Years ago, a woman was walking through a Miami supermarket when she mentioned to her companion that she’d seen a news report announcing Fidel Castro’s death. At the time, long before Castro’s actual passing in 2016, several unsubstantiated reports had declared the Cuban dictator’s alleged demise. Not so quick to believe the rumors, the woman’s companion turned to her skeptically and said, “Until Univision’s Jorge Ramos says it, I won’t believe it!”
An Emmy Award-winning journalist and the lead anchor for Noticiero Univision for the past 31 years, Ramos relishes the opportunity to share that story — a conversation he happened to overhear himself.
The anecdote also speaks to the core reason he chose to be a reporter: “The most important thing for a journalist to be is credible,” he says from his office in Univision’s Doral, Fla., studio. “If people don’t believe what we do, we are not doing our job right.”
Born and raised in Mexico City, Ramos, 59, chose to study journalism despite his father’s wish that he focus on law, engineering or architecture, the profession of Ramos’ father and grandfather. It wasn’t just about continuing a family tradition; his safety was a concern. Mexico was and still is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. As Ramos is quick to point out: “In the past 17 years, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico.”
“Since I speak so much about immigration, people may not realize how grateful I am to the United States.”
The risks didn’t deter the ambitious young reporter who quickly began feeling the heat. The third story Ramos ever produced for television was censored because of its criticism of the Mexican president at the time. Unable to give up on his dream or accept the status quo, a defiant and determined Ramos handed in his resignation letter, which he considered a badge of honor.
“I was a censored journalist once, and now I have complete freedom of expression,” says Ramos, who later thanked the Mexican government and his former employer.
Having that freedom and an enormous platform at Univision — in cities such as Houston, Chicago and Miami, his evening broadcasts consistently beat other networks in ratings — has helped Ramos cultivate a reputation as one of the most trusted names in news. A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center revealed he is considered one of the most important Latino leaders in the country.
When he arrived in the United States in 1983 on a student visa, Ramos immediately enrolled in an extension program at UCLA, where he spent a year studying journalism.
“This country gave me opportunities that my country of origin couldn’t,” says Ramos, who Fortune magazine named one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” in 2016, alongside Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Unlike in his home country, Ramos’ American employers at Univision embraced his fire-starter journalistic style, and in just three years, he became one of the youngest anchors to lead a major news broadcast.
But while many in the Latino community have watched Ramos for decades, he became a household name to mainstream audiences when he confronted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about controversial remarks Trump made in support of deportation during a 2015 press conference in Iowa.
When Trump instructed a member of his security team to “get him out of here” and told Ramos to “go back to Univision,” many people interpreted it as “go back to your country” — and rallied behind Ramos, who initially refused to budge.
After Trump allowed Ramos back into the press conference, Ramos continued his line of questioning.
“Jorge Ramos won’t sit down and wait his turn,” says Sergio Garcia-Rios, a professor of government and Latino studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “No one else had really (displayed moxie) before on that level.”
More: Many DREAMers, now shattered
More: Trump’s DACA reversal won’t only hurt dreamers
More: Trump winds down DACA program for undocumented immigrants, gives Congress 6 months to act
Ramos’ hard-hitting, persistent, unapologetic approach was also on display in 2012, when he confronted President Obama about the record number of deportations occurring under his watch.
“Ramos is the rare journalist who isn’t so much bipartisan as he is pro-Latino,” says Garcia-Rios. “He is by far the most influential journalist in the Latino community. He also accepts the responsibility of being ‘a voice for the voiceless,’ as he’s been called, and he uses it to foster Latino participation in politics, in particular voter turnout and engagement.”
Garcia-Rios’ research on the media’s influence on Latino voters has shown that those who watch Spanish-language news, and Ramos in particular, are twice as likely to participate in politics. “He has such a huge influence that we titled the paper ‘The Jorge Ramos Effect,’” Garcia-Rios says.
Often referred to as the Latino Walter Cronkite, Ramos received a top journalism award named after the legendary anchor earlier this year. He was recognized for his candid interview with an unmasked member of the Ku Klux Klan, a report on two Muslim women describing a violent hate crime inside a Minnesota restaurant and his conversation with a classroom full of Latino students expressing fears their parents may be deported.
