Illuminating the Path with Maria Hinojosa

Contributed by Rocio Orozco

A vison in red and black six inch heels, Maria Hinojosa shared the Jorgensen Auditorium stage on the
evening of 10 September 2018 with PR/LACC director Fany Hannon, to share the wisdom of her
experience as a journalist and media entrepreneur. Hinojosa is best known for her NPR show, Latino
USA, but also runs her own company, Futuro Media, and produces another news opinion and analysis
podcast series, In the Thick.

Hinojosa was born in Mexico and grew up on the south side of Chicago. Reflecting on Trump’s policy of
separating immigrant families at the border, Hinojosa shared her own story of immigration and border
harassment. In 1963, her family received green cards when her dad was offered a job at the University of
Chicago. When her family arrived from Mexico, immigration officials told her mother that they had to keep
the infant Maria in quarantine because she had a rash, while letting her mom and the rest of her siblings
enter without the baby. Her mother refused to leave Maria behind, asserting herself vocally with such
determination that the immigration officials relented and let the whole family come into the U.S. together.
So traumatic was the prospect of being separated from baby Maria that it took many years before
Hinojosa’s mom could share this story with her.

Hinojosa equated the policy of family separation to children being kidnapped, trafficked across state lines
and held for ransom. She asked for critical attention to be given to the language being used to justify
family separation: “For their own good, for their safety.” She also warned about the long-term
psychological effects these traumatic events are causing the children and their families: “Some kids will
recuperate and some will never recuperate. It’s painful, it’s deep.” “A foreign government is taking
children from their parents.” She asked the audience to reflect on this question, “What if they were white?”
Hinojosa fights to combat the myth of the criminal immigrant. She reminded the audience that people are
not illegal, migrants commit less crimes than natural born citizens, and that we need to “bring the
humanity back to the conversation.” Hinojosa explained the importance of knowing your individual origin
story. We Latinos have not been in control of our own narrative and, for Hinojosa, it is vital that we take
control of it.

Hinojosa did not at first aspire to become a journalist. When she was young, there were not many
journalists who looked like her on TV. Hinojosa wanted to be an actress but a New York casting director
dashed her dreams when he told her that she did not stand out enough.
Hinojosa had experience doing a radio show while in college, and even though she was intimidated, she
applied for an internship at NPR and became the first Latina hired at the company. Hinojosa loved her job
at NPR but found that she needed to find her voice and decided to leave the company. She explored
other fields and worked many jobs simultaneously. Eventually, she came back to NPR in the 1990’s.
She said she understands she comes from place of relative privilege and with that comes responsibilities.
“We do not have time for imposter syndrome.” She says that she forced herself through the
uncomfortableness to pitch ideas in the newsroom and to focus not on the discrimination but on her
responsibility. Just like everyone else, she would at times doubt her ability to follow through on
assignments. She said that she built a support group to help her get through the difficult times and
encouraged the audience to make sure they have their own support group, too.
Latino USA is now celebrating its 25 th anniversary, over which time the show has won many awards
including a Peabody.

Maria Hinojosa was truly inspirational: “The perspective that you have from your experience matters,”
she said. “Own your voice, power, authenticity, authority.”