Panel discusses problems with media coverage of immigration

Danette Spiers

Immigration and the way it has been presented in the media was brought to light on April 24 by a panel that included a CSUN professor, two non-profit organizations, and a newspaper reporter discussed how to improve such coverage.

The group of panelists was put together by the California Chicano News Media Association and the Central American United Student Association. The two-hour discussion explored the issue of immigration labor and the role the media plays in their coverage or absence of coverage.

Xiomara Corpe’ntilde;o, from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, explained to the group of more than 25 gathered at Sagebrush Hall that today separating commercial media from journalistic media is difficult.

“What we deem journalistic media is still a part of a corporation that wants to make money and ultimately, I think, one of our biggest challenges as a society is that even journalistic media is looking for a story to sell,” said Corpe’ntilde;o.

“What happened in 2006 is there were two marches going on May 1 and media really sold the story in terms of this is what’s going on in the community rather than talking about why people were marching,” said Corpe’ntilde;o.

Eileen Truax, a reporter from La Opinion, also recalled watching coverage of the same 2006 rally that took place on the streets of Los Angeles and how broadcasters continuously referred to Hispanics as “them.”

“That part of it shows to me that they don’t have any Hispanic people on those channels, in those newspapers, and we need someone to let them know that that information is about us. It’s about us as a city; as a state; as a community; as a country,” said Truax.

Truax talked about how newspapers cover an event concerning immigration only when it hits a boiling point. Immigration and the struggles laborers endure are not recognized by some media outlets as an ongoing issue within this city, she said.

Other panelists discussed how certain events and legislative actions don’t seem to be covered at all.

Rodolfo Acu’ntilde;a, the founding chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies, mentioned a bill coming out of committee in Arizona.

“You hear nothing about it in the media, but that bill says that they want to outlaw MEChA as a terrorist organization,” he said. “They want to outlaw my book because it’s anti-American.”

“But, it’s a matter of fact the media doesn’t report it, and were not outraged. My students aren’t outraged,” said Acu’ntilde;a.

Tam Tran, an intern for the UCLA Labor Center, said that she didn’t know until recently about the 8,000 Vietnamese individuals who have deportation orders to go back to Vietnam due to a treaty.

She said that the Vietnamese community did not believe the United States would do this because they fought on the same side during the Vietnam War.

The panelists all seemed to agree that more education is needed in order to help people understand exactly what is happening here in America, in Mexico and in other areas.

Acu’ntilde;a was the first to make the point that more knowledge can help the accuracy of reporting.

“I think that we need to educate the media because the media only knows what it hears from other media people and the other media people are not going to say too much that’s not popular,” said Acu’ntilde;a.

Acu’ntilde;a gave background information on the situation and some of the factors contributing to high levels of immigrants coming to the United States.

“The push factors are there and they are going to continue to be there because as you see inflation taking root here in the United States, you’re also going to get inflation taking place in Mexico,” said Acu’ntilde;a. “Inflation is taking place in Central America so people are going to be pushed out.”

Another panelist, Marvin Andrade, the executive director of the Central American Resource Center, spoke about how reporters have the ability to bring a different aspect of the story to life.

He said that if reporters went out to MacArthur Park to speak to laborers they would find that many of them don’t want to be here, but do so out of necessity.

“There is a profound story behind every immigrant that comes to the United States in search of a job, in search of a better life for them and their families,” he said.

The media talks about immigrants as this mass, generalizing the whole group as laborers crossing the boarder, Tran said.

“Part of the discussion left out is the kids who grew up here,” she said.

Recently, the coverage of immigrants attending college has been helpful in giving this other side to the story. The students are able to explain that it wasn’t their choice to come here and that they are just as American as other students, said Tran.

“When stories are told in the media in that fashion and it becomes personalized there has been a lot of success,” she said.

As the discussion came to an end, several questions were posed, such as why labor has not been covered as much as it used to be in the media. Acu’ntilde;a answered, “because you’re not doing anything about it.”

Among the students who attended the discussion, was Claudia Chinchilla, who said she has been to several panels and felt this one was effective because all of the speakers were from different mediums and they didn’t just repeat the problems like other panels do.

This was more about trying to “form as strategy as a group to come to an accord” concerning coverage of labor issues, she said.