BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Millions of us were waiting this week for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to connect with reality, to connect with the lives we actually live. It didn’t happen. The 90-minute debate went by, for example, without a word about immigration—not a thing said about the countless people trapped in our muddled policy. And this in Colorado, a swing state where both Romney and Obama have been courting the large Hispanic vote.
That wouldn’t have happened if my guests on this week’s broadcast had been moderating the debate. But their participation was rejected by the tiny group of insiders who set the rules.
That’s a shame, because Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas are two of our most knowledgeable, popular and influential journalists. They work for the most important Spanish-language network in the country, “Univision.” I met them for the first time earlier this week when they were in town to receive the Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Here’s part of the video presentation that introduced them to the Emmy audience.
NARRATOR: They are two of the most well-recognized journalists in the United States. Pioneers and advocates. For more than two decades María Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos have informed millions of Hispanics through the popular evening newscast “Noticiero Univision.” Their brand of journalism is characterized not only by subjective and perspective, but also by a high degree of social advocacy. […]
In the last three decades with “Noticiero Univision,” both have covered a wide range of news and have witnessed history in the making. From presidential elections around the world, to the most destructive natural disasters. María Elena Salinas has interviewed dictators, revolutionaries, world leaders, heads of state in Latin America and in the United States. She was among the first female journalists to report from the war-torn street of Baghdad.
Jorge Ramos has covered five wars, and right after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, he drove all the way from Miami to New York to report on the tragedy first hand. Once he even asked for a vacation to cover the war in Afghanistan.
JORGE RAMOS: Where is Osama?
NARRATOR: An assignment that at the time the network deemed too dangerous.[…] He’s had very public encounters with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, with former Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, and with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, stood up only after six minutes of questioning by Ramos. Both Ramos and Salinas made history by moderating the first ever bilingual presidential debates. And most recently with the “Meet the Candidates” forum. But perhaps they are best known for defending the rights of immigrants by reporting on their plight, and giving a voice to the voiceless.
BILL MOYERS: María Elena Salinas is the most recognized Hispanic female journalist in the United States. In fact, “The New York Times” called her “The Voice of Hispanic America.” Among many other honors, she has received four Emmys plus the Edward R. Murrow Award. You’ll want to read her highly acclaimed memoir: “I am My Father’s Daughter: Living a Life without Secrets.”
Jorge Ramos, says The Washington Monthly, is “the broadcaster who will most determine the 2012 elections.” Just three years after he arrived in the United States from Mexico, he was anchoring Univision’s nightly news, one of the youngest national news anchors ever. He’s won 8 Emmys and authored 11 books, including this one, “A Country For All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”
Welcome to the two of you.
JORGE RAMOS: Thanks so much.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It’s a pleasure to be here.
BILL MOYERS: And congratulations on that lifetime achievement award.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Thank you.
JORGE RAMOS: Thank you so much.
BILL MOYERS: You were honored the other night as the top of your craft, our craft. And yet you weren’t selected to moderate a presidential debate. Do you think that you were not selected because, A) you do force politicians until they scream and because you’re outspoken on immigration?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I personally don’t think that that’s the reason why. First of all we are not disrespectful to, at least I’ve never been disrespectful, I don’t think Jorge has either—
BILL MOYERS: No, no, I’m not saying that.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: You know, asking a tough question is not disrespecting the office of the presidency or a political candidate or any politician for that matter. So I don’t think that we were not chosen because of our style of interviewing. I think it was unfortunately a lack of understanding of the importance of the Latino community.
I think they don’t realize just how fast we’re growing, how influential we have become and how politicians are now forced to respond to the issues that affect Latinos. I think that they oversaw that, I don’t think that they really–
JORGE RAMOS: It’s—
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –paid attention to that.
JORGE RAMOS: Sometimes we are invisible and we are fighting so hard not to be invisible. The Commission on Presidential Debates, they’re stuck in the 1950s. They still think that the country could be divided between men and women and that’s it. And they do not realize that one in every three persons in the United States is from a minority. They think it is okay to have an African American president but they don’t think it’s okay to have an African American or—
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Or a Hispanic.
JORGE RAMOS: –a Hispanic journalist as a moderator for the debates. So what we did is, it was a wonderful response to this oversight, this huge oversight. Instead, they didn’t want to invite us to their party, so we had our own party.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you did.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, our own party. And that party turned out pretty good.
JORGE RAMOS: And yeah. So yeah, maybe—
BILL MOYERS: You mean these presidential forums you had?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yes, exactly.
JORGE RAMOS: Yeah, the presidential forums.
BILL MOYERS: Which came after you were not selected for the debate?
JORGE RAMOS: And at the end it ended up being better.
BILL MOYERS: The presidential commission on debates is very close to the parties. It’s a tool of the two party system in this country. They look at the polls, the numbers the Hispanic vote is decisive in states like North Carolina, could decide North Carolina, could decide other swing states. They knew you represented a significant vote in this election.
JORGE RAMOS: But how can you choose how can you not choose a representative from a minority in a country like this? I truly—
BILL MOYERS: So that’s what I’m asking you.
JORGE RAMOS: –yeah, I truly admire the work of the three moderators for the presidential debates—
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, they’re all–
JORGE RAMOS: –and for the vice president–
BILL MOYERS: –capable.
