Sunday, June 23, 2024

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Cathy Areu "Soledad and Chris"


Latinovations would like to thank Cathy Areu  for her contribution to La Plaza.

I wonder if Soledad O’Brien and Chris Rock are friends. After a week like the last one, they should be.

Both these celebrities – no doubt at the top of their games in their respective fields – took a chance, a risk if you will, away from their mainstream careers to something more personal, and more controversial. They both tackled racism and ethnicity in the U.S. in two separate documentaries. Did they succeed? I think so.

Last week, Soledad, one of the country’s best-known journalists, brought us her four-hour, two-part documentary, Latino in America, on her network CNN. I’m not sure what the goal was, or who the demo was either, but I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, a major news network was discussing Latinos all day everyday (the promotion of the documentary was non-stop) and I loved it. I saw middle class and celebrity Latinos plastered on CNN each day, telling their own stories of being Latino in America. The documentary helped start the discussion, and, maybe for the first time in cable TV history, Latinos were actually invited to the table. How many times have we seen the non-Hispanic white newsman discuss ethnicity in America with his just-as-non-Hispanic colleagues?

And then there was Soledad. She was plastered all over CNN – literally, from dusk to dawn – with promo after promo for the documentary.  And, besides the promos with Soledad, there was Soledad herself, prominently featured on most of CNN’s other shows – from Campbell Brown to CNN. Com – talking about being a Latina in America. The only sight more popular on CNN last week, other than Soledad’s face, was the CNN logo itself. And that’s a good thing for Latinos. A successful, intelligent, well-spoken Latina journalist was featured practically 23 hours a day on one of TV’s most popular channels. In all of my years of being Latina in the US, I’ve never seen one of us in the spotlight like that.

And then, almost coincidentally, there was Chris Rock, one of the funniest comedians alive – plastered all over Tyra, Oprah, and every entertainment show in between – talking about, you guessed it, being black in America. I’m not sure if Soledad and Chris timed it this way (I’m pretty sure they didn’t), but his documentary, Good Hair, premiered the same week as CNN’s Latino in America aired. Like Soledad, Chris was highlighting his community through topics rarely shown in mainstream media. What a departure from telling jokes for an HBO special. Chris was on a mission to show a side of his community that perhaps he felt others couldn’t tell. Sound familiar? I know Soledad had the same mission. “We must tell our own stories,” is what they were thinking, I’m sure. (As a Latina who owns a magazine for Hispanic women, I can tell you that that’s exactly what they were thinking.)

But I’m not the only one who noticed Soledad and Chris’ efforts, and risks, in highlighting their communities at this point in their careers. In a review of Good Hair, USA today wrote: ” … following his search for answers, the movie manages to be at once funny, fascinating and heartbreaking. But it also has spurred unprecedented conversations among whites and blacks about … hair.”

Both the journalist and the comedian set out to spur unprecedented conversations – about black hair, racism, and all that goes with these touchy subjects. In my book, both succeeded. Love or hate these documentaries, they got people talking. And when it comes to ethnic battles and divisions, more talk is what we all need.

“But even those who have issues with Good Hair aren’t condemning the film entirely, … [Rock] is applauded for at least raising the subject,” USA Today’s review went on. I think the same should be said about Soledad’s documentary. I applaud her for raising the subject, and putting herself out there, as a proud Latina. We should all applaud her for being so bold and tackling one of the toughest topics to dissect in any society – ethnicity.

After a week like the last one, Soledad and Chris have so much to discuss. Perhaps the making of Latino in America, Part 2 and Good Hair 2? I’m sure that’s something they’ll talk about, if they’re friends.

Cathy Areu is the publisher of CATALINA, a magazine founded in 2001 “for the mind, body, and soul of today’s Latina,” and the author of Latino Wisdom. She has also been a contributing editor for the Washington Post Magazine since 2000.


  1. I like this piece. However, I was disappointed at the negativity in Soledad’s documentary…there was hardly any success stories. Shows we have a long way to go perhaps, or we are hurting ourselves by only focusing on the negative aspects.

  2. I agree completely. I applaud both of these celebrities for going out on a limb and putting these race issues in our face. It forces us to think and that is a good thing.
    We all complain that celebs are out of touch and are just doing fluff material for status and money. Well these 2 aren’t.

  3. Sylvia Trujillo says

    Cathy, I am glad you wrote this piece because you raise a valid point — the media exposure leading up to the show was incredible, unprecedented, and welcome. I have to agree with Enrique though. I walked away from the two night event with a very sour taste in my mouth and a resolve to figure out how to highlight and provide exposure for the real Latino in America. Soledad’s should have been dubbed Down and Out in America – Latino Style. While I think she addressed issues we as a community and a country must address, I was taken aback that the overall picture she painted that 1) Latinos are immigrants — most of us are not; 2) the Latina narrative in this country overwhelmingly is that we drop-out of school and have babies — hardly a full and accurate picturet; 3) Latina moms do not support their daughters –wow, as a Harvard / Berkeley educated Latina that could not be further from the truth for all of the Latino/a classmates I had whose mothers thought we could and should reach the stars; and 4) our neighborhoods and existence is wrought with violence, despair, and no hope.

    I think Soledad painted a picture of pathologies much like an anthropologist. It is too bad that with a few limited and rare exceptions in her story telling she missed out on all the beauty, power, grace, strength, HISTORY, trailblazing, and progress of our community.

    Soledad inspired me. She inspired me to think hard about how I will find venues to communicate the true beauty and diversity of being Latino/a in America.