Otto Santa Ana


Contact Information

Email    otto@ucla.edu
Office  Bunche 7361
Phone  (213) 590-3798
Professor Otto Santa Ana’s scholarship over the past 15 years focuses on language that constructs social hierarchies and on how mass media amplifies the construction of unjust social inequity.







As a sociolinguist, Santa Ana edited Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public School (2004), an anthology about minority language in the classroom and the community. He has also authored a dozen peer-review articles on languages in contact, language change, focused mainly on the English and the Spanish of U.S. Latinos.





A critical discourse analyst, Santa Ana studies the mass media representations of Latinos. Recognizing this in his first book,Brown Tide Rising(2002) provides a close study of newspapers. The American Political Science Association named it Book of the Year on Ethnic and Racial Political Ideology. He continues to refine his research tools (and with undergraduate co-authors), recently explored the national newspaper coverage of immigrants during the Great Immigrant Rights Marches of 2006. This article, “A May to Remember” appeared in the Du Bois Review (2007).



Santa Ana has also extended his mass media research to visual modalities. Also co-authored with undergraduate students, he published an article entitled “Framing peace as violence” (2010) in Aztlán. The article examined the televised news coverage of a wanton police attack on a Los Angeles immigration rights rally. Reporters on the ground at the time called the event a unprovoked police attack. The next day, however, the news media reframed the event: They falsely said he marchers instigated the violence, which prompted a justified police response. The television news blamed the victims for the violence. Santa Ana et al. argue that that television news seized significant political agency and manipulated public opinion about domestic immigration policy.


In this stream of research, Santa Ana’s latest book, Juan in a Hundred: Representations of Latinos on the Evening News, (2013) analyzes how television networks disregard Latino communities. He surveys a full year of news story coverage about Latinos for four networks. He notes that national television news rarely addressed Latino issues, less than once of every 100 news stories (>1%). This 1:100 ratio has not changed in 15 years. He explains how audiences make meaning out of the multimodal news narratives by offering a cognitive model of television viewing.The American Political Science Association awarded this book the 2013 Ralph J. Bunche Award of the American Political Science Association, for the best scholarly work in political science that explores ethnic and cultural pluralism.


Santa Ana and a co-editor published an anthology on Arizona anti-Latino and anti-immigrant politics. Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media & Provincial Politics (2012) consists of 14 original chapters that make a 2-prong argument. One, these official actions (which express local frustration at the effects of immigration) are parochial. They will prove ineffective in the face of globalization. In the absence of international statesmanship , such official actions recur across the globe, and both immigrant and recipient communities will suffer even more. Two, news media promote emotional public responses beyond Arizona because they chose to sensationalize rather than educate their audiences about immigration. When the media do not set local responses into an international context, they contribute to the nation's myopia.


Santa Ana most recent scholarship explores the power of humor to create and reinforce political hierarchies. Humor is a psychosocial force based in language, so he began by analyzing a set of anti-immigrant jokes used by late-night comedian Jay Leno to entertain his national audience during the U.S. public focus on the Great Marches of 2006 for immigrant rights. Leno skillfully mocks immigrants and their cause, giving his audience emotional release by distancing them from immigrants. Santa Ana argues that such political comedy can be an insidious and discursive practice that reduces the audience’s critical judgment as it creates social boundaries. In his current book-length research project, Santa Ana is exploring the mass media practice of ethnic and other kinds of out-group humor as it constructs discriminatory hierarchies.

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Ph.D., Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, 1991.
M.A., Linguistics, University of Arizona, 1981.
B.A., Anthropology, University of Arizona, 1977.

Selected Publications

Juan in a Hundred: The Representation of Latinos on Network News. University of Texas Press, 2013.

Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics. Coedited with Celeste González de Bustamante. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

"Framing peace as violence: U.S. television news depictions of the 2007 Los Angeles police attack on immigrant rights marchers." With Layza López and Edgar Munguía. Aztlán, 35.1, 2010.

"Did you call in Mexican? The racial politics of Jay Leno immigrant jokes." Language in Society, 38.1, 2009.

"A May to Remember: Adversarial images of immigrants in U.S. newspapers during the 2006 policy debate." With Sandra L. Treviño, Michael Bailey, Kristen Bodossian, and Antonio de Necochea. Du Bois Review, 4.1, 2007.

Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in U.S. Public Education. An edited volume. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

Brown Tide Rising: Metaphoric Representations of Latinos in Contemporary Public Discourse. University of Texas Press, 2002.


Language and social hierarchies; Mass media representation of Latinos; Political humor