Ramos, Jorge: 1958—: Journalist, Author
Jorge Ramos: 1958—: Journalist, author
A powerful influence on Latinos and a star news anchor and reporter, Jorge Ramos is Spanish-language television's most durable personality. In his reporting, television appearances and debates, and freelance writing, Ramos molds opinion concerning the perils of immigrating to the United States and the importance to Americans of the growing bilingual Hispanic minority. Familiar to fans of Spanish-language evening news in Texas, California, and Florida, he nets top ratings and viewer loyalty for incisive news from Latin America and for hard-edged interviews with prime figures from politics, current events, and the arts. His two decades of on-camera work have been about more than the delivery of information: to Ramos, telecasting is a mission, a vehicle for social change.
Homeland Versus Aspirations
Born in Mexico City on March 16, 1958, Ramos loved athletics in boyhood and enjoyed track and field with a Mexican team until a back injury ended his participation. Still competitive, he turned to soccer and tennis as hobbies. According to an article in Mas, in high school, Ramos summarized his aims in a two-sentence comprehensive life plan: "There are men who struggle for one day and achieve a goal; there are men who struggle for many years and are very brave; and then there are men who struggle all of their lives and are indispensable. I wish to become one of the latter." When he returned to Mexico for a tenth year high school reunion, his classmates reminded him how rapidly he fulfilled the prophecy.
Ramos gave up on his home-land at age 24 when he was reporting news for Televisa, Mexico's largest media conglomerate. When editors tagged his third story on a social issue for rewriting according to station policy, Ramos became angry with Mexico's censorship. The face-off that followed was a defining moment in his professional career. To find true freedom of speech, he sold his guitar and Volkswagen beetle and emigrated alone to the West Coast of the United States in 1983. Ramos enrolled at University of California Los Angeles; he earned his way by waiting tables and making change at a restaurant.
A year after Ramos's arrival in California, media magnate Jaime Davila hired him to report the news at KMEX-Channel 14 in Los Angeles, an affiliate station of the Spanish International Network (now called Univisión). By 1986 Ramos had moved on to Miami, Florida, to deliver the morning news and an interview segment called Mundo Latino (Latin World). Within months, he advanced to anchor evening news for Noticiero Univisión. The promotion made him one of the youngest national TV anchors in American media history.
At a Glance . . .
Born Jorge Ramos on March 16, 1958, in Mexico City; married twice; children: Paola, Nicolás. Education: Attended UCLA, 1983.
Career: KMEX, news reporter, 1983; Mundo Latino, Miami, news reporter and interviewer, 1986; Noticiero Univisión, Miami, evening news anchor and reporter, 1986–; freelance author, 1998–.
Awards: Seven Emmys; Cabot Prize, 2001.
Addresses: Home— Coral Gables, FL. Website— http://www.jorgeramos.com.
Ramos's evening telecast earned him huge audiences in 13 Latin American countries. Co-anchoring with Maria Elena Salinas, he delivered Latino-centered stories to an average 1,057,000 viewers each evening. Ramos's die-hard fans in the 18 to 49 age range assure him ten times the audience commanded by CNN's Moneyline Newshour, but not the salary commensurate with his popularity and influence. Nonetheless, Ramos has earned industry recognition. He was a guest presenter at the millennium Emmys in the technical category, and garnered seven local Emmy awards for quality journalism and news production, including a 2000 news focus on Noticiero 47 and a 2001 newscast entitled "Fire In Edgewater."
Ramos's shared language and Hispanic background do not ensure his acceptance with all Latinos. Miami's Cuban-Americans, for example, question his disdain for Castro, and Ramos meticulously combed his coverage of the Elián Gonzalez debacle for criticism of Cubans. When a Latina magazine wanted to cast him as a "Papi Chulo," he chose professionalism over indulgence in trivial ego displays. In his view, writing stories about immigrants, undocumented labor, and bigotry was more important than posing as a sex symbol. To lessen cultural differences, enhance his objectivity, and make himself welcome to Latinos of all stripes, Ramos and co-anchor Salinas have developed a neutral Spanish accent.
In addition to delivering news to 35 million Hispanics, Ramos broadcasts daily over Caracol Radio, a Colombian media group of 238 stations with interests in the United States, Latin America, and France. In his broadcasts, Ramos focuses on the news stories of the Western Hemisphere. While his network competitors cover the major happenings from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Ramos provides a faithful audience with news from Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. He also supplies a weekly column to more than 35 newspapers throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Challenged the Comfortable
Ramos has used his public position as a vehicle of the truth as he perceived it. In an editorial published in the Miami Herald, he stated that "Nothing has been done to solve the huge contradictions in the immigration laws." He pointed to the illicit hiring and exploitation of Hispanic gardeners, nannies, factory laborers, and field hands and charged, "There's a great deal of hypocrisy in this country about the millions of immigrants who work here without papers."
