Ethnic Magazine Mavens Talk Politics, Intercultural Romance

Editors from three ethnic magazines — East-West, VIBE and Latina — discuss intercultural romance and the connection between hip-hop and politics.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: a young woman's vow not to rush to the altar.

But first, it's time for our monthly visit with the Magazine Mavens, editors of some of the country's top magazines. This month, we want to talk politics and relationships. A magazine better known for coverage of the hip-hop industry scores a major sit down with a top presidential contender. We'll try not to be jealous. And two others have major pieces about sensitive issues in love and marriage at a time of cultural change.

Joining us to talk about all of this, Anita Malik, the editor-in-chief of East West Magazine. She joins us from KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. Betty Cortina, editorial director of Latina Magazine, and Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of VIBE Magazine. They join us from New York. Thank you, all, for joining us.

Ms. ANITA MALIK (Editor-in-Chief, East West Magazine): Thank you.

Ms. BETTY CORTINA (Editorial Director, Latina Magazine): Thank you.

Ms. DANYEL SMITH (Editor-in-Chief, VIBE Magazine): Thank you.

MARTIN: Danyel, I want to start with you because you have a major takeout on Barack Obama, which should have been mine…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …written by the great Jeff Chang, the very talented Jeff Chang. It's part of your special "Juice" issue.

Ms. SMITH: Yes.

MARTIN: Now, you know, last month, T.I. was your cover guy.

Ms. SMITH: Yes.

MARTIN: And I don't think that Barack Obama is a hip-hop hit. So what gives?

Ms. SMITH: What gives is that since I came back to VIBE about a year ago, we've been having a lot of coverage of what we call leadership issues in the country. We interviewed Mayor Ray Nagin. We have a piece on the next issue with Mayor Cory Booker. We have been trying to stay on top of that, because we get so many letters from our readers saying basically, we love urban music, we love R&B, we love hip-hop, and we love what's going on in the movies, in fashion. But what is going on in our world?

And so we just started thinking, what about Obama? What does he mean to our readership? And we just said we were going to go for it. We didn't know if we could get it, if he'd be interested in it. But it was when we got the interview we were really excited. But when we got the portrait session, that's when we were pretty much jumping up and down. And it's been a fantastic experience.

MARTIN: Well, the pictures are kind of spicy. But what was it about the photos that took it over the top for you?

Ms. SMITH: We were in the senator's offices down in Washington, D.C. And we were trying to get him to loosen up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You could have invited a sister, okay? I'm just saying, I'm right here. I would have been happy to go and pick up a light or whatever.

Ms. SMITH: And I just want to say, but…

MARTIN: But I digress.

Ms. SMITH: But, yeah, it was just great. Terry Richardson, who shot the photos, and Robin Forest(ph), our photo editor - they got him to look at his watch. This is something that we wanted to do. There's a thing in hip-hop music where, you know, is it time? It's time. Looking at my Gucci, it's about that time. What time is it? There's always a sort of cool thing related to the sort of looking at your watch like you have somewhere to go. And since one of his campaign slogans is it's Obama time - his supporters tend to hold those placards up. We just wanted that headline. And we're getting so much great response for it. And then the other one is…

MARTIN: What is the response you're getting?

Ms. SMITH: We are getting…

MARTIN: And I'm so relieved to hear I can be hip just for looking at my watch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That was the best thing that I've heard all day.

Ms. SMITH: You can.

MARTIN: But what response are you getting?

Ms. SMITH: You know, the blogs are just alive with talking about it. They want to know what he's saying about rap music, what he's saying about young people. And we put him on the cover because, really, whoever wins it - it is not an endorsement, even though I've had people tell me it's an implied endorsement. It's not an endorsement, and I say so in my editor's note.

My whole thing is that he's rallying people from our readership, in particular - which he is doing - to register to vote, to get involved, whether you're down with he, Hillary, Giuliani, whoever. If you are getting out there, I just feel like the VIBE cover should be yours.

MARTIN: Now, Betty, you cover movers and shakers, right?

Ms. CORTINA: Correct, yes.

