Latino journalist Jorge Ramos commands more than 2 million viewers every night with his Spanish-language newscast, Noticiero Univision. He’s the second-most recognized Latino personality in the United States, after Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The 57-year-old Mexican-American periodista, who also hosts a Spanish-language Sunday political show and a weekly news magazine in English on Fusion, spoke at Harvard’s Institute of Politics Tuesday night before an audience mostly made up of Latino students.
Ramos is revered among Latinos. His Q-score, the industry’s measure of consumer appeal of celebrities and brands, is up there with Shakira’s and soccer superstar Lionel Messi’s. But he also has credibility. He told a funny anecdote that illustrates just that. “Every year in Miami we ‘kill’ Fidel Castro two or three times a year. One time I was in line behind a couple and one of them was saying, ‘Fidel Castro died.’ And the other person said, ‘Until Jorge Ramos and Univision say it, I don’t believe it.’ ”
Ramos, whose daughter Paola is a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School, discussed the future of news and Latinos, the overwhelming support Latinos have for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the new era of openness with Cuba. “Two Hispanic candidates are running for the White House for the first time in history — and both of them are Cuban-Americans,” he said, adding that the first Latino to run for president was Republican Ben Fernandez in the 1980s, followed by Bill Richardson in 2008.
Here are the key takeaways from his talk:
No one can win the White House without the Hispanic vote. Ramos’s major theme was the newfound and incremental power of Latinos as a political force. “Absolutely no one can make it to the White House without the Hispanic vote. Republicans need at least 33 percent of the Latino vote if they want to win in 2016. McCain didn’t get it in 2008. Romney got 27 percent in 2012. And here’s a word of advice. If you’re a Republican and want the Hispanic vote, don’t propose self-deportation,” he said to roaring applause.
“If a Republican candidate continues to say stuff like that, they’re going to lose. They realize now that they have to talk to me, they have to talk to Univision. That’s a power we didn’t have before. It didn’t use to be true but it is cool to be a Latino now. There’s a joke I used to say: ‘How do you translate George Bush into Spanish? It’s Jorge Ramos.’ ”
Ramos added he’s interviewing Republican candidate Marco Rubio Wednesday.
How can Republicans appeal to US Latinos? An audience member wondered what issues Republicans can use to attract the Latino vote, outside of immigration. Ramos answered: “Ronald Reagan used to say: Latinos are Republicans – they just don’t know it yet. Regarding values and principles, our community is still very traditional when it comes to abortion, religious freedoms, the importance of family, gay marriage, etc. And those values are something that Republicans could have used a long time ago. The truth is, you can have the best economic plan, the best jobs plan, you can do whatever you want. But if at the same time you are saying, ‘get out of this country,’ then it won’t work. Immigration is so close to our heart that we can’t put it aside.”
Ramos explained the obvious: that Republicans hold the key right now in Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. If they do, “I guarantee you that Latinos would vote Republican,” he said.
But realistically speaking, immigration reform is not going to happen soon.
Sad face. And because millions of people will remain undocumented, Ramos believes that a whole generation of Latinos is being sacrificed for the next generation, which will presumably benefit by a friendlier US immigration system. He expressed doubt about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the executive action enacted in 2012 by President Obama to benefit youth who were brought in undocumented as children. “If Hillary wins, [DACA] will continue. If a Republican wins, I don’t know what will happen to DACA.”
Ramos mentioned a poll conducted by ABC News last week showing that Latinos are overwhelmingly supporting Hilary Clinton over presumptive Republican candidate Jeb Bush: 71 percent vs. 26 percent.
Cuba was the elephant in the room in any conversation about US foreign policy in Latin America, but not anymore. It’s a fact: Obama’s legacy will be ushering a fresh new era in US-Latin America relations. “Our relationship with the region has already improved. What Obama did with Cuba, a country that the rest of Latin America loves and defends, has been one of the most important steps any American president has taken in regards to Latin America. Plus, Obama did it with the most American idea: if something that has been done for 50 years doesn’t work, it’s time to try something new.”
The future of Spanish-language news looks good. Ramos said the future of Spanish-language media is assured for decades. “Despite the fact that the growth in the Latino community comes from births, there’s about 1 or 2 million new immigrants every single year. So that guarantees the growth of the Spanish-language news market. Do you know what was the most-watched TV show on Sunday night? It wasn’t the season premiere of Game of Thrones; it wasn’t the MTV movie awards; it was Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina.” He’s right: Univision ranked No. 1 among key demographics regardless of language Sunday night. Seven million people watched.
Marcela García is a Globe editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter: @marcela_elisa.