Obituary Bias

José Ramón Sánchez , author of Boricua Power, wrote a great article a couple weeks ago about the NYTimes ignoring Latinos in its year-end round up of deaths. Read the full article at his blog.

When does one dead Hollywood actor trump another? When does one fierce dead organizer against social injustices trump another? In fact, when does a dead chimp responsible for a hideous attack catapult himself above the life of a dead Mexican anthropologist with over 150 books and articles filled with archaeological and cultural studies about Mayan civilization? For the New York Times, the answer seems to be whenever the second option is a Latino.

Travis the chimp was one of the few fortunate deceased to get star billing in the New York Times 2009 annual issue devoted to the passing of important people. Travis, you may remember, was the Connecticut chimpanzee, raised by a woman in Stamford, who was killed after he mauled the face off of his caretaker’s friend. This annual Times compilation included twenty-three essays on this year’s deceased. Like in most years, not one single Latino made it onto this lamentable list of the departed famous and not so famous.

Many Latinos died this year, arguably many of them having led interesting and notable lives. They were not interesting enough for the New York Times. This newspaper highlighted the death of Karl Malden but not Ricardo Montalban. The latter was the debonair Mexican movie and television star best known for his roles on the Star Trek series and his commercials for promoting the “soft, Corinthian leather” in Chrysler Motors car seats.

The Times also wrote about the death of Crystal Lee Sutton, a fierce labor organizer in the South. But it ignored the death of Esther Chavez, a Mexican accountant who was one of the first to discover a pattern of murders in the 1990s against Mexican women working in U.S.-owned factories in border cities. Chavez helped to draw public attention and government prosecution against men who kidnapped young Mexican women off the streets, raped and killed them with impunity. Her advocacy led the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to rule that Mexico had violated the human rights of women.