Mainstream media in the U.S. has a long way to go in uplifting and making the Latinx community visible across the nation. But what representation we do have is undoubtedly thanks to the handful of changemakers who have opened the doors for more Latinxs to take up space in newsrooms and broadcasts, uplift our culture, and tell our stories that go unseen on the main stage. One of those pioneers is María Martin, a pioneering journalist and producer who founded the award-winning Latinx public radio program Latino USA in 1993. Since then, it’s become one of the longest-running Latinx-focused programs in the country for 30 years and has spotlighted important stories and moments from our culture. This past Saturday, her family announced that Martin had passed away in Texas at the age of 72 from medical complications, leaving behind an undeniable legacy for the next generation of Latinx journalists, according to Latino USA.
“María passed over the rainbow bridge early this morning at 6:43 in a peaceful and beautiful way, with barely a sound and as the ‘perfect’ recording she would have wanted in a room full of peace and love surrounded by her family and all of you at every corner of the world holding her up,” her family said in a statement to Latino USA. “A legend has left this world to continue her work as a journalist from a place of love and light.”
She was no stranger to being the first having hosted the “Somos Chicanas” radio show which was her debut as a journalist and producer in 1975. It was a ground-breaking bilingual program centering on Chicanas, hosted by KBBF, the first Latino-owned and operated community bilingual public radio station in the U.S.
For over 50 years, Martin, who was of Mexican and Irish descent, worked to uplift Latinx voices from the U.S. and Latin America which led to the flourishing Latinx journalism we still see, read, write, and share today. Born in Mexico City in 1951, she worked in public radio as early as college, then went on to work for NPR, becoming their first – and only – Latino Affairs editor before launching Latino USA in 1993 in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin. She handpicked future Pulitzer Prize-winner Maria Hinojosa as the program’s host, who still hosts it today.
“María was one of my first teachers and journalist inspirations. She taught me to be absolutely fearless as a Latina, breaking in and pushing through. She could see something in me that I could not,” Hinojosa told Latino USA. “Her sign-off was love and light and she gave me both. She changed my life and I will forever be grateful to her.”
After leading the program for a decade, Martin produced a number of other award-winning projects including a documentary series about Central America, founded a non-profit, taught journalism internationally, was inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame in 2015, and continued to work with Latino USA and NPR up until this past July. Her impact on the visibility of the Latinx community in the news is both important and undeniable.
“The values of inclusivity, diversity and the reflection of all society’s voices have guided my four decades in journalism,” she wrote in her 2020 memoir Crossing Borders, Building Bridges: A Journalist’s Heart in Latin America.