Maria Hinojosa, the host and executive producer of NPR’s “Latino USA,” made a career out of identifying a market segment that was otherwise ignored by mainstream media. She came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child when her father took a job with the University of Chicago. Growing up in the South Side of Chicago, it did not take long for her to realize that she did not see people like herself (Latinos) in the media. From this observation, she made the decision to become a journalist and devote her career to telling the story of Latinos.
On October 9, as part of Latinx Heritage Month, Hinojosa spoke to Yale students about immigration, the political climate in the U.S., and the current climate for Latinos. The night began with a performance from Yale’s Blue Feather Drum group in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, which queued Hinojosa for the topic of immigration.
Hinojosa discussed the evolution of immigrant rights, noting that the “rules have changed”: having a Green Card no longer protects you the way it did when she and her family entered the country. She also discussed the terrifying reality for many undocumented immigrants who live in fear of ICE raids. However, Hinojosa argued, deportation is not the end of the world. She noted that immigrants are inherently strong and resilient people, and they must tap the strength that led them to leave their home country to keep moving forward.
On the topic of the current political climate, Hinojosa said, “These are strange times we’re living in… Everything that is happening now is not normal.” She cited the devastation in Puerto Rico and Trump’s open animosity toward Mexicans among other misfortunes. Nonetheless, she believes we will get through it and move forward as a country. To do so, she encouraged students to not walk around with assumptions about anyone and to approach political conversations with respect. She also emphasized the importance of self-care, noting, “we need those moments” because it is important “to feel grounded in a time when you feel attacked.”
When talking about Latinos, Hinojosa marveled at the fact that Latino children only come up in conversation and in the news when talking about their underperformance on standardized tests. However, what no one talks about are the incredible soft skills they bring into the classroom. Among these skills are empathy, respect, grit, and resilience. In fact, resilience is strong among Latinos of all ages, she said. Hinojosa shared the story of visiting Medellin, Colombia, in 1989 and then again this past year. She was amazed by the incredible evolution of the city, from being the epicenter of warn-torn Colombia to being one of the most innovative cities in the world. For her, it is a symbol of who Latinos are as people and their incredible ability to spring back.
Hinojosa closed the night by telling the story of her journey and of creating her own company, which she admitted was terrifying. She shared her struggle as a Latina woman, realizing she was in charge and having to completely shift her self-perception. She advised students to “not wait for someone else to say you are the leader.” Instead, she encouraged them to start reaffirming themselves now and to start understanding their power.