MARTIN: The movers and the shakers, as well as the shaken and moved.

Ms. CORTINA: Yes.

MARTIN: But do you envision - I'm not trying to put you on a spot here, but can you envision putting, say, Bill Richardson on the cover?

Ms. CORTINA: I wouldn't write something like that off. And I think the fact that, you know, we're different from VIBE for sure, but I think we have a lot in common in the sense that issues in our community that very much - are very important to our readers. And so finding a way to address them, whether it's putting Bill Richardson on the cover or otherwise, is something that we will always do, and we've done stuff like that in the past, and we'll continue to do it.

I think Danyel's point is really important, that with this sort of ethnic and young generation, the question really goes beyond entertainment and my world. It really is about who's going to change the world. Who's going to change my community? Who's going to step up from us, and what do we need to know in order to make the best decisions? I think what it demonstrates is just that a real coming of age, I think, of ethnic communities and ethnic young people.

MARTIN: It's interesting, because one of the things that the article makes the case that Obama represents this kind of interesting nexus of politics and celebrity. And I've noticed that in both East West and in Latina Magazine, you emphasize very much those who are rising, the faces that might not be the big stars in other worlds, but are rising in the respective communities that you served. And yet, you've got somebody like a Bill Richardson who is - with an incredible resume - I mean, who's just punched every ticket, done everything…

Ms. CORTINA: He be could qualified to be president, right?

MARTIN: Correct. But isn't - it isn't glamorous for some reason. I don't know, I just think it's an interesting question how you as a magazine with a particular focus on a community addresses someone like that.

Ms. CORTINA: Right. So many similar things to what we do in magazines - so much of it is about packaging. So much of it is about how you communicate. And it's how you communicate is almost as important, if not more important than what it is you're communicating.

MARTIN: Now if you're just joining us, I'm talking with our Magazine Mavens, Betty Cortina, editorial director for Latina Magazine, Anita Malik, editor-in-chief of East West Magazine, and Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of VIBE Magazine.

Anita, I don't want to leave you out, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …who's the up and coming, you know, Asian-American, sort of, political star? And what do you do with a character like that? I know you cover both. You cover, sort of, rising leaders and also people who are having - who are exerting cultural leadership, I would say, who are…

Ms. MALIK: Right.

MARTIN: …doing interesting things in wine and in fashion, and so forth. But how do your readers respond to that? Do they want to see these up and coming Asian-American political leaders, too?

Ms. MALIK: They do. It's something that we've looked into, you know, as far as covering the upcoming campaign. But we also have that struggle. And I applaud VIBE for, you know, the Obama piece. I actually got to read some of it, and I think it was nice to see, you know, like what's on his iPod.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MALIK: It really shows how he relates. It was really nice to see that and just how he - he is a real person, and I think that's important. For us, though, it's really hard to single out one person. What we like to do, you know, there are some up and coming Asian - top Asian politicians out there -Bobby Jindal is one of them. But for us, we don't - I probably wouldn't give them, you know, the cover and say, you know, here is this person, because we just really want to give all the voices a chance. And so we've been actually working on that and what we're going to do with the campaign and how we're going to try to bring everybody into it.

Again, going back to packaging, you know, there's definitely the leaders and the people that kind of have that sexiness about them that everyone wants to cover them. But what is everyone else doing that's running for the Asian-American community? And so that's what we're trying to work on, is kind of an encapsulated piece that includes everybody.

MARTIN: I'll be interested to see four years from now whether there are candidates - an Asian-American candidate who would be somebody that you could put on your cover. I'll be interested to see if that happens.

Anyway, let's stick with Anita. I want to switch gears and talk about relationships. We've talked before about how relationships, particularly multicultural relationships, are such an important topic for your magazine and for others.

This month, you've got an interesting story about the impact of Bollywood marriages. Talk to me about it.

Ms. MALIK: You know, this was something we really wanted to do, and it goes to the notion of does art imitate life, or does it go the other way? Traditionally, in Eastern cultures, arranged marriage is how things were done. And so older generations still have that mindset. It was all about - your goal in life is to get married. After that, we don't worry about it. Once you're married, you're settled and you should be set. There was no talk of divorce. Divorce is very rare.

