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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
United Shades of America: Latino, USA. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 8, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST: One of America's favorite past time is lumping groups of people together. You know what I am talking about, like the whole idea of minorities. Let's take all of the people who are darker than Vin Diesel and call them minorities.
And it does not make any sense, because we have so many cultures and languages and religions and things. I mean, the only thing that really bonds minorities together is that we believe that if you are going to eat pork, you have to use all of the pig. You know what I mean?
You can't just be like the white people and scrape off the bacon and the ribs and throw the rest of it away. You have to get in that pig. You got to -- pickle that and rind that, and barbecue that and suck on that toenail. You have to get in there.
And I think about that word minority a lot because it's not going to be make sense for much longer, because according to statistics, by the time we get to 2044, the minorities are going to be making up the majorities of America.
This week on the show we decided to investigate Latino people because I feel like -- I feel like I've sort of really have not done a good job of connect with my Latino brothers and sisters, especially because they are America's fastest growing demographic. Oh yes, and you see, yes -- in a few years, there'll be more people clapping. Right now, it's just that dude holding it down. Thank you. Yes.
My name is W. Kamau Bell. As a comedian, I made a living finding humor in the parts of America I do not understand. And now, I am challenging myself to dig deeper. I'm on a mission to reach out and experience all the cultures and beliefs that add much color to this crazy country. This is United Shades of America.
To explore the vast topic that is Latinos in America, I'm in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a population of 3.8 million people, and nearly half of them are Latino descend, and the rest of them are Kardashians or married to a Kardashian or waiting for a Kardashian to get divorced so they can marry them. I'm looking at you, Chloe.
Normally when I go to L.A., I go to Hollywood, Beverly Hills from my big time showbiz meetings with my big time showbiz agents who never return my calls, big time. But this week, I'm going east, East L.A. and Boyle Heights.
Those neighborhoods are just slightly more Latinos that than the rest of L.A. And by slightly I mean, they are both well over 90 percent Latino. East L.A. and Boyle Heights are located on the eastern edge of Los Angeles.
Geographically it's not that far from Beverly Hills, but let's just says I feel like I owe my high school Spanish teacher an apology for saying, "Why would I ever need to use Spanish after I graduate?"
The history of Latinos settling in East L.A. can be traced back to the 1900's when the Mexican Revolution caused one of the biggest migrations of Mexicans into the United States. Attracted by plentiful work and escaping government unrest, most Mexicans plan on moving back.
But as the city grew, so did the labor opportunities, and the thriving community known as East L.A. was born. If I am going to learn anything, I know that I have to first hit the streets and talk to the people. Would you mind talking to us for a second?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't understand English.
BELL: Oh, understand English. Thank you. All right, can we talk to you for a second once you get off of the phone? OK. Maybe this isn't going to be so easy. Cut to three hours later.
Hi. I think that the problem is camera guy is that we are in East L.A. We're looking for people to the talk to you, and one of the inherent challenges of East L.A. is that many people are undocumented.
So when you take a big camera and a crew and go, "Would you like to talk to us," they go -- what is French [BEEP] yourself. OK. Hey, when did you come out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm watching your show in prison.
BELL: Oh. You saw my show...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In prison.
BELL: I didn't know I was on in the joint.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you were. You were.
BELL: And so you have lived here all of your life?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I have.
BELL: And what was it like growing up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting shot at.
BELL: Oh, okay. Could we have stood here, like say 30 years ago, stood here on the corner and had this conversation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could have, you couldn't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you here to catch or find my neighborhood, man? BELL: Yes. I'm looking to find some property.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, move in and buy house for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are a hipster, man, I can't talk to you.
BELL: OK, Do I look like a hipster?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, hipsters could come in different color. They don't matter. It doesn't matter, what I'm saying is this to myself...
BELL: I promise I'm not a black hipster and I'm not a blipster (sic), I promise. So is it safer for families now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's been a lot safer and it is beautiful out here, man. Some of the nicest people out here, man. Some of the best cultures and the traditions...
[22:05:00] BELL: I would imagine that like in victims of undocumented people who live in the neighborhood...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you talking about?
BELL: Am I bringing news?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. There might be a few.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where they come, man. This probably -- in all of these probably, the happy shops.
