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Voto Latino Addresses the Importance of Representation at 2018’s “Our Voices: Celebrating Diversity in Media”

Washington, D.C. – On Friday, Voto Latino, the leading civic media organization empowering
American Latino youth, hosted the 10th Annual “Our Voices: Celebrating Diversity in Media,” as part of the White House Correspondents’ weekend. The event, hosted by Charter Communications, was also presented by Intel, Google, Viacom, BET, Southwest Airlines, and The Beat DC.

The annual reception brought together prominent figures across media industries to discuss the importance of representation, as well as the intersection of politics and culture. The panelists for the night’s discussion titled, “Covering Politics During the Storm,” included some of the most respected voices in news and television: Tiffany D. Cross, The Beat DC Co-Founder, Managing Editor and Curator; April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst; Gloria Calderon Kellett, Netflix’s “One Day At a Time” Executive Producer; and Jamal Simmons, The Hill Analyst.

Jamal Simmons kicked off the conversation by sharing his experience as a person of color in the newsroom. “You are both a member of a community and you want to make sure you are representing that community,” he said. “However, you also have to ask questions and be good at what you do. To separate those two things is difficult. You have to do both at the same time.” He added, “We have to represent the America we are becoming, not the America that we once were. Families have become way more diverse and our experiences are not all that dissimilar.”

The conversation transitioned into the topic of diversity in entertainment, with Cross citing the night the New York Times referred to EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award)-winner Rita Moreno as Norman Lear’s “guest” at the 2018 Golden Globes.

Gloria Calderon Kellett described the stereotypes she faced early in her career. “Every audition was for a gangbanger’s girlfriend or gangbanger’s sister,” she said. “Where are the teachers, the social workers? The majority of the shows you’re watching are written by white men. This affects our children. It affects how we see ourselves.” Once she broke into the industry, Kellett noticed the lack of diversity in the writers’ room. “Anytime there was an issue of color, people would ask, ‘Gloria, what do people of color think?’ I decided it’s time for me to be the boss. I wanted to write about people of color and our personal experiences. I think of the 30 shows that have made it to air that have a Latino leading character, only six have made it into a third season.” After writing an episode focused on voting, she received tweets from young people expressing that the episode inspired them to exercise their right to vote. “I can’t affect policy, but I can affect culture.”

Tiffany D. Cross touched on the challenges of navigating the White House briefing room under the current administration, stating “The role of White House press secretary has changed. I would say for the worse. It has become the norm to declare freedom of the press the enemy.” She acknowledged Ryan for fearlessly pressing the White House on tough issues. “April owns the briefing room. Thank you for being there and asking the tough questions we all want to ask.”

April Ryan stated, “I’ve been doing the same thing for 21 years. It’s not about me, because I’m not the enemy of the people. I am We the People. We are shielded by the First Amendment. That’s my cape. I’m not Liberal. I’m not Republican. I’m a White House correspondent.” When asked about getting pushback on questions, Ryan responded, “When I ask a question. I’ve asked my sources. It’s not coming out of my neck. My day goes from 5 a.m. until maybe midnight, talking to people and getting information. It’s real. It’s journalism.”

The program concluded with remarks from CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. He recounted being moved to three different press areas during the Easter Egg Roll before asking President Trump, “Mr. President what about the DACA kids? Didn’t you kill DACA?” Acosta noted, “The White house wasn’t mad I was shouting out questions. They were mad about the question that was asked. We are not going to back down. We go through a lot in those briefings, holding their feet to the fire and holding them accountable. Are the questions being asked that matter to our communities? You should know, yes, they are being asked. It’s not the United Base of America. It’s the United States of America.”

Prior to the reception, Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar also spoke about the organization’s mission to increase civic engagement across the country and make voting accessible to everyone, especially young American Latinos. “Our stories matter and it is important that they be told. Thank you to our panel of individuals that are creating change and ensuring media accurately reflects today’s America.”