Spanish-Language Media Targets Immigration Debate

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A year ago, Spanish language radio and TV were the driving forces behind major immigration rallies in the U.S. As Congress tries to pass a bill overhauling immigration laws, those same media outlets are trying to shape the political debate.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, while they're back in their home districts, members of Congress will be getting input on overhauling immigration.

Spanish-language radio, television and newspapers will play a huge role in that debate. They already are. And that is especially true in Los Angeles, where we have a report this morning from NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Earlier this month at the May Day immigration march in Los Angeles, Spanish-language shock-jock Piolin roused the crowd.

Mr. EDUARDO "EL PIOLIN" SOTELO (Host, "Piolin por la Manana"): (Spanish spoken) Why did we come to the USA - to succeed.

DEL BARCO: It was a familiar role for Piolin, whose real name is Eduardo Sotelo. A year ago, he used his popular morning radio show to urge thousands of his listeners to take to the streets. The result was one of the nation's largest immigrant demonstrations, totaling about a half a million people. This year, immigration remains a hot topic on Piolin's show.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: Piolin por la Manana…

DEL BARCO: But instead of urging his listeners to march, Piolin is now encouraging them to listen to the words of President Bush.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're a land of immigrants.

Mr. SOTELO: (Spanish spoken)

President BUSH: I was touched yesterday when a kid…

Mr. SOTELO: (Spanish spoken)

DEL BARCO: Piolin supports President Bush's call for immigration reform and for keeping families together. He's asking listeners to join him by flooding Capitol Hill with letters and email.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

DEL BARCO: Spanish-language media may have shifted its approach, but observers say it's still a driving force in the immigration debate. Chicano studies Professor Fernando Guerra heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. He says those media outlets see nothing wrong with taking sides.

Professor FERNANDO GUERRA (Chicano Studies and Political Science, Loyola Marymount University): They have to advocate for their constituents, their readers, their listeners, their viewers, because without them, they don't have an audience. And so there is that interest, that economic interest to be an advocate. But also it's nice for them that it coincides with their ideology, their politics, their community.

DEL BARCO: Besides Piolin's campaign, another national radio personality, El Cucuy, uses his morning show to urge those who can to register to vote. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, the newspaper La Opinion and the local Univision station have teamed to start a new campaign to get a million immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

Unidentified woman: (Spanish spoken)

DEL BARCO: Univision has one of L.A.'s top-rated newscasts, beating most of its English-language competition. That kind of reach and its pro-immigrant message are making a difference, says Jorge Mario Cabrera, the associate director of CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center.

Mr. JORGE-MARIO CABRERA (Associate Director, Central American Resource Center): We have been very, very impressed with their role as providing education and encouraging individuals in the community to take action. That, to us, is tremendously important as we attempt to create change in our communities.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

DEL BARCO: Cabrera says the melee that broke out during the May Day march in Los Angeles only bolstered Spanish-language media's standing in the immigrant community. Viewers saw Los Angeles police beating reporters and TV camera people, most of them from outlets such as Telemundo and Univision.

Mr. CABRERA: Our community saw itself and their heroes being beaten like that. I think that they realize that this was very serious. And likewise, media outlets realized and experienced what many communities of color experience in their own neighborhoods every day.

DEL BARCO: Spanish-language media know it's important for its audience to relate, one reason Univision picked these words for its station slogan (Spanish spoken), always by your side.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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