Los Angeles Times
By Patt Morrison
May 18, 2016
Jorge Ramos has sat in an anchorman’s chair longer than Walter Cronkite – about 30 years at Univision’s flagship nightly news program. And even in today’s fractured media market, the journalist commands a TV audience of more than 2 million. Considerable though his resume is – a weekly public affairs show and radio shows, a column and an English-language program for young adults – his name is even bigger than his roles. Ramos’ renown surpasses that of some of the public figures he’s interviewed, and his influence among Latino audiences is vast. His latest book is “Take a Stand, Lessons From Rebels” – and the stand he took asking Donald Trump about immigrants’ rights broadened both the issue itself, and Ramos’ journalistic profile.
Well, you know, I’ve been a journalist in the United States for more than 30 years and I’ve never been ejected before from a press conference for trying to ask a question. The only other time in which a bodyguard prevented me from asking a question was with Fidel Castro in 1991 in Mexico. So there you have it – Fidel Castro and Donald Trump have something in common.
And you know, I tried to talk to Donald Trump, I asked for an interview, I sent him a handwritten note, and instead of answering me or simply just ignoring me, he published on the Internet that letter with my cell phone number on it.
After that, I decided I was going to try to get my answers, so I went all the way to Dubuque, Iowa for press conference. And of course I was ejected.
When Donald Trump ejected me from the press conference, he told me, Go back to Univision. And those are code words. Basically he was saying, get out of here, go back to Mexico. A few seconds after that, outside the press conference, there was a man, a follower of Donald Trump because he was wearing a Trump pin, and he told me, Get out of my country. And I looked at him and said, What are you talking about? I’m also a U.S. citizen.
I have a very active presence on Twitter and Facebook and just take a look at my accounts, and you’ll see numerous messages of hate every single day. I have been in this country 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like it before – anything.
Did that surprise you?
Yes, it surprised me because I thought we were we were in another stage – not precisely a post-racial society as many thought was going to happen with President Barack Obama in power. We’re talking about a candidate who is saying that Mexican immigrants are criminals, drug traffickers and rapists. And just a few years ago that would have disqualified any other candidate. Now, not only was he not disqualified, but he got the nomination for the Republican Party.
As we approach the primary, we know that California is a majority-minority state; talk a little bit about the demographic changes in California and in the country.
I call it the Latino wave, and it’s changing absolutely everything. 2055 is going to be a great year for me, because if I’m still alive I’ll be 97, and in 2055, the country will look like California. In 2055, non-Hispanic whites will be another minority. In 2055, every single group in this country – Latinos, African Americans and non-Hispanic whites -- will be a minority. That’s the trend.
Now, having said that, I would assume that values like tolerance, like the acceptance of immigrants, generosity and solidarity, would be relevant and important nowadays. And what I’m hearing in the presidential election is exactly the opposite. But that change, that enormous demographic change is well underway, and we Latinos, I think, we are changing everything. For instance, the new rule in politics is that no one can make it to the White House without the Latino vote. And that’s new.
How would you explain this, or reassure non-Hispanic white Americans who can’t get their heads around this and who are a little worried?
They shouldn’t be worried. This country was built by immigrants. Immigration didn’t start 20 years ago or 30 years ago. It started more than 200 years ago. We are as American as they are. The only difference is that sometimes, as I do, we have an accent. Sometimes, we were born in Mexico instead of Ireland, or in El Salvador instead of Italy or in Honduras instead of Eastern Europe. And we have exactly the same values that you do. This is also our country.
I think Donald Trump -- his rhetoric has been incredibly dangerous because he’s suggesting that the changes that we are seeing right now, that the immigrants coming to this country, are not the right ones, and he’s absolutely wrong.
I read that you became a United States citizen after you interviewed George W. Bush. Is that right?
I became a citizen in the year 2000. I wanted to fully participate in this country. I had interviewed President Bush on a couple of occasions; I was very worried, as many people were after the Iraq war in 2003, and I wanted to make sure that I was going to be able to vote in the next election. So that was the perfect time for me to decide to be an American. And you know, I find that incredibly beautiful -- not only that you decide to be part of a country, but also that country very generously says, We want you to be part of this nation.
For 30 years now you have hosted as Spanish-language program, and within the last few years, you also began hosting an English-language program on Fusion. What’s the difference in your audiences? Big generational differences now?
It’s the first time in which I’ve been hosting a show in English in the United States. And so my audience for Univision is obviously Spanish-speakers, mostly Latinos, mainly people from Mexico. And then my show called “America” on Fusion, it’s for millennials, which is completely, completely different. And we are covering issues like student debt, we are obviously covering the presidential election, but how would that affect people under 30, and anything that has to do with equality.
On Fusion, we are producing television for people who don’t even own a TV set. We are realizing for instance that our broadcasts on Facebook live have more followers than our audience on TV. And that’s a huge change that we’re seeing in our industry.
