Ray Suarez-Started Out in Brooklyn Heights, Ended up Soaring to New Ones
What was it that initially made you realize that journalism was what you wanted to do with your life?
I just thought it would be an exciting line of work. I thought I would see the events and meet the people that make the world go ‘round. I thought it would give me a chance to see the world. It’s really succeeded on all those scores. I’ve had a good career and learned a lot and had a chance to do a lot, so I’m so lucky and blessed that things worked out the way they did. You can have desires and dreams and they don’t have to necessarily work out. Luckily, mine did.
You’re deeply religious. How is it that you’re able to mesh politics and religion?
Well, it’s been a long time interest of mine—the way religion has become so much more involved in the way we do politics in America. As someone with a very active life outside of work, in a local congregation; I was very familiar with that world, so thought it would help me write about two things that I’m very close to—both religion and politics. I cover politics for a living, so it’s a fascinating and fun thing to write The Holy Vote.
Do you feel as though President elect Barack Obama be able to restore the damage done to our country over the past eight years?
I hope so. If you love your country and hope for the best for it, you can’t help but hope that Obama will manage to bind up some of the wounds of the last several years. Whenever you have a record number of Americans telling opinion researchers that country’s on the wrong track, that they don’t approve of the job that the President’s doing; you’ve got a problem. No matter how you feel about the particular government and its particular policies, that’s just the sign of a problem and President Bush will leave office and leave a country that’s very upset about the way things went while he was President. It’s going to be a really, really tough thing for the President starting in January 2009. I’m just grateful that anyone with ability wanted the job.
How do you feel about the way the economy is now?
There are some bad times ahead because, whether it’s housing, the tremendous reliance of Americans on imports and the loss of industries that American workers can work in and make things—it’s going to be a tough, tough time. Especially as the banking crisis and the decline of the stock market continues; it’s going to be tougher for businesses and homeowners to borrow money and nobody knows what anything is worth anymore. So a lot of the activity that moves around with the money is going to get frozen as everybody will look at each other, waiting for everyone else to make the first move. Some economists have said that it is worse that other people realize.
Do you think Obama’s mantra for change will easily transition from theory into practice?
I feel that Obama isn’t going to be a magician and won’t be able to do things as quickly as the voters who are impatient for change and upset about the way things have become. He may not be fast enough to satisfy people that want to get on with it already. It will take a couple of years to straighten out the economy and everything else, and Obama may run for re-election, while being discredited for how bad things were when they had their first couple years in office, rather than any credit for helping turning things around.
Do you feel as though the Latino community is making any waves in American politics?
I think it’s part of the political maturing of a people realizing their own power and potential and being courted by the most powerful forces in this society that all realize that they want our votes and attention of the community. So, all these things taken together mean good things: leverage, the kind of influence that groups have had for a long time in America. Now it seems to be the Latino voters’ turn. The major political parties and the candidates and campaigns can all read census and economic data and they know where the votes are and who the voters are, so I think you’re going to see a lot of attention given to the Latino voters in the next couple of cycles. As more people maturize and are able to vote, you’ll see even more attention given. Right now, it’s a very large population, but not that large of a vote, but as our young people come to be 18 and mature into the coming presidential cycles—2012 and 2016—we’re going to see numbers that dwarf today’s numbers. It’s going to change the way we do campaigns and the power and attention given to different states around the country as well.
Have your Puerto Rican roots help shape your career in journalism?
It’s a great thing being Puerto Rican and I’m happy about it everyday. Mostly, it doesn’t have that much to do with the work that I do. Occasionally, it does. Growing up working class and without any economic backup and having to make my own way and luck in the world has taught me a lot about the way the country works and the aspirations and desires of people as they try to make better lives for themselves—that’s not directly related to being Puerto Rican. But, growing up in the 60’s in New York and being Puerto Rican, it was unlikely that you would be rich or have parents that could afford to pay your tuition in college. The things don’t cause one another, but they are related to one another. I think I have a pretty good handle on this country and the way it works because I grew up the way I did, where I did, when I did and who my parents were.
What is your biggest contribution to journalism?
I’ve never thought about that! That’s a question I’ve never been asked. I guess, to try, over the years, to take some of the most difficult and challenging issues and explain them in a way that helps people really understand what’s at stake. People would come up to me after I’ve covered a story or issue and say, ‘I never really understood it that way until I heard your report.’ That’s what I think the job of the journalist is—to make a world that can sometimes be overwhelming, confusing and challenging and say here’s where you fit in this picture and here is what that means for the place you live, the life you live and the country we all share.
What would you say has been a defining moment in your career?
One of the great joys of my 30 year career is that I’ve gone from being one of the few Latinos in the newsroom to being one of many. It’s been a time of tremendous change for minorities in the business and that’s a great thing. I would say it’s been sad to see how slow the progress was and things are really moving now, even though the news business itself has had some growing problems. It really is a remarkable change with the minority presence in the newsroom. Just in the career of one individual guy. I can see it from my perch the inside the newsroom. When you go to the annual meeting of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, instead of being a fairly small affair, it’s really a large meeting with people from all over the country. And they are working in all parts of the business and all levels, not just rookie reporters, but editors, publishers, news directors and executive producers. It’s a very satisfying thing. Not only to be lucky enough to climb the ladder, but know that there are plenty of others climbing up behind me.