Latino Empowerment through Public Broadcasting

Latino Public Television History


As in other forms of media in the United States, Latinos have been historically underrepresented within mainstream television and often portrayed using negative stereotypes as problematic communities. The authors of Hispanics in Hollywood: A Celebration of 100 Years in Film and Television argue, “A surprising amount of Hispanic American talent has been working constantly in American television, both in front of and behind the camera. Yet … there have been few Hispanic star- or character- driven vehicles.”42 Latinos of every nationality have appeared on the screen for decades and yet had limited control over production, writing, employment, and participation within the industry. Hispanics received very little attention in public television programming at the national level, even after the creation of CPB in 1967. According to activist film and television director Jesús Salvador Treviño, by 1983 CPB had invested only about 2% of 14 years’ worth of television production funds in programs geared specifically toward the Hispanic communities of the United States. Treviño argued that Hispanic issues were occasionally “mainstreamed” as part of public affairs series, but “there was no regular, ongoing, dramatic, cultural, or documentary or…news and public affairs series for the Hispanic community.”43 Nevertheless, Latinos persisted and succeeded in producing their own programs across the nation that represented their lives, their needs, and their culture to educate, inform, and entertain fellow Latinos.

Latino Public Television Series

Latinos in the U.S. actively sought to participate in public broadcasting with “grassroots efforts aimed at local stations or from national initiatives outside CPB and PBS,” according to media historian Chon Noriega, efforts that more often than not were part of Latino civil rights movements.44 This activism was paired with funding from two main sources: the U.S. Office of Education and the Ford Foundation. Latino filmmakers and television producers cut their teeth, so to speak, on bilingual children’s programming such as PBS shows Villa Alegre (1973-74), funded by the U.S. Office of Education, and Carrascolendas (1970-78), the first national program that addressed the Latino population.

The Ford Foundation helped fund the pilots of Latino-themed series that would become productions of KCET-TV in Los Angeles, which emerged as a national production center of nationally broadcast Latino programs. Between 1968 and 1970, the Ford Foundation funded KCET-TV’s Canción de la Raza, a bilingual telenovela set in East Los Angeles that dealt with social issues Mexican Americans faced in the barrio.45 It ran from October 1968 to January 1969 with the goal to effect changes and attitudes within Latino communities.46 These programs marked the beginning of Latino television productions created by Latino producers and writers. More programs would follow and although they were short-lived, these efforts would transform Latino television for the future.


Aida Barrera, from *Carrascolendas* (KLRN, 1972).
Aida Barrera, from *Carrascolendas* (KLRN, 1972).

Described as “a kind of Sesame Street for Spanish-American preschoolers to help ease their way into public schools,”47 Carrascolendas was the brainchild of Aida Barrera, a popular on-air Spanish-language instructor at television station KLRN (the University of Texas Communications Center) in Austin, Texas. (KLRN later became KLRU.) Funded initially through a U.S. Office of Education grant under the Bilingual Education Act (Title VII) for broadcast in Austin and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Carrascolendas’s success led to distribution of broadcasts to KCET in Los Angeles in 1972 and an increase of federal funding in 1973 under the Emergency School Aid Act to allow color production, location shooting, an expansion of cast members to include Cuban and Puerto Rican Americans, additional writers, designers, and puppets, and national distribution.48

Geared to first and second graders, Carrascolendas also attracted older Spanish-language speaking children, as well as African American and white children. The program not only taught language skills, but math, science, and history, and was intended to increase self-esteem. “Like fairy tales and myths,” Carrera wrote in a memoir, “Carrascolendas appealed to fantasy and not to reality.” The series, she believed could “influence the content of children’s imaginations. It could open avenues for their creativity, and by providing this impetus, could encourage the children to become instigators of their own change.” In a special episode from 1972, Barrera discusses at length in English the origins and goals of the series in between segments showing cast rehearsals. Although the series won awards from UNICEF and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and received an Emmy nomination for outstanding public service, Carrascolendas ended in 1976 after federal funding ceased.49