JORGE RAMOS: I personally admire their work. But the U.S. is much more diverse than that, much more diverse than that. So–
BILL MOYERS: Were you angry? Were you hurt?
JORGE RAMOS: We don’t want to be invisible. So we are not invisible, so we’re just making sure that even with an accent that people hear what we’re saying, you know. Yes, of course.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, we are mainstream. You usually try to separate us from ethnic media and mainstream media. We are mainstream media. And when you look at the ratings we compete directly with ABC, CBS and NBC. And many times in major cities we have higher ratings.
JORGE RAMOS: We are the fifth largest network.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: The difference between us and them, and we really, it should really fall under the same category, is the language that we’re, we transmit in a different language. However now we’re changing that and that’s why we have–
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: We’re changing that now because now we have this joint venture with ABC and we are going to be doing the same thing that we do in Univision, but we’ll do it in English so that we can make sure that we have all the market. And the special thing about that is that it’s not only for that sector of Latinos who is more English dominant and prefers to speak English.
But I think it actually contributes to the society and to democracy in this country so that everyone who speaks English in this country understands who Latinos are, what are the issues that affect us. Maybe they need to know what’s going on with their neighbors south of the border. You know, here you have this continent that sometimes it seems that people in the north don’t like to look south and they don’t realize that we are one continent and that this what, over 300 million people there that speak Spanish and that affect us, and directly affect us economically.
BILL MOYERS: What does it say that you’re moving into the larger English speaking–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Well–
BILL MOYERS: –audience?
JORGE RAMOS: What it’s saying is that her daughters and my son and my daughter, they don’t watch us. Because they feel much more comfortable in English.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: In English.
JORGE RAMOS: Their friends don’t watch us. Their generation is not watching us. So either we change or we’re going to be out of here. And so there’s always going to be space in Spanish, but what has, there’s been, even within the Hispanic community something has been changing.
We used to get the majority of the growth because of immigration. That has changed. The border is stronger than ever. The number of undocumented immigrants has decreased from 12 million to 11 million. So the majority of the growth is coming from within the Hispanic community and that means—
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: U.S. born.
JORGE RAMOS: –U.S. born. That means most Latinos, new Latinos, Juan, Jose, Pedro, Jorge, they’re all speaking English. They feel more comfortable in English than in Spanish. So if we don’t do something to attract them they’re going to watch you.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I hope you can–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: We want them to watch you, we want them to watch you.
BILL MOYERS: –accept the status quo.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: But, you know, I really don’t think Spanish is going to go anywhere, and let me tell you why. You know, the immigrants that came from Europe in the last century, they came here wanting to get away from their country and decided that they wanted to establish roots here.
It’s not that the Latino immigrants don’t want to establish roots here, but their country of origin is right next door. And there’s this very special link that they have and their cultural identity is very strong. I remember when Jorge and I started working in the media a few years ago people used to say, “You should really try to make a crossover to English because there’s no future in Spanish language media. Latinos will assimilate and there won’t be an audience to watch you.”
14 million Hispanics then, 50 million Hispanics now. I think they didn’t understand that. And even though Latinos have been assimilating and acculturating, what people don’t understand, is assimilation doesn’t mean leaving behind your culture and your language, but adopting a new one, embracing a new one.
So I think, you know, Spanish isn’t going anywhere. This is a very important part of the identity of the Latino community. That’s the one thing that does unite all Latinos is you have some that are more conservative and, you know, more liberal. There’s several things that separate, like we said they’re not monolithic. But the one thing that does unite the Latino community is the love of the language.
BILL MOYERS: You used over and again the term Latino communities, Latinos, Latinas where most of us have become accustomed to saying Hispanics and the Hispanic community.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I know that there’s people that give a lot of importance, a lot of credence to a label.
JORGE RAMOS: We don’t, right?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: For me personally you can call me whatever you want. You can all me Chicano or you can call me Mexican-American, Latina, Hispanic as long as my ethnic culture is involved. I’m very proud of being a Latina. My daughters were born here and I was born in the U.S. And my daughters were born in Miami and they feel Hispanic.
JORGE RAMOS But it’s interesting because–the study of the Pew Hispanic Center just recently, they did a wonderful study on how do we like to be identified. And first of all people prefer, Latinos prefer to call themselves Mexicans or Cubans or Puerto Ricans, first of all. Then maybe Hispanic or Latino and third American. I know this is going to sound terrible to many. But that’s the way it is. They feel much more comfortable saying, “I’m, Soy Mexicano, I’m Mexican or I’m Cuban American.” Even though there’s so many differences within the Hispanic communities, it’s not monolithic.
BILL MOYERS: You were born in L.A., you came there as a young man, a student. I was intrigued to watch both of you age in the—
JORGE RAMOS: I know.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Oh my God—
BILL MOYERS: –in the videos.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: He had brown hair. I still remember his brown hair.
BILL MOYERS: –what does this country, what does this culture look like to a kid coming from Mexico?
JORGE RAMOS: It was a wonderful opportunity because this country gave me the opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t give me. I was censored in Mexico when I was 23, 24–
BILL MOYERS: As a reporter?
