This is Latino USA, the radio journal of news and cultura.
It’s Latino USA.
Welcome to Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa.
We bring you stories that are underreported, but that matter to you. Overlooked by the rest of the media. And while the country is struggling to deal with these problems. We listen to the stories of black and Latino students.
A united Latino front. A cultural renaissance. Organizing at the forefront of the movement. I’m Maria Hinojosa. No se vayan.
Maria Martin: You know, the memoirs that I’ve written about my time at NPR and creating Latino USA and I go, that young Maria was really brave. She put up with a lot because she had this vision that it’s still on the air due to the efforts of so many people. You know, my hope for Latino USA is that it lasts another 30 years. It’s a wonderful thing to have been involved in.
Maria Hinojosa: From Futuro Media and PRX, it’s Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa. Today, remembering Latino USA founder and pioneer public radio journalist, Maria Emilia Martin.
Maria Hinojosa: On December 2nd of 2023, Maria Emilia Martin peacefully passed away in Austin, Texas, the place where 30 years before. She had founded this very show, Latino USA.
Maria Emilia Martin, or “Mem”, as we affectionately called her, was larger than life. Her warmth and light filled every room she was in. Her brilliance stunned everyone, and once she had made up her mind to achieve any of her quite grandiose dreams, “Mem” couldn’t be stopped. While always keeping a very gentle manner.
So many Latinas and Latinos in public radio owe so much to Mem. She paved the way, especially for me and the rest of the journalists, producers, editors, sound designers, who got their professional start right here at Latino USA. Maria Martin’s vision continues to inspire us. So today we want to bring you a special show to remember a brilliant journalist and, well, an amazing human being.
Maria Martin: I’m Maria Martin. You’re listening to Latino USA.
Maria Hinojosa: Maria Emilia Martin was born in Mexico City and grew up along the Texas-Mexico border and also in California. Her mother was Mexican and her father, who was Irish American from Chicago, had moved to Mexico. Her career is almost as long as the presence of Latinos working in public radio in this country.
In 1975, just two years after KBBF, the first Latino community radio station in the country, went on the air, Maria Martin started volunteering at the station on the program “Somos Chicanas”. It was then that “Mem” discovered her vocation for service in media. From that community station in California, Maria Martin moved to different jobs in journalism, to Seattle, then to Berkeley, then El Paso, until finally Maria’s dream came true, having a national impact on American journalism.
She became NPR’s first and only Latino Affairs Editor on the National Desk. It was a watershed moment for Latinos in public media.
After working in public media for almost two decades and seeing a string of shows aimed at Latinos fail one after the other, Maria Martin knew that if Latinos and Latinas were not listening to public radio, it was because nothing was being especially made for them. It needed to be authentic. Made by Latinos for Latinos.
It was around that time in the early 1990s that a proposal from Gilberto Cardenas at the University of Texas at Austin reached Maria Martin. The Center for Mexican American Studies wanted to start a public radio show. They had just gotten a grant from the Ford Foundation. So they had some money, but they didn’t have a clear vision.
So they contacted the Latino journalist on public radio who had the most experience. That would be Maria Martin and “Mem” gave them a vision. The show wouldn’t just be for Mexican Americans, just for Tejanos. It would be for the entire Latino community, but it would speak to the reality of U. S. Latinos and Latinas, and also provide context from Latin America, from our homelands to our communities right here.
There would be news at the center of the show, but also music. Arts, food, all the things that bring us joy and it would sound like us, but also be as professional and as newsworthy as NPR so that anyone would listen, Latino or not. And then Maria selected me to be the anchor of Latino USA. Her decision, frankly, changed my life.
Latino USA first aired on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, 1993. This is Latino USA, a radio journal of news and culture. I’m Maria Hinojosa. The rest is history and it’s in the books because Bill Clinton, who was president at the time, went to the launch of Latino USA. Now, don’t ask me how Maria Martin made that happen.