¡Ahora! (KCET, 1969-70) was the first show to portray current Chicano issues, events, history, culture, and political struggle.50 Jesús Treviño, associate producer, host, and writer for many of the episodes, and a key figure in Latino public broadcasting, wrote about the revolutionary nature of the program: “For the first time in history, Mexican Americans were on the air – writing, producing, directing, and hosting a live broadcast that addressed their concerns and issues. The community was speaking for itself.”51 ¡Ahora! ran for 175 episodes from 1969 until 1970 when the Ford Foundation support ended. You can see a compilation of the best moments of the program here: ¡Ahora! helped prove that Hispanic-oriented programming was necessary for Latino and Chicano communities and heightened the demand for more. Once ¡Ahora! ran out of funding, Treviño applied an activist strategy at KCET to secure another show that would address the concerns of the Chicano community.

Acción Chicano

*Acción Chicano* set, with Jesús Salvador Treviño (front), from *Acción Chicano*: (KCET, 1974).
*Acción Chicano* set, with Jesús Salvador Treviño (front), from *Acción Chicano* (KCET, 1974).

At KCET, Treviño organized the Spanish-surnamed employees from the station to sign a petition stating they would resign en masse unless the station supported a weekly television show for the Chicano community. Their determination resulted in Acción Chicano, airing 1972-1974, a theater-based program that relied on Spanish-language dialogue with an occasional code-switch to English. Professor Chon Noriega has praised Treviño’s strategy of speaking “from behind the mask of a ‘folk’ ethnicity” through theater performances that included folk music from the Mexican Revolution. In fact, its folkloric appearance encouraged stations – PBS released at least one episode nationally – to broadcast Spanish-language songs without perceiving the controversial activist messages that were communicated in them. A clever producer, Treviño used some of his budget from Acción Chicano to produce some of the first short Latino film documentaries, which were aired within the programs: La Raza Unida (1972), Yo Soy Chicano (1972), Carnalitos (1973), and Somos Uno (1973). He also used the opportunity to train other Chicano filmmakers. In the first effort of pan-Latino national advocacy and organization through public television, Treviño exchanged five episodes with a Puerto Rican series from New York, Realidades, for local rebroadcast within each series.52 Treviño’s Yo Soy Chicano was the first film exchanged. These efforts opened a dialogue between Puerto Ricans and Chicanos and helped with the formation of the National Latino Media Coalition.53

Because the six episodes of Acción Chicano in the AAPB collection contain extensive theatrical and musical performances, or documentaries that currently are available for sale, AAPB had made the full programs available only for onsite viewing at the Library of Congress and GBH. You can see a brief documentary about public murals in Los Angeles from an Acción Chicano episode on Chicano artists below:


Filming *Realidades*, Humberto Cintrón (center), from Realidades: Los Medios de Communicacion y la Communidad Latina: (WNET, 1977).
Filming *Realidades*, Humberto Citrón (center), from Realidades: Los Medios de Communicacion y la Communidad Latina (WNET, 1977).

The WNET television program Realidades (1972-77) also came about through Latino activism, this time from a group of Puerto Ricans in the New York area. In 1972, after months of failed negotiations, Puerto Rican media activists took over the WNET television studio in New York during a pledge drive to demand a public affairs series that addressed the Hispanic community.54 They made their feelings and intentions clear with a banner reading “20% Hispanic population, 0% programming” to highlight their lack of representation in television. According to producer, educator, and media activist Lillian Jiménez, “There were no film and video images produced by Puerto Ricans that represented the history, culture, and daily reality” of the newly emerged Nuyorican identities.55 After the protest, the station announced they had found funds within their budget for the first year of Realidades.56 With additional support from CPB, WNET aired the first national Latino bilingual series for adults in the history of American television, acclaimed in a history of Hispanic media as “a breakthrough for American Hispanics in the media.”57

