Although I give CNN credit for taking on race, a topic journalism is notoriously bad at exploring, I wasn't that impressed with the results of Soledad O'Brien's reporting in "Black in America," parts one or two.
Still, I went in with an open-mind when I got the screener for "Latino in America" (tonight and Thursday at 9).
In fact, I got excited when I read the synopsis of the first two-hour report. Garcia is now one of the most popular surnames in America (CNN says it's number 8), so the report tells the story of Garcias across the country. Among them is Bill and Betty Garcia (that's them in the picture) a couple who moved from New York to Charlotte to have a better life. Bill is Puerto Rican and Betty is Dominican, and while they have the lawn and home they wanted, the fear that their sons are not getting the rich Latino experience in Charlotte that the couple got in New York.
One of the things I most disliked about "Black in America" was that it spent a lot of time telling about the African-American experience through problems, instead of actual experience. The "Garcias" approach, on the other hand, almost demands intimate storytelling; it's a great way to get at the complexity and diversity of Latinos.
Alas, I didn't get to see Bill and Betty's story. CNN sent me a bum DVD with a scratch so deep the three players I tried using stopped in the same spot. But the 8 minutes or so that I did see where promising.
Throughout "The Garcias," Soledad talked to celebrity Latinos to get their stories. I went to iTunes and watched the Eva Longoria Parker and George Lopez interviews. I guess you need the celebs to attract some viewers, but those two didn't say anything particularly illuminating.
The scratch, happily, didn't affect the second two-hour segment "Chasing the Dream." In that report, Soledad interviews former Sen. Mel Martinez who fled Cuba; explores the plight of young illegal immigrants held in detention camps; talks to some in the wave of Puerto Ricans moving to Orlando; revisits the case of Luis Ramirez, who was beat to death in Shenandoah, PA; and visits Pico Rivera, a suburb of Los Angeles that some call the "Latino Mayberry."
I liked this part less; for me, it veered off the theme too often, trying to tell more about programs and issues that have been explored before. The Orlando reporting mined the idea of chasing the dream best, maybe because the conversation moves away from illegal immigration since Puerto Ricans are American citizens who happen to speak Spanish.
According to "Latinos in America," there are 51 million Latinos in America; the group is on the verge of being officially named the largest minority group in the nation. It's clear our country is still grappling with immigration, race, language and culture. "Latino in America" is an accessible way to start the conversations we need to have.
Both parts air twice more each night at midnight and 3 a.m.