Why we need more Latinx journalists

Story and photos by BRITT BROOKS

When America sits down for breakfast what’s in front of them? The entire internet is literally at our fingertips, so reading the news is less impacted by time and place and more a matter of preference. Especially now when anyone can share their voice, journalists have the unique and exigent responsibility to create reliable, accurate and interesting publications.

Journalism is necessary to keep our communities connected, as well as educate readers with current perspectives. New voices are becoming increasingly popular in publications across the country as various marginalized groups gain platforms.

Utah’s Latinx population is at nearly half a million people, and in a perfect world that large community would be covered and represented accurately in the media. However, as reported by ReMezcla, white male voices tell the vast majority of stories in American media. In fact, throughout all the top newsrooms in the country, only 25 percent had at least one non-white editor. And minorities made up less than 17 percent of all newsroom employees combined.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is a woman who understands why minority representation is important in all fields. Her experience as a Latina woman, and her career endeavors in journalism, public relations and politics, have given her insight as to what can be better in the world of media creators.

Starting her professional journey at the University of Utah, Chavez-Houck earned a B.A. in journalism and mass communication as well as a Master of Public Administration. After working in public relations, she said she realized she had a knack for “sleuthing” and wanted to try her hand at researching potential bills. Her career totally changed when running for public office morphed from an idea to a reality in 2008.

Chavez-Houck said she used her communication skills to ensure all possible effects of a bill were thoroughly considered and weighed, not glossed over during a long session on Capitol Hill. “You don’t say ‘no comment,’ you find a way to answer the question,” she said during a press pool interview.

Chavez-Houck explained that she decided to run for public office because she didn’t see anyone representing her community who actually reflected it.

The work Chavez-Houck accomplished during her time in the Utah State House of Representatives includes successfully passing a bill ensuring permanent Election Day voter registration as well as medical interpreter amendments that help non-English speakers of all dialects get the care they need in American medical offices.

As a Latina woman in a predominantly white, male career she’s had to navigate different ways to get her voice heard not only by constituents but her colleagues as well. Something she wants to improve is the Latinx image in the media, and that their stories are heard and respected. She’s frustrated with journalists who don’t search for new perspectives and said, “Find us, find us, find us. We’re there!”

Chavez-Houck wants more coverage that actually reflects the various personalities and ways of being for Latinx people. “We are as diverse as the greater community,” she said.

One way to ensure different demographics are covered well in a publication is to hire writers who accurately represent the community. Kiana Opre, 22, is a senior at the University of Utah studying gender studies and English. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah, a branch of the international online magazine Her Campus written primarily for and by collegiate women.

Opre has worked to expand the topics covered by HCU, like trans rights and gender equality. She’s constantly reminding writers to use photos in their articles that have racial, cultural and gender variation so that the literal image of the magazine shows inclusivity. And she’s proud to say Her Campus at the U is ranked No. 1 out of more than 300 branches due to variables like the number of articles published, social media posts and chapter events.

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Kiana Opre

Opre and her fellow HCU council members try to recruit writers from all different majors, backgrounds, races, and genders. According to information published by College Factual, the U has fairly average numbers for diversity regarding race, gender, and age. But the U is more mixed than the national average, and ranks 314 for “Overall Diversity” when compared to nearly 2,500 other colleges nationwide.  

Opre said she advocates for a wide range of writers in all published content and aims to have all types of voices represented. However, she wants to be clear that HCU isn’t seeking out minority writers for no reason. Their voices actually need to be recognized and validated, not tokenized.

In an email interview Opre said, “Businesses, clubs and corporations are constantly seeking out ‘diversity’ but it never seems to be for the benefit for real lives or real people of color, but to fulfill a quota, to keep up with an image of what’s ideologically popular.”

But similar to other Utah-based publications, HCU was having a major gap between the representation the council wanted and the writers the branch actually had.

Stephany Cortez happened to be the first Latina member of HCU, but she said the decision to join was daunting, as going into a group of about 20 white women isn’t the easiest thing to do as a minority.

Cortez is a 23-year-old political science and criminology major at the U. Her roots are Mexican and though she said she loves the culture, community, and family that surround her, she doesn’t want to be defined by any one thing. She’s been part of the U’s Student Government (ASUU) and the Beacon Scholars program for first-generation students.

When Cortez joined the magazine, HCU’s editorial team was totally female, and totally white. On its surface the chapter reflected the stereotype of a sorority, and at one point Cortez said she didn’t know if she was at the right meeting. At the open house for the chapter, Cortez remembered seeing different genders and ethnicities, but soon found out she was the first Latina to join the magazine’s staff. “A lot of people of color don’t know about Her Campus, that it’s a community you can participate in,” she said.

While Cortez said she first felt a bit like “a fish out of water,” she also knew that sticking with Her Campus would improve her writing and possibly open the doors for more Latinx students to join. The people we see in certain positions plant the idea of what’s attainable and what isn’t depending on what you look or sound like. In other words, who we see in different industries and careers is who we believe belong there.

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Stephany Cortez

Cortez mentioned that Latinx families tend to stay within their smaller communities for various reasons, the most notable being fear. In a time where ICE is detaining and deporting Hispanic people every day and America’s president actively speaks against Latinxs it isn’t surprising that parents are concerned for their children on a daily basis.

Being repressed is one of the most frustrating feelings one can experience. But if something as common as getting a speeding ticket can end in deportation, fighting and speaking up can seem impossible or at the very least unsafe.

However, new territory is on the horizon for Cortez and other Latinx young adults. They find inspiration in the sacrifices that previous generations made, and use that to add to the culture and future of Latinx people in America.

Cortez is proud of her roots, but she’s also proud of herself for working hard and joining different communities and clubs no matter the preconceived notions. She said, “We need to break that mold.”