Produced by José García and Humberto Cintrón, Realidades originally had a Puerto Rican focus but broadened its content to include other Latino cultures in the United States once it began broadcasting nationally in 1975. Realidades featured everything from drama to documentary news.58 Newspaper articles from the 1970s emphasized the program’s importance within metropolitan communities that felt ignored. In “Anglos Can Watch, Too,” New York Times reporter Beatrice Berg highlighted the program’s bilingual qualities from code switching from Spanish to English, to superimposed subtitles. Realidades writers made sure the program not only “spoke” about Latinos but also appealed to them. For example, García decided on the novelette style as the best way to reach Spanish-speaking audiences as evidenced by his own family’s viewing habits. Berg writes that the program “seesaws between seriousness and fun,” noticing that one show discussed the challenges for bilingual education and the next presented Puerto Rican rhythm and dancing like “Fiesta Boricua.”59 Realidades producers were highly innovative and broadcast more artistic types of pieces such as El Baquiné de Angelitos Negros, an in-studio dance piece with original salsa music by Willie Colón about a baquiné, the traditional funeral of a black Puerto Rican child.60 They commissioned numerous films from other Latinos, such as Cristal (prod. Severo Perez, 1975), De Colores (prod. Jay Ojeda, 1975), Guadalupe (dir. José Luis Ruiz, 1975), Salud and the Latino (dir. Bobby Páramo, 1973), Cosecha (dir. Ricardo D. Soto, 1975), Illegal Aliens (dir. Ricardo D. Soto, 1975), and Otro Paso (dir. Eulogio Ortiz Jr., 1977). Realidades also presented many prominent Hispanic arts groups and performing artists, such as El Teatro Campesino and Teatro de la Esperanza.

CPB supported the show for two years and twenty-three half-hour programs, but its funding proved to be short-term and additional support was nonexistent. Raquel Ortiz, a staff producer for Realidades and prominent director and producer of other television programs and films about Latinos, noted that WNET did not support the program when it had to be picked up for subsequent funding by the Station Program Cooperative (SPC) and believed the show to be too controversial on occasion.61 Precarious funding, uneven programming, and internal problems caused Realidades to go off the air by 1977.62

El Teatro Campesino

Luis Valdez, from *NET Playhouse*: El Teatro Campesino: (NET, 1970).
Luis Valdez, from *NET Playhouse*: El Teatro Campesino (NET, 1970).

Luis Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino in the fields of Delano, California, during the great grape strike of 1965.63 The company created and presented short plays that dramatized the cause of the farmworkers and urban Chicanos. The plays toured around the country and internationally, garnering attention and acclaim from audiences across the world, including an off-Broadway Obie Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award. Valdez’s hit play Corridos! Tales of Passion and Revolution (1987) was produced by KQED San Francisco in association with El Teatro Campesino in a production that “realizes the dramatic potential of the most famous and tuneful Mexican American folk ballads, or corridos,” according to Luis Reyes and Peter Rubie.64 Broadcast on PBS, Corridos! won a George Peabody Award for excellence in television. You can watch the full version onsite at the Library of Congress and at WGBH.

Prior to the formation of PBS, National Educational Television (NET) broadcast two programs devoted to the early years of El Teatro Campesino. In 1969, the Public Broadcast Laboratory broadcast a special program from Santa Barbara in which the host explains the origins of El Teatro Campesino and presents an act accompanied by a voiced-over English translation. View an excerpt from this program featuring Luis Valdez:

In 1970, NET Playhouse presented a documentary on El Teatro Campesino, including interviews with Valdez, musical numbers, a satirical skit, a puppet show, an excerpt from a play, and an ancient rebirthing ceremony performed in a cemetery. View an excerpt from this program:

La Plaza

Raquel Ortiz on the set of La Plaza, 1978.
Raquel Ortiz on the set of *La Plaza*, 1978.

Raquel Ortiz used the experience she gained in the production of Realidades to develop La Plaza, one of the first WGBH series focused on Latino issues and culture. The program premiered on January 10, 1979, as a “13-week bilingual series” meant to “serve as a plaza for the entire local Latino community.” Ms. Ortiz and her fellow producers used the opportunity to experiment with different formats and ways to entertain viewers. One week, La Plaza could feature an episode focused on Latino musical or dramatic performances; the next week, an episode shot in the studio of a debate on bilingual education; the week after, an acquired film, and the one after that, a combination of studio material and acquired content.65 La Plaza explored different aspects of the Latino community from different points of view and styles and continued until 2006, when it was replaced by the interview series Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One.

