For the last 16 years, Jorge Ramos has anchored Noticiero Univision, winning, among other awards, seven Emmys. His newest book is The Latino Wave: How Hispanics Will Elect the Next American President, in which he argues "the future of the United States is a Hispanic one." We spoke with Ramos via telephone as he waited for his flight from New York – where he was on tour to promote his book – home to Miami.
Julia Goldberg: Your book clearly establishes Hispanics' importance in the 2004 election and beyond. How important is the coming election to the Hispanic community in terms of defining its future?
Jorge Ramos: I truly believe that Latinos will decide this election. And this is going to a very important election for Hispanics because it will show, for the first time, that we have a crucial role in the election; the 2004 vote for Latinos will empower Hispanics for the first time in history. The 2004 elections will show the rest of America that no candidate will reach the White House without the Hispanic vote.
Goldberg: You write about Cuban Americans' lack of affinity for the Democratic Party because of the Bay of Pigs and Elian Gonzales. What are the other important historical political contexts for Hispanics' relationship to the Democratic Party?
Ramos: Historically, Latinos have tended to side more with the Democratic Party than with the Republican Party – in New Mexico, in California, in Texas, in New York. Latinos felt Democrats represented more of their interests ...what I find interesting is both the Republican Party and specifically George Bush are challenging that because they argue that Latinos tend to side more with Republican Party when it comes to values – on abortion, on divorce, on homosexuality. In that sense, Latinos are very conservative, but when it comes to other issues, Latinos side more with the Democratic Party, mainly when we're talking about affirmative action or bilingual education. The last polls I've seen, the majority of Latinos will vote for the Democratic Party, but the important question has to do with percentages. If George Bush gets more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, he might be re-elected. Since Ronald Reagan, every Republican candidate who gets more than 30 percent wins the White House. Kerry's challenge is to get about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote – Al Gore got 67 percent.
Goldberg: You say that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson became the most influential Hispanic politician in the country by not "exaggerating his ethnicity." What does that mean?
Ramos: Bill Richardson has said he's not a professional Hispanic, and I use that in the book. Bill Richardson understands very clearly that in order to be influential in this country you have to deal with mainstream issues and that's exactly what he has done in his political career. Bill Richardson would be a great addition to our democratic ticket if John Kerry wants to win this election. I think that Richardson could help Kerry much more than anybody else in this country. You know Latinos refer to him as Bill Richardson Lopez.
Goldberg: Can you elaborate on your theory about Hispanics' double identity?
Ramos: Latinos are different from other ethnic groups in the US, because we also identify with our country of origin, or with the country of origin of our parents. So if you were to ask me to identify myself, I would say I'm Mexican and then secondly I would say I'm a Hispanic or Latino, and I would say I'm an American. We have this double identity all the time, it's a particular characteristic of the Hispanic community.
Goldberg: You're not a US citizen, correct?
Ramos: It's a personal decision. I've been considering that for a long, long time. I haven't done it because I want to leave open the possibility of getting involved in politics in Mexico. I feel pretty much Mexican and American, living here for 20 years. Both of my children were born in this country, and I am grateful to this country because this country gave me the opportunities that Mexico couldn't.
Goldberg: There's a chapter in which you discuss the different reception Selma Hayek's performance in Frida garnered in the US versus Mexico, that ends with the statement that: "Sometimes American culture creates invisible borders." Can you elaborate on that thought?
Ramos: You cannot find Latinos in Latin America, you can only find Latinos in the United States. One out of every five Mexicans lives in the United States, one out of every three Salvadorans lives in the United States and there are many differences between those Mexicans living in the US and Mexicans living in Mexico. Selma Hayak's movie represented exactly that cultural ocean.
Goldberg: What's your view of the mainstream media's coverage of Hispanic issues and political influence?
Ramos: The kind of coverage we get about Hispanic issues and immigrant issues is very poor. In a recent year, out of 16,000 stories covered by ABC, NBC and CBS, only 99 were about Hispanics in the United States, so obviously for a population that is 14 percent of the total population, there's something wrong. That explains why Spanish-language media is growing so fast, because even about 50 percent of those who are bilingual prefer to get their news in Spanish, and they can get information they simply cannot get otherwise, news about the US, news about Mexico. The networks do not get it; they are constantly complaining they are losing viewers; but they are doing nothing substantial to attract these new viewers.
Goldberg: How will the politics of the next generation of Latinos be influenced by this generation's?
Ramos: What we're seeing in this election is that you will have 3 or 4 million voters who have never voted before in a presidential election, and that is truly amazing. The political party that controls the Hispanic vote will dominate politics in America in the future. I'm still very surprised that both political parties are not paying more attention to these new Hispanic voters who have never exercised their rights in the past because they were not US citizens or they were too young. They are going to decide this election. And it's going to be very interesting.