63-year-old George Ramos passed away on July 23. The former Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist made a difference in the world of journalism and the Latino community. Guest blogger and digital journalist, Sandra Gonzalez shares her personal story about George and his impact on her career.
I was taking a long Sunday nap during the rain when I noticed the phone was ringing. After I hung up, I checked my Twitter account. Yes I am a social media addict, and the first tweet I saw said: “George Ramos dead”. I thought, “No, not my George Ramos!” But it was.
My goodness this death hit me in the gut…through my bones. I just saw George a month ago in Orlando at the NAHJ convention. He was in great spirits, checking out the panels on blogging and working with the journalism students. We had caught up, hugged; I just knew I would be seeing him at the Unity convention next year. I even received a nice email from him out of the blue, encouraging me in my reporting in New Orleans.
Wow, this giant in journalism is no more. I feel like I’ve known him forever. He had known me since I was in college competing for an award in Long Beach. I remember being impressed that a Latino journalist was the keynote speaker at a competition by the California Intercollegiate Press Association (CIPA). I just had to meet him.
Since that day, George Ramos had been my role model and friend. Wherever I was in my career, George happened to be somewhere in my life.
When I worked in Santa Barbara as a radio reporter, he came to the CCNMA scholarship banquet to encourage journalists and students. When I was working as a television reporter in Bakersfield, I remember George being our keynote at another CCNMA banquet. Once again he shared his words of wisdom.
In the late 1990’s I was doing radio in Dallas and very active in the Hispanic Communicators DFW. I’ll never forget when my friend Anna Martinez said “I wished there was a Latino journalist who earned a Pulitzer that could come to Dallas and speak at our scholarship banquet.” I said “I know one.” I called George and without hesitation he said he would be our keynote speaker.
At the banquet he did something I didn’t expect. In front of the crowd, he pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for a donation of $2,000 for our organization. George challenged other journalists in the room to do the same.
George was a pioneer, for CCNMA and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ.) I remember him telling me so many interesting stories and experiences. He talked about CCNMA and how it was first referred to as the California Chicano News Men Association. He said that name didn’t sit well with the women, so they changed the name.
He shared the tales of the CCNMA founding fathers meeting with ice chests of beer in the early days to discuss the problems of the lack of Latinos in newsrooms and other issues. I was proud to be a CCNMA scholarship recipient, and one who would proudly carry the torch for years to come.
George also spoke of his childhood. He said he and the other kids in his family would be watching episodes of Davy Crockett on TV, and in one episode Davy was fighting off the evil Mexicans. George remembered he and his friends were cheering for Davy when suddenly his dad shut off the TV. George recalled that his father gave them a lesson about their skin color. That was George’s first exposure to negative images of Latinos.
George also spoke of a negative encounter when he was a teenager. He said when he was growing up in East Los Angeles, a man at a small newspaper told him not to pursue a newspaper career, but stick to janitorial kind of stuff. That man actually lived to see George earn three Pulitzer Prize awards.
He and the team that won the Pulitzer for the stories about Latinos in Los Angeles was historic, and made Latinos around the country extremely proud of that achievement. I remember he told me “journalism is a noble career.” While sometimes we can get stuck in a rut, I still believe what he said. And now posthumously, George inspires me as a journalist even more.
Written by Sandra Gonzalez, a digital journalist in New Orleans, La. She’s also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
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