december coverNo Apologies, No Borders

Rick Sanchez spent the last year wandering through the wilderness. But the former CNN host used his time creatively. He had the chance to reflect, re-energize, and re-engage. And, along the way, Sanchez discovered a new and exciting world. And, to go with it, a new language: Spanglish.

Not that kind of Spanglish. Not the intermixing of English and Spanish to create a new dialect. Rather, what gets Sanchez’ blood pumping these days is the intertwining of two cultures to create a new cultural distinction. It’s the future, folks. And Sanchez wants to be our guide.

He may just get that opportunity along with many others he’s being offered in business, media, and entertainment. He is going places---again. It’s likely he’ll be in our living room---again. But he doesn’t ever again want to make the mistake of putting all his eggs in one basket. Instead, he wants to gather them up and spread them around.

Fully bilingual in English and Spanish, he might end up hosting both radio and television shows in both languages. Or producing and lending his voice to documentaries. Or creating television news shows. Or writing another book. Or helping to create a new television network aimed at Latinos. He’s going to need more baskets.

There is much to share. But, first, there is the matter of that infamous radio interview in October 2010 that closed a door but opened his eyes. Sanchez was trying to tell us something during that conversation on Pete Dominick’s Sirius/XM radio show. He wanted to say that, even for those Latinos who work hard enough and are lucky enough to land what seem to be great jobs in the media, the experience is sometimes not so great.

But Sanchez was interrupted---by misconstrued comments that some considered anti-Semitic, the lightning-quick firing by CNN, six months of introspection and meetings with Jewish organizations to learn about American Jews, and six more months learning Spanglish.

Most people assume that Sanchez was fired for saying that Jews control the media. But if you look at the transcript of that fateful conversation, you’ll see that Sanchez never said that or anything resembling it. The bomb started ticking when Sanchez complained that he was being mocked on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The ticking got louder when he tried to explain it by accusing Stewart of being “bigoted” toward “everybody else who is not like him.” Dominick, who used to work for Stewart, leapt to his defense and told Sanchez that Stewart couldn’t be bigoted---against anyone---because he is “a minority as much as you are” since he is Jewish. And the bomb went off when, in response to that remark, Sanchez chuckled and declared, about Jews, “yeah, very powerless people.” He added: “I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart…”

Boom! I used to appear on Rick’s List, Sanchez’s show on CNN, and, when all this happened, I wrote a couple of columns. I lamented the whole affair, but I also gave Sanchez respeto for always going to bat for Latinos. There he was, debating his one-time colleague, Lou Dobbs. Or challenging those border vigilantes, the Minutemen. Or dispelling the lies that get told about Latino immigrants. He deserved credit, and I gave it to him. Recently, we unpacked what happened at CNN, and then moved forward into a discussion about what happens from here.

“Life is sometimes like a paradox,” Sanchez told me. “Like the saying goes, it has to be cruel to be kind. One day, I complained that the media wasn’t diverse enough, and, within hours, suddenly the media became less diverse. And I’m not going to lie to you. It stung really, really bad at first. But as I got over that state that we all go through when we experience something like that, where I’m feeling sorry for myself, I started seeing some really incredible opportunities.”

You could say that some of these opportunities were always there, but that they were hiding---in plain sight. “Anytime in life we get a chance to step back from the rat race and take a look at ourselves,” he said, “we should become better. I think I have. The world we live in usually doesn’t allow for introspectiveness. Certainly not the world I was in, the world of cable news. Not when you’re turning out three broadcasts a day and writing and producing and hosting shows. Now, I have learned so much about myself in these last nine or ten months.”

I asked: “Like what?”

“What I’ve learned most of all,” he said, “is that this thing that made me leave my job in the broadcast industry was always really about diversity, not just in the media but society as a whole. I always felt like I was fighting this battle to convince people in my industry that we had something to contribute.”

When he mentions the word “diversity,” my friend lights up like, well, a television set.

“This goes right to the heart of, I guess, you know, what got me fired,” he said. “One of the reasons that we’re so misunderstood and so underrepresented is that we ourselves, as Latinos, live in two different camps. There is the Spanish-language camp that seldom mixes with the rest of the country. And then there is a “Spanglish” group that is younger and much more assimilated.”

And exploding in numbers. According to recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the National Council of La Raza and the Pew Hispanic Center, every month 50,000 U.S.-born Latinos turn 18 years old and thus become of voting age. The people in this younger and more assimilated demographic deserve a lot of attention. But they’re not getting much.