BELL: So if you just want to make an honest living but you don't have any papers, just come to East L.A.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.
BELL: OK, that's a good slogan. I thought that the Mayor's going to use that, but...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably not.
BELL: Give me the state of Latino American right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on the move.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be a force to be reckoned with. That means we'll be the majority the when it comes to elections...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking over.
BELL: You say that with confidence and with a smile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we gave you guys the presidency and we are next.
BELL: Wait a minute. Oh, thanks for what this happened for a minute, I appreciate that but you're next? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We are next.
BELL: OK. All right, I didn't know that Hillary Clinton is Latina.
A big topic for any group who immigrates to America is assimilation. How much, how little, why? And Latinos are no differently. Luckily I ran into a ringer, Community Activist Alex Aldana who also happens to be undocumented. What do you think about the idea of assimilation, people coming here and assimilating into "American culture?"
ALEX ALDANA, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: I think that nobody has to sacrifice their past, their culture in order to be American. I have nothing against the white people. I have nothing against the Americans, but also need to reflect what American means.
And definitely embrace that our cultures are beautiful. We come here for a better life, to be ourselves. We shouldn't sacrifice that identity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who come here don't speak the language or assimilate into the way things are done here. They should, it will benefit them in the long run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think if you'd be coming to Los Angeles, you should learn Spanish.
BELL: Now that I talked to the people, I want to talk to the mayor. But since he wouldn't talk to me, I guess I'll just talk to somebody else at city hall. In this town, you're a kind of a rock star.
I am meeting with the L.A. City Council member Gil Cedillo, known as One Bill Gil for his successful work to get driver's licenses for undocumented people -- Latinos' best occurring demographic in America.
GIL CEDILLO, L.A. CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Yes.
BELL: In L.A. now, it's the -- Latinos are the largest group which has scared many people.
CEDILLO: Yes, we've got scale.
BELL: You've got scale. What does that mean?
CEDILLO: Well, we're everywhere. You know, it's incredible because immigrants from all over the world come here and Latino immigrants are the same. They are the entrepreneur, they're the risk takers, they're the most responsible, they come with family values and so that's the American story. They make our economy hum.
BELL: So one word I hear and I've heard a lot in my life talking, when you talk about Latinos and also many people call their communities of color is the word assimilation. What do you think of that word?
CEDILLO: Well, it is a constant. It is actually probably the oil that makes our engine run in America, is that everybody who comes here from another country doesn't know English, and everybody that comes here from another country doesn't know the customs and practices, everyone that comes here isn't yet assimilated into that American process.
But within a generation or two, they're you know, doing the things that everything that everybody else does. It's a great thing about our country, is that shortly, within a short period of time, everybody will have trouble talking to their grandmother.
BELL: That is how you know you made it. So I know that some people feel that if you come here to this country, you should immediately learn English.
CEDILLO: Of course, everybody does.
BELL: I mean, everybody.
CEDILLO: No, everybody does but they don't learn it the day they get here.
CEDILLO: And that's what people don't understand, that it's a process. It's a generational process.
BELL: I feel like that Americans when it comes to Latino, that if I don't speak Spanish, then I'm the asshole.
CEDILLO: Spanish would be good, language acquisition is a great thing and the more languages that you speak, the more capable you are to communicate with the world. And that really is what brings understanding and ends conflict in the world is that we have the greater ability to communicate.
BELL: For giving Gil the fact that I'm pretty sure British immigrants show up speaking English and that's the only trouble that I have talking to my grandmothers is the fact that they're dead, he makes some really good points.
[22:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BELL: Let's talk about the A-word, assimilation. For me, assimilation it is a four-letter word. People try to say assimilation is good because you need to learn the culture and the language of your new country. On the other hand, I feel like assimilation is used as like a 2X4 to bludgeon your old language and culture out of you.
I'm not saying you can't learn the new, just don't forget the old because a lot of the old is good stuff. What would this country be without us incorporating the cultures of other countries? Why would we want people to come to this country from a different place and you drop that stuff?
That culture has been road tested and approved and worked the kink side. Do you know what I mean? Look at this music, like all these beautiful music that comes from like you know, Mexico. We have this beautiful music. We have been working on it for 10,000 years. Oh that's interesting. Have you heard Taylor Swift?
