As a 24-year-old reporter in Mexico City, Jorge Ramos felt choked by more than just the capital's notorious smog. Tired of censorship from Mexico's then ruling party, the P.R.I., Ramos bolted for Los Angeles in 1983, and in just three years he won the top CONNews anchor spot at Univision, the U.S.'s largest Spanish-language network. An Emmy-winning journalist who combines looks and eloquence with bluntness and tenacity, Ramos, 47, once got slugged by Fidel Castro's bodyguard for asking Castro if Cuba would ever hold democratic elections. Every President since George H.W. Bush has made sure to be interviewed by Ramos, whose network is now fifth largest in the U.S. and whose evening news show (which he co-anchors with Maria Elena Salinas) reaches six times as many Hispanic households as any English-language network.
A firm believer that Hispanic identity is "intrinsically linked" to Spanish, Ramos scoffs at critics who charge that networks like Univision ghettoize that community. "This is the only country I know," he says, "where people believe that to speak only one language is better than two." But Ramos feels a responsibility to be more than just a sonorous voice on TV. Now based in Miami, he writes columns and has published numerous books about issues like immigration (his latest is Dying to Cross, a wrenching account of the suffocation deaths in 2003 of 19 illegal migrants entering Texas in a trailer truck), the Latinization of U.S. culture and what he sees as the lack of trust between the U.S. and the countries of Latin America.