Coming To America

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Presidential contenders woo them in their own language. Employers in both big cities and small towns recruit them to fill vacancies in a tight labor market. Communities nationwide celebrate their heritage every fall. Who are they? Latinos. And over the past decade in particular, “they” have become a larger part of “we, the people” — and thus a greater force in America.

Cuban Americans’ quest to keep Elian Gonzalez in the United States and Puerto Ricans’ battle to halt Navy bombing on Vieques are two high-profile examples of the growing impact of America’s Hispanics, whose population has grown some 30 percent in the past decade. But their interests and influence extend far beyond narrow, albeit heated, debates about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and U.S. military operations on a remote island.

Hispanics are forcing WASPy America to confront an array of new issues — immigration and bilingualism are chief among them — and to look at familiar issues like education, health care and taxes from the perspective of an ethnic group that has the highest dropout and uninsured rates in the nation, and where low incomes are common. They also are reshaping schools, the workplace and communities from Rome, Ga., and Perry, Iowa, to Detroit and Milwaukee, as well as in traditional border enclaves like California and Texas.

Recent examples of the Hispanic influence include: the creation of a holiday to honor Mexican civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez; new educational programs like Denver’s “Soul of the Race” and Houston’s bilingual spelling bee; and a reversal of the long-time AFL-CIO opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants in the workforce.

“The [Latino] impact can be seen in every walk of life,” says Judy Mark, communications director for the National Immigration Forum, whose mission is to make U.S. policies more welcoming to Latinos and other immigrants. “Latinos really are tremendously influential and will only grow in influence.”

Keeping the boom times alive
As of March 1, the Census Bureau estimated the U.S. Hispanic population, excluding the estimated 3.9 million people who live in Puerto Rico, at nearly 32.1 million, or 11.7 percent of the total population. That is up from some 22.4 million, or 9% of the total population, in 1990. Nearly two-thirds were of Mexican descent.

Hispanic-Americans accounted for some 37.3 percent of the nation’s population growth in the 1990s, a figure that is expected to climb to 44.2 percent between 2000 and 2020. The Census Bureau estimates that Hispanics will surpass blacks as the largest minority group in America by 2005 and that there will be 52.7 million Hispanic-Americans, or 16.3 percent of the total population, by 2020.


Not Your Father’s Television

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

When it comes to the entertainment content on today’s television, folks at the Hollywood-based Parents Television Council see less and less redeeming value on the tube. They made that opinion perfectly clear in a new study released March 30 that examined the changes in broadcast content from 1989 to 1999.

A summary of the results: Sexual content has increased threefold in the past decade; homosexual references are 24 times more common; and foul language, including the use of once-forbidden profanities, is up more than 500 percent. Broadcast newcomer UPN won the not-so-honorable citation as the network providing the most offensive content on a per-hour basis. The only moderately good news, according to the PTC, was that incidents of violence on the networks remained at about the same level.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, among other groups, has reported on similar trends. In a study on sex and TV released Feb. 9, 1999, the foundation noted that more than half of today’s shows, and two-thirds of network prime-time shows, include sexual content. Only one in 10 shows that include such content, however, address the risks or responsibilities of sexual activity.

Add to that mix the fact that television viewing in America reached an all-time high of seven hours, 26 minutes a day in 1999, that 53 percent of children (and 26 percent of 2- to 7-year-olds) have televisions in their bedrooms, and that content-screening approaches like the V-chip and the TV ratings system instituted in 1997 thus far have proved ineffective, and you can understand why questions about the appropriate use of the public airwaves continue to arise.

No taboos too sacred to break
One thing is certain: Television’s taboos, both written and unwritten, continue to fall. Broadcasters, for instance, banned the words “damn” and “hell” from television until Arthur Godfrey first used them in 1950. Last week and this week, CBS repeatedly promoted its Monday-night sitcoms — “King of Queens,” “Ladies Man,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Becker” — with prime-time ads blaring “Neighbors from Hell.”

Television tested the boundaries of what then was seen as “good taste” in 1961 when it aired its first bare navel, that of actress Yvette Mimieux, in “Dr. Kildare.” Today, bare bottoms and breasts are recurring images on shows like “NYPD Blue.” And the appearance of the first gay character on “All in the Family” in 1971 seems tame in a decade marked by the first lesbian kiss (“L.A. Law,” 1991), the first on-air “outing” (“Ellen,” 1997) and leading roles for homosexuals in shows like NBC’s “Will & Grace.”