Things have changed. People have moved to this country, and we're trying to straddle the two different cultures. And so now you're finding people are having trouble with the actual relationship. And so what we wanted to look at was what Bollywood movies have been doing traditionally as marrying the society of India, which was again, no divorce. You get married and you're set, nothing to talk about.

But there is something to talk about. So you're starting to see Bollywood films now actually look at the relationship, how hard it is, what can happen. Divorce is a possibility. And you're starting to see in the United States - South Asians are starting to go through these issues and these problems, and divorce is increasing. I mean, I know several people.

MARTIN: It was very a interesting piece. And, Betty, you - talk to me about the - Latina has been running a series on the new Latin family, and your concluding piece is about interracial marriages. And it's - what's fascinating is the way you posed the question. You say, you don't say, this is about a piece about interracial marriages. It says, is your family interracial?

Ms. CORTINA: Exactly. Well, because…

MARTIN: Why?

Ms. CORTINA: Well, an amazing statistic that we found as we prepared this was that more than half of college-educated Latinas are actually not married to a Latino. And so that made us realize that the numbers were huge, and asked the question: A, are you one of them - because the chances are, if you're reading Latina Magazine, that you are. And B, what are the implications on your family? And, really, with the numbers growing so quickly in the Hispanic community and in particular being driven by Latinos who are born in the U.S., what does that mean for America? What does it mean for our community? What does it mean to children how they identify themselves?

Does it mean that the culture is being diluted, or are people relating or identifying in a much stronger way with those - with their Latin heritage? Does marrying a non-Hispanic or a non-Latino mean that you, somehow really work hard to preserve your identity and pass it on? And, you know, we found really, something really, really interesting, which is that when it happens, in fact, the children are likelier to identify with their Hispanic heritage, and they're really likely - the mother or the father is really likely to pass that sense of who they are.

So it was fascinating to talk to these couples. And we talked to interracial couples and we talked to inter-ethnic couples, because, you know, the fact is that there are black Latinos and there are Asian Latinos. And we're not only marrying across racial minds, but ethnic ones.

MARTIN: That's fascinating. It was fascinating. Danyel, did you envision VIBE doing a piece like that? Especially because the readers of VIBE, when they write in, they're often very - how can I put it? Blunt in their critique…

Ms. SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: …of celebrities and the way they conduct themselves. But I wonder, would they entertain these issues among themselves? Like, how the hip-hop generation thinks about interracial relationships and so forth? Are they interested in that?

Ms. SMITH: I think they're very interested in it. I think one thing that has kept VIBE afloat all these 14, almost 15 years now, is because we do - whether we're doing a specific piece about whether or not we're framing it as this is a piece about race or interracial marriages or the fact that, probably, more white kids listen to older hip-hop now than young black kids do. We always tend to talk about race pretty frankly. I think a lot of times, we take it more for granted than we actually should. We're doing a big piece in the next issue about the DeBarge family. They were a big pop group, soul group, R&B group in the '80s. They were supposed to be the new Jacksons. And one of the crazy things we found out that I didn't even know is I'd always assumed that the DeBarge family was Puerto Rican. And when we interviewed the mother and father, of course, we found out that the mother is African-American and the father is Anglo-American. It's something that will take our readers to much surprise. It's something they'll talk about. But we always tend to talk about race and how it impacts culture at VIBE. It's very important to our readers.

MARTIN: Well, interesting. Well, gosh, I look forward to visiting again next month with the Magazine Mavens. Ladies, thank you all again for visiting with us.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you.

Ms. CORTINA: Thank you.

Ms. MALIK: Thank you.

MARTIN: We're listening with Anita Malik, the editor-in-chief of East-West magazine, Betty Cortina, editorial director of Latina magazine and Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of VIBE magazine. You can find links to all of our Magazine Mavens on our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Ladies, thanks again.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you.

Ms. MALIK: Thank you. Bye-bye.

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