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Tom Brokaw Criticized for Comments About Hispanics

January 31, 2019

By Marielena Castellanos

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw continues to face criticism over comments he made about Hispanics on the Sunday morning public affairs show “Meet the Press.

“I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation,” Brokaw said.

“Conservative White American culture has to work harder to accept, learn about and integrate Latinos. We are people from Latin American ancestry, but we are also Americans and our culture is part of the American culture,” said Enrique Davalos, a professor of Chicana/o Studies and the department chair at San Diego City College, in response to the comments from Brokaw.

“That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities, but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly,” Brokaw also said about Latinx, Latinos and Hispanics.

Brokaw later apologized in a series of tweets, but criticism has ensued.

“The powerful of our society have always had a fear that people who do not ‘melt’ into U.S. ‘core’ culture somehow represent a ‘threat’ to our stability as a nation. This belief is simply misguided and misinformed. I find it ironic that people like Brokaw have a disdain for bilingualism, yet in other parts of the world or in other sectors of our society, bilingualism is valued and seen as an aspired virtue. The current divisive political climate that singles out the ‘other’ because of how they speak, what they look like, or where they are from is embodied in Brokaw’s statement and is truly unfortunate,” said Alberto López Pulido, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego.

“Tom’s comments were inaccurate and inappropriate and we’re glad he apologized,” an NBC spokesperson said in response to Brokaw’s comments earlier this week.

Yamiche Alcindor, a reporter with the “PBS NewsHour,” and daughter of Haitian immigrants, was on the panel and immediately called out Brokaw’s comments.

“I would just say that we also need to adjust what we think of as America,” she said. “You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.”

A coalition of Latino leaders wrote a letter to Steve Burke, the president of NBC Universal and Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” and Tom Brokaw, calling the comments “xenophobic,” “uneducated” and “unacceptable.”

“Mr. Brokaw’s comments are part of a legacy of anti-Latino sentiment that is spreading freely in 2019,” the letter also said.

The Latino coalition also made three demands to NBC Universal which include, that Chuck Todd and “Meet the Press” production and booking team include more regular and newer Latinx voices into the program, make a significant contribution to National Association of Hispanic Journalists to continue cultivating the bench of diverse reporters and analysts, and that Brokaw, “Meet the Press” and the network take actions to better educate themselves about the Latino, Latinx and Hispanic experience.

Speaking Spanish is an important component of the identity of U.S. Hispanics. The Pew Research Center reports that 88 percent of U.S. Hispanics (which total more than 55 million) say it is important to them that future generations of Hispanics living in the U.S. be able to speak Spanish freely.

“People who believe that this country and this continent of America is or should be White only are definitely just reproducing old racist ideas and should be condemned,” professor Davalos also said.

In fact, last year marked 50 years since Mexican-American high school students outraged over unequal conditions at their schools including paddle beatings for speaking Spanish protested those conditions, which led to the East L.A. walkouts of 1968.

Two years ago, Statista, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, reported Spanish is the most-spoken language behind English, and around 41 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home.

Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and a senior producer at MSNBC, said that assimilation means “denying one culture for another.”

“Brokaw’s comments reinforce those deeply ingrained beliefs that in order to “make it in America” one has to fully assimilate – strip themselves of their culture and all remnants that makes them unique. It rejects the critical value that recognizes that there is strength in our diversity which truly represents the history of our nation and one of our biggest assets,” López Pulido also said.

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