JORGE RAMOS: –as a reporter. It was the usual thing in Mexico. The government would say what you could say on the air and what you couldn’t say on the air. And I decided I didn’t want to be that kind of a reporter. So I sold everything and came to the United States. So just imagine that now I can talk to anyone without asking permission for anything, and I had to leave my country because of that.
Alexis de Tocqueville, he used to say that the powerful and the rich never leave their country only those who need possibilities and those who are poor and those who are ambitious leave their countries. And that’s exactly what happened with me.
I came here because I had to come here. Something pushed me out of Mexico and something pulled me from the United States. And now I have two passports. But honestly this country, I really have to thank this country because it gave me all the wonderful opportunities. If I would have stayed in Mexico it would have been, I don’t know what would have happened, but I would have been a very poor, sad and probably censored journalist.
BILL MOYERS: Why did your parents come?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: My parents came in the 1940s. And it was because my father wanted my, to raise a family here and to have all these opportunities and to have all these possibilities. He wanted to continue his studies. Now, you mentioned at the beginning that I wrote a book that’s called “I Am My Father’s Daughter: Living a Life Without Secrets.” Now, he’s got an interesting story.
My father had been a priest, he had been a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood and moved to the U.S., got married and moved to the U.S. But I didn’t find out about this until after he passed away. And so my book is sort of like–
BILL MOYERS: He kept it a secret?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –yes, it’s an, it was an investigation into my own life and into my own background, into trying to find out why he came here. And he lived as an undocumented immigrant for a long time in the U.S. But my father was an intellectual, he had a doctorates degree in philosophy, he spoke six languages. He’s not your prototype of undocumented immigrant. That’s why, you know, people shouldn’t rush to judge because everyone comes here with such different circumstances.
BILL MOYERS: There’s a recent documentary called Harvest of Empire. It’s directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez and based on a book by a colleague of mine, Juan Gonzalez. Look at this excerpt.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course you really can’t tell the story of Latino’s in America without dealing with the Mexican population because Mexicans are by far the largest group of the Latino population in the United States. Most people are not aware that since 1820 when the United States first started gathering immigration statistics, there has been no nation in the world that has sent more people to the United States than Mexico. And we are talking about legal immigration. More legal Mexican immigrants have come to this country since 1820 than the Irish, than the Germans, than the French, than any other population.
The reality is that great swaths of the United States and the west were originally part of Mexico. California, Nevada, parts of Utah, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado. That was all the northern territory of Mexico.
And there were Mexican citizens living on that land before it became part of the United States. As they say in South Texas or in Northern New Mexico, Southern Colorado, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS Mexicans have a big presence here and they have had a big, big presence here. And it just goes to show you how this country is a country of immigrants. So it’s very difficult when you hear people say American values and American values are being threatened by the influx of immigrants from other countries. What American values? What are, American values are values of immigrants that made this country.
JORGE RAMOS: After that it’s easy to argue for the, an open border, right? Like the European Community. It is never going to happen here. I don’t think so.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
JORGE RAMOS: Because the economic differences are so big. When an immigrant here in the United States can make in half an hour what they make in a day in Mexico, about $5 a day. And still immigration has to do with economic forces, it’s an economic problem. I don’t think I’ll see, I’ll live to see an open border between Mexico and the United States even though internet and communications and traveling has made it possible. I don’t think there’s the political will to even discuss that possibility. At one point–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: And–
JORGE RAMOS: –when the Europeans were discussing that many people thought that it would be a good idea. But not anymore, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I don’t either. And I don’t think, why it’s necessary. A lot of people think that if you favor immigration reform that means that you favor open border. And I don’t think anyone is actually saying, “Yes, we should have an open border and let people come in and out whenever they want.” I think there needs to be order and I do believe that this country and every country has the right to control their borders, just like Mexico has the right to control its border with Guatemala.
It’s the way that you treat human beings when they do cross over. And as part of a comprehensive immigrant reform you could also have legal immigrant that’s more orderly. I don’t think that is the issue of immigration reform. The issue of immigration reform is what do you do with people that already came here? What do you do with people that have roots in this country, that have children that were born in this country? What do you do with them and how do you treat them? You know, it’s—
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, the movement of people has been a constant in our human history.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Right.
BILL MOYERS: They just, we just keep moving.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: And whenever you have a country, a poor country next to a rich country you will always have people trying, anywhere in the world, trying to make a better life. Trying to come into the richer country looking for a better life.
But I think one thing needs to happen, and this is something that I would love to see in this, these countries that export immigrants, they need to be strengthened. I mean, when are we going see some of these Latin American countries strengthen their democracy? Their justice system? We can’t continue to have so much crime in Mexico–
JORGE RAMOS: But what you’re saying also is very interesting because we can explain violence in Mexico in part because of the United States. We have 22 million people in this country who are using drugs, 22 million people. And the last survey that I saw was reported on the people who had either used some kind of illicit drug in the last month.
Because of that drugs, because of that, the drug consumption here interest United States we have drug traffickers in Mexico making sure that they bring all the drugs from South America, crossing Central America and Mexico to come to this country. So in the last six years in Mexico 65,000 people died, were killed because of the drug war.
