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LatinoBuzz: PBS Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with Mariachis, Lucha Libre Wrestlers, Slam Poets, and John Leguizamo

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by Vanessa Erazo
September 28, 2012 7:30 AM
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John Leguizamo in "Ghetto Klown"
John Leguizamo in "Ghetto Klown"

Public television has long been a champion of diversity and through October 15, PBS will honor Latinos by celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a varied lineup of new and encore programming. Among the repeat broadcasts that are absolutely worth your time are the documentaries Tales From a GhettoKlown, a behind-the-scenes look at John Leguizamo’s Broadway show of the same name; Mariachi High, an inspiring year in the life of the champion mariachi ensemble at Zapata High School in South Texas; and Waste Land, an Academy Award-nominated film about a Brazilian artist who uses materials found in a landfill to create larger-than-life portraits of garbage collectors. (Checklocallistings)

One of the new programs spotlighted this month is VOCES, a showcase of documentaries that celebrate the rich diversity of the Latino cultural experience, that will premiere in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month on four consecutive Friday nights.

Executive Director of Latino Public Broadcasting, Sandie Viquez Pedlow, took great care in selecting the four documentaries that make up the series, “I am always looking for stories that are relevant, that take creative risks, that are artfully produced and well told, and have the potential to engage a national audience.”As a result of her thoughtful choices, the current season of VOCES will highlight Latino artists, athletes, and performers in Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. And for those of you who think public television is boring, get ready to be proven wrong.

VOCES kicks off with Tales of Masked Men (September 28), an absorbing insider’s look at the world of Mexican “lucha libre,” famous for its masked wrestlers, followed by Escaramuza: Riding From the Heart (October 5), about a gutsy team of women rodeo riders vying to represent the U.S. at the National Charro Championships in Mexico.Unfinished Spaces (October 12) tells the story of the Cuban Revolution through its most significant work of architecture, Cuba’s National Schools of Art, and the three visionary men who designed it, while Lemon (October 19) follows Puerto Rican poet/performer Lemon Andersen, a three-time felon and one-time Tony Award winner, as he struggles to take his life story to the New York stage.

The genesis of the series was a few years back and was prompted by a lack of regular Latino-themed programming on public television. “VOCES was launched in 2006 by Luca Bentivoglio, then executive director of Latino Public Broadcasting. Luca had worked for Univision and Telemundo and knew that stations in areas of large Latino populations such as New York, Miami, California, Texas, Chicago and other markets would benefit from more Latino programming to better serve their audience,” says Viquez Pedlow.

A series like VOCES, this year airing nationwide on PBS, is in the unique position to bring Latino stories to a broad general audience. But, Viquez Pedlow feels that even more programming is needed, “I think we need more VOCES on public media and commercial channels and the opportunity to present Latino compelling stories with diverse points of view so they are seen and understood by the American public.” Particularly at times when immigration becomes a hot-button issue, it is vital to have positive stories circulating in the public sphere to help counteract the negative and stereotyped portrayals of Latinos that the mainstream media perpetuates.

In keeping with it’s mission to, “to bring more Latino voices to public media” Latino Public Broadcasting has committed to helping the films reach an even wider audience after their broadcast. “We are focusing on 6 markets with high Latino populations, creating partnerships between public television stations and Latino organizations, museums, schools and universities for screenings, events and online activities to create dialogue around the programs and extend the footprint of the series.”

The hope is that these films will not only entertain but also educate, inform, and transform audiences. It is programs like VOCES that push our stories into the mainstream at a pivotal time in U.S. history. It is a time in which demographics are rapidly changing and where soon minorities may no longer be minorities. It is about time that all Americans celebrate the diversity that this country has to offer.

VOCES ON PBS, premieres this Friday, September 28 and runs on four consecutive Friday nights through October 19 at 10:00 p.m. ET.

VOCESonFacebook| VOCESonTwitter

Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature onSydneysBuzzthat highlights emerging and established Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow@LatinoBuzzon twitter.

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