Publicado en Hispanic Online

COVER STORY
STORYJorge Ramos, Spanish-language TV’s top anchor, a guy who beats even Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather in some markets, recently found himself struggling to retain his journalist-first neutrality.
There he was, covering the historic inauguration of Mexican President Vicente Fox, which completed the country’s first peaceful transition of power from one political party to another in more than 70 years.

Jorge Ramos Making News By Lydia Martin

PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER ZEINER

Ramos takes time off to enjoy the Florida
weather with his dog, Sunset.
Jorge Ramos, Spanish-language TV’s top anchor, a guy who beats even Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather in some markets, recently found himself struggling to retain his journalist-first neutrality.

There he was, covering the historic inauguration of Mexican President Vicente Fox, which completed the country’s first peaceful transition of power from one political party to another in more than 70 years.

He was so thrilled for his country, he could barely contain himself. But you would have had to know Ramos well to notice the happy crinkle around his ice-blue eyes.

«On December 1, I was torn between being a journalist and being a Mexican,» Ramos said. «There have been few stories in my life where I had to fight to make sure I stayed objective. This was definitely the biggest challenge. I wanted to scream with joy and happiness.»

Mexico’s shift toward democracy was marked by celebrations big and small. Ramos managed to cover all the hoopla and all the politics with his usual stiff upper lip.But when Univisión’s evening news was over and Ramos signed off, he took to the streets of Mexico City, one more jubilant face in the crowd.

«I struggled to not show emotion on the air, but when it was over, after all the live shots and after all the interviews, I walked a couple of blocks by myself to El Zócalo, this huge plaza where there was a party for all the people.There were about 60,000 people there. For the first time in seventeen years, I sang the Mexican National Anthem. I got goose bumps. Then I felt tears coming. I really had to celebrate. I suppose it was the same feeling Cubans will have when Castro finally falls. Or what people in Germany felt when the Berlin Wall finally came down.»

Ramos, 42, recently named third most influential Latino after actor Edward James Olmos and former U.S. housing secretary Henry Cisneros in a poll by Hispanic Trends, a research firm associated with this magazine, left his homeland for Los Angeles seventeen years ago after one of his TV reports was censored.

He worked as a waiter and cashier until his first chance as a reporter at a Univisión affiliate station in Los Angeles.

At 28, he became one of America’s youngest national anchormen in history. He has been Univision’s main anchor for the past 14 years, which makes him Spanish-language TV’s most durable personality, having stayed on the air on the same show longer than anybody else.

He has won seven Emmys for his work, and has covered three wars: El Salvador, the Persian Gulf and Kosovo. His newscast is seen not only by U.S. Hispanics, but also in 13 Latin American countries.

But no matter how much a part of America Ramos may be, he’s also not far from being the outsider who had to leave his homeland in search of bigger opportunities in the United States.

«I still feel like an immigrant. But the truth is that I also feel very American. I feel very much like I am part of two cultures and two countries at the same time. And as strange as that feels, that also feels very normal.»

Ramos, who makes his home in posh Coral Gables, Florida, succeeds with his audience because he understands them better than most. Like him, the folks who watch Univisión’s evening news are transplants from other countries who may be very settled in the United States but don’t stray far from their Latin identities.

«At least 50 percent of the stories we put on the air are from Latin America, because we feel our audience is interested in what is happening in Latin America,» says Ramos.

«Latinos in the United States remain attached to their own countries and to their roots. Italians, for example, never had their own television networks or radio stations in this country.»

That connection with viewers makes Ramos a popular fellow, says Ricardo Brown, news director and radio host for Radio Unica, a national radio network.Over the years, Brown has worked both with Ramos and competed against him for ratings. «People perceive him not only as a solid, honest, hardworking journalist, but as a warm, kind human being who identfiies with the reality here. All the success he’s had is due to the same work ethic and desire to better your life that Hispanics here have. That’s his magic.»