And the United States has to take responsibility with the fact that there are people being killed in Mexico in part because there are so many people here using drugs. And what’s amazes me is that this is not an issue for Romney or for President Barack Obama even though President Barack Obama has spent, I think, $31 billion in drug programs and prevention, which is a huge amount of money. We have to take responsibility in this country for all the people being killed in Mexico and in Central America.
BILL MOYERS: So, from each of you, quickly, what are the priority issues, as you see them, in the Hispanic community for this election?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Jobs and economy is the number one issue, and Latinos, all polls show that. But immigration, like we said, is the issue that moves the Latino vote–
BILL MOYERS: What’s the unemployment–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: that inspires them to vote.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the unemployment rate?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: The unemployment rate among Latinos right now is, 10.2 percent.
BILL MOYERS: Higher than–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It’s much higher–
BILL MOYERS: –except for blacks.
JORGE RAMOS: It’s been above, 11 percent during the, Obama’s presidency. But for Latinos, the symbolic issue is immigration. For us, it’s personal. It’s not like an abstract issue. It’s personal. Either we are immigrants, or we know someone who’s an immigrant, or we work with someone who, or our neighbor is an immigrant. It’s not abstract. It’s very personal.
BILL MOYERS: Why do so many Anglos seem to resent Hispanic immigrants more than they do others?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I think that there’s a couple of things there. I think that there’s a certain feel of, because there’s the growing, a community that’s growing so fast, there’s sort of like a threat that our way of life is going to change. And I don’t think that they see immigrants as part of America.
And you know, the funny thing is the majority of Hispanic, well, all of Hispanic voters are U.S. citizens of course, and why do they care about this immigration issue so much when there’s a minority really that are undocumented? It’s because it affects us as a community, it affects the image of Latinos as a community. It has spilled over where you’re perceived, where you can’t tell the difference between who’s legal and who isn’t legal–
JORGE RAMOS: But it’s the numbers–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –I mean, I–
JORGE RAMOS: –there’s a demographic revolution–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: There’s so many, right.
JORGE RAMOS: –it’s a demographic revolutions. We’re, when I got here, I don’t know, 25, 30 years ago there were only 15 million Latinos–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, in the early ’80s there were 14 million Latinos.
JORGE RAMOS: Exactly. Right now we’re talking about 50, truly I think we’re talking about 60 million. And we are changing the face of America. It’s not black and white anymore. We’re changing the way we eat. I say this a lot, but people eat more tortillas than bagels and more salsa than ketchup. We’re changing the way people dance in this country, the way people speak. Even an accent like mine now has sort of been accepted. And we’re changing the way people vote. And no one can make it the White House now without the Hispanic vote, that’s completely new.
BILL MOYERS: Here’s what some conservatives tell me. Conservatives embrace law and order, conceptually, and they say we’re talking about enforcing the law and if the law isn’t enforced the society cannot hold itself cohesively together.
The second thing they say is that we can’t have a cohesive, coherent country without a common language. And if you have two peoples living side by side speaking separate languages you’re not going to have a country.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: We heard the arguments. I know that, as far as the language is concerned, everyone knows that language is the official language in this country. Why is it necessary to make it official in, by law? I think there’s more drawbacks to that.
Because for example in California when they tried to make English the official language it was virtually impossible, it didn’t work. It was approved, but it didn’t work. Why? Because you have so many different languages that are spoken there. Besides Spanish you have several Asian languages. So what would happen is in the schools the schools would be forced to send all materials to parents in English
When you have, you know, elderly people who do not speak the language and who would feel more comfortable it’s very hard to do business. So it’s not necessary to make the official language. We already know that English is the official language in this country. In fact, most immigrants and most immigrant families want their children to succeed in life, they want them to speak English so that they can be successful.
Remember that we are a very young society as far as Hispanics are concerned. We’re very young. Median age is 26. Hispanic children are 25 percent of all children in the U.S. So the future of this country is in the hands of Latino children. It is to their benefit to learn the language in order to progress.
JORGE RAMOS: This is the only country in the world what I know, who people, there are people who think that it is better to speak one language instead of two. I really can’t understand it.
Nothing’s going to change. We’re not seceding. We’re not creating a nation within a nation. And what unites this country? It is not language. I think what unites this country is this wonderful idea of freedom and possibilities.
What strikes me is that even though the Declaration of Independence says that we are all equal, here we have 11 million who are not equal. Forget about being second class citizens, they’re not even third class citizens—
BILL MOYERS: These are what critics would call illegal immigrants, undocumented…
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Undocumented immigrants. That’s…
BILL MOYERS: There are 11 million of them, you think, roughly.
JORGE RAMOS: Yeah.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, and they’re not all from—
BILL MOYERS: And they live in the shadows.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: They’re not all Mexicans and they’re not all, you know, there’s over, that’s another thing, one of the reasons why it’s so important to Latinos is that immigrants, the enforcement is usually on the southern border. And you have over a million Europeans; you have over a million Africans. You have Canadians, so you have Asians there are here illegally.
