The biggest night in Latin music happened one week after one of the most divisive elections of our lifetimes. But even though the United States just elected Donald Trump – a man who spent his campaign disparaging Latinos and has pledged to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants – the Latin Grammys chose to steer clear of politics. During the award ceremony there were no big declarations, no calls to action, and very little acknowledgement of the reality we face as Latinos under a Trump administration.
The silence was pretty deafening. As Spotify Label Relation Manager Valerie Miranda noted in a Facebook post, “Latin Grammys happened one week after an election that might affect Latinos in the US the most. If it was ever necessary for politics to be part of the conversation around music, it is today. Sadly, we missed an opportunity. Shout out to Carla Morrison who addressed the election during her acceptance speech. Too bad it was during the pre-telecast ceremony.”
It was also surprising, considering past years at the Latin Grammys. In 2014, the telecast directly followed President Obama’s remarks on immigration action, and during the award show both Eugenio Derbez and Calle 13 were vocal on the subject, as well as on the missing Ayotzinapa students. Last year saw Los Tigres del Norte and Maná perform the pro-immigrant song “Somos Más Americanos”, after which they held up a sign that read “Latinos Unidos No Voten Por Racistas” — a direct call-out to then-candidate Donald Trump.
This year, the absence of politics seems to have been a calculated decision. According to Emmy Award-winning journalist Gaby Natale, who was covering the event, the Latin Grammy team asked journalists in the press room to refrain from asking political questions.
— Gaby Natale (@GabyNatale) November 18, 2016
Natale, who covered the award show for Super Latina, expected to hear the same-old press room rules: don’t take photos, don’t use flash, etc. But she didn’t expect the Academy to restrict the subject matter they could ask about. “This is the third time that I cover the Latin Grammys,” she told me in a phone conversation. “I’ve covered Billboard and many other award ceremonies. I don’t recall a time when we were told in any press room that we could not [ask] questions related to anything, much less to politics. So I know that it might cost me my credentials next year, or for the years to come, but I’m a citizen first and then a reporter.”
Despite the alleged suppression, Natale said that reporters still asked celebrities political questions, prefacing them with apologies. “I don’t think we should [be apologizing] to ask questions relating to politics one week after one of the most consequential elections in the history of the United States, and in an election that has the capability of having consequences that are very serious for the Latino community. And that’s what worried me. I don’t want to normalize the behavior of being told not to ask political questions.”
I don’t want to normalize the behavior of being told not to ask political questions.
At the end of the ceremony, Natale said she and other journalists spoke to Gabriel Abaroa, the president of the Academy, and voiced their concerns. Abaroa noted that the Academy hadn’t asked celebrities to refrain from speaking on any subject, though did not clarify why the Latin Grammys didn’t extend the same courtesy to the press. “He explained that if the Latin Grammys started to be conceived as something political, because we start doing political questions, there might be financial consequences for them.”
On the one hand, the Latin Grammys does have external forces, like donors, to worry about. But on the other hand, censorship is harmful, especially at a time like this. As we brace ourselves for Trump’s presidency, we know that freedom of the press may take a hit. In the past, Trump has said he wants to weaken the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. In short, he’d like our press to match England’s.
“Well, in England they have a system where you can actually sue if someone says something wrong,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and get away with it. And I think we should go to a system where if they do something wrong – I’m a big believer, tremendous believer, of the freedom of the press. Nobody believes it stronger than me, but if they make terrible, terrible mistakes and those mistakes are made on purpose to injure people.”
Even though reporters may not have felt they could ask whatever they wanted, the artists who made their way to the press room had the election on their minds, Natale said. So even when reporters talked about other topics, it was the celebrities who brought the focus back to Trump’s election.
“This is what’s happening across the planet,” she said. “These are the topics that the whole world is speaking [about]. The artists themselves expressed what they were feeling. The election was only one week [behind us] and we are reading everyday incidents in schools. We are reading everyday incidents of Latinos being discriminated against, so of course artists are living in this world too and they are worried. And so are we as media.”