One on One

Growing up on Chicago’s Southside, María Hinojosa never saw herself reflected in the mainstream media.

“When I would look at the media, I felt entirely invisible,” she said.

After more than 25 years of covering Latino issues on the radio, in print and on film, the highly acclaimed journalist is giving even greater visibility to Latinos with her new TV series, María Hinojosa: One-on-One. The English-language series features interviews with Latino personalities, from former gang member and Chicano activist Luis Rodríguez to Desperate Housewives star Ricardo Antonio Chavira (above) to American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero.

“The fact that we do an interview with interesting, intelligent, provocative, smart leaders and thinkers in the Latino community, we’re already filling a void that’s there,” Hinojosa said. “I think it is a show that can change and can influence how people see who we are as a Latino population.”

The show first aired in April 2007, produced by Boston WGBH’s Latino production unit La Plaza, which has featured many Latino-themed shows, documentaries and music programs throughout its nearly 30-year history. Public television stations nationwide followed by airing One-on-One beginning in January 2008, said La Plaza Executive Producer Joseph Tovares. A San Antonio native, Tovares also produced Zoot Suit Riots and Remember the Alamo for the WGBH history program American Experience.

Spanish-language episodes of Conversaciones con María Hinojosa, the companion program to One-on-One, will air on a commercial Spanish-language channel, which has yet to be selected, Tovares said. The Spanish-language episodes feature the same interview subjects, but the conversations often take completely different directions.Though the show features positive Latino leaders, Tovares and Hinojosa both said One-on-One is about more than providing role models.

“We think it’s important that we talk about all aspects of being a Latino in the U.S. We’re not here just to provide role models for the Latino community, we’re not interested in doing that. We’re not cheerleaders,” said Tovares, who has worked in public television for about 20 years. “We’re here to take a good, hard look at our community, and I think that viewers respect that.”

Hinojosa is no newcomer to tackling controversial issues. She said her tactic for One-on-One is to let her guests tell their own stories.

“As a Latina journalist, I am all about, in essence, airing our dirty laundry,” she said. “How we deal with our own racism and ethnocentrism and sexism within the Latino community, those are issues that I talk about and talk a lot about with my guests.”

In addition to hosting One-on-One, Hinojosa is also managing editor and host of National Public Radio’s Latino USA and senior correspondent for Now with David Brancaccio on PBS. She is also an author, documentarian and full-time wife and mother of two.

Though her work requires Hinojosa to travel often from her home in New York, she said making time to spend with her husband, artist German Perez, her 9-year-old daughter Yurema, and her 12-year-old son Raul is a priority. This often takes the form of projects, homework and watching Ugly Betty, she said.

Hinojosa and her parents immigrated from Mexico City to Boston when she was a baby, and then moved to Chicago when she was three years old. Though she became a U.S. citizen in the late 1980s, being an immigrant influences all of her work.

“I chose to become an American citizen, so I care deeply about what this country represents,” Hinojosa said. “My vision as an immigrant is very clearly that this is a country of immigrants, and I believe at this moment in history we all need to kind of see that and own it.”

One childhood experience especially stuck with her:“I was 8 years old in Chicago. [Martin Luther King Jr.] came and spoke and my mother took us to a rally to hear him speak,” Hinojosa said. “It was life altering … a person who looked nothing like me made me feel for the first time like I was a real American … I was witnessing democracy in action.”

Hinojosa began her career after graduating from Barnard College in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and minors in women’s studies and political economy. While attending Barnard, she hosted her own show on the college radio station and played“songs of social awareness with indigenous rhythms.”

However, Hinojosa said she didn’t think she could really have a career in journalism until she earned a post-graduation internship at NPR in Washington. As the first Latina to work there, Hinojosa said she has tried to carve a path for Latino journalists where none existed.

“It was terrifying, to be honest with you,” Hinojosa said. “I was really scared a lot of the time because I knew that I saw the world from a different perspective than many of my new colleagues.”

Since then, she has racked up a long list of accomplishments, such as the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1995 for her NPR story Manhood Behind Bars. The award honors outstanding reporting on “disadvantaged people throughout the world,” according to its web site.

She said Latino journalists have made huge strides since the 1980s when she first began her career, but they still have a long way to go both within the newsroom and in the coverage those newsrooms produce.

“I think what we’re still lacking is a real sense that the mainstream media understands profoundly the Latino experience in this country,” Hinojosa said. “We have coverage on immigration, but that is not the only Latino experience out there. And frankly, were it not for the immigration debate, I don’t think we’d see half as many Latino stories out there.”

In light of that debate, Hinojosa said having Latinos involved in media is especially important.

“I think we are living in a moment in history when the anti-immigration sentiment can easily spill over to the anti-Latino sentiment,” she said. “There is a fire under my belly and I cannot be quiet and I cannot be still. And if it means I can’t see my kids for a day, then that’s what it takes, because I feel like I have to tell these stories and get my voice out there for everyone in the country.”

By Kathy Adams