José Díaz-Balart talks to María Cruz Ramírez, a mother about to be separated from her three children and who is protesting for action on immigration reform, on msnbc, September 22, 2014.
Screenshot via msnbc

The right accent: #ImBilingual

Updated

In life, it’s important to know what parts to accent, and when. Recently, a radio host attacked me for speaking Spanish on my English-language television show on msnbc. This person was offended that I used Spanish when interviewing an undocumented immigrant mother from Mexico who is fighting to avoid deportation.

After 30 years in television, I’m used to criticism, and I didn’t let the negative comments affect me. What I didn’t expect was the reaction to the attack: tens of thousands of people expressed their outrage that someone in the 21st Century would publicly mock a person for speaking two languages fluently and giving a voice to immigrants.

“That’s how I’d like this story to be told…in the voices of those who won’t let others tell them how to talk or what to say, who should or shouldn’t be heard, what to think, and much less in which language to dream.”
José Díaz-Balart
That’s the part I want to accent. Not the ghosts of the past, which can only frighten us if we let them, but the present, and the millions of us in the United States who know that belonging to two cultures is a privilege.

Throughout my career in journalism I have always made an effort to let the protagonists of the news tell their stories. As I see it, my job is to find ways for these voices to express themselves directly, without intermediaries. In my interviews and reporting for Telemundo and msnbc, I give priority to people who are affected first-hand by the events in the news. The face of immigration reform isn’t only a politician who speaks perfect English, or an “expert” on the issues. The face of immigration reform is also María Cruz Ramírez, the mother about to be separated from her three children because of our country’s disastrous immigration system. That shouldn’t scandalize anybody. 

And that’s how I’d like this story to be told: from those messages and comments supportive of our community posted on social networks with the hashtag #ImBilingual; in the voices of those who won’t let others tell them how to talk or what to say, who should or shouldn’t be heard, what to think, and much less in which language to dream. That’s where we should place the accent, on our country’s present and its future. No matter who gets offended.

MSNBC Live with José Díaz-Balart, 9/22/14, 10:46 AM ET

Undocumented mothers protest for reform

José Díaz-Balart talks with Maria Cruz, an undocumented mother who protested outside the DNC headquarters, about the situation facing undocumented immigrants.

A Spanish version of this op-ed appeared in La Opinion and El Diario on Friday, October 3, 2014.

The right accent: #ImBilingual

Updated