Special to CTLatinoNews.com
Editor’s note: Bessy Reyna spoke recently at an ethnic media conference where she spoke about the lack of Latino voices in the media. As a CTLatinoNews.com contributor, we value her insight and are re-printing her comments for our readers.
Thank you for inviting me to be part of this very important conference, which I hope will result in bringing ethnic and general media closer together.
While preparing to participate on this panel, I have been re-reading some of my columns and thinking about the issues which compelled me first to become an arts’ writer featuring Latino artists and cultural programs in CT, and later an opinion columnist for the Hartford Courant.
I can honestly say that the reason which compelled me to action, in both cases, was because of the disappointment I felt with the fact that Latino voices were not being heard and the accomplishments of Latino artists were hardly ever recognized in the general media; their books were not reviewed and even their programs were not included in Calendar listings.
Writing about the arts was something I had done for years in Panama City, where I grew up before coming to this country; but I never thought it was something I would have the opportunity to do here after I graduated from the University of Connecticut and started working in full-time jobs unrelated to the arts.
The catalyst for me happened in the early 90s, when Judy Baca, the famous Mexican-American muralist, who designed the 12 mile mural with the history of Los Angeles, had an exhibition of her work at the Wadsworth Atheneum. As hard as I searched for info in the papers I couldn’t find anything. It became clear to me that the absence of information about her exhibit was not an isolated occurrence. It was part of a systematic neglect about providing the general public with information about Latino artists in Connecticut and elsewhere.
In 1993, I decided to break this silence. I felt that if someone of Baca’s stature could be ignored, what could we expect to hear about other Latino artists in Connecticut. I have been writing regular columns about Latino arts programs in Connecticut and elsewhere on topics which I thought might be of interest to our community. I have collaborated with several newspapers, and for the past ten years, I have been a regular columnist for Identidad Latina. In 2012, Diane Alverio created CTLatinoNews.com; this site presented me with the opportunity to also write in English.
Both the newspapers and the internet have provided me with a forum in which I can share information about Latino actors who are performing on Connecticut stages like Goodspeed, Yale Rep or Hartford Stage; or write about new works published by Latino poets and writers in Connecticut.. I hope that my writing about the arts (and sometimes politics because that is another subject of great importance to me) will encourage people to attend a concert, a play or visit a museum or gallery.
Contrary to popular stereotyping, Latinos are not all created equal. We come in many colors and have many rich and different cultures, accents, food and music. Spanish-language media including newspapers and Ana Alfaro’s “El Show de Analeh” on Univision, serve as a “Welcome Mat”–a way to provide information and to connect all of the disparate elements of our culture while, at the same time, saying “Bienvenidos” and teaching new immigrants how to maneuver the intricacies of the rules and regulations of the new country they now call home.
Many arts organizations seem to have the general idea that Latinos do not attend arts programs. Because of this, they are unwilling to support Latino media when placing ads.
However, what these groups overlook is that many immigrants who came here as adults, came to this country as professionals from countries in which the arts were respected
However, once here, it would be difficult for them to know, for instance, that the Hartford Symphony is playing a piece from a composer in their native country if the HSO does not reach out to the community.
I hope that my writing will serve in a small way to inspire others to appreciate the arts and integrate them so their lives can be as enriched by them as mine has been.
I have been very fortunate to write as an opinion columnist for the Hartford Courant. I have often said that I have Jennifer Lopez to thank for that. In February 2000, during the Grammy awards, Jennifer Lopez showed up with a “very revealing Versace” gown. I knew the next morning the media would not talk about the musicians nominated or receiving awards, but about JLo. I was really angry that all of the accomplishments of those artists who worked for hours in recording studios meant nothing to those covering the event. The morning after the show, I called Carolyn Lumsden who was the opinion page editor at the Courant and asked her if I could write something about the Lopez Affair. She was very kind and encouraging. I spent the afternoon typing, made the deadline she gave me and the opinion was published the following Sunday with the headline “Lopez Ruined Hispanics’ Proudest Moment At The Grammys”
In July of that same year I became a monthly columnist. During the 9 years I wrote for the Opinion pages, I included issues affecting Latinos in Connecticut, but I also wrote about national and international politics, about hate-crimes against gays and minorities, about violations of human rights in the Middle East and many other topics which got me lots of angry letters and phone calls.
As a Latina and a Lesbian writer I believe that I have a responsibility to represent not only my communities, but to write in an honest way so people can see us for who we are and not just as caricatures with ponchos or maracas.
We need to make an effort to work with each other in a way that is respectful and inclusive. But, I’m afraid that will not happen until we can see ourselves reflected in the pages of local magazines or acknowledge in articles celebrating our diversity and contributions to Connecticut.