote archive on Found SF 

Flirty Racism: It’s a Thing

“You’re beautiful for a Spanish woman. I love it when Spanish girls speak Spanish.”

“Are you full Asian? You don’t look full Asian.”

“You’re the first black person I’ve ever dated.”

The intention is to flatter by highlighting difference. To compliment a person of color by making them feel “exotic”. These are just some of the examples we got by going out on the streets of New York City and asking people of color if they’d ever experienced what author Rula Al-Nasrawi calls #FlirtyRacism.

In her article for VICE, “Calling Me A Terrorist Is Not Flirting,” Al-Nasrawi talks about the many times she’s been exoticized as a Middle-Eastern woman and the not so few times people have hit on her by jokingly calling her “a terrorist.”

At first, people on the streets were a little bit confused with the term. But when Al-Nasrawi told them one of the many outrageous pick-up lines she gets, people suddenly got it. Almost immediately,  the men and women of color we talked to remembered a pick-up line that turned out to be incredibly insulting or awkward, because it focused on their ethnicity.

We found the many subtypes of flirty racism out there. From the very common “you’re cute for your ethnic group”, to the exotic generalization (“you look like that only other actress I’m aware of from your ethnic background”), to the incredibly insulting “you can’t be … you’re too tall.”

We also asked people on the streets of New York City what the new flirting etiquette should be and we even got some sailors to react to Al-Nasrawi being cat-called a terrorist.


Rula Al-Nasrawi is a freelance journalist living in New York City. A California native, her work has been featured on the San Francisco Bay Guardian, VICE, The Atlantic and Galore magazines. Rula is a hardcore pug lover, and always finds time to giggle at a good pun. Tweet her @rulaoftheworld.





Photo by Tiziana Fabi AFP/Getty Images

Seeing Ourselves Reflected In Stock Photos

When you search Google for “Working Mom,” this is what you might see:


Working Moms
A woman in a bad pantsuit carrying a crying toddler in a kitchen while talking on a brick-sized cell phone. A woman with photoshopped arms to show how busy she is. A woman struggling to hold a baby, a briefcase, groceries — why are there rollers in her hair? Now do a search for “Woman Executive.”





Gross. It’s a problem that Sheryl Sandberg wants to fix. She’s partnering with Getty Images, the largest provider of these photos, to create a collection of photos that depict women in more empowering ways.

They show diversity: women of color, women in same-sex relationships, varying ages and professions, men in caretaking roles. But are they really enough to change perceptions of women?’s Veronica Marché – Miller says it’s definitely a good start. “I think seeing these women in these authentic situations and oftentimes just looking content is a step in the right direction,” she says.



Veronica Marché Miller B3_Shoes_Headshot_NoCreditis an illustrator and writer based in Philadelphia, PA. She runs a freelance illustration business serving women of color and organizations that serve them, and past clients include The Red Pump Project, Sports and the City and Contradiction Dance. Veronica also writes about fashion for, focusing on the fashion industry’s relationship with women of color.









Zorro: America’s First Superhero

The Zorro story, invented in 1919 by pulp fiction author Johnston McCulley, tells the tale of an aristocrat in Spanish California who dons a mask to fight against corrupt colonial officials on behalf of the oppressed.

Zorro became the subject of a hit silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks in 1920, and went on to become one of the biggest pop culture franchises of all time. It inspired dozens of remakes, TV series, books and comics across the globe. Perhaps more importantly, Zorro went on to influence the American super hero tradition as a model for characters like Batman, Superman and the Lone Ranger.

But McCulley didn’t pluck Zorro out of thin air. The character was based on several real-life Spanish and Mexican outlaws who operated in the West, including Joaquin Murietta and Juan Cortina. These figures weren’t always fighting on the side of the United States.


Photo: Movie poster for 1920 film The Mark of Zorro, courtesy of Wikipedia


The Return Of The Queen

One of the toughest things about Christmas? Putting up with your family.

Writer Michele Carlo, author of the memoir Fish Out of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the Subway Tracks tells us about watching, or trying to watch, a movie with her mother in a story she calls “The Return of the Queen.”

Carlo is a writer and performer who you may remember from out first hour long episode where she shared a school story with us. Listen for her on future episodes of Latino USA.

DISCLAIMER: In her story, Michele Carlo refers to a conversation in the mid-1980s where she told her mom that Rock Hudson was not only gay, but that he had married Jim Nabors. This is an urban myth. Jim Nabors did marry his long time partner Stan Cadwallader in January 2013.

imgres Michele Carlo is a writer/performer and comedic storyteller who has lived in four of the five boroughs of New York City and remembers when a slice of pizza cost fifty cents. Her stories have been published in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood’s Lost & Found: Stories From New YorkChicken Soup For The Latino Soul and SMITH Magazine.






Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jarrod Carruthers 

#1434 – Caged

This week, Latino USA focuses on literal and metaphorical cages, from education programs and art within prison walls to kidnapping in Mexico. We’ll hear how one former inmate helps people transition to life on the outside. Also: one performance artist’s take on being paralyzed, a Cuban blogger, and life in a boxcar settlement. All this, and fighting police harassment with Facebook.



Going to Rikers Island

On Rikers Island, the largest jail in the world, a new program aims at lowering juvenile recidivism by training young inmates to question their own life choices. Maria Hinojosa takes us into East River Academy, a high school–in jail–to explore how the program works.


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