Izrael Likens 'Latino In America' To 'Roots' For Dummies Host Michel Martin gets the scoop from Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Gustavo Arrellano as they comb through the week's latest headlines. The guys weigh in on CNN's "Latino in America" documentary series and the recent fiasco involving Colorado's "balloon boy" family. Also, there's drama in the sports world — NBA heavyweight Isiah Thomas is upset about comments made by fellow star and former competitor from Magic Johnson.
NPR logo

Izrael Likens 'Latino In America' To 'Roots' For Dummies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114073445/114073424" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Izrael Likens 'Latino In America' To 'Roots' For Dummies

Izrael Likens 'Latino In America' To 'Roots' For Dummies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114073445/114073424" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and columnist Gustavo Arrellano. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, what's up? Welcome to the shop. What's new?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney; Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey man, good.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARRELLANO (Columnist): What's up, Jimi?

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, man, well you know what? CNN's "Latino in America" feature, it debuted this week. Now, this is in the tradition of the "Black in America" joint. It's hosted by Soledad O'Brien, and you know, it's looking to highlight changes and challenges in this particular minority community. Gustavo, did you check it out, or did you skip it, bro?

Mr. ARRELLANO: No, no, I was watching the Dodgers get their butts handed to them by the Phillies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARRELLANO: Really, really sad.

MARTIN: You don't need to know any more about Latinos in America than you already know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, lord.

Mr. ARRELLANO: No, I mean, I appreciate it. I do think that CNN was overplaying just the significance of it. They're thinking, like, this is the epic, groundbreaking series. Those were their own words, and I understand the necessity, especially in this day and age, when on that same network, on CNN, you have a blabbermouth liar like Lou Dobbs going on and spewing all sorts of vitriol. But at the same time, as somebody who grew up in that, the stories that they're telling, I know those stories. They're my cousins; they're my friends; they're my classmates.

So I applaud CNN for what they're doing, but as somebody like myself, I'd probably only see it just to point out discrepancies. Or to me, the thing that really annoyed me, and this is something that annoys me whenever it comes to talking about Latinos in America: The soundtrack is always salsa music. Folks, we also listen to tubas and accordions, too, you know?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right, right, right. You know what? I have officially boycotted all these blank-in-America features, you know, because it comes across to me as kind of cheat sheet anthropology. It's kind of like "Roots for Dummies," you know, and I'm over it. I'm over it. You know…

MARTIN: So if we do "Dreads in America," you won't be feeling that.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm totally over it. It's kind of like, you know, if you don't know somebody of color by now, it's by your choice. You know, so don't welcome us in your house via CNN. You know, forget about it.

MARTIN: I'm sorry - I'm - well, Ruben, I'm interested, and Arsalan, what you guys have to say, but I have to say I learned a lot. And things like the fact that, you know, Garcia is the eighth-most-common surname in the United States, I had no idea. And this is radio, so we can't show it to you, but there's this - I thought it was a very beautifully produced opening montage of all the different faces, and I just thought, I don't know. I've learned some things. Ruben, what did you think? You're not drinking the Hatorade(ph).

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, this was always going to be a difficult balancing act. I think CNN pulled it off. You've got to balance out. You've got 47 million people in the country, 51 million if you count Puerto Rico, and you've got people who, in those backgrounds, are Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, you know, Guatemalan, Mexican all in the pot. And it did an amazing thing. I mean, in many of these cases, you'd see a documentary like this, it would only be about Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or whatever.

It really sort of balanced it out. It also balanced the negative and the positive. You know, Soledad O'Brien is a real journalist. She wasn't out there to do propaganda for the jente(ph). She wasn't out there just to put out cotton candy and lemonade. She put out the dropouts, the teen mothers, you know, the gang bangers, the low-riders and the tattoos, the whole thing, in addition to the entrepreneurs, the self-made folks, the successful folks, all that stuff.

So in that respect, it was very honest. I think it was very well done.

