Photo of Maria Hinojosa

Journalist Maria Hinojosa on telling immigrants' stories

By Sienna Lee 

April 3, 2017

The journalist visited Newhouse March 29 as part of the school's Race and the Media event

Journalist Maria Hinojosa spoke to Newhouse students March 29 in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium to kick off Newhouse’s two-day Race and the Media symposium. Her talk focused on the way people of color are portrayed in today’s news media. (Read about the second day of the event.)

Hinojosa is the anchor and executive producer of the Peabody Award-winning “Latino USA” on NPR, a radio show that covers issues affecting Latinos, as well as the PBS show “America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa.” She is also the founder, president and CEO of Futuro Media Group, an independent, nonprofit journalism organization that produces stories that explore the diversity of the American experience. She is a four-time Emmy Award winner and the author of two books. She teaches Latin American Studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

“This is one of the most horrible, beautiful times we have experienced as journalists,” Hinojosa said in her opening remarks.

Photo of Joel Kaplan interviewing Maria Hinojosa
Associate Dean Joel Kaplan interviewed Hinojosa, whose visit was part of Newhouse's "Journalism Matters" initiative.

As journalists and as human beings, Hinojosa said, we are accustomed to progress, but for those covering immigration and race issues in today’s social climate, it feels like things are going backwards. Immigrants fill 35,000 beds in immigrant detention centers across the country; many live in fear of raids and deportation. Ninety percent of the children of these immigrants are born in the U.S., and though they are American citizens, they often grow up with a fear of law enforcement, according to Hinojosa.

“I am angry,” she said, “but [I am] motivated by the tremendous amount of love for my profession and [for] the people consuming the work that we do.”

The silver lining, Hinojosa claimed, is that there is a love and need for journalists in the wake of these racial issues. Active discussion of the topic of immigration is a positive step toward a solution, according to Hinojosa. Remaining both truthful and neutral as a journalist is a challenge, she said, particularly when fighting for things that President Trump overtly dislikes.

“I have never before been five things that the current president has a problem with: I’m a Mexican, an immigrant, a woman, a journalist...and I’m flat chested,” Hinojosa joked.

Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, Hinojosa never saw her own story portrayed in the media. Her family, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico, understood the importance of consuming American journalism. She grew up reading Time magazine to keep up-to-date on the news. She remembers looking at Seventeen magazine and being disappointed that none of the women looked anything like her—but that was only once a month. In today’s world, her daughter sees thousands of images a day of women in the media that she cannot identify with, which is far more impactful, Hinojosa said. She sees a pressing need for better media representation of different types of people.

Hinojosa has been talking about diversity in the media for her entire career. In 1985, she became the first Latina hired by NPR. But diversity in the media has decreased over the last several years, according to Hinojosa. In order to make sure voices are heard and minority groups feel visible, she said, media outlets must hire more people of diverse backgrounds, at all ranks—from reporters to managers.

While a Latina woman may feel uncomfortable when faced with a room full of white males, Hinojosa said that in those situations, she forces herself to raise her hand and say what she thinks.

“You have to cowboy up. Pull back your shoulders, stand up straight and be yourself.”

Hinojosa noted that Latinos are one of the fastest growing-demographics, which will likely open doors of opportunity for Latino students hoping to go into journalism. These students have the added advantage of being bilingual, she said. And she reminded Latino students that despite being a minority, they are powerful and sought-after consumers.

She also addressed students who are not part of a minority group, urging them to find ways to connect emotionally with the stories of those struggling with racial issues, and to find ways to help the cause.

When asked about being criticized as an “alien advocate,” Hinojosa said she is an advocate for great journalism, the American Constitution and giving people a voice.

“The reason I take issue [with being called an immigrant activist] is not because I was born in Mexico,” Hinojosa said. “It’s because I swore to take up arms to defend this country.”

It was clear from the passion with which Hinojosa delivered these words that she truly has ‘taken up arms’ in the best way a journalist can—by telling the stories of Latinos across America who are struggling to be heard.

Sienna Lee is a sophomore public relations major at the Newhouse School.

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