October 25, 2010

  I am amazed by the number of Hispanic professionals and non-Hispanic professionals that accept that Soledad O’Brien is representative of our Latino Experience in the USA.  I have been wanting to blog about this specific issue for a while, but what has motivated me is the number of corporate conference and and other Industry event that have Soledad as a keynote or recipient of an award in Q4 2010.  They highlight her truly unique abilities to bring forth ideas and knowledge on how to market to the US Hispanic Consumer.

Award for what?  Knowledge of what?

First, last year when CNN and Soledad began their PR blitz to make her Hispanic friendly, a small group of professional (Made-Professionals that many of you respect) including myself approached her to offer our congratulations on being Hispanic and welcome her to the discussion.  We spoke to her in very simple Spanish and what we encountered was a ‘deer-in-headlights’.  Eyes wide-open and ‘avergonzada’ to say I don’t speak Spanish and I do not understand what you said.  We just looked at each other and walked away shaking our heads.

All the hype and no Corazon de Latina.  And the sale of ‘La Mentirita’ continues.

It must be that book deals are a possible goal for a Newborn Latina, more TV appearances as a Latina and/or possibly running the biggest Mentirita on us.

Second,  it is nice to have a mainstream news channel like CNN cover any of our industry events or sponsor a session, since they want to show case their ‘Mentirita’.  At what cost to our moral code as executives in the US Hispanic Advertising, Marketing and Media Industry do we accept his?  Have Hispanic media and marketing corporate event executives stooped so low that we can only get mainstream coverage about our industry when we snuggle up to ‘La Mentirita’?

Third, her PR Team has taken her Hispanic heritage story and really worked a great PR angle to convince us that she is truly representative of our Hispanic Consumer and US.

Does it not seem a coincidence that she became a ‘Newborn Latina’ at the precise moment prior to the recording of biggest demographic shift in America with the Census 2010?

Fourth, her mother might have been Hispanic (Cuban) but her language and cultural upbringing is not even in the ball park.  She admits this point but lightly.

So why are we so hungry for a ‘Role Model’ that is not about US?

Don’t we have Role Models that are more representative?

Why are the corporate events highlighting a person that is not representative of our experience and not honoring ‘Our Role Models’?

Why do we allow them?

Nothing against Soledad, she is growing her brand.

I applaud a good sales strategy when I see one.

Felicidades to CNN, the PR team and her agent.

Maybe the ones that seem like 'Deer-in-Headlights' is not Soledad, but many of you.

Pa' Mentiritas otro.

Gene Bryan


Very interesting reading all your comments. I didn't realize that being Latino has criteria and a set of rules you need to adhere to. So according to your rules if you are not totally fluent in Spanish and you are successful and don't necessarily play the Latino race card and instead are respected in your profession for your intelligence and your professionalism you are not part of the Latino community? If you are not the right shade of Latino you're unacceptable? What BS! After working for over 30 years in the general as well as Hispanic market in casting I can assure you I have heard more ignorant racist comments from our own Latinos against other Latinos than from my general market clients. Gene's bias comments and the responses to his statements prove it. As Latinos we bitch that we are discriminated against and that we are not given the same opportunities as non-Latinos but here we are disrespecting our own because of their language proficiency?! Really? And let's not bring up how we are constantly casting with the description Pan-Hispanics for commercials because God forbid we recognize that Latinos run the gamut from Caucasian looking to midnight Black. Oh no!... we only show the nice white to very light cafe color because that's acceptable....Really? God forbid we accept the different beautiful melodies of the Spanish language....No, no they must sound neutral or slightly Mexican because otherwise we offend or can't be understood. Really? You mean if a person speaks that Puerto Rican language it's bad but if they speak Colombian it's good? Really? I could go on for hours but here is the bottom line. To criticize Soledad O'Brien for not being Latina enough is ignorant and mean spirited. She is part of the Latino community...she has made a name for herself as well as being a respected journalist and she is very aware that her accomplishments can motivate and/or mentor others in our community. Because her life experience and her family made a choice to grow up English dominant does not make her any less Latina. It is this kind of catty, self-righteous attitude that keeps us from moving forward. Que falta de respeto.

