TIME magazine errs on two fronts: thinking an Asian-American is Latino and that all Latinos have the same “look”

LatinaLista — TIME magazine marketers must have been giddy with excitement over this week’s magazine’s cover featuring what they thought were 20 Arizona Latinos, judging by the advance press releases they sent out announcing the cover story “Yo Decido. Why Latinos will Pick the Next President.”

Man third from left misidentified as Latino.

After all, by virtue of the cover story, they were reaching readers that usually, I’m assuming, aren’t in their target demographic. And what media property these days doesn’t want to reach the market christened as “most desirable” by advertisers?

Everything was going according to plan — news sites, Latina Lista included, blogs and network news all featured the TIME cover and its accompanying stories. Latinos everywhere were heralding the decision to put Latinos on the cover who weren’t behind bars, or being loaded on deportation flights or laying lifeless in some street.

For a magazine, that many in the not too distant past, had questioned its future, it must have felt really good to be the subject of such national attention.

I have a feeling it’s not feeling that good right now.

It seems that one of the 20 featured, out of 151 who were photographed, isn’t even Latino. Ironically, the guy works in media. His name is Michael Schennum. He’s a photographer for the Arizona Republic newspaper and it was a surprise to him to be included on such a momentous cover — and on the top row!

Schennum, third from left, is half-Asian, half-white. According to him, he was never asked if he was Latino and had no idea what his picture would be used for.

Of course, TIME had a response:

“Over the course of three days we photographed 151 people for the current cover,” a Time spokeswoman told Yahoo News. “We took steps to ensure that everyone self-identified as Latino, that they are registered voters and that they would be willing to answer our questions. If there was a misunderstanding with one of our subjects, we apologize.”

If I was asked to choose which side to believe, I would have to go with Schennum’s story. We just don’t hear of many Asian-Americans wishing to be Latino. It seems pretty clear that the TIME photographer, rather than ask Schennum if he was Latino — after all he looks Latino and it is Arizona (written sarcastically) — probably did something that most non-Hispanics do, and even Latinos do — assume he was Latino.

But as we obviously see, assumptions can leave us all embarrassed, especially media that should be practicing the cardinal rule of journalism — “make no assumptions.”

While TIME would like to downplay the unfortunate accident, it brings up a much bigger problem — the assumption that Latinos fall into a distinct “look.”

We don’t.

There are fair-skinned, red-headed, freckle-faced Latinos among us who are every bit Latino/Latina as the moreno-skinned, brown-eyed Latino. Yet, because Hollywood had this stereotypical image of what a Latino should look like, all Latinos who don’t fit that image, this author included, are having to constantly defend their “Latino-ness.”

Nowadays, situations like these are categorized as “teachable moments.” I hope people do learn, especially in the media, that just as Latinos are scattered across the country, from Florida to Alaska; belong to either the GOP, Democrat, Green parties or are registered Independents; worship in faiths besides Catholicism; and eat just as much sushi or hamburgers as beans and tortillas, that the message gets across — Latinos are not made from the same mold.

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