“Sotomayor, she’s fantastic, but she struggles with Spanish,” Ramos says. “She spoke Spanish very slow.”
And, indeed, just minutes into the interview about her memoir, Sotomayor — who speaks good, but somewhat labored Spanish — was groping for a word. Rather than wait for a cue, she simply said it in English — “strengths” — and moved on.
Univision, already a goliath, sees another possible gold mine in the growing population of Latinos who, like Sotomayor, are more comfortable in English. The network is partnering with ABC News on a 24-hour news and information channel called Fusion set to debut in late summer.
The partners are especially interested in chasing second-generation Latinos, particularly millennials, the 20- and 30-somethings, who would rather communicate in English and may speak little or no Spanish. Witness Julian Castro, the boyish Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio thrust into national prominence by Democrats desperate for a Latino star, even though he doesn’t speak Spanish fluently.
It’s a risky and complicated endeavor but if they pull it off, they just might be creating a new cultural, economic and political force at the precise moment in American history when Hispanic power is in its steepest ascendance. The goal is no less than establishing the new network and the rest of Univision’s empire as the “Hispanic heartbeat of America,” says Cesar Conde, the silky smooth, 39-year-old president of Univision networks who was a White House fellow during the George W. Bush administration.
But beneath the grand rhetoric and the grand business plans, something much more subtle and much more interesting is at work. What they’re engaged in is a process of anthropological discovery. They’re trying to figure out who this new person is, this son of a Guatemalan maid who listens to the Black Keys and wants to be a doctor, this daughter of a Mexican fieldworker who watches “Girls” and is headed to Cornell in the fall. They’re trying to figure out what this new person wants to hear and, of course, what this new person wants to buy.
They’re trying to figure out how to talk to a new America. And they’re still not sure how to do it.
Making shows out of maybes
Walk down the back stairs of the modernist bungalow beneath the palms in Coconut Grove and your cellphone signal flags, sputters and dies. The downstairs room in the home of Isaac Lee, Univision’s 42-year-old news president, is a screening room now. But it was built by a previous owner as a fallout shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis era. Welcome to South Florida.