MARTIN: You did write in your column - Ruben, you wrote about the series that - well, you do also disclose that you are a contributor for CNN - that you said that there were some public screening events that you weren't aware of where people criticized the series for trafficking in stereotypes. Tell me more about that. What stereotypes did people think they were trafficking in?

Mr. IZRAEL: Many Latinos - they are sensitive to the fact they've been left out of the mix, and they don't get their share, their fair share, of media attention - and so they want something like this to be pretty much, as I said, all cotton candy and lemonade. Just tell me all about the Harvard graduates and the Yale folks and the, you know, the pediatricians and the professional engineers and all this stuff and forget about all the Latino gang bangers and drug users.

It's just not accurate though, and Soledad O'Brien has been getting the beating. You know, she - they've been treating her like this (foreign language spoken) everywhere she goes as if somehow CNN should have come forward with this much rosier picture of Latino life in America.

MARTIN: I asked Soledad about that when I interviewed her earlier this week. I was specifically asking her about some of the stories that she covered in the series. One, for example, about an unwed teenaged mom, another about a young girl who'd come here undocumented and alone, who is now in detention. And I said, look some of these stories are not going to be well received. What do you have to say about that? This is what she had to say.

Ms. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN (Host, "Latinos in America"): For people who are not interested in that or feel like well you shouldn't be covering that. I guess I don't sort of try to check off the box in terms of what everybody sort of feel good about. I try to do stories that are compelling and thoughtful and nuanced because there's no right or wrong answer.

MARTIN: Arsalan, we haven't heard from you. What did you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, for me as a documentary junkie, I loved it. I don't think that I can ever learn enough about anything and, you know, Jimi was right when he called it, you know, Roots for Dummies. You know, for dummies like me who want to understand more of the nuance. I mean, you know, we may know people of every color, every ethnicity but to understand the issues that are of importance to a specific minority demographic group, for a civil rights lawyer like me, is right down my alley.

What I did find interesting is I did see a bit of an excess in terms of the immigrant nativist narrative undertones. I wanted to hear more about the George Lopezes, the Salazar brothers who have become senators and congressmen, Bill Richardson - the tangible middle class that have been here for several generations. I think there was a very heavy emphasis on the immigrant, nativist narrative, you know. You had the Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, then you had the case of the Panda Express 11, you know, it seemed a little heavy on that.

MARTIN: I don't buy that. I'll tell you what I think though. It's not so much about the immigrant-nativist dialogue because it really isn't about that. It's really not about that. But what I did mind is having the kind of general audience, if you will, represented by a Sheriff Arpaio.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: I'm sure there are plenty of Americans who may have some ambivalence around immigration or they may have - or high rates of immigration who may not agree with Sheriff Arpaio or a Lou Dobbs, for example.

If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop and we're joined by Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Gustavo Arellano. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. (Foreign language spoken) Let's keep it in motion, eh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. So, you know what, the Balloon Boy story is still afloat as people wonder if the Heenes should lose custody of their children. Yeah, you recall that Richard and Mayumi Heene, they're currently answering charges, hoax charges, behind that whole kerfuffle with the runaway balloon. A-train, I wonder, I don't know - I don't know if it's against the law to convince your kids to lie for you, because if it is, you know, I need to be on the lam. What's up with that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean, I ain't going to lie to you. This Balloon Boy incident gets the ridunculous award of the week. It's kind of just mind boggling to see what the cult of celebrity has come - you have two people who are apparently, you know, professional reality television contestants who had taped two episodes of the show "Wife Swap," apparently seemed to have pulled this, you know, massive charade. And then on Larry King Live, with Wolf Blitzer, have their six-year-old son, Falcon Heene, on national television say, you know, quote "you said that we did this for the show."

MARTIN: Do you want to hear that by the way?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Sure.

MARTIN: This first - once again on CNN. Wolf Blitzer had an interview with the family who seemed to be doing quite a lot of interviews and Wolf asked a specific question. This is what happened. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Larry King Live")

Mr. WOLF BLITZER (Host, Larry King Live): Did he hear anything? Did he hear you screaming out Falcon, Falcon?

