A special episode remembering Latino USA founder and pioneer public radio journalist Maria Emilia Martin, who passed away on December 2nd, 2023.
After a career in public media of almost 50 years, Maria left a mark as journalist, educator and tireless advocate for Latinos, Latinas, and Indigenous voices in journalism in the United States and Latin America.
In this special episode, we hear from journalists who knew and were mentored by Maria Martin and we present some of the extraordinary and award-winning reporting that she did throughout her career.
Maria Martin’s career is almost as long as the presence of Latinos in public media. She began working as a volunteer in 1975 on KBBF in California—the first Latino community radio station in the country. From collaborating on the show “Somos Chicanas” she soon became the news director for the entire station—the first Latina to do so in the country. Maria was in her mid-20s.
“I first met Maria in the early 1980s at a conference for minorities in public radio and TV. We were both very young then. We were trying to master the craft of radio production and this was long before either of us ever imagined we would have what’s called a career. Because back then it was all about getting our microphones to wherever we thought there was a story about Latinos that needed to be recorded and documented,” remembers NPR National Desk correspondent Richard Gonzalez.
From that community station in California, Maria Martin moved to different jobs in journalism: to being the news and public affairs producer at KUOW in Seattle, the host and editor of the Latin American News Service in El Paso, until finally becoming NPR’s first and only “Latino Affairs Editor” at the National Desk.
Maria left NPR and founded Latino USA in 1993 in Austin, Texas, and was at the helm of the show during its first decade—working non-stop to make the show connect with listeners and sound great.
“What I will remember the most about Maria is when she would close her eyes, probably around midnight, and the show was almost ready to be uploaded. The silence around her as she would listen to the show, and the synthesis of every note, sound, voice, and sentence to choreograph extraordinary audio storytelling,” said Deepa Donde, former Latino USA producer and board chair of The Futuro Media Group.
In the early 2000s, the relationship with KUT Austin, the radio station that housed Latino USA at the time, soured and Martin said she was forced out of the show she founded.
She relocated to Guatemala and founded the GraciasVida Media Center, where she produced the most ambitious project of her career: “Después de las Guerras, Central America After the Wars.” It was an expansive documentary project that looked at the legacy of the wars in the region.
Maria stayed in Guatemala and continued to work with and train local journalists. “Here in Guatemala, we will remember Maria Martin as someone who worked hard for more than a decade to strengthen the capabilities of community journalists. Also, she will be remembered as someone who struggled to bring Central American voices to the American newspapers and media,” says Enrique Naveda, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Plaza Pública, Guatemala’s first online investigative magazine.
Featured image by Victoria Estrada.