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Rising Star Federico Subervi

Subervi finds backing for his efforts to improve Latino media

By M. Yvonne Taylor, University Marketing

Federico Subervi

Imagine a world in which the media systematically eliminate or distort the voice and perspective of huge groups of people. A world in which these same groups are cut off from valuable information, affecting their lives, their communities and their participation in government.

Sounds Orwellian, doesn’t it? Could never happen in a true democracy, could it? Yet it happens in America every day, says Dr. Federico Subervi, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the new Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets.

But the Fulbright scholar doesn’t sit on the sidelines, idly pondering these issues. Subervi gets involved: speaking at colleges, conferences, television stations, radio stations, the halls of government — even taking on the Federal Communications Commission directly, confronting issues of media ownership and its effect on coverage of issues important to Latinos. He also has recently published a book, The Mass Media and Latino Politics: Studies of U.S. Media Content, Campaign Strategies and Survey Research: 1984-2004, which is the first to extensively analyze how the media cover Latinos and Latino issues and to assess media’s influence on Latino political orientations.

Subervi fights for increased access to media, increased and accurate representation in media, and increased coverage of issues important to those whose voices have been marginalized and whose stories remain untold.

The Value of Education and Perseverance

Raised in both Puerto Rico and New York City, Subervi was an early observer of disparities — in education and in access — and decided at a young age to increase his own opportunities through education. He learned from his mother, whose schooling ended with the fourth grade, and his uncle, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, the value of education and the value of perseverance.

“Because of my uncle, I spent time growing up on a college campus, so it was a given that I belonged there, “ explains Subervi. “And from my mother, I learned the value of the human spirit, outreach and compassion.

“She inspired me to continue to do what I wanted to do in my career and life.”

He credits one of his first jobs for spurring an interest in journalism: “I delivered the newspaper in my hometown as a kid. Before 7 a.m., I had delivered 50 newspapers and read it from cover to cover, so I was very informed about what was going on in the world.”

Subervi went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico. While in school, he witnessed the social upheaval of the 1960s and what he perceived as distortions in the press about protests against the Vietnam War. Seeing these events and the media’s faulty response influenced a change in career direction from studying aeronautical engineering to becoming a social scientist to “improve society and how people were informed about society and to fight against injustice.”

When the University of Puerto Rico decided to offer a master’s in journalism, Subervi jumped at the opportunity. He was one of 33 students who began the master’s program during its first year, and two years later, one of only two who finished it. He then headed to the University of Wisconsin to earn his PhD in mass communication.

Inspired and Inspiring

Anyone who has been touched by Subervi will testify to the values he learned as a child and his desire to right the wrongs of the world.

“He is such a passionate and sincere person,” says Laura Coria, a senior mass communication and Spanish major who has taken Subervi’s Latinos in Media course and credits him with influencing her decision to enroll at Texas State. “When I was doing my research on universities to transfer to, I looked at the Texas State site and saw his biography. We eventually communicated and he informed me about the university. Talking to him, I had a gut feeling that Texas State was where I belonged.”

He became her mentor before she even arrived on campus, says Coria, adding, “I don’t think there are many people like him. He is so inspiring, and I owe so much of my professional development to him.”

In fact, Subervi inspired Coria to start a student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a huge undertaking.

“Dr. Subervi said that what was needed was student initiative,” explains Coria. “I decided to do it, and in January 2008, after picking up the necessary signatures and doing all of the paperwork, Texas State welcomed an NAHJ Student Chapter.”

“It’s a delight to have as students and former students, many Latinos who are very active,” says Subervi, who is also a mentor for the launch of Latinitas, Inc. and the Latinos and Media Project Web site. “Many campuses around the country have Latino students, but they’re not active or involved in such an association.”

The Center and Texas State

When the Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets sponsored an international symposium on Spanish-language and Latino media earlier this year, it was the fulfillment of a dream Subervi has had since 1992.

He had proposed the idea of such a center elsewhere, but it did not gain traction until he came to work at Texas State in 2005. Subervi believes that Texas State’s interest in diversity and issues facing minorities is one of the reasons he was brought on board.

“I think what I appreciate most about Texas State is that from day one the work that I do with Latinos and media has been validated,” he says. “I never have to explain or justify what I do or why I do it to my dean.”

He hopes that the center will gain grants and funding for more research projects and attract graduate students with his kind of passion. He also hopes the center’s work will improve both the Latino and the general market media.

Its original research already is attracting attention and putting Texas State in the spotlight.

“Dr. Subervi is a man with a lot of vision with regard to research and academics,” says Dr. Sindy Chapa, assistant professor and associate director of the center. “His work has impacted not only the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, by attracting more students interested in Latino-oriented media and markets, but also Texas State, by capturing the attention of scholars and practitioners from different universities and countries.”

His mother and uncle would be proud.


Federico Subervi file

Hometown: San Germán, Puerto Rico

Education: BA, MA, University of Puerto Rico, 1971, 1974; PhD, University of Wisconsin, 1984
Curriculum Vitae

Surprises in his research: In his research, Dr. Subervi has learned that there is very little Spanish-language local news on the radio between Austin and San Antonio, yet radio is the primary source of entertainment for Spanish-only speakers. This lack of important information is “not good for the Latino community and it’s not good for democracy,” says the professor.

Surprises about him: Dr. Subervi also served as a cultural advisor for children’s series The Misadventures of Maya & Miguel and Dora the Explorer.

Surprises about Texas State: Although Subervi says that he knew the university was “an up-and-coming campus. I didn’t know its culture.” He adds, “It’s been a very pleasant surprise that the operating culture is a cordial one. For example, everywhere we went to ask for guidance and assistance with the symposium, we were met with, ‘Let’s see what we can do’ rather than ‘No, that can’t be done.’”

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