I still don’t know. But one day she just arrived and said, Bill Clinton is coming to our launch party. Happy Cinco de Mayo, Viva Public Radio, and for letting me be here tonight. We were on more than a hundred stations in our first year on the air, and pretty soon we started winning awards. Maria edited, produced, wrote scripts, anything and everything, and she herself did some pretty extraordinary reporting.
Maria Martin: Carlos Santana may have been born in Mexico, and his music greatly influenced by Latin rhythms, yet he himself connects with a much broader ethnic definition.
Maria Hinojosa: One of the biggest gets she was proud of was scoring an interview with music star Carlos Santana in 1995.
Maria Martin: So given all of that, what’s, what’s it like for you when you perform in Mexico?
Carlos Santana: It’s really beautiful because people, the real people, you know, the people who, from the streets, they know where my heart is at and they always show up. It’s always sold out.
Maria Hinojosa: And she always made space for Latina voices and women leaders. In 1999, she spoke with salvadoran poet and writer, Claribel Alegría.
Maria Martin: As a supporter of the Sandinista dream, what has it been like for you to live in that country through all those changes?
Claribel Alegría: You know, to tell you the truth, I am. Pretty much disenchanted right now. I never want to become a cynic, Maria. I believe in utopia. And I do believe that sometimes we are going to reach that utopia.
And you remember in 1986 when you were there, how the people were effervescent, how we have hopes
Maria Hinojosa: In the year 2000, Maria won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her exclusive reporting. On the ordeal of sister Diana Ortiz, the nun who was kidnapped and tortured in Guatemala.
Maria Martin: Because in November of 1989, Diana Ortiz, the missionary who seems so happy teaching Mayan children, became one more statistic of the military violence that has plagued Guatemala for decades.
Maria Hinojosa: Maria also looked at the potential U. S. connections to the repressive regimes in Guatemala.
Maria Martin: In 10 years. Ortiz has never been able to speak about Alejandro without somehow breaking down. This mystery man speaking broken Spanish has, to this day, shaken her faith in her government to its roots.
Maria Hinojosa: During all of that time, I was living in New York City, and I was working remotely for Latino USA. But even from here, I knew how much Maria Martin was working. She was tireless in making every episode as accurate, sound rich, and engaging as possible. And she was known for pulling too many all nighters just to get to that perfection.
At her core, Maria was a teacher and a mentor. She connected with Latina and Latino journalists from across the country and Latin America, who passed through the airwaves of Latino USA. And then she took another bold move. She created, for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the first radio training program for young Latino and Latina journalists, impacting an entire generation.
Then Maria took a sabbatical year from Latino USA and traveled to Central America with a Fulbright scholarship. She built even more connections with local journalists and communities.
Maria was a mentor to so many, and we all feel the loss that her passing has brought rippling across the country in sadness.
And yet it feels significant that Maria passed on the year Latino USA celebrates its 30th anniversary. Is this a good place? Do you want to sit on the couch? What do you want to do? Yeah, that’s fine. So do you want to talk here? And then we should go to a little offering at the, yeah. On Saturday, December 2nd.
The day Maria Martin passed, I ended up being with NPR correspondent Mandalit del Barco. Now, I’ve known Mandalit for over three decades. She was one of the first Latino USA correspondents, and we both worked really closely with Maria Martin in those early years. Mandalit and I don’t hang out. I live in New York.
She lives in L.A, but on this day, on the day that Maria passes, Mandalit and I end up in Los Angeles together. In the same place, just hours after Maria took her last breath.
And you know, one of the things that Mandalit and I talked about was this incredible ability that Maria Martin had to celebrate life, even under the most difficult circumstances, she found joy snd laughter. So it was no surprise that as Mandalit and I were sharing our memories, we started laughing a lot about the beginnings of Latino USA and about our moments with Maria Martin. So first I want to bring you a piece of that conversation. Mandalit and I recording impromptu in a living room in my brother’s apartment, overlooking the ocean in Venice Beach in Los Angeles, just hours after hearing the news of Mem’s passing.
