News Column

NHMC's Quest to End the Word 'Illegal' When Speaking About Hispanics

Nov. 19, 2012

Rebecca Villaneda-HispanicBusiness

Alex Nogales, CEO and president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), spoke recently to HispanicBusiness about the organization's mission to change negative perceptions about U.S. Hispanics.

In September, NHMC conducted a poll that showed media portrayals of Hispanics and immigrants are fueling negative stereotypes among the general population. According to the poll, in discussing those in the U.S. without documentation, "the term commonly employed by some media outlets, 'illegal aliens,' elicits much more negative feelings than the term 'undocumented immigrants.'"

Part of Nogales' quest to change this negative connotation is to urge media outlets to stop using the word "illegal" when referring to immigrants. HispanicBusiness spoke to Nogales between in-person meetings with the editors of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

"We hadn't been involved in this campaign to change that word, but after I saw the poll results, how people feel as a consequence of hearing that word, it became very evident that we had to start," Nogales said.

NHMC teamed with U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the NAACP, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda to rally against hate speech in the media and to encourage more positive portrayals of people of color and LGBT persons in the media.

The poll found that there is a common misperception that Hispanics and undocumented immigrants are one and the same. According to the poll, 17 percent of survey respondents believe the majority of U.S. Hispanics are undocumented.

"When people hear the word 'illegal,' they immediately turn off and get a negative connotation. It's a very poor choice of words," Nogales said. "That denotes criminality, and we're not criminals." The N.Y. Times did not agree to stop using the word, Nogales said.

"They know it's going to change, but they are resisting it," he continued. "It isn't until they have an overabundance of voices speaking against it that it is going to change."

To view the poll results, visit

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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