"We have to be on the opposite side of power, regardless of who is in the White House, a Democrat or a Republican.”
When Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos went mano a mano against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in an Iowa press conference in 2015, he didn’t blink. Ramos, a veteran reporter and anchor for the Spanish-language Univision network, questioned Trump’s bashing of Mexicans and U.S. immigration policy. But before Ramos could finish his question, Trump told him to “Go back to Univision” and had him forcibly ejected over Ramos’ protest: “I am a reporter, and as an immigrant and a U.S. citizen I have the right to ask a question.”
Then, as if on cue, a Trump supporter verbally attacked Ramos: “Get out of my country.” And while Ramos had met with a similar fate when he interviewed Fidel Castro in Cuba, he felt that this was different — it was happening in the United States.
“If Trump was willing to eject a legal immigrant with a U.S. passport and a nationally broadcast television show from a press conference, he would have no problem expelling the more vulnerable immigrants from the country,” Ramos writes in his new book, Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.
The morning after his ousting, Ramos’ fellow journalists criticized him. Politico’s Marc Caputo said Ramos was “explicitly advocating an agenda. Reporters can do this without being activists.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough accused him of trying to garner “15 minutes of fame. … pretending he was Walter Cronkite.” Former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, however, defended Ramos: “Jorge Ramos commits journalism and journalists attack him.”
Ramos was more philosophical. “Donald Trump has forced reporters to redefine journalism in the 21st century, and to understand that there’s a very important moral and ethical component to our profession,” he writes in Stranger. “We have to report reality as it is, not as we wish it would be. However, in very specific circumstances, we have to go beyond just reporting and take a stand. Now, in order to do that, you cannot be in bed with politicians. … By definition, real journalists are nonpartisan, and independence defines our job. We have to be on the opposite side of power, regardless of who is in the White House, a Democrat or a Republican.”
When he questioned then-president Barack Obama in 2014 over his deportation of more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, Ramos pressed the issue. The impasse resulted in Ramos being denied access to Obama for the rest of his term.
“Obama was annoyed by my continued insistence on the subject of deportations — how could we let that go? — and because we did not see the issue of repatriation in the same way. And while he protected thousands of Dreamers from deportation, he also destroyed thousands of Hispanic families. Perhaps it’s because we expected so much from him, and he didn’t deliver. Or maybe it hurts even more when someone close to you kicks you out of your own home.”
For Latinos and non-Latinos alike, Stranger is a firsthand account of the plight Latinos and undocumented immigrants continue to face in this country. It is also a reflection and a manifesto of a journalist who has given voice and a human face to those whose stories are reduced to audio blips on the nightly news. And it’s a clarion call to reaffirm that we are a nation of immigrants.
Ramos, 60, grew up in a middle-class Mexico City family. He quit his first job as a reporter at the government-aligned Televisa network when one of his reports was censored. Ramos came to Los Angeles on a student visa, and by 27 was an anchor on Univision’s nightly newscast. More than 30 years later, Univision has amassed a weekly viewership of 2.2 million, often eclipsing all three major English-language newscasts combined. And in case you haven’t noticed, Latinos are now the largest minority in the United States.
He is appreciative of all the nation has given him and has no illusions of returning to Mexico. “I can reach an audience in Mexico and critique the government and its policies through television and social media that reaches millions in Mexico alone.” Additionally, his dual citizenship allows him to vote and opine on Mexico’s presidential elections. (In the United States, he votes as an independent). In a recent op-ed, Ramos called out Mexico’s lame-duck president Enrique Peña Nieto: “The outraged speech that Peña Nieto delivered after Trump announced he would send troops to the border is almost three years too late, and inconsequential for Trump. The next [Mexican] president cannot make the same mistakes; we expect him or her to be braver and tougher than Peña Nieto.”
Ramos stands tall in the ranks of other renowned investigative journalists, such as Elena Poniatowska and Oriana Fallaci, both of whom he says he admires. For this reader, he is a journalistic brother in arms to the late Mexican writer, diplomat and polemicist Carlos Fuentes, who also spoke in defense of immigrants and wrote with insight and conviction of the contentious relationship between the United States and Mexico.
“There is a beautiful word in Spanish that I believe defines our role exactly: contrapoder.” Ramos writes near the end of Stranger. “It literally means ‘against power’ and at the same time it means to confront that power. That is the role of a journalist in a democracy like ours.”