Multilingual and ethnic media join the discussion surrounding March For Our Lives
When 17 children were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, the usual, rehearsed national mechanisms were triggered. News coverage, outrage, grief, public acknowledgement of pure tragedy of losing young lives, and plenty of #thoughtsandprayers.
But this time, something was different. A perfect storm perhaps, where students and teachers had been engaging in meaningful conversation about gun control, even on the day that 17 of their classmates would be killed by an AR-15. It could be the fact that the US saw their largest mass shootings in decades in 2017, helped by the fact that the average income for parents living in the district was around $130,000 a year--meaning these kids were educated and felt empowered.
Regardless, the Parkland students have started a national movement, acknowledging their privilege and working hard to include youth from minority communities who face gun violence every day. They made a call for action, and their actions rose to a force this past weekend across the country and around the world, as millions of youth and adults joined student leaders in over 70 “March For Our Lives” events.
After the shooting in Parkland, ethnic media across the country took part in the conversation, which has only grown in volume and weight since then.
As students painted their posters and packed their bags in anticipation for the March—happening not just in Washington, but cities from coast to coast—ethnic and multilingual media were publishing editorial, opinion and feature stories.
Hoy Los Angeles spoke with Edna Chávez, one of 15 students from LA to attend the march in Washington. Her “goal” she said, was to “draw attention to a wider type of violence, one that permeates her community almost every day.” This point of view was expressed often in ethnic media from Spanish or African American communities.
Reports from all languages across the country covered the events of the day. The figures stating the number of attendees wasn’t always consistent, but the message these students set out to share was being heard: Better gun control, now. Italian La Voce di New York said you’d have to go back to the Vietnam war to see protests on this scale. Voice of America Urdu called the marches “some of the biggest US youth demonstrations for decades.” And described the the whole day, including the moment when Pro-Trump counter protesters arrived at the end of the rally in New York, as “what democracy looks like.”
There was coverage of celebrity appearances and shutouts, from Obama and Hilary Clinton’s tweet of support, to mentions of Amy Schumer. But the majority of coverage was focused on the students and their messaging.
The Epoch Times reported on the White House applauding the students and activists saying “keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President” and cited a poll saying that 53% of Americans said protecting people from guns is more important than protecting their right to own arms. However, in Hoy Los Angeles, authors Michael Livingston, David Savage, David Montero criticized the governments’ lack of support for the students saying “Neither President Trump nor the Republican-controlled Congress support the students' proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity devices,” adding that “Trump was not at the Capitol to hear the roar of the march and the students' speeches, as he spent Saturday at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida.”
New York’s The World Journal, a Chinese source, was among the outlets reminding readers of the “serious differences” among Americans around opinions on gun control. Sing Tao Daily in San Francisco quoted David Farmer from Maine who had lead gun control efforts back in 2016, warning that the argument was lost “at the kitchen table, the bar and the bowling alley." Adding that "The gun enthusiasts eventually persuaded people to their side in one-on-one encounters with their friends and relatives and neighbors.” A commentary in La Voce di New York by Vito De Simone predicts all the effort will be “for nothing.” Saying that “the problem is the government has fallen into the hands of powerful interests.” Absent from the coverage, however, were any strong pro-gun sentiments in editorial and opinion pieces, as well in news reports.
Reflecting upon the impact of the marches Voice of America Ukrainian reported “Among the issues facing the organizers and participants of the march will be how to translate a one-day event, regardless of the number of participants, into meaningful legislative changes. Similarly, an editorial from Miami’s El Nuevo Herald heeds the same warning. Saying that “a difficult and uphill path follows.” It continues to say that “the NRA has a lot of money” and guns are going to stay on the streets, whether they are legal or illegal. “Life is going to go on,” the editorial says “which creates the possibility that the revolution will lose momentum.”
Sing Tao USA out of New York reported on a more hopeful effect of the March, saying that normally the NRA controls the discussion on gun control, but now that political discussions have started, voters can take “the details of the gun bill into further considerations, and the situation changes.”
As students returned to their homes and classrooms this week, it is possible that the adults doing the reporting were unable to feel and communicate just exactly all they were feeling. After speaking in Washington on Saturday, Edna Chávez added to her comments that in her community in South Los Angeles gun violence has become “normal.” She said that she and her classmates have committed to putting an end not only to the mass shootings, but also to the violence that families suffer from day to day.”
As this issue remains in the forefront of Americans’ minds, there is great value in listening to these communities, especially Hispanic and African American, for whom the issue of gun violence is a “normal” part of their daily lives.
Edna Chávez from South Los Angeles' speech. She talked about gun violence being 'normal' in racialized communities like hers.
Beyond mirroring the mainstream emphasis on gun control and mental health, ethnic community media also reflect perspectives that are more prevalent in newcomer communities. Some are shared among them - especially the perception that this was a hate crime - while others are specific to certain communities.
On Valentine's Day, MIREMS’ home state of Florida became the site of one of the world's deadliest school massacres, with 17 fatalities and 15 victims hospitalized.
While mainstream media focused on the course of events, the perpetrator's mental health, the FBI failure to follow up on a related tip and renewed calls for gun control, particularly from student survivors, MIREMS reviewed ethnic media’s response to the incident. MIREMS focused on the opinion, feature and editorial stories — amidst the flood of news stories — that shed light on how unique ethnic groups might experience the tragedy differently.