Mr. RICHARD HEENE: He's asking, Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?

Mr. FALCON HEENE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. R. HEENE: You did?

Mr. F. HEENE: You did.

Mr. R. HEENE: Well, why didn't you come out?

Mr. F. HEENE: Um, you had said that we did this for the show.

Mr. IZRAEL: Doh.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Whoops. Kids say the darndest things, don't they? I tell yah.

Mr. ARRELLANO: Wow.

MARTIN: So. Anyway.

Mr. ARRELLANO: Wow.

MARTIN: I just have to point out though that this little boy is six.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And he is.

MARTIN: You know kids and their time references - I don't know. I don't know, Ruben, you have kids the same age as mine. And I have to say I'm so troubled by the whole thing. I know that a lot of people writing about the fact, you know, why do they have these kids on TV? And are they, you know, professional reality show hucksters and things. That's what - I understand those questions but the fact is this child is six and I'm just not sure…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You mean, in terms of not being a credible witness?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, my kids, if you ask them when something happened, they'll say, you know, yesterday or last week, or, that's - their concept of time is very different than ours. And their concept of causality is very different.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: I don't know.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. You have this other adult now, this co-conspirator, a third - authorities are talking about a co-conspirator who discussed this plot with the Heenes, you know, months ago. And so, I think, authorities are not going to go and file charges just based on that one utterance. There is more there. It was certainly that utterance that got them to go back and re-interview the Heenes again. And so I think that's significant. The thing about this story that's just heartbreaking is that one of the best things about the American people, it's in our DNA that when we someone who's in trouble, let alone a child…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …we drop everything and we try to help. The National Guard had two helicopters up in the air that day shepherding this balloon. The police were on alert. People all over the country were holding their breath and saying prayers for this family because we thought a boy was in that balloon. And Michel and I were talking that day, corresponding back and forth.

MARTIN: We were.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: As parents of young children, collectively we held our breath, right? And this is shameful what they did. It's sinful because they took that very great thing about Americans and they sinned against it. They exploited it for their own 15 minutes. Shame on them.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. Let me…

MARTIN: It's true.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And from a legal perspective, Michel, you know, it's important to understand that because, I mean, the Wolf Blitzer, "Larry King Live" was the quote unquote "aha moment." From a legal perspective the child might not even have to testify in court if it does ever proceed to court. They could, you know, authenticate, you know, that video of the "Larry King Live," as the testimony if a jury or a judge believes that the child was telling the truth.

I mean, there's a term in the legal field called shielding procedures. And you know, it disallows a minor's testimony, usually in cases of violent felonies or sexual offenses, you know, they can do it via a screening process where they'll actually place a barrier in front of the child. They could video tape it or do it through CCTV - close circuit television - which can be contemporaneous and simultaneously broadcast also.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Here's my thing, these people are obviously defective parents. If you haven't seen the video on YouTube that they put out there with their kids and all the profanity, you know, and the leniency with these kids and the way they're raising these kids and the pursuit of this reality show. This is not a normal family. I got to hope this is a normal family.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what…

MARTIN: I am very concerned about, you know what? Remember when Elian Gonzales came to this country, okay? And he came alone under these very traumatic circumstances. His mother and I don't know whether it's his mother, his stepfather had both perished in the crossing. And his father, who had every right to raise this child, wanted him back. And people said, oh, he's an unfit parent because he's Cuban and he supports the regime. You see my point? It just seems to me we ought to be very careful before we decide who's defective. If they deliberately perpetuated a hoax upon the authorities…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes, right.

MARTIN: …with the purpose of enriching themselves or even getting attention, certainly that should be dealt with. But if you're saying we don't like them because they do things we would not do as parents...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, no.

MARTIN: …that makes me very uncomfortable.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, we're talking about the law, you know, the fact that National Guard, you know, units and the FBI, FA, I'm sure was involved. This is lying to federal agents.