Gene - good one. I have for a while been thinking that too. I keep seeing Soledad as CNN's ethnic expert...she does Black in America, she does Hispanic in America, etc. Fine and good for her as you said, but can't we find a spokesperson for the nation's largest minority that lives and breaths our ethnicity? Soledad doesn't live it, breath it or understand it. Enrique Turegano

Gene I'm glad you called her out. I've never looked at her as a Latina; many others feel the same. I've been told by people in the Media industry that they thought she identified with another Culture. They can give me Maria Hinojosa anyday over Soledad O'Brien. Maria's a TRUE LATINA, that TALKS the TALK & WALKS the Walk. Look what CNN did a true LATINO like Rick Sanchez when he spoke out. Didn't see Soleded come to his LATINO brothers side. I have People tell me thay watched her on her latino Spiel & couldn't believe it. Your MENTERITA hits home. Gerry

Why is a man who is so obviously black, like Gene Bryan, commenting on who gets to be a Latina or not? Shouldn't an actual Latino be the one to judge?

Overall, I think she is a very capable journalist but her expertise in ethnic issues is just not believable. I'm Black and I'm still baffled as to why she is a major commentator on African-American issues. I attended a prominent African American conference last year and she was the lead moderator. Plus she is the commentator on all those Black in America specials. To be honest I was starting to think she was black (or half) until I read this blog. I mean, I can understand if there was a lack of well qualified African American journalists - which there isn't. I just don't get it.

To Barbara's point, I think Soledad identifies with both Latinos and blacks. If you want to hear it from her lips go to YouTube and look for HBO Latino: Celebrity Habla Cutdown '09 - Episode #2. As a matter of fact that whole series of HBO Latino: Habla is pretty good at pointing out how different we are within our sameness.

Gene, I was taken aback by your comments...and the timing is a little odd. I had the same reaction and comments that Antonio and Manny have already expressed. I want to believe that you don't really feel that way, you just wanted to stir up the pot.

Completely agree on ALL points made by Antonio Velasco (above). The most transparently misguided of Gene's arguments is his Hispanic credibility test based on language (its his 1st point and he repeats it again in his 4th point, so let's guess that he thought it was his best...its not). In fact, if you ran a Spanish-fluency check on all of the current Hispanics who are the most visible "Role Models" (if we can agree on what this term means) in the US you would probably find that many/most fail Gene's language requirement. The US Latino tent is a big tent, Gene. Whether or not Soledad O'Brien represents "THE" Hispanic experience is already a wrong question to pose because we all know that there is not just one experience. You may not feel like you have much in common with her experience, Gene, but that doesn't thereby invalidate her voice as a Latina. You also can disagree with her stances while representing the Latino community all you wish, its a free country, but your way of thinking (unilaterally invalidating her 'membership' in the Hispanic community based on your bogus benchmarks) does a complete disservice to the concept of fostering some sense of unity among all American Latinos (which include fluent Spanish speakers who've come here from other countries and those who speak almost no Spanish at all and have never been to their country of their Hispanic background).

While I don't have anything against Soledad O'Brien, I do wonder about the people "they" take out to showcase "Hispanic." It does amaze me that for 20 years or more Hollywood drags out Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits and other non-Spanish speakers to represent all of us. Some of them won't come unless they are PAID to represent us! Many of us ARE Spanish-speakers and not ALL of us are from East L.A., yet we support each other from all walks of Hispanic life. It would be nice to see a broader range of Latinos represented. Trust me, this is altruistic, as my Hispanic ancestry of .7% of all Hispanics in the U.S. (Spain) will never get that representation here (and we have Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas right there). There are many Hispanic-Americans who support us and are Spanish-speaking yet are relegated to the shadows. For me this is the broader commentary. Thank you.

I supposed I'm not Latina either - given the "Reynolds" in my last name. Here's a secret - I'm Puerto Rican. But being Latina cannot be defined by those things that are superficial. While I'm not a huge follower of all things "Soledad" - I do respect her. And if her madre was Cuban - that makes her Latina. I'm glad she feels a sense of pride in celebrating it.

Gene, I am Black American and many Black American's think she is also. She appears on tv shows, at events and conferences as a Black American. The bottom line is that she knows how to get paid. I'm not mad at her.

Gene, As always your honesty, boldness and sound wisdom comes to life with El Blog! Many of us had thought about it... and felt it... however, no one had the guts to SAY IT like you did. THANK YOU for representing us and as you say "evolve" de conversation one voice at a time. There are plenty of US who do have and share la "verdad"...