“He understands the need to inform people, and he is not afraid to ask tough questions, but he is generally seen as fair,” Garcia-Rios adds.
While journalists’ integrity has been questioned recently with accusations of “fake news” and ratings-centered reporting, Ramos has remained focused on his mission. “I believe that journalists have two primary responsibilities,” he says. “The first is to inform, but the second is to question and challenge those who are in power.”
Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas co-anchor Univision’s newscast. (Photo: DAVID MARIS/Univision)
Ramos welcomes the responsibility — and recognition — with open arms. “With a U.S. population of nearly 50 million and only four (Latino) senators, the Latino community is underrepresented in American politics,” he says. And he believes it’s partly his job to fix that. “The question is, ‘Who defends those who don’t have a voice?’ The answer, many times, is Spanish media. We’re taking the lead in making sure those voices are never silenced.”
A Future in Spanish
A growing anti-immigrant sentiment across the U.S. and the recent focus on “fake news” have increased skepticism toward journalists, but Ramos is both unafraid and undeterred.
In fact, he seems quite optimistic.
“Right now, we are going through a major demographic revolution. I call it the ‘Latinization’ of the United States. By 2044, the white non-Hispanic population will become a minority, and Latinos will become a minority-majority,” he says. “The majority of the growth is coming from people born in the United States.”
Ramos points to the millions of Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants and cites research that shows three out of four Latinos speak Spanish at home as evidence that the shift will translate into more opportunities for Latino networks and newsmakers. “You put all of these elements together, along with our proximity to Latin America, and it’s clear there’s a solid future for Spanish-language media.”
For Ramos, journalism isn’t a job; it’s a public service. “Our audience requires guidance on issues such as health care, voting rights and immigration — it’s a task not required of English-speaking anchors,” he says. “Whether explaining the process of how to vote for the first time if you’re a new citizen, to what to do if (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) shows up at your door, this is information that is vital to our audience.”
In addition to that specialized reporting, Spanish media are also tasked with keeping its audience informed on what’s taking place in Latin America.
“Latino journalists have to know exactly what is happening in countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela,” Ramos says. “Our world is much larger than the one you generally see on an English-language broadcast.”
The emotional complexity of being a Mexican immigrant reporting on a border wall between his home country and his adopted country rests heavily on Ramos’ shoulders. “It’s disappointing and sad to see what is happening,” he says.
When asked about Trump’s campaign comments, labeling Mexican immigrants as drug traffickers and rapists, Ramos quotes research from the Migration Policy Institute that shows less than 3 percent of undocumented immigrants have committed felonies. “More than 97 percent are good people,” he adds wistfully. “One of the most difficult things in the world to be is an immigrant.”
Though the status has its struggles, Ramos says he’s happy to be living in the U.S.
“Since I speak so much about immigration, people may not realize how grateful I am to the United States,” he says. “When I arrived I had very little, but now I see my children — Paola, who is 30, and Nicolas, who is 18 — enjoying better opportunities. Every single day I thank this country for that.”
With a nightly newscast, several best-selling books, a new weekly series (Show Me Something, on Fusion, Univision’s sister network) and myriad other projects in the works, how does Ramos unwind?
“I’ve been playing fútbol (soccer) every Saturday morning with the same group of friends for the past two decades,” he says, noting the commitment it takes to keep a tradition like that going. “It’s the best relief ever. It reminds me of growing up in Mexico when I wanted to be a fútbol player.”
Ramos also credits tennis and jogging with keeping him healthy — and sane. “I have to keep moving, otherwise the stress will kill me,” he adds. But it’s yoga, which he discovered 15 years ago, that he says makes the biggest difference in how he performs his job.
“If you look at a newscast I did 30 years ago and compare it to today, you will notice that I am not reading the teleprompter as fast. I pause more; I don’t interrupt interviewees as much as I used to. Yoga has helped me a lot.”
Even after several successful decades in the news business, Ramos sometimes feels nostalgic for his home country.
“I wonder what would have happened to me if I had stayed in Mexico,” he says. “I can work, go home, enjoy a bike ride, go to the supermarket and sleep peacefully. I am not sure I would be able to do the same things had I stayed.”
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2x7fE2J