Spic Out,” an episode that combined dramatic performances with documentary-style interviews, addressed queer culture in the Latino community and the use of theater to represent this often-marginalized sector of the community.


Images/Imágenes Logo.
*Images/Imágenes* Logo.

Images/Imágenes, an Emmy award-winning Latino television program, also was inspired by Realidades. It aired through New Jersey Network from 1972 (when it was titled “Mi Casa Su Casa”) until 2011 when the network ended operations as a state-controlled entity. The series made a heroic comeback in December 2019, when Rutgers University decided to relaunch the program with the help of Rutgers Associate Vice President Office of Strategic Initiatives, RU-iTV Studio, and the New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Images/Imágenes was born out of the same need for representation that motivated Realidades and La Plaza.66 Members of the Puerto Rican community in New Jersey were angry that representation of them on television seemed mostly negative and that the positive ideas and contributions of their community felt overlooked. Images/Imágenes strived to give a new positive image to the Latino community and to educate all viewers, not just the Hispanic audience, about the issues that affected the community and the good role models and significant contributions that Latinos had to offer. As producer and director William Q. Sánchez stated in an interview with AAPB, “Images/Imágenes is not a job. It is a mission,” a mission to tell the untold stories of a community.67 Isabel Nazario, executive producer of the show, commented in a December 2019 press release for the relaunch of the program that Images/Imágenes is an “innovative program that provides a window into the changing demographics of the state and fosters understanding of the contributions being made by diverse communities.”68 The new premiere featured stories about actors Desi Arnaz and Zoe Saldana, Gloria and Emilio Estefan discussing their careers, fashion designer Stella Nolasco, and journalist Juan González. During its long trajectory, Images/Imágenes earned four Emmy Awards and twenty Emmy nominations for its original and pioneering content. This program set out to change people’s negative perceptions of Latinos. On its way to accomplish that goal, it created a legacy that the entire Latino community can be proud of, a legacy of community engagement and dedication, hard work, and cultural pride.

En Camino

En Camino (KCRB) logo at
*En Camino* logo.

Beginning in 1986, KRCB in Rohnert Park, California, produced the monthly Spanish-language and bilingual series En Camino to provide the North Bay Latino community with news and cultural programming of local interest. En Camino documentaries and panel discussions in the AAPB collection run from 1986-1989 and cover topics such as bilingual education, working conditions for farmworkers, homelessness, AIDS, the inadequacy of workers’ compensation, immigration law, housing discrimination, the Catholic church, Latino art, including the Chicano muralist movement, Day of the Dead festivities, bilingual media, and community organization projects. The program provided performances of Latino music and dance, and resources for the Latino community in addition to information. En Camino programs are featured in the other sections of this exhibit.

Oye Willie and American Playhouse features

Lou De Lemos’s Oye Willie became the second national Hispanic series funded by CPB.69 New York Times journalist Les Brown wrote that CPB made a grant of $1.7 million to the Latino TV Broadcasting Service Inc. for a ten-part series about the experiences of a young Latino growing up in a barrio of New York. He noted that the grant was unusual because it “was made directly to the producing organization instead of through a public television station…. [T]he risk is that PBS stations could reject the series when it is completed because, in effect, it was produced outside the system.”70 Brown’s words proved to be correct. Oye Willie was only funded for one year.71 Treviño explained that by 1981 CPB had demonstrated a willingness to fund Hispanic programs but no commitment to fund national ongoing Hispanic drama series.72 Some programs were subsumed or mainstreamed into other series, such as American Playhouse, under which Seguín (dir. Jesús Salvador Treviño, 1982), The Ballad of Gregorio Cortéz (dir. Robert M. Young, 1982), El Norte (dir. Gregory Nava, 1985), The House of Ramon Iglesias (dir. Luis Soto, 1986), Stand and Deliver (dir. Ramón Menéndez, 1989) and La Carpa (dir. Carlos Avila, 1993), among others, were broadcast.