Ernesto. I'm at the arts studio of Ernesto Yerena, an artist, graphic designer and activist and graphic designer in Boyle Heights.
I saw an ad in the paper, you needed an unskilled laborer, ta-da, here I am. Ernesto has worked with Shepherd Ferry, Zack de la Rocha, and Chuck D. And today, he's going to be collaborating with me. But maybe I'm overstating it. Like tell me about what you believe about the power of the graphic image as how it relates to political change?
ERNESTO YERENA, GRAPHICS DESIGNER, ARTIST AND ACTIVIST: The concept behind a lot of my work is to create critical artwork for working class people, you know, because I come you know, the community that is working class.
And I wonder if working class people grew up with artwork that was critical, that was politically and socially charged, how that would change the mindset of the youth, you know?
BELL: What are you doing today?
YERENA: So we're going to be drawing a hummingbird. So the hummingbird is a symbol to a lot of like a lot of Chicanos that use that image. It almost represents a -- you know, freedom in a way. But for me -- because I'm a nerd and I try to study everything, the hummingbirds have to work so hard to find food they're always at the brink of fatigue, like they're always in the brink of death.
And I thought that it's like a good representation of the working class people, you know. They are working so hard just to make ends meet, but you know they do it so gracefully. So this is our second layer.
BELL: I was there for two hours watching Ernesto work diligently like a surgeon on this piece.
YERENA: So now we want to put these in. Yes, this is pretty hard.
[22:15:00] BELL: Yes, this is great. But in the spirit of Rachael Ray and cooking shows everywhere, let's just fast forward to the end.
Wow. That is so not what I was expecting. I mean in a good way, like you were just -- you were just spraying stuff, and looked like you were just making it up as you went along.
YERENA: No, it's pretty calculated.
BELL: Yes, but I can tell now it is very calculated. Art really distills words into these powerful images.
YERENA: Yes, I think it's an internal thing. Like people have to begin an internal dialogue with themselves and try to understand themselves and the context of history to, you know...
BELL: It's great, man. Now, Ernesto is not the only artist using creativity to promote change. I'm dropping in on the band Los Comateras (ph) to use their music to tell the story of their people's past, present and future.
BELL: Hey, what's up, man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good. How are you doing, man?
BELL: Good to see you, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you, homey. Thanks for making it through, man.
BELL: Thanks for inviting me. I heard all of the music coming all the way down the street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds cute, huh?
BELL: Sounds good. I mean I've heard this type of music before, but this seems like a different spin on it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're remixing root music.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're Chicano kids, born here but we got roots all over the world, you know? Even in here, we have roots that you know, Jewish folks, Mohawk, Yaki (ph) and Mexican, all across the board, you know?
But one thing we have in common is that we all grew up here. And so this process of assimilation, and like knowing the language, not knowing your language, what is your like, ancestry come from. The whole of like feeling proud and not feeling proud, and that whole process, we call like the Chicano experience.
BELL: The reason why I came here is because I think there's a lot of -- I think when people talk about race and racism in America, a lot of them they lump all the people of color together in one group, and black and yellow and light brown and tan. And I understand as the country is more Latino, I feel like I need to reach out, you know? I need to go to East L.A. I need to meet people and talk to people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being Chicano, it means like that we have multiple identities. Like we love Tamales and we love hamburgers. All of us right here, we all got college degrees. Three of us right here, we got masters. My brother just got accepted PHD Program in UCLA.
And so the whole idea of the immigrant, of like who are they, they're taking away, they're not giving back, you're looking at us, man and we're like, "We're paying your taxes, we're paying your salary, we're creating music, we're building the bridges, you know, we're creating family.
That's what we want to see. That's the America I want to see. You know, we don't have to be the same. It's all good, it's all good...
BELL: No, no it is not about blending in altogether, unless you want to blend in all together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes.
BELL: I got two of those blended kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is Opera Mexican Music, and so...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know when you're down to playing?
BELL: I mean, I don't...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: La, la, la...
