The reply to the tweet post was short and to the point. At 10 a.m. on this particular Sunday, University of Denver Sturm College of Law Associate Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández posted a picture of The New York Times editorial board. Its 17 members have been exposed to the public as part of a PR blitz revealing its internal presidential selection process. The made-for-TV decision-making titled “The Endorsement” appeared on the FX network January 19 as a special edition of “The Weekly,” a docuseries about the Times.
It was the type of show a former reality star and now American president could love—there was a boardroom, nine Democratic contenders on the hot seat and supposedly plenty of winner-take-all drama. But in the end, those asking tough questions couldn’t make the tough choice. The non-endorsement endorsement selected not one but two candidates for the Democratic presidential primary: Senators Elisabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
Cuauhtémoc García Hernández thanked the Times for a graphic of the editorial board members that displayed their pictures, bolded names, newsroom title for some and the members’ subject-matter expertise. “What a lovely reminder,” read the tweet, “that there isn’t a single Latina or Latino on the board. Not one. 60 million of us and not one.”
One particular reply from @WriterJane74 retorted, “What method you using to determine the racial breakdown of @NYTimes editorial board? Last names? How accurately their photos reprint? Have you asked any of them how they self-identify?”
What method you using to determine the racial breakdown of @NYTimes editorial board? Last names? How accurately their photos reprint?
Have you asked any of them how they self-identify?
— Jane Allison Havsy (@WriterJane74) January 19, 2020
Good questions, and frankly none of them pondered deeply as I reposted Cuauhtémoc García Hernández’s original picture with my own conviction. “The @nytimes editorial board ‘is a group of veteran journalists’,” I quoted from the Times copy accompanying the graphic. “They got there thru Years [sic] of work & ‘personal experience.’ Beat reporters, a lawyer, a scientist. Yet, NOT ONE LATINX.” I then asked Latino Rebels to let me write this op-ed piece which reflects the sentiment shared by two lawyers raised on the border of Mexico and Texas—Cuauhtémoc García Hernández is from McAllen, according to his website bio; I grew up in El Paso.
The @nytimes editorial board “is a group of veteran journalists.” They got there thru Years of work & “personal experience.” Beat reporters, a lawyer, a scientist. Yet, NOT ONE LATINX. Please, @latinorebels, let me write a piece that screams what 60 million have to say about this pic.twitter.com/yIWl6ptJf4
— J. Israel Balderas, Esq. (@jisraelbalderas) January 19, 2020
Another matter that we share is the reply mentioned at the top from Times editorial board member Jeneen Interlandi. To my post, Interlandi commented, “Hi. I am Colombian. Born in Medellin. Naturalized at 20.”
Hi. I am Colombian. Born in Medellin. Naturalized at 20. https://t.co/GtRH44uAqM
— Jeneen Interlandi (@JInterlandi) January 19, 2020
She posted the same reply to Cuauhtémoc García Hernández. But to my post, Interlandi replied a second time within minutes of the first with an addition. “I am also a lapsed scientist. And if you must know, come from a deeply working class background.”
I am also a lapsed scientist. And if you must know, come from a deeply working class background.
— Jeneen Interlandi (@JInterlandi) January 19, 2020
Replying solely to @JInterlandi, Melinda Wedding wrote, “I’ll be curious if he replies or if he thinks you’re not LatinX enough. Proof we shouldn’t assume based on surnames.”
I’ll be curious if he replies or if he thinks you’re not LatinX enough.
Proof we shouldn’t assume based on surnames.
— Melinda Wedding (@MelindaMWedding) January 19, 2020
To Wedding’s point, she was correct. I allowed by personal experience and bias cloud my judgment. Growing up in a mostly Mexican-American border town, one gets used to hearing surnames like García, Hernández, Contreras, Bocanegra and González. As of July 1, 2018, there are 59.9 million “people of Hispanic origin,” according to U.S. Census data. We are now the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority constituting “18.3% of the nation’s total population.” That’s the equivalent of three out of 17 Times board members. According to Pew Research, Mexicans “make up 62% of Latinos.” The next two largest U.S. Hispanic groups by origin are Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans.
Interlandi joined the Times in April, 2018 as both an editorial member and staff writer for the magazine, according to a Times Company press release. She was hired to write about health, science and education. Her biography is quite phenomenal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University. At Columbia University, Interlandi received dual master’s degrees in journalism and environmental science. She was a 2009 Kaiser Fellow and a 2013 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. In 2014, she was a Pulitzer Traveling grantee, “for which she spent five weeks reporting from within the Hungarian Roma community,” the Times press release noted.
“I studied climate change in the Arctic; epigenetics in the immune system; and behavioral conditioning in alcohol-addicted rats,” Interlandi writes on her personal web page. “I also formulated vaccines in a pharmaceutical lab.” She describes her past life as a a wandering scientist. Add humor to this outstanding portfolio.
As a Texan-American with a Mexican heart, I’m proud that this accomplished journalist, born in Colombia, adopted by Sicilian-Americans and raised in central New Jersey made it to the most important news boardroom. Furthermore, Interlandi’s personal and professional experience will be incredibly valuable as Editorial Page Editor James Bennett and his team champion “the fearless exchange of information and ideas” in 2020. As the editorial board members section touts, it’s “the surest means of… realizing human potential.”
But let’s not kid ourselves. The current New York Times editorial board doesn’t fully reflect the diversity of the U.S. Latino community. And I’m not talking about ideological diversity. There’s only so much one can expect from a newspaper company headquartered in the bluest of cities located in the bluest of states.
Nonetheless, I hope if I question again in hastiness the racial diversity of the New York Times editorial board, that more accomplished Latinx journalists will reply with a correction. I also hope their personal experiences will include living along the Texas border, or perhaps growing up along Calle Ocho in Little Havana; in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, or the colorful neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. Educational, cultural and geographic diversity should matter to the makeup of American newsrooms, especially the New York Times. It would be nice to see at the Times editorial board a journalist who graduated from The Sam Donaldson Center of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, for instance. That kind of personal and educational experience lends an important voice to the fearless exchange of information and ideas.
There are millions of accomplished individuals who will check the box on question 8 of the Census 2020 questionnaire. One of them will certainly be Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, whose CV on his personal webpage is 29 pages long. Like him, many others are realizing the human potential through hard work and perseverance. A few have arrived to the top, but the data shows many more are left out of TV and cable news, Hollywood, the halls of Capitol Hill, corporate offices and academe.
Speaking for myself, please accept this heartfelt apology, Jeneen Interlandi. Your work speaks for itself. Now that you’re at the Times editorial board, you’ll certainly be in a position to be a trailblazer for other accomplished Hispanics.
J. Israel Balderas, Esq. teaches journalism and media law at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is an Emmy-award winning TV journalist and lawyer. He’s also the recipient of the 2019-2020 Solutions Journalism Network LEDE Fellowship. Most recently, he produced an award-winning news documentary titled “Four Families in Mafraq,” which investigated the living conditions of Syrian refugees stranded in Northern Jordan. He tweets from @jisraelbalderas.