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Steven Renderos: Are we really surprised?

A couple of days ago, a young girl in Maplewood ran frantically to a neighbor's door and proclaimed that someone was trying to abduct her. Police responded and immediately tried to get a description of the suspect. The young girl described him as a male "hispanic" driving a red minivan, with a "shadowy figure" in the backseat.

Police went out searching, allocating all the resources and their disposal to ensure public safety. But some of the details of this young girl's story weren't adding up. Investigators decided to conduct an interview with the victim and were able to find out that the whole abduction was fabricated. There was no male "hispanic" driving a red minivan or a "shadowy figure" in the backseat.

In extreme moments such as the abduction of a young child, there would seem to be no reason to question their credibility. But this case, as isolated, or as unique as it may be, leaves us asking some tough questions. (To read Pioneer Press Article on this story click here)

Why did she describe her assailant as being "Hispanic?"

What's her understanding of Latinos?

Let me be clear, I don't blame her or pretend to want to chastise her for committing a mistake. At the end of the day she's only 10. But we do have to question the influences in her life that are socializing her to believe certain stereotypes or are at the very least conjuring up a pattern of images which are shaping her public perception.

Its been well documented the amount of television and other forms of media that children are taking in on a daily basis. The phenomenon has grown to the point where children are spending more time engaging with media than they do with their parents and teachers combined.

The mainstream media's portrayal of Latinos has consistently been negative. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists annually does a "Brownout Report" in which they analyze the coverage of the major TV networks and their coverage of Latinos. What they've found is that networks seldom cover the Latino community, but when they do, the coverage tends to be around crime and immigration. (For Brownout Reports from 2001-2006 click here)

In 2006, the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project conducted research of twenty newspapers statewide for a period of 10 weeks in the fall. The report tracked and analyzed articles based on the type of topics that were being covered as well as the types of Latinos that appeared in the stories. The major findings were that nearly 30% of the stories dealt with the topic of crime. Of which the majority of those stories presented criminal activity in which Latinos were the perpetrators. The most prevalent type of Latino that appeared in the research was a criminal.
(To read full report click here)

So if these are the images that our children and the general public are exposed to....
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Then can we really be surprised that when a young girl thinks of an child abductor she conjures the images of a Latino face.