Eugenio: Or should I say "Gene" Apparently, Soledad is not the only one marketing herself to the main stream. I still haven't seen the banner where Soledad O'brien claims ownership of the "Latino" experience. Is it something they give out every year? Who are the last ones to get it that got your blessing? As a reporter she has built a career in one of the most important news and information networks in this country. Whether others that have been exposed to her work, see her as emblematic of the Latina women of the 21st century, what's wrong with that? Independent, successful and an advocate of issues that are relevant to our community are not characteristics shared by many. So what if she doesn't speak Spanish? Is that the only valid credential needed to belong to the Media organizations that you represent? I was not aware of a shared moral code among media buyers, that must come as news for many in the industry. Finally "gene; Corporate events are not really the battlefield of issues important for the Latino Community in this country, if you had seen her special about Latinos on CNN you would know that much. She's not growing her brand, she's reporting the news. Hay que pensar antes de atacar la credibilidad de otros profesionales señor. Antonio Velasco Freelance TV Producer

Gene, you have a point but not a very valid or guided one. To Antonio's point, which I agree with, Soledad is the result of a Black Cuban mother and a Scott, Mr. O'Brien (she goes by her maiden name). CNN can profile her to identify with Black-American and/or Latino-American. She has never spoken a work in which she identifies to either label, because she may be both and at the same time neither. She's a First Gen American. What I like about Soledad, and I do watch her special reports, is that she's objective, impartial and she reports the facts and the news and she sees fit. Her right as a journalist. And that's OK by me. I still have the choice to agree with it or not. With that said, I have heard Soledad speak Spanish, atrociously, but she can hold a simple conversation if she has to. Again she doesn't pretend to be Hispanic, I believe she's just trying to do her job the best she can. If CNN PR believes this is an agle to get viewers, so be it. At least she doesn't embarrass the rest of us, like Rick Sanchez has for decades. Barbara Pernaris Broadcast Producer

Bueno ella (O’Brien) no será la "soul sister" número 1, pero hay que darle el respeto a la muchacha. Su experiencia es una de nuestras experiencias en la diáspora Latina. Con mucho cariño y respeto a tu persona Gene, tengo que decir que comprendo tu posición pero también la de ella. Que culpa tiene Soledad que no hable el idioma con la facilidad que lo hagamos tú y yo. Pienso que parte de su experiencia como Latina ha sido no haberlo hecho y sin embargo sobrevivido muy bien en un mundo que no es amigable. Ella no aparenta estar sufriendo de ninguna manera. Hay que felicitarla por llegar a donde esta. Recuérdate que la industria en cual trabaja es un valle de culebras venenosas. Esto lo digo por mi propia experiencia y pasado en ella. Asà es que vamos a dar gracias por Soledad O’Brien y por Rick Sánchez, Maria Hinojosa, y Ed Lavandera también. Todos forman parte de nuestra experiencia Latina en esta sociedad, y todos nos representan a su manera. Se merecen nuestro apoyo colectivo. José Manuel (“J.M.”) de Jesús, MBA President Quadrant Two Public Relations & Former Assignment Editor/Field Producer FOX 5 News NY Former Weekend Assignment Editor/Field Producer Community Affairs Reporter CW 11 News NY Former Reporter/Anchor BXNY News 67 NY Former Freelance/Writer/Editor/Producer Noticias NY 1 Former Freelance Reporter/Photographer El Nuevo Group Newspapers NJ

Gene - when Soledad received a Hispanic Heritage Award a few years ago in DC she spoke warmly about her Afro Cuban mother who was in the audience. She doesn't speak for me any more than blond, blue-eyed Cristina Saralegui speaks for me but Soledad and Cristina are as Latino as I am. I have a Mexican-American friend who speaks nary of word of Spanish but she acts more Mexicano than I do. She's proud of her heritage...she wears it on her sleeve...but her parents never taught her Spanish because they didn't want her to experience the discrimination they did.

If we were to measure our Latinoness by our command of the language, I guess people like director Robert Rodriguez, actors Danny Trejo and Jessica Alba don't count as their linguistic prowess leave a lot to be desired. As marketers we know that acculturation among second or third generation Latinos does not make for less Latinoness and sense of belonging. If you don't believe me, ask some of my friends in Arizona who have been here for four generations, may not speak Spanish so well, but are pura sangre. Soledad, as far as I can tell, has managed to succeed without selling her soul in what is a very tough market for Latinos. Cut her some slack.

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