The 30th Annivesary of Roots Stirs Thoughts of That it’s Time to Recognize Latino Journeys to this Country

LatinaLista — This years marks the 30th anniversary of probably the most popular and impactful television mini-series that ever aired — Roots.


Then-unknown Levar Burton played the lead character
Kunta Kinte

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For the first time, the sad history of African-Americans was told in a 12-part format that truly brought home the horrors of slavery to thousands of viewers.

According to The Musuem of Broadcast Communication:

On average, 80 million people watched each of the last seven episodes. 100 million viewers, almost half the country, saw the final episode, which still claims one of the highest Nielsen ratings ever recorded, a 51.1 with a 71 share. A stunning 85% of all television homes saw all or part of the mini-series.

This Easter weekend, TV-One brings back the miniseries for a new generation of viewers.

What was probably the most historic implication of the mini-series, in addition to telling the story of African Americans for really the first time on a mainstream network, was how all ethnicities embraced the show.

It was educational in that it cleared up any doubts as to how slaves were treated, but more importantly, the roles they and their descendants had in shaping the history of this country.

It’s rather ironic that this year should be the 30th anniversary of this show when the Latino community right now is just trying to fight for inclusion in the Ken Burns’ documentary about WWII.

BACKGROUND: THE WAR, a 14-hour documentary on WWII, is scheduled to air in September on PBS. Director Ken Burns and associates took six years to interview more than 40 individuals in four communities (Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota). The documentary features individuals in those communities, with two ethnic/racial groups given special consideration: Japanese Americans and African Americans. The film has no reference to the Latino contribution. The documentary also has an accompanying book and educational materials. PBS officials say, in a news release: Serving our mission to educate and inform, PBSs goal for THE WAR is to reach into every home and classroom — so together we can better understand what we as a nation experienced in those difficult years and what we as a nation accomplished. Hundreds of concerned individuals across the country, have contacted PBS officials, Burns production company (Florentine Films), and sponsors, and told them that THE WAR is incomplete without the Latino experience.

The latest update from the core group of Latinos who are fighting for the memories and honor of all Latino WWII soldiers:

PBS is listening and is making an effort to come up with a plan by April 10. Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, reached out to the Defend the Honor Campaign core group (Gus Chavez, Angelo Falcon, Marta Garcia, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez and Ivan Roman). Friday morning, at a little after 10 a.m., Kerger and Mickey Ibarra, a Washington-based Latino public relations consultant who has retained by PBS, and the five members of the core group met in a conference call. Kerger told the group: “We certainly have heard you .. Our commitment is to serve the American people and it’s something I very much take to heart. I am hopeful that we will come back with a plan that will tell you that we have very much heard you.”

Time will tell.

Nobody thinks Ken Burns’ purposely omitted Hispanics from his documentary, but now that it has been brought to his attention his continued omission can be construed as nothing less.

It’s been said that Burns’ omission of the Latino experience was simply because he “forgot” to include the Latino community, but whatever his motives, it’s clear that no one outside the culture really knows the history of Latinos.

Too, too many equate the Hispanic presence in the United States with the recent immigrants who have only just arrived.

Well, there is a whole bunch of Latinos who arrived a long time ago who have a very rich history in this country, even while maintaining cultural traditions.

As we celebrate Roots, I propose it’s time for the next installment. This time tracing Latino roots to this country.

For those who think they know these stories, don’t be so sure.

The only problem is that we would probably need more than 12 nights to tell the story since the U.S. Hispanic population represents several different countries of origin.

If there was such a movie, then maybe we could break through some of the ignorance regarding Hispanics and get across messages like Latinos don’t speak “Mexican.”

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