Yet it seems that as if all the undocumented immigrants were Hispanic and all of the enforcement, yeah, but all the enforcement’s on the southern border. So you do not see someone say, “Let’s go and round up all blue-eyed blonde Germans that are here illegally because they’re a threat to our country.” So only Hispanic immigrants are considered a threat to that country. So there is a very negative tone to the rhetoric concerning the immigration issue. If we remember one of the things that changed was 9/11. President Bush was very much in favor, not of amnesty, but of an immigration solution, comprehensive immigration reform.
BILL MOYERS: And he won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: In 2004, the record for Republicans.
JORGE RAMOS: Actually, probably up to 44 percent, probably.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I remember interviewing President Bush exactly a week to the day, Tuesday before 9/11, about immigration. And that Thursday President Vicente Fox of Mexico spoke in Congress.
PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Our links are countless and ever-growing. No two nations are more important to the immediate prosperity and well-being of one another than Mexico and the United States.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: And it seems that there was just an ambience where everyone, even very hardcore conservatives, seemed to favor the idea of immigration reform. Then 9/11 happened and then immigrants were a threat even though Hispanic immigrants, you know, none of the terrorists crossed the border from the south. They all flew in and they flew in legally.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that was a natural reaction?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It was a natural reaction, but it really hurt, it really hurt.
BILL MOYERS: Reaction of fear. Did you take it personally?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I think yes because after a while it became very negative against immigrants in the southern border as if Hispanic immigrants, Mexican immigrants, Central America, South American immigrants were a threat to this, the security of the country.
JORGE RAMOS: The conversation changed.
BILL MOYERS: It did?
JORGE RAMOS: The conversation changed—
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Definitely it changed.
JORGE RAMOS: Because, every Republican candidate with the exception of– of Mitt Romney since Ronald Reagan support immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Of course for many Republicans that’s called Amnesty. Romney doesn’t support that. Not yet. We’ll see in all the debates, but we’ll see if he changes or not his position. But the conversation changed because with George W. Bush he was for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
And immediately after that then we got the rejection of the DREAM Act that would have given about 2 million undocumented students the possibility of staying in this country. Then we had SB 1070 in Arizona and then it was replicated in Alabama and in Georgia. So instead of discussing the possibility of what to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants, here we have this incredibly tough loss on immigrants. So the conversation and the approach towards immigration changed completely. And even nowadays we’re discussing only DREAM Act probably or deferred action by President Barack Obama when the conversation should have been much, much wider.
BILL MOYERS: I remember Ronald Reagan was quite positive about immigration. He was quite pro Hispanic. He, I think he gave amnesty to three million immigrants then and—
JORGE RAMOS: Republicans were doing great. As you know Reagan used to say that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it. And he would—
BILL MOYERS: Well, he did say that. He did say you have common values in regard to the family, to religion–
JORGE RAMOS: Abortion.
BILL MOYERS: –abortion, issues on that.
JORGE RAMOS: Very conservative.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Gay marriage, yeah, they’re very conservative in that sense. But I think the, that’s basically what changed everything. I remember reading some, an article where President Bush was asked what was one of his biggest regrets and he said not passing immigration reform. Because as a Republican and having a Republican Congress he could not convince his own party to support immigration reform.
Here we are talking about immigrants and about the Latino community and we focus, you know, only on the undocumented immigrants. And I think that that’s what’s happened that when people perceive Latinos the first thing that pops into their mind immigrants and undocumented immigrants, or like they say illegal aliens, which is a term we don’t like to use. But they don’t realize that 74 percent are Americans, are citizens either by birth or naturalized. So the majority of Latinos are Americans.
And we have a buying power of over $1 trillion. If Latinos in the U.S. were a country we would be the 14th largest economy in the world. There are 2.5 million businesses that are Latino-owned or Hispanic-owned, whichever word you’d like to use. So we are a very important part of this country and we contribute very much to the economy, to, you know, culturally in so many different ways.
BILL MOYERS: But something significant happened in 2010. I understand 9/11 changing the tone and the conversation. But what happened that moved the Republicans and the conservatives further to the margins?
JORGE RAMOS: I think it was Arizona. It was Arizona. It was the realization that we were not going to get immigration reform and therefore the states thought that they needed to take action by themselves.
JAN BREWER: Senate Bill 1070 absolutely mirrors federal law, and we are being invaded by illegal immigration in the state of Arizona.
JORGE RAMOS: And then we had Joe Arpaio—
BILL MOYERS: The sheriff in Mariposa County?
JORGE RAMOS: Uh-huh, and then we have—
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: And we have some–
JORGE RAMOS: –Governor Jan Brewer.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –some very conservative– radio talk show hosts that have so much influence that they also changed the conversation and change the tone.
JORGE RAMOS: Yes, there’s a possibility for the Republican Party to reach Latinos as you mentioned because of the values. They feel very close to the Republican Party because of certain values. But somehow the Republicans had a wonderful opportunity in these years, 2012 and they blew it because they had a president who didn’t keep his promise on immigration. A president who has deported more immigrants than any other president in the history of the United States, 1.5 million in the–
BILL MOYERS: Obama has deported that many?
JORGE RAMOS: Exactly. So and then Republicans instead of taking this and taking advantage of the situation and saying, “You know, we’re going to be the pro-immigrant party, we’re going to try to legalize 11 million or do something about it,” instead of doing that they’re talking about…
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Self-deportation.
