There are moments in every organizer’s life that he/she will never forget. I have many, but perhaps one of the most humorous was when I found myself as the featured guest on a sexually-themed Spanish-language late-night call-in show.
Yes, true story.
Organizers who work in immigrant communities know that ethnic media are very important in reaching the target audience. They have a level of trust that traditional media sources do not (sometimes well-deserved, sometimes not, because some language-minority media are heavily corporate-controlled and not always focused on the interests of the community), and they have a saturation within the community that few other media can match.
As an organizer within the Latino immigrant community, then, I was very comfortable working with Spanish-language radio shows. One of our key leaders, in fact, was the daughter of a prominent local DJ, and we received a lot of free, very good coverage through our strong relationships. They promoted our fundraisers, did on-air interviews so that I could explain legislation, encouraged people to participate in advocacy, and turned out to do remote broadcasts from our rallies and legislative days. It was a huge part of our mobilization effort, from which came some people who later became core leaders.
For an upcoming fundraising event, I wanted to reach a lot of youth, and my research and conversations with youth leaders in the community revealed that, among Latino immigrant young people, the most popular local radio personality was one Mario Canedo. His show started at like 10PM, but this was before I had kids, so I was working then anyway! I called him on the phone, explained who I was, and we had a great conversation–he was very well-versed in politics, had a good consciousness of the issues, and clearly saw his role as including information dissemination and building connections among his listeners. He invited me to come into the station for an on-air interview the next evening and promised me 30 minutes of time, spread out over 90 minutes or so, so that we’d retain good audience share. He asked me to send him some information on the event and our issue priorities so that he could prepare.
He was just as friendly and intelligent in person, and so I settled into the booth, put my headphones on, and got ready. And then the heavy breathing started. And the moaning. Mario looked nonplussed–he was searching the Univisión website, which had a vote breakdown on HR4437. Sexual innuendo in Spanish came from my headphones. And then Mario flipped the switch and said, in a sultry/playful voice, “Ya es hora de comenzar…a la cama con Canedo!” “Now it’s time to begin…to bed with Canedo.”
Yes, I was on the late-night program, the name of which I had neglected to ask, where the Spanish music was interspersed with bawdy chatter and all of that recorded sex. I think my eyes got huge, because, at the next break, Mario asked if it was my first time to listen to the show. Um, what was your first clue?
Truly, it was a successful show–he toned down the rowdiness a bit for me (especially when it was obvious I didn’t get most of his jokes, and not because of a language barrier!), and several of the callers were sincerely enthusiastic about our advocacy. I think I stopped blushing about halfway through. And when I checked my voicemail later that night, I had two nearly unintelligible messages from our youth leaders who were laughing so hard that they could barely get a word out. I’m glad that I could make their night.
It was a good lesson for me, in all, in the importance of really knowing the community in which you’re organizing. I certainly was much more at home in Spanish-language media than most non-Latinos, but I could have benefitted from a bit more research in advance. Listen to the programs you’re going to be on, and always use indigenous ‘guides’ as you’re exploring new media.
At the same time, how many immigrant rights organizers can say that they’ve also been a guest on a sex radio show, right? So there’s always that.