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A Conversation With Maria Hinojosa

 A Conversation with Maria Hinojosa

by Alejandra Rodriguez

                                                

On Thursday, January 21st, Mujeres Latinas en Acción and DePaul University’s School for New Learning co-hosted an event featuring Maria Hinojosa at DePaul University’s Cortelyou Commons.  Hinojosa shared her family’s immigration story and their journey to Chicago, the connection that her mother has with Mujeres Latinas en Acción, her passion for Latino civic engagement, and chronicled her professional life as a Latina in a white-male dominated profession. 

Maria Hinojosa is an award-winning journalist who is the executive producer of Latino USA, the only Latino news and culture show on National Public Radio (NPR). Additionally, she created the Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit organization producing multimedia journalism that explores the diversity of the American experience. Futuro Media Group is committed to telling stories that are often overlooked by mainstream media. Most recently, Hinojosa was named the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair of Latin American and Latino Studies at DePaul University in Chicago and a Global Post ‘Voces’ columnist. Hinojosa has received numerous awards for her work including: four Emmys; the 2012 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism; Robert F. Kennedy Award; the Studs Terkel Community Media Award; the Edward R. Murrow Award; and most recently the Peabody Award.  

Sitting on a stool at the front of the Common’s hall, her voice and presence in contrast with her petite frame, she began the conversation by joking about her height recognizing that those in attendance were likely only familiar with her radio voice. She told the audience that 2016 is a year of optimism for her. Transparency and optimism were two themes that Hinojosa wove throughout her anecdotes, thoughts, and hopes for the future. 

Hinojosa shared that her research-physician father landed a job in Chicago and moved to the U.S. when Maria was an infant. Hinojosa explained that her father was apprehensive about taking the job and it was her mother who encouraged him to do so. Like many immigrant families, it was very hard for the Hinojosas to leave their country of birth and embark on a new life in a completely different country.  Maria’s family relocated to the Hyde Park neighborhood, where she describes growing up in the midst of the civil rights movement and with Martin Luther King, Jr. as her hero. She recalls her mother taking her and her siblings to protests and being the one who taught them about politics, social justice and introduced them to the work of Cesar Chavez.  

Around this time was when her mother, Bertha Hinojosa, learned about Mujeres Latinas en Acción. In the midst of the women’s movement Mujeres was expanding and needed to fill a position in the Domestic Violence Program.  Maria shared that her mother was skeptical about applying for the job; she mentioned that her fear was not being qualified due to a lack of a high school diploma. She did not see herself as a leader.  Nevertheless, Maria’s mother had the experience and cultural competency that was needed for the job and was hired at the agency. Maria shared with the audience that her mother’s life was changed at Mujeres and she watched her develop into a strong, outspoken, self-assured leader within the organization and the community.  

The passion that Maria’s mother had for civic engagement and for the Latino community left a lasting impression on Maria as she started her career.

Maria started as an intern NPR and in 1992 she helped launch Latino USA and has been its host ever since. Seeing the lack of diversity in the newsroom, Maria wanted to be her own boss and began the Futuro Media Group in 2010. This organization aims to produce multi-platform, community-based journalism that gives voice to the voiceless and also promotes the need for diversity in the newsrooms in order to cover a wider range of news stories from more knowledgeable perspectives.

Teaching has become central to Hinojosa’s career. Most recently she obtained the honorable position of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair at DePaul University. She teaches four classes across the academic year focused on leadership, politics, and media in the Latino Studies department. She shared that empowering her students to use their voice and tell their stories is a primary goal in her classroom.

 As deeply connected as she is with her Latino roots, Hinojosa spoke of the importance of becoming a U.S. citizen. The many possibilities that open for citizens- such as the right to vote- can have a great impact on the individual and the people who can’t vote due to immigration status. With the anti-immigrant sentiment present in this country, immigrant families need for Latino voters to make a statement with their vote- millennials in particular as they account for 44 percent of Latinos eligible to vote this year.

Overall, Hinojosa reminded the audience that in order to see change happen, they have to be the ones willing to be the advocates and be willing to take chances chase opportunities no matter how complex they may seem.  Indeed, 2016 is definitely a “year of optimism” to Maria Hinojosa. 

 

Ms. Hinojosa with Mujeres President and CEO Maria Pesqueira and DePaul School for New Learning Dean Marisa Alicea. 

January 29, 2016 | 5:19 PM