JORGE RAMOS: –Arizona being the model, self-deportation, rejecting the DREAM Act and—
BILL MOYERS: What does it mean, self-deportation?
JORGE RAMOS: Make life impossible–
BILL MOYERS: How so?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It’s like they’re doing in Arizona. They make life so difficult for you. You can’t find a job, you can’t. If possible you can’t get housing. Your children as they go to school will have their background checked and you will just go back because you can’t live here, you can’t get a job, you can’t live, you feel all this pressure. I think that’s what he means by self deport.
JORGE RAMOS: Arizona being the model, self-deportation, rejecting the Dream Act and now you see the latest Latino decisions poll, 73 percent support President Barack Obama and only 21 percent support Mitt Romney. And if there’s a magic number it’s 33 percent.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: 33-38 percent is what a Republican needs to win. So I guess basically we could say that it–
BILL MOYERS: Of the Hispanic vote?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Of the Hispanic vote. So if it’s–
JORGE RAMOS: Or they lose, they lose the White House.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: So if it’s true that the Latino vote will decide the election then I guess right now–
JORGE RAMOS: It’s been decided
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: We can say that President Obama is going to win reelection.
BILL MOYERS: Does that surprise you given the fact that he has deported over a million Hispanics, given the fact that he came late to the DREAM Act, given the fact that you pressed him journalistically very hard on breaking his promise?
JORGE RAMOS: But on other hand–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: You know, I–
JORGE RAMOS: He has supported, he has definitely supported immigration reform. He definitely supports the Dream Act. And that’s a stark difference with Mitt Romney.
BILL MOYERS: You were tough on President Obama when you asked him about why he broke his promise.
JORGE RAMOS: We had to press President Barack Obama on a promise he had made in 2008. He made a very important promise. He said that he was going to have an immigration proposal during his first year in office.
JORGE RAMOS in interview: Can you do it in a hundred days?
BARACK OBAMA in interview: I cannot guarantee that it will be in the first hundred days.
JORGE RAMOS in interview: How about in the first six months?
BARACK OBAMA in interview: What I can guarantee is that we will have, in the first year, and immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And that I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.
JORGE RAMOS in interview: In the first year?
BARACK OBAMA in interview: In my first year in office.
JORGE RAMOS: Obviously we’re forgetting that the country was in deep recession, there was– it was very difficult to move anything in Congress. But again if you promise something you better keep that promise or otherwise we’re going to ask you about it.
JORGE RAMOS at the Univision Presidential Forum: You promised that. And a promise is a promise. And with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.
BARACK OBAMA at the Univision Presidential Forum: I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn’t get it done, but I did not make a promise that I would get everything done a hundred percent when I was elected as president. What I promised was that I would work every single day as hard as I can to make sure that everybody in the country, regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from, that they would have a fair shot at the American dream. And I have — that promise I kept.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think now about his response?
JORGE RAMOS: I think he was very honest with the response. But if he wants, 12 million people are going to go to the polls this November the 6th. And if they want something from us we’ve got to get something from them. And if he promised that he was going to have during his first year in office an immigration proposal he had to do that. When he had control of both chambers of Congress, when he had the supermajority he decided to go– another way. Health care is fine, and it’s a political priority, I understand that.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: We agree on most things, but we have different views on this.
BILL MOYERS: You and Jorge?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yes. This is the only issue—
BILL MOYERS: Well how do you disagree with him on this?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I know that he promised just like every other politician promises. But I don’t think that there wasn’t a major effort. And I do understand that for health reform you need 50 votes in the Senate and that for immigration reform you needed 60 votes in the Senate. I think maybe they could have been a little bit more forceful in the issues, but I understand.
BILL MOYERS: Do Hispanics sometimes feel pandered to? I mean, as we speak the White House has announced that President Obama is going to California to dedicate the César Chávez Memorial, a wonderful symbolic right in time for the election.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Well, I think we always have that sense because they are always–
JORGE RAMOS: I call it–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: — they’re always pandering to Latinos and it’s not just now. I think it’s always. You know, you have politicians go to east L.A. and on a parade wearing a sombrero or they go to Miami and have a little cafecito on Calle Ocho in Versailles. They do the things that they feel, they utter a few words here and there in Spanish and they feel, “This is what we need to do to get the Hispanic vote.” And sometimes they forget that there are actual issues and their positions on the issues that is going to decide whether they’re going to get the support or not.
JORGE RAMOS: I call it the Christopher Columbus syndrome. Because every four years they rediscover us, Hispanics. And then they forget about us for three years and then they rediscover us again. So—
BILL MOYERS: And yet as the news reported this week, we discussed it earlier but this is still striking, President Obama holds a 73 percent to 21 percent lead over Mitt Romney over Latino voters. That’s up from the 65 to 26 advantage he held six weeks ago.
JORGE RAMOS: Latinos will decide the election in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida.
BILL MOYERS: Because?
JORGE RAMOS: Because in a very close election, Latino voters tend to decide which way to go. It happened in 2000, with President George W. Bush in Florida. And it’s going to happen again this year.