BELL: Oh yes, so this is actual donkey job of...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dat-dat-boom, and when you do that, do this right here. So you do right here, it's like wait -- dat-dat-boom. Your hands are like this, dat-dat-boom, dat-dat-boom. I'd say you got it. All right, trip from down right here, ah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SINGING IN SPANISH)
BELL: I felt every black person on TV watching me and every Latino in TV watching me like, "Don't mess that rhythm, my brother. Don't mess that rhythm, bro."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you are doing this for our people.
BELL: I've never felt so much pressure in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SINGING IN SPANISH)
BELL: I don't normally dance in public, but I can't help it with Los Competeras' (ph) rhythm and message, plus, I did not completely embarrassed myself with the donkey jawbone, so here goes nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three. One, two, three, -- and there you go, one, two, three. Add your own flavor, baby, one, two, three...
BELL: They said that the conversation of race in America is a work in progress, and apparently, so is my dancing.
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BELL: It is time for me to get more into the minds of Latinos in our country. I want to meet some of the undocumented citizens doing what they can to live the American dream, even if some Americans don't see them as part of that dream.
Tonight, I've graciously been invited to sit down with a family who have both documented and undocumented members in it. It is an extreme act of bravery for them to appear on television, and to also talk openly and honestly about their journey. So then why am I the one who feels so nervous? Hello. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, how are you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?
BELL: Hi. Kamau.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Hello.
BELL: Hey, man. There we go. Thank you for inviting me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to help with cutting the cucumbers?
BELL: Sure. I can cut cucumbers. How do you want them cut? Do you just do slices or any particular way?
MARIA: Let me ask my mom.
BELL: Yes, ask your mom.
MARTHA, MARIA'S MOTHER: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)
MARIA: Little squares.
BELL: Little squares -- damn it. It is the one way I don't know how the cut cucumbers. And while Marcos works as a mechanic, Bertha goes to school five days a week, four hours a day to learn English and computer skills. So with your daughters, do you speak English with your daughters or Spanish?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I speak both.
BELL: That called Spanglish?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Spanglish.
BELL: You see, I know.
[22:25:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me, it is important for both language, because with my son's teacher.
BELL: So you talk with your son's teacher and you need to speak more English?
BELL: It goes without saying that her English is way better than my Spanish. Like a many of Latino families in America, this household has a mixed of status. Their parents brought their two daughters across the border when they were children, but the two boys are automatically citizens because they were born in America. Get it? Me neither.
So Maria, you're about to graduate?
MARIA, DAUGHTER OF THE FAMILY: Yes.
BELL: Are you excited? MARIA: Yes.
BELL: So what are you hopes for going to college? What do you hope happens?
MARIA: Like just helping others is like what I wanted to do when I like get my college degree because like growing up, trying to learn English, it was difficult. But then since I was retained in first grade because I didn't know that much English.
BELL: So they held you back not because you weren't smart, but because you didn't know English?
BELL: So she is going to college soon. How you feel?
BERTHA: I feel excited, but worried because she decided to go far away.
BELL: So you want to go to college with her?
BELL: You just want her to go to college in there. And where do you want to go to school, do you know?
MARIA: Not yet. I applied to San Francisco State. It had all the great support system for like undocumented students, so...
BELL: OK. So it's a college that is open to undocumented...
BELL: OK. I would imagine sometimes you might, like you try to hide the fact that you're undocumented, right?
BELL: Yes. I mean, I guess I don't know because I'm -- I have only lived here. I was born here, you know, as an African-American. You know, a lot of African-Americans, we sort of struggle with our identity because we are Americans, but we don't always get treated like Americans.
So I can relate to some of that, you know, and it is really just, thank you. Despite how some people in the more paranoid corners with people news make it sound, and you know what I'm talking about.
Many Latinos immigrants are working hard every day to improve their English skills. And to get a better idea of this, Bertha has invited me to the Puente Learning Center where she takes English classes five days a week.
BERTHA: Hi, good morning.
BELL: Hi -- and hopefully, I can work on my Spanish.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a visitor.
UNIDENTIFIED: Everybody, hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing? Bertha is a friend of yours?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, oh, would you like to introduce the visitor? Come to the front please.
BELL: Cultural curiosity is a street that runs both ways. I want to know more about them and they seem to want to know more about me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, what's your name?
BELL: My name is Kamau.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kamau.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your purpose to be here?