We want to share. with you, dear listener, the “Mem”, the Maria Martin that Mandalit and I knew and loved.
Mandalit: Well, you know, Maria, she never was married or never had children, but I feel like she had a lot of children.
Maria Hijonosa: A lot of God children everywhere, everywhere. Even if we weren’t, even if we didn’t call her Madrina.
Mandalit: She was our Madrina.
Maria Hinojosa: She was our Madrina for sure.
Mandalit: She was. I mean, that’s how I thought of her. So how do you characterize that kind of mentor, but not really mentor, editor, but like more than that and friend, but then also you learn from, so yeah, that’s also what to do like a mother, you know.
Mandalit: but never in a way that like was made you feel bad.
Maria Hinojosa: No, she was a great manager. She was a great manager.
Mandalit: Also, I think about all those stories that she did, about all the people that she reported on, I mean, the child that she saw on the streets, uh, or the, the farmer, I mean, everybody, like, and those, those voices, we wouldn’t have heard them unless Maria reported from them.
She came out of the Chicano movement, and I felt that. And I, I feel like I got my education and Chicanismo through Maria, through working with on stories with Maria, she was very focused on it and I was like, Oh, I had a chance to go and learn about all these pioneers and learn about what happened in the 70s, what happened.
In the fields of California and in Latin America too. And she modeled that for us.
Maria Hinojosa: So she was the Latino editor for The National. It was the first and only time it happened. I don’t think it exists now. Oh, no. No, it doesn’t. And you know how that happened? What happened was that Maria understood public media within the context of The politics of it, right?
Public media is supposed to serve the public. Maria looked at the data, understood certainly California Latino population and said, so there’s no representation on public radio on NPR. No Latinos, no Latinas, no editors. And Maria as an activist for public media, she started meeting with members of Congress.
All the members of Congress knew her. They knew about her work in public radio. And so there was then a push from members of Congress. To the corporation for public broadcasting to say that because of the importance of the Latino population, this invisibility can no longer exist. Therefore, there will be this pot of money to create a national desk editor and a reporter. That was me. That’s how I started NPR as a correspondent is with funding through the corporation for public broadcasting. And she said, it’s public radio doesn’t get it. They don’t understand that. We need to be reported on journalistically. We’re an important part of the electorate, the population, et cetera, et cetera.
And that’s when Maria leaves to go create Latino USA. She leaves NPR in a big moment, which was just like, Wait, you have this position as an editor at NPR and you’re going to leave? And I think in some way she understood that it was very tenuous, her position there. And she was like, I don’t need this. I’m going to go create my own show. Latino USA, and I’m going to get NPR to distribute it, and I’m going to take your correspondent and make her my anchor. And she got all of that.
Coming up on Latino USA, Mandalit del Barco and I continue our conversation about our mentor and our best friend, Maria Martin. And also dear listener, you’ll have the joy of hearing Maria’s reporting in her own voice. Stay with us. No te vayas.
Maria Hinojosa: Hey, we’re back and this is our special show, remembering Latino USA founder, Maria Martin, a retrospective of her work, but also a great conversation about her life.
Now, Maria Martin passed away in December of 2023, on the same year that Latino USA turned 30 years old. And on the day that she passed, I was with Mandalit Delbarco, NPR correspondent, of course.
And in many ways, the fact that Mandalit and I could be together was like a message, a gift from our parting friend. Being together allowed us to process a lot of the emotions we were going through. And we want to bring you the rest of the conversation between Mandalit Del Barco and myself, remembering the early days.
And the life of the exceptional Maria Emilia Martin.
Maria didn’t really talk about it, but I think her life and her commitment that those of us who know her understood this right, that she actually knew that the work that she was doing and teaching us all to do was tied to the work of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells. Ruben Salazar, Jovita Hidal, but she was the one who kind of understood the historical arc of our work as journalists.