Noted for his courage under fire, Ramos has covered developing conflicts in El Salvador, the Persian Gulf, and Kosovo, Bosnia, as well as the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1996 he provoked derision from Pat Buchanan, who ridiculed his Mexican origin. While covering the GOP convention, Ramos pricked the party's power structure for admitting few Hispanic delegates and skewered the right for fostering the anti-immigration Proposition 187. The Wall Street Journal congratulated Ramos for being the first reporter to interview presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, whose mutual interest in Hispanic voters boosted Ramos's importance to the viewing audience. He also interviewed U.S. president Bill Clinton, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Mexican presidents Vicente Fox and Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Pope John Paul II, poet Octavia Paz, and novelists Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes.
Ramos's opinions and handsome face have made him influential and well-known. He is also an author; he has published one book per year since 1998: Behind the Mask (Detrás de la Máscara) (1998), What I Saw (Lo Que Vi) (1999), La Otra Cara de América (The Other Face of America) (2000), and A la Caza del León (The Lion Hunt) (2001). The third became a Spanish-language bestseller.
Professional Pitfalls and Opportunities
Known for his tough questions regardless of the status of his subject, Ramos demanded free and democratic elections from Colombian President Ernesto Samper on camera. After further questioning him on alleged kickbacks from drug cartels, Ramos wisely suspended his travel to Colombia. When he considered returning, he received a grotesque funeral spray of flowers as a broad hint at Bogotá's climate of unwelcome. In a one-on-one interview with Mexican president Salinas de Gortari, Ramos asked whether Gortari had facilitated the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colossio. When interviewing Latino immigrants and refugees in the United States, Ramos asks questions that elicit stories of courageous emigration from drug havens and the shabby treatment and outright menace in a new homeland that refuses to consider Hispanics equal citizens. As a voice for the disenfranchised, Ramos treats these newcomers with compassion and unfeigned admiration.
One event cracked the professional facade of the hard-bitten reporter. On the night of the inauguration of Vicente Fox's political party in Mexico, Ramos allowed exuberance and joy to surface during the street celebration of the first peaceful Mexican political transition in over 70 years. Among 60,000 natives at El Zócalo plaza, Ramos sang the Mexican national anthem and exulted in his nation's maturity. At the heart of his emotion was a welcome to new times free of the lying, deception, graft, and assassinations perpetrated by the ousted PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).
Ramos is not limited to writing and newscasting. He has scrapped with the debaters on ABC-TV's This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, CNN's Talk Back Live, Nightline, FOXNEWS, and NBC News. In 1999 he used his fame to establish Becas de Periodismo, a scholarship program promoted by the Latin American Center of Periodismo (CELAP). Limited to high-achieving journalism students from Mexico and Central America, in its first two years the consortium benefited ten people from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
Citizen and Champion
In his private time Ramos dedicates one hour each morning and evening to writing, spends Saturday mornings playing soccer, and devotes himself to parenting his two children. He admits that his first marriage failed because he put work first. Ramos is rearing two bilingual, bicultural children: Paola, born to his first wife in 1987, and Nicolás, born to his current wife, Lisa, in 1998. Ramos disdained seeking naturalization as a U.S. citizen and suffers the emotional displacement of immigrants who are no longer citizens of their homeland, yet not fully recognized in their adopted country.
After Barry Diller, chairman of USA Network, sold his 13 television stations to Univisión in December of 2000, Ramos enjoyed even broader exposure and became even more popular. In June of 2001, he felt secure enough to predict that Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, would become Latin America's next dictator. The next month, Ramos won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for Excellence in Reporting on Latin America, awarded by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. After these and numerous other honoraria rewarding two decades before the cameras, Ramos rejected a transfer to English-language network news, but still nurtures thoughts of running for public office, either in the United States or Mexico. The main deterrent to his plans for a political career is a lack of common ground among Latino supporters, who think of themselves as Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans first and Hispanics second. In his opinion, family, language, and the pursuit of success far outweigh Latino desire to vote as a block.
In October of 2000, Lydia Martin of the Miami Herald reported Ramos's challenge to smug white Americans: "In July, 2059, whites will become a minority in the United States…. If the country is unwilling to take a look at itself in the mirror and get over its bigotry and racism, it will eventually decline." However, Ramos even-handedly reminds Latinos that cultural and economic power do not assure them of clout at the polls. "We have economic power and we have cultural power, but we have to transform that into political power."
Agencia EFE, June 18, 2001.
Columbia News, July 5, 2001.
Hispanic America, October 3, 2000.
Hispanic Trend Magazine, 2000.
Latin Trade, January 1, 2002.
Más, January-February 1992.
Media Week, December 11, 2000.
Miami Herald, January 30, 2001; October 8, 2000.
Orange County Register, October 2000.
Sun Sentinel, June 20, 2001.
U. S. News, December 18, 2000.
USA Today, August 24, 2001.
Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2000.
Washington Post, February 18, 2002.
—Mary Ellen Snodgrass
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