Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press: ‘I Also Happen to Believe That the Hispanics Should Work Harder at Assimilation’

Jan 27, 2019
2:50 PM

We got this one from a Twitter tag by Andrea León Grossman, who shared the following clip of NBC News news legend Tom Brokaw sharing his thoughts about the U.S. Latino community on Meet the Press on Sunday:

In case you want to read what Brokaw says, here goes (and yes, thank you to Yamiche Alcindor for schooling Brokaw right on the spot):

“I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time, you know. They ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English and that they feel comfortable in their communities, and that’s gonna take outreach on both sides frankly.”

The “both sides” Brokaw was very likely talking about was what he said about earlier in his comments, where he was talking about people who fear the country becoming browner.

“The fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinarily important new constituency in American politics: Hispanics, who will come here and be Democrats,” Brokaw said before his “learn English” comment. “Also, I hear when I push people a little harder, ‘I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’ I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that’s going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other.”

Wait, what? So is Brokaw seriously thinking that every U.S. Latino in this country is really a new arrival? Is he just playing into President Trump’s lies that we are all coming into this country right now to take away your jobs?

And does Brokaw he even know this fact? As Pew stated in 2017:

The foreign-born share has declined among U.S. Latinos. Today, 34.4% of Latinos are immigrants, down from a peak of 40.1% in 2000. And the share that is U.S. born has grown to 65.6% in 2015, up from 59.9% in 2000. This decline in the foreign-born share extends across the largest Latino origin groups. 

Apparently, Brokaw has no clue at all about the U.S. Latino community and where it is these days. (Does Brokaw even know the history of the Southwest? Does the year 1848 mean anything to him?) We are pretty sure he is not reading up on Pew Research reports, so we will share just one actual data point from 2018:

English use is on the rise among young Hispanics. Still, about six-in-ten say they use Spanish, according to Pew Research Center’s 2016 National Survey of Latinos, which asked Hispanics to rate their own ability to speak and read Spanish and to speak and read English. Similar shares of young Hispanic adults are either English dominant (41%) or bilingual (40%), while 19% are Spanish dominant. By contrast, among Hispanics ages 36 and older, a lower share is English dominant (24%), with higher shares rating themselves bilingual (32%) and Spanish dominant (44%).

The point being is simple: the children of Latino parents are actually doing what Brokaw is saying that they are not. They are also doing it on their own terms and not the ones that Brokaw means when tossing out such a tired trope as “assimilation.” (But if you want data for that as well, this poll from nine years ago clearly proves Brokaw wrong, and that is from nine years ago. Or this from 2013.)

We as a community are creating the new America right before your very eyes, Mr. Brokaw. Sorry if it doesn’t fit your perceptions of what America should be like. That future is bilingual, bicultural, at times in English, other times in Spanish. Our community is defining this future. Not you.

The comments by Brokaw were xenophobic, disrespectful and insulting. You would think he could take the time to learn from this moment and maybe apologize? We doubt it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

And we are asking that in English, even though we are sharing our real response to Brokaw in Spanish below.

Hit it, Gollum:

And for those who want “context” to Brokaw’s comments, here is the transcript from Meet The Press around the moment Brokaw said what he said (the full show’s video is here):


“Sad, no compromise,” again, it’s in the word cloud. The next three weeks allow the opportunity to go big and solve this. Jared Kushner’s leading it. And it is far more important to shut down the Maduro government than our government. And I think Donald Trump is leading there. And he is winning there, because of Bolton and Pompeo going down to see Bolsonaro and Duque. That’s going to happen. That’s going to bring us together.


That is going to bring us together, getting involved in Latin American politics that — has it ever gone well for the United States in years past?


Absolutely. Because you know, Russia is against that.


I understand that.


And Trump is for that. And that will help. That will help a lot.


I think that, because there’s this, there’s going to be this committee of bipartisan leaders on the Republican side, there aren’t people that are from border states, but on the Democratic side, there are, what you’re going to see is people trying to actually talk about facts and, maybe, try to get on the same page. Because part of what that speech was about was this was a, quote unquote, “rinky-dink wall,” is what he calls it. I interviewed the mayor of McAllen, Texas, where the president went to have his example, to say, “This is where we need the wall.” The mayor said, “We don’t need a wall. We have issues here. But Yamiche, I’m here to tell you that a wall is not going to solve them.” So I think there’s an issue here with people not understanding that facts aren’t being agreed upon.


The problem is in Wyoming and in South Dakota, they think they need a wall. And in Texas and in Arizona, they don’t.


I know.


Right? Like it’s —


And a lot of this, we don’t want to talk about. But the fact is, on the Republican side, a lot of people see the rise of an extraordinary, important, new constituent in American politics, Hispanics, who will come here and all be Democrats. Also, I hear, when I push people a little harder, “Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.” I mean, that’s also a part of it. It’s the intermarriage that is going on and the cultures that are conflicting with each other. I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time. You know, they ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities. And that’s going to take outreach on both sides, frankly.


And Congressman Peter King, in a conversation that I had with him, spoke to sort of this remarkable moment in which we find ourselves. And he said, “What has to happen right now, both sides need to ignore the fringes.” Because you have the far right and the far left screaming, yelling the loudest, and to some extent, preventing compromise.


There will be no compromise, unless there is a long, strong, double-layered fence about 700 miles long. That is the minimum that is necessary. And in exchange for that, regularization for 10 million people, not just DACA, not just TPS. There is a big deal to be had. Because the extremists should be condemned. The fringe should be ignored. And the base can get together.


I would just say that we also need to adjust what we think of as America. You’re talking about assimilation. I grew up in Miami, where people speak Spanish, but their kids speak English. And the idea that we think Americans can only speak English, as if Spanish and other languages wasn’t always part of America, is, in some ways, troubling.


All right, we’ll leave it there. As somebody who grew up on ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, three generations, all Spanish, Spanglish, and all English. That’s all we have for today. Thank you for watching. We’ll be back next week. Because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.

UPDATE, 6:34pm ET: Brokaw’s Twitter profile posted a series of tweets about his comments:

By the way, that wasn’t an apology.

And even the second attempt Brokaw’s account made a few hours later? Still not there.

After that tweet, his account also tweeted these:

Interestingly enough, maybe there were signs of this coming and we were either too young or not on this earth when they were happening. For example, see what NBC News reported in 1987 when Brokaw was anchoring NBC Nightly News.

UPDATE, January 28, 8pmET: An NBC spokesperson said this, “Tom’s comments were inaccurate and inappropriate and we’re glad he apologized.”

Brokaw hasn’t really apologized, in our opinion.