ABC7’s Anabel Muñoz (left) speaks with UCLA Latino Policy and Politics expert, Melissa Chinchilla (right) about the rise of Latino homelessness in Los Angeles

By Alise Brillault

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (UCLA LPPI) maintains a talented bench of over 40 faculty experts whose diverse areas of research and expertise are helping shape public narratives in American politics and driving the media’s focus on the unique experiences of the nation’s growing Latino communities.

Media and the press play a powerful role as the arbiters in deciding who gets to be a part of the American story –  and despite the numerosity of Latino communities throughout the U.S., Latinos still remain largely invisible in the media and in policy debates. As UCLA LPPI research has demonstrated, this lack of representation means that Latinos, their lives, their concerns, and their triumphs are left out of the national narrative and the public’s perception of the American identity.

UCLA LPPI faculty experts are leading the charge in overturning these exclusionary narratives by spotlighting the rich and nuanced experiences of Latino communities, influencing policy debates and the raising visibility of the Latino community. The coverage that these experts have been receiving in prominent news outlets add a unique Latino lens to every emerging policy debate and national political development.

Dr. Melissa Chinchilla, assistant project scientist at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and health services specialist at the VA of Greater Los Angeles, is a leading expert on Latino homelessness affiliated with UCLA LPPI. Her work has been featured in recent media stories about the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s latest homeless count. Outlets including ABC7 and LAist have sought out Chinchilla’s expertise in understanding why the population of unhoused Latinos in Los Angeles has grown by 26% in the last two years – the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group.

“These news features are helping address the invisibility of the Latino community within the homelessness crisis,” Chinchilla said. “Many Latinos who live in overcrowded or substandard housing have historically been overlooked in narratives about homelessness. However, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of Latinos entering the formal homeless system, it is more critical than ever to center the needs of our most vulnerable community members in the media and beyond.”

An assistant professor of environmental policy and urban planning at UC Irvine, Dr. Michael Méndez is another UCLA LPPI expert whose research has been heavily featured in news coverage around climate change and recent environmental disasters. From NPR, to the Los Angeles Times, to ABC7, Méndez has been a go-to source for national news outlets in understanding the ramifications of extreme weather events and natural disasters on Latino and immigrant communities.

“Latinos have a long history of leading the way on climate action, given that they are disproportionately affected by climate-related extreme weather and natural disasters,” explained Méndez. “The media plays a key role in bringing these stories to light so that environmental policy discussions and decisions led by our policymakers meaningfully prioritize the unique needs and perspectives of Latino communities.”

UCLA LPPI expert Dr. David Hayes-Bautista’s latest research centering the economic contributions of Latinos has been highlighted in leading news outlets including NBC and Al Día. Hayes-Bautista, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, co-authored the Latino Donor Collaborative’s 2022 U.S. Latino GDP report demonstrating that U.S. Latinos would represent the 5th largest economy in the world if they were an independent country. U.S. Latinos’ economic output would put them ahead of nations including the United Kingdom, India, and France.

“The results of this study directly contradict the prevalent stereotypes of Latinos as ‘lazy’ or ‘criminal’ often perpetuated by the media. Sharing these data with prominent news outlets allows us to illuminate how hardworking Latinos truly are and how valuable they are to the health and growth of the U.S. economy, now and into the future.” said Hayes-Bautista.

Increased media attention on UCLA LPPI experts’ innovative research expands visibility on the issues that Latinos care about most. It helps build public awareness and urgency around the need to expand resources and opportunities for the country’s youthful Latino communities. And above all, it showcases the contributions of Latinos as leaders in bringing forth a more prosperous, environmentally resilient, and socially equitable nation.