BELL: What is my purpose to be here? I want to learn. I'm not a Latino. I'm a black guy -- and I want to, and I like to learn about new cultures and new things, and also I need to learn Spanish. So I came here where you learn English, but I want to learn Spanish someday, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How old are you?
BELL: How old am I? Excuse me. Yes. How old do you think that I am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 25?
BELL: 25, well, you flatter me, yes. Yes, I'm 22 -- no, no, no. 42. There is an expression that black people say, it is called, "Good black don't crack."
BELL: This is fun, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your favorite food?
BELL: My favorite food? I like burritos quite a lot. We have -- It feels like I am pandering, but I like the burritos quite a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another question, how many hours a week do you exercise?
BELL: Well, you know, currently zero. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You eat many burritos, you will get fat.
BELL: When exactly did this turn into a roast? Why do you want to learn English?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why? Because I want to improve my better English for myself, because sometime, I need to go to the doctor, and they pull me or somebody to talk to me, and I don't want it like that. I wanted to talk to doctor, what are my problems, and that's how I come here to learn English.
BELL: Wow. This lady just wants to be able to communicate with her doctor, and bertha just wants to be able talk to her kids' teachers, and I just want to be able to eat burritos without falling into a damn shame spiral. None of that should be too much to ask.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think about the immigrant people?
[22:30:00] BELL: What do I think about immigrant people? Oh, that's a good question. I think this. Gracias for -- I don't know how to say this, for allowing me, letting me...
Come 'minier' to your class.
BELL: One place where the Latino roots and culture have been absolutely under represented is in movies and television.
While change is still slow to come they are those doing what they can to get their people stories told.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Guys, let's do it again.
BELL: I'm here in East L.A. on the set of East Los High, an original series that airs on Hulu.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let's go and bring them to where they stop.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the girls on this side you guys is finished doing to the steps towards the back.
BELL: This is Gabe Chavarria, one of the stars of this high school teen drama. Now filming in its third season, East Los High is one of Hulu's top 10 show and a favorite for bench watchers. And it's also one of the first shows in history to feature all Latino English speaking cast.
How does that feel this is -- this is history?
[22:35:00] GABE CHAVARRIA, EAST LOS HIGH CAST: This is history, man, it feels great. It feels it's a blessing, man, like to be able to be part of the star of a change.
CHAVARRIA: Because a lot of the Hispanic culture is just they're moviegoers, you know what I mean.
CHAVARRIA: We watch the movies all of the time, but we just don't -- we don't see ourselves in a lot of the stuff that is out there, you know, but now to be portrayed as lead characters, you know. So, it's exciting for us to be, to kind of to be a part of the trend, part of that transition now where the industry starting to take notice.
BELL: And why do you think the industry is started taking notice?
CHAVARRIA: I mean, the numbers don't lie.
BELL: Tell it, Gabe. Tell it.
CHAVARRIA: The numbers don't lie, we've been here for years, you know.
CHAVARRIA: And I both, you know, I have auditioned for the bad guys and the gangsters.
BELL: Oh, I know. We have similar auditions.
CHAVARRIA: OK. There you go.
BELL: Mine they don't ask me to speak Spanish, that's the only difference.
CHAVARRIA: So, that's pretty much, you know, like getting away from that is huge, for me as an actor, and I think for a lot of us, you know, to be able to have the opportunities to audition for projects that, like I said, get to be lead roles, and be heroes, you know, and in movies and television.
BELL: And as we all know, sometimes you have to dance it out.
CHAVARRIA: Absolutely. Right. You can't -- you have to. If you love loves the music, you have to dance it out all the time.
BELL: OK. I got moves. I got moves, Gab. You are not the only one with moves. You are the only one though that can wear a white t-shirt and look this good. But other than that I got moves. You got to dance it...
(CROSSTALK) CHAVARRIA: Yes, you know, you got to dance.
BELL: Like this, some of this, and some of this. And pass it this way, and oh, I broke it.
CHAVARRIA: And she just caught you having a moment, right? And then you kiss him and then you drag him away.
BELL: And here is the person responsible for all of this, the show's producer, creator, and director Carlos Portugal.
CARLOS PORTUGAL, EAST LOS HIGH DIRECTOR: Because I don't want you coming on to her at this point.
