Maria Hinojosa Is 'Less Afraid' Of How The U.S. Will Deal With Demographic Change. by Carolina Moreno

maria.coverThe days of a majority-white United States are coming to an end. But it’s not something the country should fear, according to award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa.

In her new TV series “America by the Numbers,” Hinojosa, a Mexican-born anchor and executive producer of “Latino USA” on NPR, delves into the data behind the major demographic shift that Census Bureau projections have said will make whites a minority by 2043.

Census projections released in December 2012 say the country’s non-Hispanic population will peak at 200 million in 2024, while the multiracial population is projected to more than triple by 2060.

America By The Numbers,” which premiered last week on the World Channel and PBS, aims to cover the issues facing both white America and these newer diverse groups, who make up what the Hinojosa calls “the new mainstream.” The eight-part series was produced by Hinojosa’s organization, Futuro Media Group, which is also behind “Latino USA.”

The series will run until the end of November and cover topics such as Guam’s forgotten veterans, Asian-American dropouts, the oil boom on a Native American reservation, the rise of whites in one of Idaho’s small towns and more. The Huffington Post spoke to Hinojosa about the project.

The Census projections were released in 2012, following the important role the Latino vote played in President Barack Obama’s re-election. Is that what prompted you to produce “America by the Numbers”?

Well, what’s funny is that I conceived this program about four years ago. With my team, we came up with this notion of doing data-driven reporting on massive demographic change because we were looking at the 2010 census that had just come out. Of course, they’re not the only provider of data, but it was clear that the future of this country was increasingly of color and that Latinos were playing a leading role in this demographic change.

So as a Latina journalist who has been part of the mainstream, it was kind of like, well, this is my moment to really helm a national television series talking specifically about all of this demographic change. When we talked about this four years ago, to be honest with you, people kind of looked at us like “What?!” … Four years later, people understand what we have been saying, which is that the numbers tell the truth. That’s why we named the series “America by the Numbers.”

The data is there: This country is increasingly becoming more of color, more immigrant, more LGBT, more diverse, less Anglo-white. And we need historic change in our country. It’s going to change us forever, but we haven’t really had consistent, deep journalism into what this means.

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Once you take a look at each episode, though, you can see that this isn’t a “Latino series.” It’s about all of these different groups and their role in this major demographic shift. How did you guys decide which eight issues to tackle? http://video.pbs.org/program/america-numbers/

The television series [is] talking about what we call “the new American mainstream” — all of it, all of the change. We knew we were going to be basing all of our stories on data. So we knew that we were going to be telling stories about these different communities and the different demographic changes happening with these communities. But I’m also a journalist who loves to tell underreported stories. I love to tell stories around social justice issues … [The series] really gives us a breadth of opportunity to report and really try to get away from the urban centers so it’s not New York, Chicago, Miami, L.A., you know. It’s really about what’s happening in other parts of the country that are not major urban cities.

With data-driven reporting, I’m always curious about methods and sources. Where did most of your data come from?

We have several researchers. We are triple-checking all of our numbers and our facts and our data … Pew Research Center was one of our sources. We also hired a researcher who is creating proprietary research for us [and] gathering research from other places. We’ve been kind of collating some of this research so we can begin to create our own numbers. And also our friends at EthniFacts [were] key in getting us some numbers.

In your first episode, you ask a white man if he feels like he’s the minority now. While you were producing the series, did you get a sense that Anglo-whites felt like minorities? Were they afraid of this change?

Well, I think it’s hard to generalize. I mean, I think the generalization that I would make is that probably most of the mainstream news [reports have], up until now, really put a lot of this into a context of “change signifies fear.” I think what we’re trying to do with our television series is in fact put a mirror up to our country. And if we are already in fact the country that is incredibly diverse — in many cities, already majority non-white — then why are we fearful for something that is already happening?

Part of the impetus is to say, ‘There’s no reason to be afraid, because actually this America that you’re worried about in the future — the future is already here.’ And there’s really nothing to be afraid of. Do we have major challenges? Oh, absolutely. Do we have major issues around racial inequity? Absolutely. Does this inequity lead to huge challenges for us as a society? Just look at Ferguson [Missouri]. I mean, we didn’t do Ferguson, but we did do Clarkston [Georgia]. And Clarkston was looking at a place that was majority-white, then became minority-white. But […] the political institutions didn’t change with that demographic change.

So there are lasting and deep consequences for our country if we are not acknowledging that this change is happening. And yes, it means that power is going to shift, but it’s not something that at this point that we have to be afraid of. And also — we weren’t able to do this particular segment, but while white America is becoming a minority, white America also continues to maintain the economic majority. So the wealth is still concentrated in Anglo-American hands, and that is something that eventually is going to change, but it’s changing a lot slower than everything else.

I wanted to ask about your personal experience with the series. What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing this?

Huy m’ija, I think for me this series has really changed me because it took me to places that I had never been to. I actually think that the thing that impacted me the most was my reporting on the Native American Reservation in North Dakota in Fort Berthold … The fact that the stories of what’s happening on our reservations are not being told really says something about who we are as a country and as a people. So this was very, emotionally for me, very powerful.

As well as my time on Guam. The people on Guam said to me over and over again, “Oh my God, we just wish we were Puerto Rico.”

Really?

I mean, they would repeat it: “We just wish we were Puerto Rico.” And I would look at them, after all of my experience reporting from Puerto Rico, and I would say, “Why do you want to be Puerto Rico?” And they said, “Because at least then the mainland knows where we are, knows that we exist.” So to be with American citizens who are my equal, but who feel completely invisible and not recognized, was also very powerful. So those were probably the most traumatic experiences …

And I’m less afraid of the future of this country because of this reporting. I’m more convinced that people across our country are open, [and] do want information that helps them understand the times they’re living through. They don’t want the simplistic black-white, we-love-you-we-hate-you. They don’t want that. They really want more information that helps them to understand how our country is changing — because it is, that is for sure. And we just want to name it and say it.

I mean, in the first two minutes of our television series we say, “White America is becoming a minority.” Most news programs don’t start like that. But what we love to also say is, “Hey, the definition of ‘minority’ is going to change too.” So everything is changing, and we all have a role to play in this, and it’s all about creating dialogue as opposed to fear.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.