Univision's World Cup Spanish commentary has surprised some Latinos

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Let's turn our attention now to the World Cup. Major excitement over the games in Brazil all over the globe. How much excitement? Well, let me play you the sound from a YouTube video I happened to see. It's shot from a skyscraper in downtown Santiago, Chile at the exact moment that Chile's team scored a goal thousands of miles away in Rio. You'll hear it.

[Clip plays]

Werman: Yeah, pretty clear how folks in Santiago felt about Chile scoring against colonial masters Spain that day. I'm not sure you'd hear the same roar over Washington or New York after an US goal, but who know? You might. It seems more and more people in the US are tuning in to watch World Cup games on TV, many of them on the Spanish language Univision network. That's what Felix Sanchez is doing. Sanchez is co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and though he's primarily an English speaker, he decided to watch the games on Univision to catch the commentary. But he was surprised by what he heard.

Felix Sanchez: Univision is trouncing ESPN in the ratings and part of that reason is that English language leaning Latinos like myself join for a more authentic experience with Univision, but sometimes we get surprised by some of the things we hear.

Werman: Like what?

Sanchez: Most recently was a characterization related to an Afro-Costa Rican player describing him not by his last name but by the color of skin, calling him "moreno". It was alarming at first.

Werman: You also wrote on Facebook about other terms that you heard on Univision like "Greña". Can you just kind of explain their meaning to non-Spanish speakers like myself?

Sanchez: Greña really means messy hair but some individuals think of it as referring to African-American hair and also describing it as "nappy" hair. When English language leaning Latinos watch Spanish language programming there’s a culture clash that occurs because the kind of social progress that we live in in our mainstream world doesn’t always seem to be reflected in programming that is not English language programming.

Werman: So how do these words then kind of get perceived in Latin America, like in South America?

Sanchez: I think they are very comfortable with the use of these kinds of descriptors. And therein lies kind of the issue, which is that regardless of the fact that it’s being broadcast in Spanish, it’s still by a US broadcaster that must abide by American standards and American sensibilities. Now, the good news to all of this was that the president of Univision Sports reached out to me. There had been other incidents that I've heard or that anyone has related to me and I think that they were extremely sensitive at wanting to address these kinds of occurrences because they recognize that the audience that has tuned in, some 42 million since their beginning coverage, that many of them are, as I said, English language leaning Latinos who might see or feel or experience things differently even if it’s in another language

Werman: Felix, let's just think for a moment about language style and cultural context because I don't want to defend ethnic slurs in any way, but the way in which language is used when talking about soccer, I mean it's very distinctive, it's a style and one that, honestly, the American commentators just don't have. The Brits, oddly, get a bit more excited than our soccer commentators, but the Spanish-speakers are the best even if you don't understand them. Do you really want to water down the style and make it just like our bland American commentary?

Sanchez: Well, that's an interesting question. We don’t want to minimize, we don’t want to maximize either, what’s occurred because most of it has not continued, but it shows you the challenges that we have. For those of us who look at image construction, words matter. Univision responds instantly because they want this audience and they recognize there has to be adjustments linguistically because we’re not necessarily in the same worlds. We are one foot in each world.

Werman: So now that you've got a little iota of World Cup fever, who are you rooting for, Felix?

Sanchez: Well, I'll be rooting for USA and I'll be rooting for Mexico.

Werman: Felix Sanchez directs the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Felix, thank you very much.

Sanchez: My pleasure.

Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.