A generic search in the New York Times and the BBC depict Latin America dismembered by violence and tarnished by political instability. One ambitious afternoon, I rummaged through the news articles seeking a piece, if only a shadow, of decent humanity. The search: fruitless. The suspicion: confirmed.
Every day all around the world people are fed an image of an unstable, hostile, and forsaken Latin America. The news that reach our local news stations and international publications are those of instability in political transition, mass murders, economic decay, and ruthless corruption. The issue that I wish to highlight is not that the constant exposure to these issues is a problem, but rather that the sole exposure to these issues brings forth a distorted representation of Latin America. This perception is skewed towards stereotypes of “third world countries” with a naïve people and broken system of power. It is a stereotype of chaos, which perpetuates the image of a backward people.
Solely focusing on these issues in social media, obscures the human capital potential that Latin America holds. It leads to generalizations and oversimplified perceptions of the people and the political reality of each nation.I feel that a view of a stagnated people, socially and economically, rises in concert. That is, holding a superficial image of a chaotic Latin America contributes to an oversimplification of the cultural evolution and complexity in the region.
The reality of this phenomenon struck me on the week of the Presidential elections, when the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico underwent a referendum to assess whether or not the population wanted to see a change in the current political status of the island. After the referendum concluded, a premature figure was published asserting that 61.13% of the population voted in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state. This sparked a commotion in the media, both in news journals, as well in social media sources. Amongst my peers I saw both intrigue and confusion. I was stumped by the number of pictures that surged up with different designs of the American flag encompassing the 51 stars, namely because the discussion of the fact ended there. Discussing the matter, my peers alluded to West Side Story characters and songs, referencing their images of Puerto Rico. Now, how does this story fit into the collection of Latin American obituaries? It demonstrates that there exists a perception of lack of social and economic development. Alluding to West Side Story as a representation of Puerto Rican culture is much like taking a misrepresented cross section in the history of Puerto Rican migrations and making it the norm for the society. The constant reference to stereotypes, lack of diversity awareness, and knowledge of current events regarding Latin America, hinders the public from looking at the potential for development in Latin America.
In order to resolve this pathology in the media and its effect on our perception of Latin America, I propose the following: Maintain your subscription to the Latin America obituaries, but be a critical and curious reader. Follow up the issues that are presented by the media with academic sources to get a comprehensive understanding. Acknowledge that there are plentiful nuances in the issues that are posted on news digest and seek them out to become a conscientious and educated reader.
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