The controversy over the exclusion of the Latino experience from Ken Burns's recent documentary The War raised important questions not only about how he and PBS view Latinos, but more generally about Latino and Latin American images in the media. At first PBS and Burns maintained that it was too late to make any changes in the film, but after the Latino community mobilized on this issue, they changed their position, agreeing to make last-minute marginal changes. In the process, both acknowledged the importance of the Latino market and the problem of their blind-sightedness toward this community.
This was all especially interesting because this was not a battle against a major corporate entity (PBS tries hard to come off as corporate, but its mission as a government-chartered entity is still to serve the public interest) or the Republican right wing, but against what are generally viewed as very liberal actors. Burns's track record on the role of race in such documentaries as Baseball and Jazz, among others, has certainly been progressive. So what are we to make of the "blind spot" he seemed to have when it came to Latinos? Does this qualify him as a racist, or is there something else going on?
With the Latino population now totaling about 48 million (including the 4 million residents of Puerto Rico) and making up half of the country's population growth, the anti-immigrant sentiment in the country has become a major wedge issue in the current presidential election. Despite 60% of Latinos being U.S.-born, Latinos are being characterized in this debate as foreigners invading this country, not wanting to learn English and undermining U.S. institutions and practices. The overall exclusion of the Latino experience from Burns's World War II saga has some very tangible and negative consequences: By erasing Latinos from our role in U.S. history and reinforcing the incorrect notion that Latinos have contributed nothing to this country, Burns was, in fact, fueling anti-immigrant and anti-Latino (and, by default, anti