Latinos Challenge CPB and PBS

The Latino Consortium (later the National Latino Communications Center)

The first organization created to deal with Latino public television issues was the Latino Consortium (later the National Latino Communications Center), established in 1974. Funded by CPB, it was a Chicano programming exchange created to share productions from various local stations in order to defray the costs of community productions. The Latino Consortium required members to produce one to four programs per season and broadcast at least 50 percent of the syndicated programming. Additional CPB funding in 1979 provided annual support and allowed the consortium to become a national syndicator. From 1979 through 1986, the Latino Consortium syndicated the omnibus series ¡Presente! composed of locally produced dramas, documentaries, and entertainment programs that were not funded by the group. Vistas, a similar series hosted by Rita Moreno, succeeded ¡Presente! Chon Noriega has noted that these efforts were not enough, just “make-do alternatives to an actual series, cobbled together from diverse and uneven local programming and reaching only a small portion of the PBS system.” A report from CPB in 1979, A Formula for Change, outlined the affirmative action CPB needed to take to make conditions equitable for minorities and Hispanics. According to Noriega, CPB did not pursue the goal of a nationally broadcast series addressing Latino issues and earmarked Latino Consortium funds solely for promotion. In 1983, Treviño wrote that despite the report and action plans, there was only one Hispanic employed on the CPB staff, none on CPB’s Program Fund advisory panels, and no Hispanic series on the air.73 Despite – or because of – CPB’s and stations’ inattention to these issues, Latinos organized and began pressing for more room on the national screen.

National Latino Media Coalition

FCC Commissioner Benjamin Hooks speaking at the first National Latino Media Coalition national conference, from Realidades (WNET, 1975):
FCC Commissioner Benjamin Hooks speaking at the first National Latino Media Coalition national conference, from *Realidades* (WNET, 1975).

Experiences with temporarily funded, short-lived series (created mostly through community protests and confrontations with station managements) led Latino broadcasters to realize the need for organizations to help secure funding for national programming. In 1973, Latino media advocates, after meeting with the FCC, felt their particular concerns were not being addressed. Puerto Rican and Mexican activists organized the National Latino Media Coalition (NLMC), which had its first national conference in San Antonio, Texas in 1975. The beauty of their efforts was not only the pan-Latino cooperation between television producers, directors, and writers, but that they also made sure to film their history in the making. This first national conference appeared in an episode of Realidades. Through clips, interviews, and narration, the participants of the NLMC discussed their experiences and concerns about participation in the communications industry. In another episode of Realidades, Humberto Cintrón and others explained the coalition’s contributions to Latino radio stations, television programs, and other forms of media. NLMC’s efforts helped Latinos be heard by CPB policymakers and get initial funding, but CPB continued to avoid committing to national, long-term Hispanic programming.

The 1980s were a time of deep changes for public television because, as Noriega writes, “deregulation both increased corporate funding and decreased the commitment to local community-oriented production.” By December 1980, the National Latino Media Coalition disbanded, and Latino producers began looking outside PBS and CPB to other funding agencies, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities. These independent producers would return with programs for broadcast within the PBS system. Meanwhile, the goal of national long-term Hispanic programming had yet to be achieved.74