Does the younger generation of Latinos living in the United States think differently about issues than their parents and grandparents?
I saw a poll recently from Latino Decisions and even though we do know that immigration is not the most important issue for Latinos -- we feel exactly the same as the rest of the population; the most important issues for us are the economy, jobs, shelter, education and then immigration – even though that’s a fact, also it is true that immigration still is very close to our heart. It is an emotional issue. So in that sense, when it comes to important issues like immigration, what I’m seeing is that young Latinos are thinking exactly as their parents.
And they are as liberal as their parents when it comes to immigration and even probably even more. The dreamers, those young students who came here very early, when they were kids or babies who were brought to this country illegally by their parents -- I think they are much more active politically than their parents. Their parents, undocumented parents, thought it was important to hide and not to be socially present, in order to be safe in this country. The dreamers changed that strategy completely.
What do the major parties not understand about the Latino population?
This has been a historic presidential campaign already for the Latino community. For the first time in history, we’ve had two presidential candidates who are Latino, both Cuban Americans, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz , so in that sense, we are changing as fast as the rest of the United States.
There are more Latinos than African Americans. African Americans already have the first president, President Barack Obama, and I’m sure we’ll have a Latino president very soon.
Still waiting for a woman president more than 200 years later …
Well yes, absolutely. For instance we have Susana Martinez, also a Republican, who’s governor of New Mexico, who could have a chance.
Now, answering your question -- I think some politicians simply do not get the fact that Latinos are not monolithic on one hand. And they might make a lot of mistakes if they don’t understand that Cuban Americans, for instance, most of them are already citizens or have a green card to be here legally, while Central Americans and Mexicans, they’re obviously much more concerned about immigration.
And the other thing that many politicians don’t get is that immigration is something personal to us. When somebody criticizes immigrants, when somebody offends immigrants, they’re not talking about an abstract. They’re talking about me, or they’re talking about my co-workers, or about my neighbors. And this goes specifically for the Republicans: if they do not understand that immigration is personal to us, and unless they can find a solution for the 11 million here, Latinos will not be able to see them with fresh eyes.
And yet you hear from and I know I hear from people of goodwill who say the United States has every right to regulate its borders, to make the distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration, who would say to you, you came on a student visa -- you did it the right way.
I understand that perfectly, but also I think we have to understand that we are partly responsible for all those immigrants coming here illegally. Why? Because millions of Americans, including you and me, we benefit from their work. The food that we ate this morning was harvested by immigrants. Most likely the building or the house where you live and where I live was built by immigrants. Immigrants, undocumented immigrants, take care of our children and they pay taxes and their contributions are enormous. They contribute much more to this country than what they take away from it.
In other words, they did not come here to go to Disneyland. They came here to work.
Your interview with President Obama was a little tense because of immigration questions.
Even though President Obama supports immigration reform, there are two criticisms of President Barack Obama:
The first one is that when he was a candidate in 2008, he promised me on camera that he was going to present immigration reform to Congress during his first year in office, and he just didn’t keep that promise. And partly because of that promise, many Latinos voted for him in 2008.
The second main major problem with President Barack Obama is that he has deported more immigrants than any other president in the history of this country -- 2.5 million immigrants have been deported by President Barack Obama, and can you imagine the thousands of families that he has destroyed? Can you imagine what has happened to many U.S. citizens, children born in the United States, whose parents were deported? And we’re not talking about criminals and we’re not talking about rapists. We’re talking simply about people who came here illegally and who got arrested and deported. So that’s not what President Obama said he was going to be doing as president.
You have a long and distinguished television career; you know how important political images are. On one hand, we have Donald Trump eating a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo; on the other, sometimes at demonstrations about immigration, people turn out waving Mexican flags, and there’s evidence of a voter backlash because of it.
First on the Trump issue, and the taco bowl – a taco bowl is not Mexican food. Believe me, that’s not Mexican food! He also said, I love Hispanics. Well, let me tell you something: Many Latinos don’t love him back. 87% of Latinos, according to Latino Decisions, have a negative opinion of Donald Trump. And if even 13% of Latinos were to vote for him, he would lose the White House. Mitt Romney got 27% of the Hispanic vote and he lost the election. John McCain got 31% of the Hispanic vote and he lost the election. So eating taco bowls is not going to get him the Latino vote.
I do understand that many Latino immigrants are very upset and they feel offended by Donald Trump and they are reacting to that. That’s the only way I can understand why they are protesting the way they are protesting. There might be a backlash but I think the backlash right now is on Donald Trump.
Have you been asked to be on a panel for the upcoming general-election debates?
Donald Trump doesn’t want to give me an interview, so I doubt that he would allow me to be one of the moderators for the presidential debates. And unless we can resolve that little problem, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to moderate any of the presidential debates.
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