BILL MOYERS: There was a report from the Pew Hispanic Center a few days ago saying that a record 24 million– 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote but their turnout rate has consistently lagged behind whites and blacks.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, but not that much. One of the late– you know, the Latino decision polls and media polls are usually very accurate because they’re polling specifically Latino voters, registered voters. And the enthusiasm level was very low. In the last poll it had increased to 83 percent which is–
JORGE RAMOS: But it’s understandable–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –because we’re getting–
BILL MOYERS: Romney?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: No, we’re getting a little bit closer to the election, people are paying more attention. They realize that there is more at stake. But when you see these polls and to try to understand why the numbers are so different between Romney and Obama, you have to understand that the parties also and the great majority feel that Democrats represent their interests and care about their issues more than Republicans.
And what has hurt Republicans is that very negative rhetoric on the immigration issue. That has hurt Republicans tremendously. And the fact that now they have a candidate for the first time like Jorge said, even in the last election, McCain, all of the candidates have always embraced immigration reform. This is the first time we have a candidate that says, “I want immigration reform for legal immigration, legal immigration.”
He keeps emphasizing legal immigration thinking that Latinos are so ignorant that they’re going to buy it when he’s talking about legal immigration and not finding a solution. I even asked Romney during the forum, “You know, with all due respect the fact that you are not answering this question makes people feel like you’re evading the answer.”
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS at the Univision Presidential Forum: If you become president are you going to deport them or not?
MITT ROMNEY at the Univision Presidential Forum: Well, we’re not –
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS at the Univision Presidential Forum: Yes or no?
MITT ROMNEY at the Univision Presidential Forum: We’re not going to we’re not going to round up people around the country and deport them. [..] This is something that’s going to have to be worked out by Republicans and Democrats together. I will lead a program that gets us to a permanent solution as opposed to what was done by the president which, with a few months before the election he puts in place something which is temporary which does not solve this issue. I will solve it on a permanent basis consistent with those principles.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS And we still don’t get an answer from him. And that is one of the things that is hurting Republicans.
BILL MOYERS: How did you come up with the question asking Romney if he felt like he was an immigrant?
JORGE RAMOS at the Univision Presidential Forum: Are you sure you’re not a Hispanic?
MITT ROMNEY at the Univision Presidential Forum: I think for political purposes that might have helped me here at the University of Miami today. But truth is, as you know, my dad was born of American parents living in Mexico. But he came back to this country at age 5 or 6 and was helped to get on his feet and recognized this was the land of opportunity and he’s been the role model and inspiration throughout my life.
JORGE RAMOS: It is unthinkable for any Latino to have a dad who was born in Mexico and not to call himself a Latino. And obviously it’s a much more complicated story. It’s they decided to because of religious–
BILL MOYERS: Mormon– his grandfather went down there because he was a polygamist; he wanted more than one wife.
JORGE RAMOS: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I watched it. I thought he was honest when he said–
JORGE RAMOS: He was honest.
BILL MOYERS: –at the end of that exchange he —
JORGE RAMOS: Nobody would buy it.
BILL MOYERS: I could tell you that I’m an immigrant but that would be disingenuous–
JORGE RAMOS: And nobody would buy it. And I think he’s right on that–
BILL MOYERS: I think he was right about that.
JORGE RAMOS: I think he’s about– if he would call himself a Latino that 21 percent would go to 15 percent. It doesn’t work that way. We have to find out who is the real Mitt Romney? The one who talked about that he didn’t care about the he didn’t have to worry about the 47 percent of the people? Or the one who told us in the meeting that he wants to be the president for 100 percent of Americans? That’s the challenge for him.
BILL MOYERS: Have you seen the ad done, the one of his sons, to reach the Hispanic–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Have you seen that ad?
JORGE RAMOS: Yes, yes.
CRAIG ROMNEY speaking in Spanish: “I’m Craig Romney. I would like to tell you how my father, Mitt Romney, thinks. He values very much that we are a nation of immigrants. My grandfather George was born in Mexico. For our family the greatness of the United States is how we respect and help each other, regardless of where we come from. As President, my father will work on a permanent solution to the immigration system, working with leaders of both parties.”
CRAIG ROMNEY speaking in Spanish: “I invite you to listen to him.”
MITT ROMNEY speaking in Spanish: “I am Mitt Romney and I approve this message.”
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It’s very good, it’s very, very good. Now, if all Latino voters were to base their decision solely on this one ad, I think Romney’s numbers would be much higher. Because he touched upon the fact that his father was born in Mexico, he touched upon the fact that his father wants a permanent solution to the immigration issue. But once they see interviews like ours, once somebody asks to be more specific about Latino issues, that’s where he doesn’t come through.
JORGE RAMOS: At the end we are getting smarter. The Hispanic community is getting smarter, and more powerful. And stronger. Because just a few years ago, a few elections ago, we would’ve bought anything. And by that I mean–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: A few words in Spanish here and there.
JORGE RAMOS: –few words in Spanish. We just wanted it to say, “Hola, buenos noches,” just to hear something in Spanish.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Wow, he spoke to us in Spanish–
JORGE RAMOS: George W. Bush, he was incredibly effective. But I used to say, that he was the first U.S. President who thought that he spoke Spanish. But he made so many mistakes in Spanish. But he really didn’t care, because he made true, honest effort to communicate in Spanish, and it worked for him. Not only that, he had the right idea on immigration.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Exactly.