Latino Documentaries of the 1980s and Beyond

Hector Galán

Since the late 1970s, Texas-born Hector Galán has been one of the most prolific and award-winning Hispanic documentary filmmakers of his generation. Most of his productions have been made for public television. After studying mass communications at Texas Tech University, Galán worked at KLRN in Austin (later KLRU), where he produced the public affairs program Aztlán (1976-1979), among others.75 After becoming a senior producer, Galán in 1981 made the 26-part PBS bilingual newsmagazine for teens, Checking It Out, hosted by three teen-age reporters. The series won the 1982 ACT Award given by Action on Children’s Television.76 Galán subsequently worked at WGBH in Boston, where as a staff producer, writer, and director, and later an independent filmmaker, he made eleven documentaries for Frontline, two for American Experience, and three for La Plaza. In 1984, he formed Galán Productions in Austin “to bring stories to the public that were not being told,” he stated. Describing the subjects of many of his documentaries as studies of the “invisible,” Galán believed “that a television show isn’t going to change the world, but it can give you a glimpse, an insider’s glimpse, that is very important.”77 Galán’s public television documentaries have covered such aspects of Latino life, culture, and history as an exile’s return to his homeland (Cuba—A Personal Journey, 1984); the life and work of a Mexican American mask maker (The Mask of El Zarco, 1984); Latino political power (The Emerging Force, 1985; Power, Politics, and Latinos, 1992; Willie Velasquez Your Vote Is Your Voice, 2016); Mexican American cowboys (Vaquero: The Forgotten Cowboy, 1988); the struggles of farmworkers (New Harvest, Old Shame, 1990); the AIDS crisis (The Forgotten People: Latinas with AIDS, 1990); the 43-year struggle of Mexican copper mine workers in Arizona (Los Mineros, 1991); Pancho Villa’s attack in New Mexico and U.S. attempts to capture him (The Hunt for Pancho Villa, 1993); immigration conflicts and border life (Go Back to Mexico!, 1994; The Border, 1999; and The Forgotten Americans, 2000); Tejano music (Songs of the Homeland, 1995; Accordion Dreams, 2001; Los Lonely Boys – Cottonfields and Crossroads, 2008; The Big Squeeze, 2009); Latino culture (the six-part Visiones: Latino Art & Culture series, 2005); the first Mexican American Bishop (A Migrant’s Masterpiece: The Life and Legacy of Patrick Flores, 2008); the making of the Hollywood classic Giant in the town of Marfa, Texas (Children of Giant, 2015); and the Mexican American civil rights movement (Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement).78 Radio Bilingüe’s *Línea Abierta interviewed Galán discussing three of his documentaries.

Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement

Responding to lobbying for more diverse programming, Congress passed The Public Telecommunications Act of 1988, which directed CPB to fund “programming addressing the needs and interests of minorities.” The Latino Consortium subsequently reorganized and incorporated as the National Latino Communications Center, becoming one of the minority consortium associated with CPB to produce programming for PBS.79 In 1996, PBS aired the acclaimed four-part, four-hour historical documentary series that Hector Galán produced and directed, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, a co-production of the National Latino Communications Center and Galan Productions, in association with KCET. With a budget of three million dollars, the series on Mexican American efforts to gain equal rights in the southwestern United States from 1965 to 1975 took six years to get up and running, most of it spent fundraising.80 KCET organized a telethon in 1995 to help cover the production, as well as the cost for educational and community materials to distribute with the film. Stephen Kulczycki, KCET’s station manager and senior vice president for programming, stated that they wanted the series to leave a “written legacy” for future studies on American civil rights and that the station was committed to doing everything possible to generate support for it. At the time, journalists believed that the fundraising efforts for Chicano! marked “the first such efforts by a PBS station in support of a single production.”81 These struggles were testament to how challenging it was to accrue financial backing for a project centered around the Mexican American community, even though their history is a critical element of the overall U.S. history. The documentary detailed the Alianza land grant movement for the re-allocation of promised land back to Mexican Americans and the grape strike campaign during which migrant farm workers protested the conditions under which they were laboring. It also included coverage of protests against the Vietnam War, the protest movement against discrimination of Mexican Americans in the public school system, and the rise of Mexican American influence in politics with the creation of the La Raza Unida political party.82 Chicano! is evidence of the kind of asset that public broadcasting has provided to Latino communities. It allowed them to assert themselves, tell their stories from their point of view, and produce a visual narrative record of their history for future generations.

POV, Latino Public Broadcasting, More Protests, and Latino Americans

The PBS series POV (“point of view”) features innovative independent documentary films about contemporary social issues. Since 1988, POV has given many Latino filmmakers the opportunity to broadcast their work on the national PBS network that can reach over 97% of American viewers with an average of 2.5 million viewers per program.83 Films like Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary by teacher-turned-filmmaker Laura Angelica Simón, are examples of the many ways that the Latino community has been able to use the POV platform to give viewers a closer and more humane look at the life experiences of Latinos in the United States. In a similar fashion, WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station, has produced content focused on local news and history that has showcased Latino stories on multiple occasions. For example, their documentary My Neighborhood: Pilsen gives a tour of the Chicago neighborhood by following several Latino members of the community and exploring how their contributions have helped shaped Pilsen for the better.

Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) formed in 1998 by actor/producer/director/writer Edward James Olmos and producer/writer Marlene Dermer to replace the National Latino Communications Center in CPB’s National Minority Consortium (now the National Multicultural Alliance). Programs funded by LPB have won more than 125 awards, including Voces, LPB’s signature documentary series presenting Latino arts, culture, and history.84 The AAPB collection currently includes the verité documentary My American Girls: A Dominican Story (dir. Aaron Matthews, 2002) that LPB partially funded. It may be viewed at the Library of Congress and GBH.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions & WETA, 2007).
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions & WETA, 2007).

In 2007, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project at the University of Texas, led a protest against the lack of Latino representation in the upcoming 14-hour Ken Burns PBS series on World War II entitled The War, although more than 500,000 Latinos had participated in the war effort. “The main issue is the inclusion of Latinos into the nation’s historical narrative,” she stated on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “Over and over again, Latinos are excluded in any kind of general history accounts of our country.” Pointing out that more than half of the students in California’s schools were Hispanic, Rivas-Rodriguez insisted, “It’s important for all Americans, but in particular it’s important for Hispanic children to be able to watch television and understand that the contributions of the Latino people have been many, and we’ve been here for a very long time. And that’s the important thing.” Critics of The War spoke about their protest in this edition of Radio Bilingüe’s Línea Abierta and in a discussion in which Rivas-Rodriguez participated. As a result of the protests, Latino filmmaker Hector Galán worked with Burns to produce new material on Latino contributions to the war effort, which was added to the film.85

Latino Americans, a six-hour documentary series covering the history and culture of Latino groups over the past 500 years, was broadcast nationally in 2013 over PBS stations and produced by WETA Washington, D.C., Bosch and Company LLC, and Latino Public Broadcasting, in association with Independent Television Service (ITVS). Jeff Bieber, a vice president at WETA, conceived of the series five years earlier as the immigration debate was growing heated. Bieber, hoping to “change the national conversation” through providing the public with contexts with which to understand current events, hired documentarian Adriana Bosch, an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker from Cuba who came to the U.S. in 1970 as the series producer, and Bosch worked on the series with additional producers representing other Hispanic cultures. Lisa Navarrete, a leader of the National Council of La Raza, one of the groups that had argued for more programs by and about Latinos and protested against the lack of Latino representation in Burns’s The War, stated that with the Latino Americans series, “PBS is redeeming itself.”86

The series narrator, Benjamin Bratt, characterized Latino Americans as “a retelling of history that factually corrects the record and rightly puts Latino culture squarely in the middle of the American experience.” The six parts, “Foreigners in Their Own Land (1565-1880)”; “Empire of Dreams (1880-1942)”; “War and Peace (1942-1954)”; “The New Latinos (1946-1965)”; “Prejudice and Pride (1965-1980)”; and “Peril and Promise (1980-2000),” chronicle Latino history and culture using stories of a diverse group of individuals who made that history.

Ray Suarez, from PBS NewsHour: (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions & WETA, 2013).
Ray Suarez, from *PBS NewsHour* (MacNeil/Lehrer Productions & WETA, 2013).

PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez, who wrote the companion book for the series, told colleague Gwen Ifill in an interview:

If there’s one thing I want people to take away from the act of reading this book, it’s to either remember or learn for the first time how much the people I write about loved this country, and all they wanted was to be accepted like anybody else in return. And they kept that love, kept that affection, and kept that struggle going, even when they were getting nothing but the back of the hand from America. It’s a remarkable story. Instead of becoming alienated and angry and removed and creating a separate society inside the country, they kept fighting for acceptance.

Next: The Immigrant Experience Through Public Broadcasting


Alexandra García

Intern, Library of Congress Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program

Gabriela Rivera

Intern, Library of Congress Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program