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April 11, 2005

Speaker Encourages Latinos To
Join Together, Make Voices Heard

As Latinos in the United States shift between black, white, and European identities to fit in, they are losing their own culture and heritage in the struggle, according to journalist Ed Morales.

Morales was speaking during opening ceremonies for Latino Awareness Month on April 4 in the Rome Ballroom. The event was sponsored by the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center.

“We all need to honor who we are,” he said to them, “but at the same time we need to start to understand each other and make alliances, not only within Latino groups but with all other minorities.”

Morales, who has written two nonfiction books, Living in Spanglish and The Latin Beat: From Rumba to Rock, spoke about his experiences as a professional and his growing awareness of Latino culture.

Becoming a writer had always been his dream, he said, but focusing his life and work on Latinos and their stories as subject-matter became a career-altering decision.

He said he wanted to do something useful for society, so he started out in social work. At that point, he was living on the lower east side of New York, writing and reading poetry in local spots around the city, such as the Life Cafe, where he was first exposed to bilingual poetry.

Art was exploding in the East Village, and Morales started writing art reviews for the East Village Eye.

While going to school to study economics, he got a job as a copy editor for The Village Voice. He wanted to write about movies and books, but instead was asked to write about minorities.

“A lot of minorities are offended by that, because they want the big stories everyone else gets, not minorities covering minorities,” he said. “But I really relished the opportunity to delve into my history and ethnicity. I was given a lot of room to develop my voice, and I got to do a little bit of everything.”

Through covering this beat and traveling with a touring group of poets, he got to know many Latinos.

The many races and cultures of Latinos allows them to create art forms welcoming to large groups of people, said Morales, but Latinos also need to retain their individual identity and appreciate their heritage.

A liberal Puerto Rican from the Bronx has very little in common with a conservative Mexican from California, he said, and that’s why Latinos have little political power. Because they have different ideologies, they cannot unite.

Latinos are still vastly underrepresented in media and public life, he said. He encouraged students interested in journalism to enter the field, saying the power of the media to influence public viewpoints was amazing.

“It’s just a matter of getting our voices out to the forefront,” Morales said, “and hoping everyone else will listen to our stories and accept who we are, because we have so much to offer.”