Women HERStory: Latina Journalist Trailblazers That Shaped Newsrooms

Latina journalists BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of BELatina

Bold and unconventional, the Latina journalists you know and grew up with are not only the voice of a nation but, most importantly, ours. We confide in them to be our eyes and ears on the zeitgeist so that we can understand things from a more inclusive and less mainstream point of view. 

Whether they transmit their stories to you in print, over the radio, or on a screen, the voices of Latina journalists are something to celebrate not only for what they represent but for the obstacles they’ve had to overcome to report their particular take on the news.

How to best describe the job of a Latina journalist? She’s part activist, politician, cop, and lawyer, with a creative and communicative side. She has to be all of these things to survive newsrooms that are overwhelmingly white, conservative, and male-dominated to make her voice heard and respected.

There are so many trailblazers out there, but here are some of the few you may have heard of. 

Rossana Rosado

For those of us who grew up in Spanish-speaking homes with families who bought New York’s El Diario la Prensa, it was Rossana Rosado’s editorial vision they were drawn to. Rosado began her career at the paper as a journalist in the early 1980s and became the first woman to serve as an editor and publisher of the second-largest Spanish-language newspaper in the country. 

María Elena Salinas

If your household tuned to Univision for their news, you rooted for María Elena Salinas, the journalist who was admitted to the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame for her 30 years at Noticiero Univision’s news desk and as the longest-serving Spanish-language female news anchor in the United States. 

Ilia Calderon

Soon after, Ilia Calderon would become the first Afro-Latina to anchor a major news desk in the United States when she joined Noticiero Univision in 2017. 

Talk to any Latina journalist about her career, and she’ll tell you how much overtime she puts in, how many stereotypical Hispanic comments and assignments she has had to bear, how many quality stories she has pitched and seen rejected, only to pitch and pitch again, until someone finally gives her the time of day. 

Maria Hinojosa

Sometimes, there are trailblazing reporters like the award-winning journalist and entrepreneur Maria Hinojosa who decide that if she didn’t get to do the stories she wanted to do, then she’d go and create her own news platform. First, Hinojosa started by launching Latino USA in 1992, a pioneer in public radio programs for Latinx stories, followed by the independent non-profit Futuro Media Group that she founded in 2010, for which she once told the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University that she created “out of frustration.” 

Hinojosa recounts that while she was still reporting at CNN and NPR and the U.S. Census data from 2000 showed that the Latino population in the U.S. — not including migrants — had experienced a 43 percent growth, she asked herself, “What audience are we leaving on the floor there?” Hinojosa recognized the need for a different kind of news lens, one that would give a critical voice to the diversity of the American experience. And she went right ahead and created it. 

Alma Guillermoprieto

If there isn’t equality in the newsroom, there can’t be an egalitarian society. And Latina journalists in the U.S. and the Americas know this, often risking their personal lives, reputations, and safety to expose what’s wrong in today’s world. They’ve had to work twice as hard to make their way up the ranks of newsroom hierarchies to get where they are today. 

This is especially true in the notoriously elite halls of publications like The New Yorker and The New York Review, where the investigative reporter and essayist Alma Guillermoprieto has written regularly about Latin America since 1989. She began her reporting career in Nicaragua, covering the national insurrection against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, and became the South America bureau chief for Newsweek. She once wrote, “I’ve spent a good portion of the last 25 years talking to the rapists, thieves, killers, and drug traffickers of the world I come from, trying to understand.” 

Other Latina journalists with pen in hand

In times when there are still not enough jobs, and equal promotion for women of color in the newsroom, these crusaders of journalism continue to stick to a career path of excitement and meaning that will keep changing how people tell their stories from a Latina point of view. This has been true in our nation’s most respected English-language newspapers, with national, political, and cultural reporting by trailblazing journalists such as Mireya Navarro at The New York Times, Mirta Ojito at the Miami Herald, and  Marie Arana at the Washington Post. They have paved the way for today’s newer generation of gutsy writers in these papers, such as Marcela Valdes and Michelle García.  From their female and bicultural perspective, they spin stories they’re interested in reading about and from angles with which Latina readers can be comfortable. 

Take, for example, a topic about how Latinas are depicted in Hollywood. Most of us were aware of the fact that the late and great actress Lupe Ontiveros played the role of the maid in far too many movies. Thanks to Navarro, in her 2002 New York Times article, “Trying to Get Beyond the Role of the Maid; Hispanic Actors Are Seen as Underrepresented, With the Exception of One Part,” she details the roles Ontiveros was stuck playing (which included over 150 maid roles), for non-Latinos readers also to be aware of. In Navarro’s article, Ontiveros states: “‘It’s their continued perspective of who we are’…‘[The media doesn’t] know we’re very much a part of this country, and that we make up every part of this country.’” 

Ontiveros could have very well been speaking about our country’s newsrooms, for that matter, where not so long ago, the only Latinas seen in those offices were the maids before some of the trailblazers mentioned above, among the thousands out there, staked their claim in the media.  From García’s perspective, upon winning the 2021 American Mosaic Journalism Prize and after decades of writing about all the complicated and magical nuances of the U.S. and Mexico border, “We’re in a critical moment when our nation is reckoning with its foundational injustices, and I believe that journalism can provide us with possibilities to better understand each other and dismantle the walls that have divided us for centuries.” 

Here’s to all the trails they’ve blazed and to the new ones to come. We at BeLatina, thank you for continuing to inspire us with your passionate work.

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