“Here’s the paradox,” Sanchez said. “Unlike the Spanish only group, that has huge radio presence, huge television presence, and even political clout, this newer and younger Spanglish camp is way, way underserved in those areas. It’s really weird. What I see now is that what behooves those of us who speak English and are assimilated is to find a way to use market forces to empower all Latinos nationally.”

By now, I’m intrigued. So I asked him: What does this group look like? What does it think? What are its values? He admits that, until recently, he had no idea that it even existed.

“I myself have always looked at it as two different communities,” Sanchez said. “I never saw it as one whole. I saw it as two pieces. What I’m learning now, and what most people would be wise to recognize, is that the future of this country is this new market – the Spanglish, the new, the young who say: ‘We don’t just speak Spanish and watch telenovelas. We are a people in the United States that wears Levis and goes to football games, and listens to rock music and we’re part of this whole world of multiculturalism and multilingualism that is completely untapped.’”

He went on: “They may speak some Spanish, no Spanish, a lot of Spanish, a little Spanish…they may want to dance salsa, they may not want anything to do with salsa. They might love telenovelas, or hate telenovelas. They might like Jorge Ramos, they might not know who the hell Jorge Ramos is. This is a totally different animal.”

It’s an animal that Sanchez wants to give voice to, and provide news for, and introduce to the rest of America: “I’ve been meeting with politicos on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “These are presidential candidates, congressmen, local officials. I’ve also been having meetings with members of the media, who, to their credit, want to better understand this developing trend, which seems to be passing most of them by.

“The most encouraging sign is the number of investors and media executives who have reached out to me not only to get a better understanding of this coming trend but also coming back and having discussions about how to lay out what I consider to be remarkable amounts of capital to make it happen and get onboard this runaway train.”

Sanchez envisions a new kind of broadcast media that draws from multiple cultures and uses more than one language, where viewers might hear a Spanish word now and then mixed in with the English. “That’s the way I talk when I talk with my friends,” he said. “If I get together with my buddies in Miami who I went to high school with, we’re in Spanish, we’re in English, then maybe three words in Spanish and three words in English. And we all know what we’re saying.”

The way that Sanchez sees it, this isn’t just about what language people speak. It’s deeper. It’s about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. “It’s the way that we who have been raised in the United States refer to ourselves,” he insisted. “We’ve had all the wonderful privileges of being American but at the same time, sharing something with each other. There is this part of us, there’s this piece of us that also makes us Latino. Sometimes, it’s linguistic. Often times, it’s cultural. Sometimes, it’s social. We know it when we hear it, and we know it when we see it.”

While Sanchez maintains that, for the most part, this epiphany came to him once he left CNN and had a chance to catch his breath, he also acknowledges that the seeds might have planted with something he became known for while working at the network. He was one of the first television anchors to incorporate Twitter, Facebook, and other social media into his newscasts. And it allowed him to communicate directly with viewers, many of whom were Latino.

“I started seeing it with the advent of social media,” he said. “As it turns out, Latinos use and disseminate information amongst each other more than just about any other group in the United States. So they were really turned in to what I was doing when I started turning my show into a hybrid, a traditional newscast/social media-based newscast. And that’s when I started having conversations with these people, in the office or later at home. And I quickly noticed they had this unique perspective to them that basically said: ‘Sometimes we just don’t like the traditional newscasts, as it has always been presented. Yet we want to be part of this conversation.’ And that’s when I started to realize that there is a whole bunch of people out there who feel as if they’re not being heard. and want to be.”

Sanchez hears those people, and he wants the new opportunities he has been offered to amplify their voice. It’s something he thinks will benefit not just those who want to have a say but the entire country.

“It comforts us as Americans of Latino descent to feel like we’re in the game,” he said. “And right now, that group of individuals in the United States is not in the game, and given their numbers, there really is no reason in the world that they shouldn’t be.”

Listen to the man. He’s right. Get in the game. Fight to have your say---in whatever language you want to have it. Media, like politics, is a contact sport. Take part, or get taken apart.

Rick Sanchez, son of Adela and Paco, is getting back in the game. He still has a lot more to say, and a new set of opportunities to say it in ways that are engaging, enlightening, and empowering. And this time, it’ll be on his terms---with no borders and no apologies.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, a contributor to, a commentator on National Public Radio, and author of A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano (Bantam).