MARTIN: Yeah, okay, I get that, what I'm hearing is that people don't like them because they want to be on a reality show and we think that's bad and I'm saying…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, no, but those are, those are circumstances that go into the totality of the picture of, you know, why they may have broken the, you know, federal law.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, I think people that put their kids, you know, it's one thing if you want to be a media meatball, right and go on reality shows. That's cool. That's cool. If that's how you want to make a check, God bless you. But there's something wrong with you to put your kid out there in front of the camera, you know, to exploit your kid like that to get a check. Keep your kids off television.

Mr. ARRELLANO: And out of the balloons.

Mr. IZRAEL: In other news Magic Johnson goes in on Isiah Thomas in an upcoming book. The name of the book is called, "When the Game Was Ours," and, you know, he co-authors it with Larry Bird. Magic Johnson's talking the talk about Isiah's gossiping mouth and about blackballing dude from the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Oh snap, A-train, give us the over and under please.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir. This, you know, this story broke recently. Apparently Magic and Bird are writing a book called, "When The Game Was Ours," which is out on November 4th. And Magic accuses Isiah Thomas of spreading rumors about Magic being, you know, on the down-low after he came clean with his HIV-positive results in 1991-92 season. He also talks about how basically none of the other superstars in the league liked Isiah enough to want him on the 1992 Dream Team. You know, he said that, you know, Michael Jordan didn't want to play with him. Scottie Pippen wanted no part of him. Bird wasn't pushing for him. Karl Malone didn't want him. You know, who was saying we need this guy? Nobody. And so, you know, they, you know, Isiah and Magic famously, you know, would kiss each other on the cheeks, you know, in center court in 1988. So, you know, at one point they were tight friends and now it seems like the friendship has completely unraveled.

MARTIN: But why? That's the part. I mean, first of all, I did not realize the NBA was high school.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It is, yeah.

MARTIN: But on the other hand, I still don't understand why he's so angry? Why is Magic so angry with Isiah Thomas now?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, the timing is…

MARTIN: To be bringing this out, I mean, why now?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I don't know. Isiah was actually very specific to note that Larry Bird actually didn't say anything bad about Isiah in the book. He's says like I've no beef with Larry. And, you know, here's the guy that I thought was my friend and Magic who actually used to talk smack about - Magic and Larry hated each other before there was actually a Converse sneaker taping in French Lick, Indiana when apparently, you know, Bird and Magic hit it off and they've been friends ever since. And it's like from that Converse commercial it seems as though Isiah and Magic, you know, grew further apart.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: For me you got all these people who have enormous talent and enormous egos. And it is interesting to find out that these people can be friends at some point. Every once in a while you end with this eruption like when Dr. J got into it with Larry Bird in that famous fist fight, remember?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And so, you know, I think it's very difficult to have these people with enormous amounts of talent and ego to just stand up and say, you know what? That guy's good. He's as good as me, he's better than me. I just don't see that in the NBA very often. Frankly, I'm going to be honest. I don't see that in many sports.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't know, it's high school. It's conduct unbecoming and it's just disappointing to see, frankly, a bunch of men get down like this. You know, it's crazy. I'm waiting for them to start greasing their faces…

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Grown men, grown men.

Mr. IZRAEL: Taking their shoes…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Put the hair in a pony tail, baby.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm just waiting for the reality show.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's conduct unbecoming. Yeah. Exactly. The reality show, yeah, it's too much, it's too much. I don't - sad, sad, man up. Man up, homie. Thanks everybody.

MARTIN: Well, for the record I just think it's important to say Isiah insists he did not spread any such rumors.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: He insisted that that is not true and he also says he's very hurt by this.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, ladies and gentlemen, I think that's a wrap. I want to thank you so much for coming out into the Barbershop. I have to kick it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and he joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. He joined us from our Washington D.C. studios. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist and he writes for CNN.com and the San Diego Union Tribune and he joined us from San Diego. And we're also joined by Gustavo Arrellano. He writes the Ask a Mexican column for the Orange County Weekly and he joined us from KUCI in Irvine, California. Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Gracias.

Mr. ARRELLANO: Adios.

MR. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.