Photo: Krystal Ramirez

The LatinX podcasters bring a critical eye to sacred cows in the name of "brown excellence"

Emerge Impact + Music is created and produced by ABP Media’s parent company, A Beautiful Perspective. Leading up to the event, we’re featuring some of the musicians and speakers who’ll be performing in Las Vegas April 6-8. 

Hispanics listen to the radio in greater numbers than any other demographic in the United States. According to Nielsen, radio reaches 98 percent of Hispanics—far above the overall national average of 93 percent. Hispanic and black radio audiences also account for much of the growth of audio streaming via smartphones. Despite these numbers, the world of podcasting (aka, the scrappier cousin of radio broadcasting) has largely been dominated by white, primarily male creators.

That is slowly changing because of people like Justin Favela and Emmanuel Ortega, who decided to create their own podcast after realizing there were no existing ones showcasing voices and experiences like theirs. The Las Vegas-based pair launched Latinos Who Lunch in 2016 after being inspired by black podcasts like The Read with Kid Fury and Crissle and For Colored Nerds with Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings.

“I thought, I don’t think there’s a Latino version of this,” recalls Favela, who goes by the nickname FavyFav on the podcast. “We should start it!”

Favela and Ortega kicked the idea around for two years before finally deciding to go for it. The weekly podcast features the two friends making small talk about meals they’ve eaten recently before jumping into heavier topics of arts, culture, politics and identity. Many of their conversations build on their expertise off-mic. Ortega, who goes by the alias Babelito for the podcast, has a doctorate in Ibero-American colonial art history and currently teaches art history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Favela is a full-time visual artist whose work has been featured in museums and exhibits across the country. 

The result is one weekly hour-long episode that can quickly and seamlessly jump from an academic explanation of a concept like “magical realism” to riffing on the Oscars for being an elite circle jerk that warrants too much attention. Listeners can expect a crash course in Mexican art history and Grindr jokes.

The podcast has given Favela (right) the courage to say "crazy shit in front of white people." Krystal Ramirez

One early episode of Latinos Who Lunch focused on dissecting Frida Kahlo as an icon and artist. Ortega addressed what he saw as problematic issues with the artist and expressed his desire for deeper, more critical conversations about her. It’s easy to imagine such a conversation between two white academics or artists becoming a minefield, but between the brown friends its natural and nuanced.

“People continually come back and say they loved that episode,” says Ortega. “It explored some ideas. Those are my favorite kind of episodes.”

More recently, the duo, who will take the stage at Emerge Impact + Music on April 6, did the same with the critically acclaimed movies Coco and Shape of Water. The latter won the Best Picture Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, and its director—Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro—won best picture. Favela and Ortega discussed whether they saw it as representative of Latinos or Latino culture.

A bemused Favela quipped, “One of the main characters, the one that was actual Latino, was an amphibious river god from South American, and he was green. I guess that’s how we were represented in the movie…”

He went on to talk about what he described as an uncomfortable topic: The fact that white privilege exists in Mexico and del Toro benefits from it because he is a white Mexican: “In Mexico, people don’t like to talk about it because they pretend racism doesn’t exist, but whiteness does exist in Mexico also. That’s the privilege that is never talked about.”

Ortega took it further. “In fact, a lot of filmmakers making waves in Hollywood from Mexico come from wealthy families in Mexico itself, and they also came to the surface and are recognized for their very European style of filmmaking.”

But just before the conversation gets too heavy, Ortega adds on: “Shoutout to Salma Hayek, though.”

“We can be critical of our own,” says Ortega. “If it grows without criticism, it will be the same shit. … We can create brown excellence.”

Podcasting allows people of color to opt out of a system that was never designed for them.

Representation of people of color in media is a topic that comes up regularly, both in their podcast episodes and in interviews the pair has done with mainstream news outlets. Ortega says progress is slow. More black and brown faces are appearing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the story being told is multidimensional or authentic. Tokenism is still very much an issue.

That’s the power of podcasting, says Ortega, “We get to control everything.”

Favela concurs, adding that podcasting allows people of color to opt out of a system that was never designed for them. Instead of trying to prove the value of their voice and the existence of an audience, they can simply start talking because they know intrinsically that a void exists.

“We made this on our own,” he says. “They can see the success.”

Now, Latinos Who Lunch has become a selling point. What started out as a side project for two friends has increasingly taken up more of their time and energy. The hosts have been invited to speak at prestigious academic institutions likes Wellesley and participated in podcast meetups. They are a regular fixture on Nevada Public Radio.

Favela says working on the podcast has also made him a better artist. He says when he began as an artist he was creating “art for art’s sake.” Now, he develops his ideas and themes much more carefully and with better context of art history and his own Mexican-Guatemalan heritage. Recently, a museum curator interested in featuring Favela’s art looked up the podcast and enjoyed it so much they asked if Ortega could be involved somehow.

Beyond art, Favela says the podcast has also given him the confidence to speak up when in the past he might have remained silent.

“It’s given me the courage and power because I know I’ll come back and have this space where people love me and know me,” he says. “I say all this crazy shit in front of white people now.”

Ortega, who was still in school when Latinos Who Lunch launched, says he was originally a little hesitant and concerned about how the rambles and rants of the podcast would mesh with his pursuit of a career in academia. But they’ve proven complementary, as the paid speaking events at places like Wellesley demonstrate.

While the podcast is officially based out of Las Vegas, its audience spans across the country and even world. Favela says many of their listeners are Latinos immersed in spaces where they feel like they cannot 100 percent be themselves. When you deal with microaggressions or isolation in a predominantly white space, turning on a podcast like Latinos Who Lunch can feel like home.

Favela, an avid devourer of podcasts, says there are now hundreds of brown podcasts out there in the world. Latinos Who Lunch has done crossover episodes with several of them, including Let There Be Luz, Súper Mamás and Nos Vemos en El Swapmeet. The duo is also considering doing an episode in the near future about how to launch your own podcast. They have been deliberate in their attempts to be collaborative and not competitive.

Their philosophy is that the more voices, the better.

“We knew we needed to be supportive of other POC podcasts and not competing because that’s what white supremacy makes us do,” says Favela.

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