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Author Traces Growth of Hispanic Entertainment in US


One in seven Americans is Hispanic, and Latin culture is making its mark on American entertainment. Mike O'Sullivan spoke with Eliot Tiegel, author of the book Latinization of America, about the growing impact of the Spanish language and Latino culture in music, film, broadcasting and sports.

Latino culture has changed entertainment in cities like Los Angeles, where Spanish-language broadcasts span the radio dial.

There are 18 Spanish radio stations in Los Angeles. There are eight Spanish television outlets in and around the city, including channel 34, the flagship station of Spanish-language media network Univision.

Longtime entertainment reporter Eliot Tiegel says in the early 1990s, Spanish radio stations soared to the top of the ratings in Los Angeles, and by the mid-1990s, Spanish television topped the list of local newscasts in some time slots.

"At six o'clock at night, all of a sudden, the Univision local news was out-rating all the network affiliate stations," Tiegel said. "That shook up everybody."

He says other cities have also seen growth in the Hispanic population and a surge in Spanish media.

"New York, Miami, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston," he said. "The border states are very big."

The Hispanic population is also growing in the Midwest and other parts of the country, and big entertainment companies are paying attention. In 2001, General Electric, owner of the NBC network, bought the Spanish broadcaster Telemundo.

"Because of this growing population of second and third generation Hispanics, teenagers [and] people in their 20s, who do speak Spanish at home with the grandparents and the parents, but they have discovered that in America, their prime language is English," said Tiegel. "Three television networks are taking a very strong approach to this."

New bicultural cable and satellite outlets that target young Hispanics include the English-language Si TV, and Telemundo Mun2 and MTV Tr3s. They are bilingual.

Latinos are also making their mark in English-language television. Comedian George Lopez had a hit comedy on the ABC network for five years. When he helped announce nominees for the music industry's Grammy Awards this month, he began the announcement in Spanish.

[Greets people in Spanish, then switches to English] "Sorry, I forget it's still English, just for a few more years," he said.

Latin music is thriving and has its own Latin Grammy Awards, which Lopez has hosted twice.

Tiegel says in the music world, there are Spanish-language superstars with best-selling albums. Some Latino artists have crossed over to become popular with English audiences.

"You have two different parallel industries," explained Tiegel. "You have Spanish music superstars who are largely unknown in the Anglo world. Then you have these crossover Latin acts like Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera and Mark Anthony and Ricky Martin, who are covered by English-language media."

And English-speaking fans buy their records.

Tiegel says Latino actors are making inroads in Hollywood, from Mexican-born Salma Hayek to Spanish-born Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

Tiegel's book is encyclopedic. At more than 1,200 pages, it also chronicles the growth of Latin influence in the sports of boxing, horse racing, and baseball. The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, whose parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic, is the highest-paid baseball player ever.

The book tells the story of the writer's own interaction with Latino culture. As a young man in New York, he fell in love with the music of Cuba - mambo and Latin jazz. He says those sounds, once heard only on low-power radio stations, are now part of mainstream culture, as Hispanics change the sights and sounds of America.

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