Sexual harassment, abuse and inappropriate behavior are not new, and South Florida itself is not immune. "Abuse isn't an economic issue; it's across the board. In Hispanic culture it is a double whammy: It's a culture of machismo and a culture of silence. It's a deadly combination," says Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago.
Last week, Santiago wrote about her own personal experiences with sexual harassment, in a column that appeared in English and in Spanish. "Women of all ages are being forced by the national conversation on sexual harassment to confront ghosts we thought we had buried," Santiago wrote.
On Wednesday, TIME magazine revealed that the men and women who broke their silence on sexual harassment would be the “Person of the Year.” Since the accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced in October, thousands of people have been sharing their stories on sexual assault with the hashtag #MeToo.
WLRN’s Tom Hudson spoke with Santiago and her colleague at El Nuevo Herald, Brenda Medina, who has been reporting on domestic abuse and violence against women in Latin America, on The Florida Roundup. Here are highlights from their conversation:
WLRN: Fabiola, why did you decide at this moment to put your voice into this movement?
SANTIAGO: When the Harvey Weinstein story broke, my editor asked, "Are you going to write about this?"and I said, "Yeah, yeah, " and we started to have a little conversation and then I said, "Let's move on to another topic."
Was it discomfort with the topic?
Yes, yes. But there I dare not admit it. It was a very long process for me that lasted these two months, because what it did, his [the editor]saying that put the topic on my plate in a way that I'm comfortable with, which is the professional one. My notebook, my pen, have always been sort of my shield, but that just didn't leave me alone. I didn't get around to it. There are many important issues in this community to write about and nationally and so it evolved for me. Then on Tuesday I was prepared to write about something. I had already done the work for another column, and then I heard a Republican congressman say that we had no right to judge Roy Moore and the Alabama voters. And that was it. I said, "You coward!' I just put everything aside and I sat there and I wrote that column exactly as I felt it, experienced it and as it had been working inside of me for the last two months.
WLRN: Brenda, as you've begun reporting in Spanish language media, how has this been handled broadly in Spanish language media and how does this moment of acknowledging this deep harassment, when we're talking about sexual assault and rape in some cases--how does this cut across and intersect with cultures here in South Florida?
MEDINA: I feel like in English or Spanish we haven't been localizing this story as aggressively as we should. I'm actually reporting on a story now about how this movement resonates with more vulnerable women, poor women, undocumented immigrants who work as caregivers or domestic workers and are subject to this kind of behaviors almost on a daily basis. I've written about domestic workers who at home are victims of domestic violence, and when they go to work are also victims of harassment and mistreatment and violence. And I want to know, how do they deal with this? These are very traumatic experiences. They cannot go and write an essay that's going to come out on the cover of the New York Times. So how have they dealt with this historically and how do they continue to deal with this after, like, hearing all over the news that powerful women are also having difficulties coming out and telling their stories?
SANTIAGO: I think all communities have different dynamics, but at the same time they're universal. I think the culture of silence that has allowed this to go on for generations is, I'm sure, as old as mankind and I think that we need to break that. In the Hispanic community, the culture of silence exists in modern America because abuse is not an economic issue, it's not an ethnic issue, it is across the board. But in our culture I think that there's a double whammy of the culture of machismo and this culture of silence, and that is a deadly combination.
WLRN: Do you feel that there's gray area out there when it comes to language?
SANTIAGO: One good way of measuring whether something is right or wrong is saying, would I be doing this to someone else? So, for example, if you think you're being nice or complimenting to me every time I come into work and you say, 'Oh, you look so beautiful,' do you comment on the appearance of the men in your workplace? When they come in, do you say 'you look beautiful'? When they have a new outfit or haircut? And this is what happens, and, honestly, I take it as a friendly gesture unless that advances, but I would think about it. We all want a professional workplace. Don't put your hands on their shoulders unless they're your very, very personal friends. It's kind of common sense, but I understand where there could be some confusion.