BELL: So, yes, it may not seem like standing around telling attractive people when to make out of the big deal, but there is a much bigger picture here that is a very big deal.
So, thank you for talking to us today.
PORTUGAL: Yes, my pleasure.
BELL: So, tell you, what was the idea behind creating Hollywood's first all Latino English speaking television show?
PORTUGAL: Well, I'm an immigrant. I came to United States when I was 9, and I was grew up watching images on television and movies of other people that were in my race. You know, we usually see ourselves as the maids, the gardeners, and the gang members. And I think there is like 60 million Latinos in the United States, and you know, there is a little bit of everything.
You know. I mean, my father started as a milkman when we came to the United States and my mother was a maid, you know, so I come from that background. But I have uncles who are doctors and uncles who are accountants and lawyers, so I just feel it's very important to tell all of those stories.
BELL: Where do you see this going?
PORTUGAL: I just want to keep growing and telling the different stories that we haven't seen before. A show about Latinos from the Latinos point of view.
Normally, dealing with dancing and drama and romance, but we're dealing with stuff like domestic abuse, things like immigration, the stories that you don't usually deal with on television, and we get to tell the good, the bad and the ugly and the pretty, and the beautiful.
If we had time, we would teach you how to do this.
BELL: You don't have that much time, sir.
PORTUGAL: Really? BELL: That would take what I like to call season four and five.
PORTUGAL: You and I are brothers because I'm the same way, somebody ask me to do that, and I say, no, that's why I write.
BELL: One thing you hear a lot like the debate and discuss in Latin community is the idea of the assimilation.
BELL: What is that, is that a dirty word to you, is that a good word, what are your thoughts about it?
PORTUGAL: I think the only thing that's for sure in the world is change. So I think we all have to stay open to change. Now having said that, there are things that we have to -- that we have to stand up for. You know, but now I think assimilation is actually what all of my projects have been about.
About being a Latino, living in the Anglo world and how we bring both the culture seem to that.
BELL: Oh, yes. That's fascinating.
PORTUGAL: And my attitude is that you are in the United States, and you're here, and you should speak English. If you want to succeed, you have to speak the language.
BELL: Oh, wow.
BELL: Do you speak Spanish, too?
BELL: get up good. You're good. Yes, he does, everybody. I just tested him and he speaks it.
East Los High is great example of the strife of Latino community of making toward recognize in mainstream America. Same people who look like you in Hollywood can be empowering especially for kids who are just discovering who they are and where they come from.
Next, I want to talk again with Hector and Denise from Las Cafeteras. They're both talked openly about their specific struggles growing up and trying to figure out how do they fit into all the cultures they represent.
I've heard the words Chicano and Chicana, but I've also heard the word Hispanic. I also heard the word Latino and Latino. Give me a breakdown on what those words mean, which ones of the words you choose and why you use those words. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicano or Chicana are term that came from the people. The term that came from the streets, that came from the struggles of people saying like brown is beautiful.
[22:40:02] We want to access to like the same rights and privileges and quality of life like anybody else. Hispanic, I'm without there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that Reagan.
BELL: That's a white man's word.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a white man's word. It's a sensuous word to basically put everybody who remotely speaks Spanish under an umbrella term so I can make it really easy.
BELL: No, you keep tracking your people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To keep tracking and put everybody in a category.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Latino is also another complicated term. I mean, people used it as an umbrella term, what do you call everybody from Latin America and the Caribbean, but also Latino has a word Latin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And like we are in Latin people like "la" is French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, those are Latin languages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also does not honor the fact that we existed as a people before Columbus, before the Latin communization.
BELL: Before the Spanish said, would you like to borrow this language?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELL: So, tell me about, so I'll ask you how did you grow up, like how -- what was...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spanish is my first language. But when you come to school here, you know, everything is about English, everything is being American.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is about being white.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't sound like...
(CROSSTALK) BELL: Assimilation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assimilation, man, your Mexican food away. And all we hear with ham and cheese, white bread sandwiches.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what I wanted, you know. You know, when I was a kid I was ashamed of who I was. I was ashamed to speak in Spanish. I wanted to be something else. You know, I wanted to have that like nice like, white boy haircut, you know like the ones that slick on the side.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After going to college after like getting a master's degree, after all the other -- the stuff that the American dream is supposed to give, there is still the fear and there is still the 'are we OK being visible.'