Mandalit: Not just the journalism part, but the cultural part. I mean, I remember going to the sweat lodges in New Mexico with Maria. I remember going to Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca with Maria. I remember putting up an altar for Day of the Maria Hinojosa: Dead at NPR. Oh my God, do you remember that? Oh yeah. We were accused of being satanic or something.
Yeah, that was a, okay, that is actually, that is a great Maria Martin story. Maria Martin was all about that thing that we now have a term for taking up space. We didn’t have that term back then, but we knew that we had in solidarity, we had our black brothers and sisters that NPR, all 10 of them at the time, you know, forced the organization to recognize black history month.
And there was, you know, Hispanic heritage month was still kind of like, and nobody really took it. They didn’t really take it seriously. And so Maria just said, well, let’s do a day of the dead. Let’s build an altar. And I was like, hell yes, let’s totally do that. Oh my. And we were, when we knew. We knew that we would be pushing buttons.
Mandalit: I didn’t. I was so naive. I was like, yeah, let’s do it. This is great.
Maria Hinojosa: But you know, the day of the dead, nobody knew back then. People were like, you’re going to celebrate what? Oh yeah.
Mandalit: They thought one of our very famous,
Maria Hinojosa: very famous correspondents. We shall remain nameless.
Mandalit: She reported us. Right. That we were satanic or some, I don’t know what.
Maria Hinojosa: Yes. Yes. We actually, because of Maria Martin, we filed in and helped to build the altar for the Day of the Dead. Because of that, there was like an accusation. There was, there was like some kind of satanic ritual going on in the halls of NPR. And that things, things about multiculturalism had just gone way too far.
Which is just so funny that we would end up talking about. The day of the dead on the day that Maria died. Yeah. You know, the way I process these deaths, I really did come to understand that they send messages. They have different ways of sending messages. They can’t talk to you. I’m not a medium like that, but they send messages.
Mandali: Yeah. The spirit lives on.
Mandalit: And so the fact that, that you and I would be together in L.A on the day that she passed away.
Mandalit: Hours later.
Maria Hinojosa: Hours later. Yeah. Yeah. That is a gift. That Maria Martin has given us on the day that she has crossed onto the other side.
Mandalit: She wants us to remember how we were all together, how we made it together, all of that, the early years.
Yeah, absolutely. The very early years. We haven’t even spent more than like five minutes with each other for like maybe 20 years.
Maria Hinojsa: It’s so true.
Mandalit: Like, if you remember all those NHJ conferences where we were in the same, we were in the same hotel room. Same bed. I remember. Yeah We were on the budget.
Maria Hinojosa: All of us.
Oh my God. It was all of us. It was Maria. You, me, Cecilia, ¿Quién más?
Mandalit: Depending on the year, but I don’t know if any one of them is a baby.
Mandalit: It’s a valid idea. Some of the interns, we’d have those all night sessions where we were trying to put together a show and that we didn’t even go to the conference because we were just putting together a half hour program with the stories that our, our trainees were doing.
Maria Hinojosa: I don’t know if you remember Mandalit, but at all the public radio conferences, the first five years of Latino USA. Like we would throw the biggest parties at the public radio conferences. We had big parties with like great giveaways. Everybody wanted to come to our parties to get our giveaways. I don’t even remember what she would do.
And somehow she was able to make it all work. I don’t know how.
Mandalit: And she was so humble, you wouldn’t even know that she was the one behind all that. She just was like truly the behind the scenes character, you know.
Maria Hinojosa: So people will start talking about how Maria Martin changed things structurally, and it’s good to name them. So one of the structural things that she changed was because at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Way back when, there was only television and print. Those were the only two student projects of the conference. And Maria Martin, again, came in and said, Well, I don’t think so, you need to do radio.
And by the way, it’s going to be public radio. So, get with it. And then, I don’t know what she did, how she did it, but before you knew it, she had us all working for her.