When Communism collapsed, Ramos was
there to bring the news home. Here in Moscow
by the fallen statue of Stalin in 1991.

As Ramos’ show picks up more and more viewers-he consistently beats Jennings, Rather and Brokaw in Miami, Los Angeles and Houston and is gaining on them in New York, Chicago and other cities where there are large numbers of Hispanics-he dispels the theory that only Hispanics who don’t speak English watch Spanish-language television.

«Fifteen years ago, the debate was, will Latinos in the United States continue watching the news in Spanish once they learn English and assimilate into American culture.

The answer has proven to be yes. We may assimilate, but we keep our identities intact. We listen to American politics with one ear and Latin American politics with the other. We are going through a very interesting process as the first generation in the United States to be fully bicultural and bilingual.»

His own kids can be the poster children of dual identity. «I have two kids, both their mothers are Cuban. They are growing up fully bilingual. So Nicolás, who is 2, is Mexican-Puerto-Rican-Cuban-American because his mother’s parents are Cuban, but she grew up in Puerto Rico. My daughter Paola, who is 14, is Spanish-Cuban-Mexican-American.

We make sure they know they are part of two very different worlds. We want them to know what it means to be American, what it means to be Cuban, what it means to be Mexican.»

Ramos was never clearer on what it means to be Mexican than on the day of Vicente Fox’s inauguration. «Most Mexicans do not know what it’s like to live in a country without PRI (the ousted Institutional Revolutionary Party), without the fraud and the lying and the assassinations and the corruption. I thought I would die with PRI still in power.

Indirectly, I was one of the millions of Mexicans who took part in the long, painful process of Mexico becoming a democracy. I have been writing and criticizing the government from the outside for years.

Of course, the most difficult part was done by those who stayed and fought from the inside. But I always felt like I played a role.» Ramos has long been toying with the idea of leaving journalism to become a politician himself. He’s considered running for office in the United States, but always pined to be part of the process in his homeland. With a new government in power, that seems less impossible now.

«I still have the intention of exploring the possibilities. I feel the urge to have a point of view and to express that point of view. I’m getting a little tired of just being a witness and of seeing things from the outside. I want to get involved, maybe make a difference in Mexico. But it’s just a thought right now.»

It’s not like he’s not busy. Between the newscast, the books (he’s finishing his fourth, tentatively titled A la caza del león, featuring interviews he has done with George W. Bush, Al Gore, Vicente Fox, Hugo Chávez and other political figures), and his family, there is little time for anything else. «I just finished [reading] a book about the twenty-first century where the author says the biggest luxury we will have is time.

‘I still feel like an immigrant. But the truth
is that I also feel very American. I feel very much
like I am part of two cultures and two countries at the same time.’
My biggest problem is lack of time.» Ramos’ third book, La otra cara de América, about the world within a world that is Hispanic America, was released in 2000 by Editorial Grijalbo and has become one of the biggest bestsellers in the Spanish-language market.

The English translation will be released later this year, but Ramos was not ready to name the publisher. Over the last ten years, Ramos has interviewed almost every Latin American president, a task few other journalists have accomplished.

In October, The Wall Street Journal described Ramos as «Hispanic TV’s No.1 correspondent and key to a huge voting bloc.» During the battle for the U.S. presidency, when votes were being recounted and lawsuits were weaving their way through the courts, Ramos participated at roundtable discussions for ABC’s «This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts,» CNN’s «Talk Back Live,» and others.

His weekly column, about U.S. and Latin American politics and other issues, runs in more than 30 newspapers in the United States and abroad, including The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language ¡Exito!, Mexico’s Reforma and Nicaragua’s La Prensa.

He also creates daily radio commentaries for dozens of radio stations and works with one of the largest Spanish-language websites in the world. But in the middle of all the work, he does manage to squeeze in some play. «Soccer. I play every Saturday on a Univisión team. It’s me and a bunch of engineers and producers. I play to try to forget as much as possible the news of the day.»

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