BELL: So, it's the colonization of the mind as they call it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, I'm hell proud of being Chicano. Of having my family that came from another country that worked so hard to be here. You know what I'm saying? Feeling proud of you are, right, but also not knowing who you are.
That anxiety, the pride, the anxiousness like...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like knowing where you can be proud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All that -- all mix that -- you mix that in that experience is what we call being Chicano, being Chicana.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Knowing where you depended and knowing where...
BELL: It's funny because everything you're saying makes me feel like, I think I'm a Chicano. Because all the same -- all the same stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was one goal for the -- yes.
BELL: It's all the same. America has a tendency of which for everybody who comes over here to want them like buy into Americanism.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: Or get out of the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that is wrong. You know that families can't feel that they could practice their culture. This is the line of immigrant. This is the native land first.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then, you know, you stole black votes from Africa and brought them here, and then two, all the Latino folks you try to make us feel like second class citizen.
BELL: Even though a lot of this land was...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mexico.
BELL: Yes. Basically where north Mexico right now, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: That's right. Just to remind everybody, a big chunk of this country was Mexico up until the Mexican-American War in 1848.
Yes, the people we're trying to keep out own this land just over 150 years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think for a long time like Chicanos Latinos have been surviving, what it means now, is our people are going to be thriving.
We're creating the conditions and we're now creating the story, the new narrative. And I think that's what I -- that's -- for me what it is to be, you know, Chicano is I'm a storyteller.
I'm taking all the sufferings that my family have to go through and making sure that tomorrow, right. Now this country not only good for Latinos but it's good for everybody, man. You know what I'm saying, and so, it's my job to help move that forward.
BELL: All right. All right. It's our job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our job.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BELL: I have always really gotten into the idea of taking the culture of your people and remixing it with the current day, hell, I'm a 20th century dude with a 1970s haircut. And the really great example of Latinos we're mixing their culture is the growth of the quinceanera.
Meet Alexia. This is her quinceanera, or in English her super sweet 15.
BELL: Dating back to the 1400s and the Aztec Indians, the Quinceanera is considered a rite of passage for girls transitioning into womanhood.
And back when her parents were in Guatemala, this ceremony would take place in a church.
But here in Southern California, it's taking place in a fancy country club. Get it? The party has a Hollywood theme, and they have gone all out. And how all out have is you asked? Well, that is not our camera crane, that's their camera crane. We couldn't afford that. And it's all for Alexia. Man, I wonder if it's too late for me to have a quinceanera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been dreaming about this since I was a little girl.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: Which say are you more excited for, this day or your wedding day?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This day.
BELL: Really? And why is that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because you only turn 15 once.
BELL: That's true, you can get married a lot of times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: Alexia's father is as proud as a man can be, who is probably also doing everything he can to not think about how much this is costing him. Wow.
So, tell me, what does this ceremony mean today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, it means like my daughter is going from childhood to woman.
BELL: And so from this point forward, she's a woman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a woman.
BELL: OK. All right. All right. But she still going to live at home, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. There is no way can she move out.
BELL: OK. She is not that much of a woman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
BELL: I'm going to talk to the people who figured out how to paired the old traditions with the new country and also, to figure out how all this should cost.
You are the event planner?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: And how much has this changed over the years Quinceanera? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's back then, there would be simple,
like really simple, but now it's decoration, then there is food, dances, it's a lot like to say more now than it used to be before.
BELL: And why do you think that gotten so much bigger?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they want to show off. They want to do it big.
BELL: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to do it big. We want to do it big.
[22:50:00] BELL: What do you think about when you hear like Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in America, how does that make you feel?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's great, because I will have more quinceaneras. More money in our pockets.
BELL: True capitalists. True capitalist. Well, that is as American as you can get, cha-ching.
Beyond all of the shiny stuff, the fancy clothes, the country club and the delicious food that the members of the staff snuck out to me, you still find the heart of this tradition.
This family is doing what we all do. They are taking some of the success that they have experienced and they are using it to make an old tradition new. Am I stating the obviously too much? What I'm saying is, they are being Americans.