Mandalit: Boss lady, but not in a bossy way, not in a bossy way. No, not at all. Just in a kind of like you respect her so much, you’re going to do what she says. She didn’t even ask you to do it. She kind of just, I don’t know, suggested it. I don’t know how, how did she get us to do all this stuff? I don’t know. I wanted to make her happy. So I’m like, okay. And I remember just, I would be following her and things would be falling out of her purse. And I would be picking it up.
But here buddy, I’m like, you know what I mean? Like. She just was like kind of oblivious about it, but people took care of her too, because we wanted to. I just remember that.
Maria Hinojosa: That was my biggest complaint with her. And I always thought, I was like, Maria, please don’t carry around that big bag. I was like, Maria, you have one too many bags.
Maria, please empty the bag. And it’s true. She shouldn’t have been carrying all that stuff. She shouldn’t have been carrying all that stuff. We all saw it, but it was Maria.
Maria ended up finishing college later and getting her master’s degree later. In the moment, it was like, you’re going to do what you’re going to go where? Like, wait, what? We need you as an executive producer. What do you mean you’re leaving? But, you know, she had these personal commitments, like I am going to go and I’m going to get my master’s.
And then the multiple awards that she got, including Fulbright’s, et cetera. She always had these very big ideas of things she wanted to accomplish. One of the loves of her life, which was to create this series called “Después de las Guerras”, which aired on Latino USA. It really was a historic work.
Mandalit: I remember I was here in LA covering street gangs and I went to Honduras and, uh, El Salvador to the prisons.
I went to like six, seven prisons talking to kids that were allegedly in gangs, all tattooed up guys from LA that had been deported and just rounded up. And I remember Maria, she sent me two different producers that were like. One was like a baby. She was in college and I’m taking her inside of the prisons with me.
I mean, just me and this little intern.
Maria Hinojosa: You know, where she sent me, she sent me and Michelle Garcia to El Mozote, the site of a massacre. And that was where. I really understood that Maria’s vision on Después de las Guerras was correct, because 20 years after the massacre of El Mozote, when we returned to this little, tiny, nothing pueblito, and you just said the word, La Masacre. And people would run away from you, start crying, unable to talk. And it was like, this is Después de las Guerras. This is exactly what it looks like. And again, Maria understood that we needed to do that reporting because the United States needed to be held writ large, accountable for what had happened. It was the precursor to everything that we’re seeing now, right?
And Maria Martin, she saw it as a place that we have to document. I mean, once she went to live there. Right. Right. Like immerse herself, but then also to document what, what, what’s being lived there.
Mandalit: What’s sad is that Central America has been somewhat ignored in the past, whatever, how many years, but she was kept at it. She was even living there and she, I mean, she was still filing stories from there. Like right before she went into the hospital, she was still, she almost didn’t want to go to the hospital because it was too important to cover that story. But then she knew that was probably better to go to Texas to get some care, you know, and where she was, but I mean, it would have had to taken something huge to prevent her from, from reporting on it.
Right. That’s the only thing that would have stopped her and it did, but, but not really. Cause we’re still talking about the things that she’s talking about, you know,
Maria Hinojosa: That fearlessness again, it was because she. She had this profound sense of responsibility. This is what she taught us. And I don’t know how we teach it to the next generation, but it was like what we are doing in public media, writ large, in public radio specifically, there’s a much bigger reason why we’re doing this.
Madalit: It is about the core of American journalism. But also just history. We’re history. We’re, we’re chronicling the history and we’re part of the history. So you can’t ignore us. Right. That’s, that was the point, but also I felt she was like, I’m not an activist because she wasn’t an activist, but she was a journalist in that kind of activist sense in terms of just like remembering who we are, who we were, we should be remembering all those things that happened to us and our stories and not just the news.
Maria Hinojosa: Again, she was older than us and so she had that kind of way of being, which is she was like, yeah, no, I speak and no me tiembla el pulso, I say the things that have to be said gently again, because Maria had a great way about her. And she, if she was on the story, she was going to get that story.
