Maria Hinojosa, the veteran anchor and managing editor of National Public Radio’s Latino USA recently announced that the company she founded, Futuro Media Group, was acquiring Latino Rebels, a blog and collective of writers, journalists, and influencers. Futuro Media Group creates multimedia content for and about the new American mainstream in the service of empowering people to navigate the complexities of an increasingly diverse and connected world. Maria Hinojosa talked with HipLatina contributing editor Marcela Davison Aviles about her mother’s desires to find the world outside of being a housewife, being Mexican American, and the role and responsibility of storytelling in today’s political climate.
MDA:I heard the interview that you did a while ago with your mother and I just loved it. It definitely reminded me of my Mom. I just felt that her grit and her humor and her experience with your Dad were very similar to my own mother’s. What kind of reaction did you get on that piece?
MH:I have to say that people love to hear my mother on the air because of her honesty and truthfulness. There was a lot of love and appreciation for just hearing somebody speak so honestly. It’s one of my all time favorite stories of my mom’s. You know, we lived through it, it was challenging. But I love to hear the stories that my Mom tells me about this experience with my father and who he was. I give my dad — may he rest in peace — a tremendous amount of credit for having the patience to deal with life and transformation. It’s not easy.
MDA:I was thinking about the experience that you shared with us about your family and what I had read about your Dad and it made me think about the “other kinds of exports” from Mexico this country doesn’t seem to hear much about. When it could finally happen in terms of the attitude changing towards Latinos and Mexicans in particular. It seems like we need a sitcom about a Mexican doctor living in an American suburb…
MH:A great sadness of my life is what we’re living through in this precise moment. I have to be honest that this is a very challenging time in my life as a Mexican immigrant who is an American citizen. I’m in the midst of writing a book about this. I understand that my father and mother didn’t come here just because of the job. There was an image. For them, the United States represented an honest democracy, justice, and a voice. That vision came into stark contrast with the civil rights era. So I think my parents understood at their core that this is a country of contradictions and when I understand it like that, I realized that the work that I’m doing is part of the long arc of the role in general of people of color in this country to tell the stories, and to create the factual narrative, through journalism and through storytelling.
MDA:That reminds me of the work by Professor Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but he discusses the narrative taking place then and now — that we Latinos are threats. His conclusion is that the narrative is not going to change until we control the story. Do you feel that the power, the impact of storytelling perhaps might be more material than legislation?
MH:I don’t know if I’m prepared to say that. Laws are super important in our country and the laws are made by people who are consuming the media narratives that are being created by a majority — one kind of perspective — and that is usually a white, male perspective. If we don’t have diversity in our lawmakers and in our media, then it’s just a problem across the board. We’re at a point, an interesting place in the country where people are prepared to have the conversation about different narratives around history.That’s the whole conversation around the statues, it’s basically people being able (or not) to have a conversation about different interpretations of history, and the value that conversation has.
MDA:It’s interesting that we can think that a confederate sculpture is inappropriate and needs to be removed, but we have not been able to have that conversation about an entire region of our country. The western United States is part of the United States territory because of a war that many scholars believe was illegal. This is what informs that perspective, “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.” We all ignore the fact that there’s this territory. One of the reasons people feel as deeply as they do about where they’re from and their heritage is because of what happened in the late 1800’s. How is it that our storytelling hasn’t been able to get there?
MH:The way I see it in my own work is that because of who I am, and my experience in this country as the other who lived through a very interesting time of civic engagement in the United States — I make decisions about the kinds of stories that we want to report on along with my team from a certain perspective. So when a story comes to us from New Mexico, we want to do some reporting and we start looking at the whole story of how the issue of identity in New Mexico writ large is a whole conversation around race, identity, and ethnicity. It has absolutely nothing to do with the black/white binary. People are like, “Wait, you want to talk about race or complex race relations in the United States and it does not involve black people and white people?”
Yeah! It involves indigenous people in conversation, conflict or an agreement with white Mexicans and Spaniards. We’re able to tell that story because this is what interests me as a journalist and as a media executive, but if I would have pitched that story on CNN, I think my producers or editors would have looked at me like: What are you talking about? That’s why having people who own the story in every way, the way that I own my company that in turn owns the story, is an important part of it. We’re a nonprofit. We do it without a profit motive so our motivations are transparent.
MDA:And you’re growing, you just acquired Latino Rebels.
MH:Yes, that is our first acquisition. We are very excited about and I think it shows that we are interested in properties that are self-made. Latino Rebels was self-made. Futuro Media was self-made, so we love that.
MDA:Congratulations! It’s emblematic of a new unity that I’m observing in our community, which hasn’t always been there. How do you feel about that notion of coming together?
MH:I believe in things happening organically. First of all, I believe in excellence and Julio created a company that is based on excellence and ganas, Latino Rebels. When you step back, it’s like, so a Mexican and Puerto Rican get together in Harlem. That’s beautiful and it is true like you could look at it that way. African Americans were intimately involved in my hiring of Futuro Media because they started with us through America By the Numbers — that’s executive produced by an African American woman. My executive director is an African American woman who was a classmate of Julio’s. So, you’re right, there is a hopeful sign there. I think that the fact that I grew up as a Mexican immigrant in Chicago allows me to have that capacity to be borderless even amongst Latinos and Latinas.
MDA:It requires a real intentionality to balance things in your life. I noticed that you also practice meditation. How do you keep that balance?
MH:I’m so glad that people talk about self-care and people are talking about mental health and that it’s an active conversation. It is a silver lining of this very traumatizing moment that we’re living through. How am I going to be able to rise to the occasion? I understand that I have a voice and so it doesn’t really matter if I’m tired. I see that as part of a historical continuum. Part of my obsession with World War II is that I always question what were people saying and doing while these horrors were happening. I want it to be super clear that I was not silent and that I am telling the stories as they’re happening and saying: “See this! Open your eyes!” That is part of my role as, as the other who sees things from the outside, but also as an American journalist.
MDA:Getting back to this notion of where we’re at right now in our civic culture. Do you think we’re losing our capacity for empathy as a country?
MH:I think what’s happening is that some sectors are losing their capacity for empathy. But at the same time I think you see on the other side an extraordinary kind of empathy, whether it’s young kids who were surviving school shootings with assault rifles, or it’s women speaking out, or the LGBTQ community or immigrants. There’s real hard work being done around empathy and racial awareness. So I do think there’s a conversation that is being had and it’s hard and it’s complicated and we’ve been here before. But I welcome those conversations. But there is a hardening, no doubt – at the same time.
MDA:With regard to fake news — it’s not like fake news has never been around — to me it’s just a new label for what we used to call propaganda. Why is it that when folks are presented with facts, with good journalism that unpacks reality, that it doesn’t matter?
MH:That’s a really complicated one. I’m in the business of giving stories based in fact an opportunity to be heard. That’s the question I’m asking myself all the time. When I’m watching people who are watching Fox, I want us to just stop and ask them tell me what they see. Tell me what I’m not seeing.
Interview questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.