In the week after the shooting, we compiled 50 articles and broadcasts from the African American, Arabic, Caribbean, Chinese, French, Haitian, Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian media in Miami, Chicago, New York, Washington (DC), Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
Opinion stories from all these ethnic communities advocated better gun control regulations. Frustration with prolonged government failure to act, making the government complicit with perpetrators, and the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) over politicians are especially palpable in Hispanic, Italian and African American media. Spanish dailies in Miami wondered: "How many times do we have to live through this nightmare? What is failing in the system so that we already have a total of 1,827 deaths and 3,142 wounded from gun shots at this point in the year?" (Diario las Americas, Miami, 16 Feb. 2018). "Once again, a terrible lethal weapon has fallen into the hands of someone who shouldn't have it" (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, 14 Feb. 2018). The Nuevo Herald also ran several articles criticizing NRA donations to politicians.
The sense of outrage with the lack of control on firearms was also felt in an Italian daily paper, La Voce di New York: "How did a 19-year-old orphan expelled from school with known mental problems get an assault rifle and keep it at home?" (15 Feb. 2018). The Afro-American Chicago Crusader pointed out it is "easier to buy a weapon of war in Florida than it is for a woman to get an abortion" and reported that "the NRA is actually investing money in teaching young people how to shoot" (16 Feb. 2018). Afro-American The Miami Times quoted Broward County Vice Mayor Mark Bogen reflecting on how "absurd" and hypocritical President Trump's visit to the victims is because his regulatory changes allow "allow mentally ill people to purchase guns" (16 Feb. 2018). Notably, not a single ethnic media source advocated against gun control or for arming school personnel.
The other common preoccupation in the ethnic media, like the mainstream, was with the perpetrator's mental health. A Spanish daily paper in New York spoke of the Department for Children and Families in Florida releasing a document about Nikolas Cruz showing that he suffered from depression, autism and ADHD, which they considered key to understanding the boy (El Diario, NY, 19 Feb. 2018). One of the national Chinese weekly papers reported that Cruz was an "outcast" who was "crazy about guns" (The Epoch Times, Los Angeles, 15 Feb. 2018). An Arabic weekly paper in New York reflected that "the most bizarre thing in the Parkland crime is that it was expected. The murderer had shown obvious signs of a disrupted psychological, social and family life." The article mused that America's emphasis on "individual freedom" allows everyone to carry guns and to choose their health insurance, which "has deprived millions of Americans of health insurance" and propagates the idea of arming good people to fight armed bad people despite its "obvious foolishness" (Al Hayat Newspaper, NY, 16 Feb. 2018). The national Spanish TV station Univision reports that the shooter's peers "were concerned about the comments he would make" and that Cruz "had been expelled from the school for bad behavior" (Univision, NY, 14 Feb. 2018).
While ethnic media shared concerns with the mainstream American media, they also reflect perspectives that are more prevalent in immigrant communities. Some are shared across communities, especially the perception that this was a hate crime. A Russian weekly paper notes that Cruz was a racist: " Despite his Hispanic roots, he hurled slurs at African Americans and Muslims and had ties to white supremacists" (Chicago News, Chicago, 16 Feb. 2018). One of the Spanish daily papers in New York ran multiple articles on how "Nikolas Cruz hated "Jews, Afro-Americans and immigrants" (Diario de Mexico USA, NY, 17 Feb. 2018) and "was member of a chat room where he expressed a desire to eliminate members of the Jewish, immigrant, gay and Afro-American communities" (Diario de Mexico USA, NY, 20 Feb. 2018). The New York based and nationally influential Jewish daily JTA also reported at length on how "Nikolas Cruz made anti-Semitic and racists comments in a private chat group" (18 Feb. 2018).
Other concerns are unique to one ethnic group. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, served an area that was 30 to 40 percent Jewish, forming a tight-knit local community. Five of the victims were Jewish. Jewish media focused on the vigils and funeral services in the community, as well as responses from community leaders including the sheriff and local rabbis. The national website Chabad.org reported: "Even after the bullets stopped—and the students and adults who were murdered were identified—Chabad rabbis in Parkland, Fla., say the tragedy in their community is just beginning to unfold. 'This is a small community, where nearly half of the population is Jewish, so everyone has been touched by what has happened,' Rabbi Shuey Biston told Chabad.org (15 Feb. 2018). JTA featured Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, the county’s first Jewish sheriff, who led the police response to the school shooting (15 Feb. 2018).
The Ukrainian media also presented a unique angle. In addition to calls for tighter arms control, Voice of America Ukrainian reported that Russian bots had "intensified propaganda" for gun control. " Two days after the tragic shooting at a Florida high school, a large amount of material in support of weapons ownership appeared on Twitter pages. These pages are linked to Russian accounts" (VOA, Washington, 16 Feb. 2018). This contrasts with mainstream reports like those in The New York Times that the bots spread messaging both for and against gun control in order to inflame divisions in the country.
An overview of diverse ethnic media shows that minority communities, who are so often painted as perpetrators but who also bear the brunt of violence in the US, tend to support stricter gun control as well as attention to mental health issues. In addition, they can offer unique perspectives, depending on location and ethnicity, which add value to social, political and economic analysis.
Theses perspectives are made available by careful curation and translation by MIREMS consultants who use their knowledge of both linguistic and cultural differences to perform cross-cultural translation.
Written by Silke Reichrath