Ethnic Media: Obama’s Tucson Speech Brings Hope, Temporarily

Ethnic Media: Obama’s Tucson Speech Brings Hope, Temporarily

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TUCSON, Ariz. – President Obama hoped to bring a healing touch with his speech in Tucson this week. Arizona’s diverse ethnic media gave him high marks but were not sure how long its impact would last.

“It brought a temporary time of comfort. Give it a week or so and we’ll be back at each other’s throats again,” said Tom Arviso, editor-in-chief of the Navajo Times. “Unfortunately it takes a tragedy to really humble us…to bring us to our knees, especially with the death of the young girl.”

But Arviso said it was still powerful to hear the message from a person of color at a time when the ethnic community in the state has been the target of polarizing legislation, from draconian attempts to control illegal immigration to a ban on the teaching of ethnic studies. It wouldn’t have been the same coming from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who is closely identified with these laws, said Arviso.

Several editors and publishers from Arizona’s Latino, Asian, black and Muslim media did hope that Obama’s speech could soothe Arizona’s political climate where the debate around immigration has been particularly rancorous.

“It makes a statement that he came into hostile territory to calm a [volatile] situation,” said Cloves Campbell, a former representative on the Arizona state legislature and the board chairman of the Arizona Informant that serves African Americans.

But even if there is a change in tone among Arizona’s politicians, few are counting on any change in substance.

“There might be a brief period of honeymoon, but that’s about it. I think people’s minds are set,” said Leung-Eng, editor-in-chief of the Asian American Times, who thought it was a healing speech that was aimed at no particular party.

“I think that maybe out of convenience, they’ll change their strategy of attack, but not because their heart has grown softer or because they changed their ideas or all of a sudden minorities and Latinos are the love of their life,” said Luis Manuel Ortiz, editor-in-chief of the statewide Spanish-language publication La Voz, referring to politicians like State Senator Russell Pearce who authored SB 1070, which made it a state crime to be an undocumented migrant.

Long before Jared Lee Loughner’s murderous rampage on Jan. 8, other politicians in Arizona faced hate mail and threats. Rep. Raul Grijalva had his office vandalized and received threats after he called for an economic boycott of the state after SB 1070 was signed into law. “All of us are expecting a change. We want a change [in the rhetoric],” said Grijalva. “What people are having problems understanding, and this applies particularly to the Latino community, is why does it have to be a tone that demonizes, criminalizes and makes less of people.”

The media hoped Obama’s message would address some of that bitterness.

“In challenges and tragedies like this, we all have to come together regardless of where we stand on the political land,” said Marwan Ahmed, editor and publisher of the Arab Voice and Muslim Voice. “As an American Muslim, I can definitely relate to this, because for so many years we’ve been targeted. People pointed fingers at us.”

Some in the media hope that progressives, who have been fighting an uphill battle in Arizona, will step up to the plate.

Carlos Galindo, a pro-immigrant activist and talk show host for Radio KAZA in Phoenix, said it would be a mistake to turn the tragedy in Tuscon into an immigration issue. But, he said, the Tucson shooting did have the potential to be a “game changer” for politics in Arizona. He said it remains to be seen “whether or not the Democrats, the progressives take advantage of this … whether or not they seize the moment and bring down the rhetoric of the right.”