BELL: Financially, Maria's family isn't where Alexia's is just yet, but like a lot Americans, what's important to them to see beyond material wealth. As every day brings about obstacles I've never had to deal with.
Now, one thing I'm just curious, because you're undocumented, your brothers were born here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: But your father and your mother and younger sister is undocumented, is that a feel that you walk around with like you're being deported or your parents are being deported, do you fear that for every day?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not all the times, but sometimes.
BELL: When do you feel it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When there is the big buses, the ones that deports the people back.
BELL: And so sometimes you just walk down the street, and you see one of these buses that -- what goes through you mind when you see there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just seeing that bus like pass by me is like what if my family is next. What if my family like, get separated.
BELL: Yes. So, I heard that you might have some news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: What is your news?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I got accepted to San Francisco State.
BELL: Yes. San Francisco State! That's where I live. We'll be neighbors. Are you excited?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BELL: That's a great school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is.
BELL: Yes. I think it's great that you are going to go to college, and I think it's -- I believe you have it in to accomplish all of the goals and more, and I'm really happy that there is a path for that, because I'm sure when your parents were younger there was not a path for that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
BELL: Like the path should be easier, and, you know, I believe that you will accomplish everything that you want. Good luck in college.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
BELL: To me, this whole issue boils down to how do we define who is an American, and how can do you become an American. You see what I am saying? Like to me, is it about the paperwork or the person? Or is it about the person? To me, it's clearly about the person. (muted) The paperwork.
You know. When my people came we didn't have our papers either. And they seem to be perfectly fine with letting us in. I mean, we had bills of shipping, but I don't know if that counts. We have receipts, does that count as papers? Oh, is that too soon?
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BELL: Does anybody here know how hard it is to cross the border? Because I don't. Thanks, black Jesus.
Those of us who don't know have to reconceive our idea what the border is because it sounds like it's just a line, where you go, I'm going to cross the border, ta-da! But it's not really that easy. Like the border is hundreds of miles.
It's most of it is desert. It takes hours and days to get across and there are people who take advantage of you like trying to get across and they have assaulted, they think you have to pay money, they get ripped off. It is a brutal and horrible experience.
And my thing is that if you want to do all of that to get to this country, then welcome to America, you are a citizen, all right.
That is your citizenship test and I don't care how you know about George W. Bush chopping down the cherry tree. I think that's how it goes, am I right about this?
I can't end my time in east L.A. without checking in with La Cafeteras one more time at one of their main spots, east side clubs.
Hopefully, they won't ask me to dance. I hope that all of the non- Latinos who enjoy talking about the people assimilating into quote, unquote "American culture" are having a good time, because soon, Latinos are going to be talking about us assimilating into their culture in Los America.
I think we're a living in the future?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, we are living in the future, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the past it hasn't gone anywhere. When we live in the future, man, we lean in to the president, where we're remembering where we come from and we chartered the stars that we built the pyramids, that we have the medicine that lasted for thousands of years. So, that's what -- that's what you're in right now, it is an echo of our ancestors.
BELL: Wow. That -- I'm honored to be here.
What would you say to Americans who are out there who are living in different parts of the country that don't feel like this, who I'll say are afraid of that idea?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a matter of understanding our differences, and learning and it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what I mean, because we have to respect each other, and we all bring something to the table.
BELL: Yes, we do. Although I don't appreciate you wearing my glasses better than I wear my glasses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am sorry. I can't help that. BELL: This week, I've learned that this community is made up of all
sorts of people, with a variety of backgrounds and traditions. But what they all have in common is the desire to be acknowledged and accepted for who they are. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Besides, how boring would it be if we were all the same.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, brother, good to have you here and I am so glad that you can experience the east side.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is love. This is movement. This is music and this is like solidarity here, and this is what we are cultivating, it's not quite heaven, but definitely not hell. I'm chilling on the east side with W. Kamau Bell.
BELL: So, let's do this, all right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Listen up, all of our asses are on the line.
BELL: More like your ass because you are the ones going to be lose your job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look, am I the only one who wants it?
BELL: I'm just saying that's what you always saying.
[22:59:58] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There will be your asses at the Valentine's assembly.
BELL: Man, she's tough. Show some respect, man. She is not low, and you are not the boy next door. Let's go. Listen up for that. What?