JORGE RAMOS: But now we appreciate ads in Spanish, but it’s not enough. You have to give us much more than that true idea, a promise, a plan, a program.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: It’s a much more sophisticated electorate than you had seen before.
BILL MOYERS: When you press these candidates journalistically do you do so knowing that you’re constantly referred to as the voice of Hispanic America which you have been referred to? Do you frame your questions that way? And you I mean, “Washington Monthly,” very respected influential magazine in Washington this summer, the headline, “Forget Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity. The broadcaster who will most determine the 2012 elections is Jorge Ramos.”
JORGE RAMOS: It’s a stretch. No, but you know, I still remember–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Well, you know–
JORGE RAMOS: You know, did you get to know Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist–
BILL MOYERS: I did, enviously because she could ask questions in a ferocious way.
JORGE RAMOS: And I think I learn from her a lot. I once saw her at the Iraq war and I just didn’t have the courage to say– to tell her that because of her I became a journalist. But if you remember Oriana Fallaci and her wonderful Interview with History. She used to say that the interview should be like an arm, like a weapon and that in an interview an interview is a war between the interviewee and the interviewer.
Obviously some interviews are just for information. But sometimes when you’re confronting the powerful you really have to do that. And I’m completely convinced that the most important social role of us journalists is to confront those who are in power. And the place for us to be is as far as possible from power and you know that, no? I mean, you were in power–
BILL MOYERS: Oh, I discovered after I came into journalism after the White House that the closer you are to the truth is more important than the closer you are to power. So let me declare war on you for just a moment.
JORGE RAMOS: Sure, okay, let’s do it.
BILL MOYERS: Declare on you, Univision is constantly referred to by the Republicans as a Democratic leaning if not pro left news organization.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: But we’re accused by Democrats as being for being Republican.
BILL MOYERS: The chairman of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, says quote, “Univision is headed and owned by some sophisticated equity fund guys and they have turned it into a corporate institution of great power with a left-leaning message.” Do you see yourself as the MSNBC?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Let me tell you something, I have been working for Univision for 31 years and I have gone through five different owners. He’s talking about the owners in the last three years. So I don’t think that the owners in the last three or four years, besides when you look at our management they are so varied and they never get involved in our coverage. Not once has someone come and told us, “This is what you have to say. This is what you have to do. This is what our editorial position in.” No, we’re–
BILL MOYERS: I believe you.
JORGE RAMOS: I never received–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –and I’ll tell you, you know who our bosses–
JORGE RAMOS: –a phone call from–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Never.
JORGE RAMOS: –anyone, from a CEO telling me what to say or what not to do. And I can under– you know, what I really love is that we’re being criticized from both sides. Republicans might not like us because of what we are saying about their immigration position or because of some of the coverage that we have. And on the other hand just ask the White House if they’re happy with our interview with President Barack Obama, they’re not.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: And– we’re going to get answers, you know. Yeah, I’m there to ask questions, but I’m there to get answers. And if I don’t a typical politician usually doesn’t answer questions, and if you don’t get the answer the first time then you happen have to ask it again and again and again in as many different ways as you can–
JORGE RAMOS: But you–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: –in order to get the answer that you want to serve your community. And that’s what our role is really.
BILL MOYERS: Had you two been selected to moderate one of these presidential debates, couple of questions. What would you ask him?
JORGE RAMOS: Obviously we would stress at some point immigration, what would they do with 11 million immigrants. But I want to know what his red line on Iran, I want to find out about how are you going to create 23 million new jobs in this country. I want them to tell me about his relationship with Mexico, how many more people are being killed in Mexico and if we’re going to change our programs here in the United States–
BILL MOYERS: Drug war?
JORGE RAMOS: the programs, the drug war? What’s the relationship with Hugo Chávez? Is he a threat to national security? If we have–
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Yeah, those are the questions that we asked them in the debate and–
JORGE RAMOS: –and China and Cuba, I mean, if we have this very special trade relationship with China, why don’t we have the same with Cuba? I mean, there’s so many different questions. And obviously you’re more a person on taxes and promises.
BILL MOYERS: You have been a team now for 25 years. The most successful team, I would say, since Huntley-Brinkley, whom you don’t remember. But I do, a long-running team, and very successful. What’s next for you as journalists?
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: I think that making that transition into English language, and being able to reach all audiences. And what I mean is, not only Hispanics that speak English but all audiences. To understand who we are, I think, to elevate the position of Latinos in this country, and the role of Latinos in this society is something that we sort of take on as a mission.
JORGE RAMOS: It’s to stay relevant, you know, it’s very challenging right now to stay relevant when you have the internet, when you have social media. And it’s very difficult that your voice stays relevant and doesn’t get lost among the noise. I think that’s one of the most important things. And finally, it has to do with trust. After 25 or 30 years, if we say something and people trust what we say, that’s the best award.
BILL MOYERS: María Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, this has been a pleasure.
JORGE RAMOS: Thank you, Bill.
MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: My pleasure, too.