Mandalit: Oh yeah. But I mean, I saw her mostly as a teacher. But not a classroom teacher, although she did that too, but just teaching us by example, but also knowing that you have to pass it on to the next generation. I mean, that’s part of her life’s work was right all over. I remember going to Bolivia with her and I got so sick because of the altitude, she had to do the whole class by herself, practically by herself.
But we met with like campesinos and we met. Yeah, we went with the cocoa farmers. We had radio shows on the local radio stations and people that were just like unlikely storytellers of their own narratives, right? And always, it was always by the end, we were all familia. It’s like no matter where we went, even if it was for like three days or if it was like for 30 years.
Maria Hinojosa: That’s what Maria has taught us, which is what is the mission? And it is to be the best journalist possible. Uh, and that means opening your eyes, right?
Mandalit: And your heart. Because
Maria Hinojosa: Yes!
Mandalit: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. She, she just was very passionate about People and people’s lives and it was, I learned that part of being a journalist from her.
You don’t have to just be this impersonal cold, you know, fact finder, right? And it was like, it was like going to live with people going to celebrate going to have a meal with somebody that you report on or that you’re in a space that you don’t just parachute in and out of. You know, but you really try to understand the people and keep in contact.
I’ve noticed that since we heard about her being ill and her passing, so many people have come out and said, Maria came and she was teaching all the indigenous people in our community how to do radio. And we celebrated a holiday with her. We went to this place or a celebration with her or anything. Like they, everybody was like, had a personal connection to with her.
It wasn’t just like. Some faceless journalist that came by that’s the kind of journalist that I want to be that I hope that I am. I learned that from Maria and I hope that that style continues journalism with a heart. I hope that continues.
Maria Hinojosa: Maria was a hard core fact based journalist, but she was a deeply spiritual human being. In fact, taught us journalists how to be able to do both things. And so as Mandalit and I ended our conversation, we looked out the window and the ocean was calling us. So we went downstairs and walked slowly all the way to the water.
And then, we had a moment.
Mandalit: It’s beautiful here, right?
Maria Hinojosa: Yeah, it really is. We just held hands, and Mandalit and I called out to her.
Maria Hinojosa y Mandalit: !Maria Emilia Martin! !Que viva! Woo! Woo! Au!
Maria Hinojosa: It was a perfect way to say goodbye.
And now dear listener, we want to give you the gift of listening to Maria Martin’s work in her own words. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate her and her legacy than to listen to her voice and the journalism she put her heart and soul into. We’re going to present one of the early pieces that Maria Martin produced for Latino USA.
And we thought it was especially fitting because It’s from a trip that she made to Oaxaca to report on the tradition of El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Here’s an edited version of Maria Martin’s reporting from Oaxaca in the year 1995.
Maria Martin: On the plane from Mexico City to Oaxaca, I sat next to a man who was very obviously a Oaxaqueño, dark with Indian features.
He now lived in New York, and he told me that for him. And for the people of his village, the two most important days of the year were Christmas and El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Last year, he said, I didn’t even get home for Christmas, but always I come back for Días de Muertos. Because he told me that’s the time that the dead also return.
Maria Martin: It’s about 10 in the evening on the 31st of October, and the pantheon, or cemetery, of the indigenous Zapotec village of Xoxocatlan, is almost as bright as day, lit up by hundreds of candles placed on and around it. Every tombstone and gravesite around the candles, some as high as three or four feet, is a veritable profusion of flowers.
Everywhere, flores, the golden yellow marigolds, or cempasúchit, said to have el olor de muerto, the smell of death, the lush scarlet coxcomb, and many, many white lilies. It’s an explosion of light and color and firecrackers as families gather at the gravesites of their loved ones. This night is the night of the funeral of the men who have passed away.
They died. And so we come to receive them for tomorrow. Tomorrow is the first day they arrive
Marcos Ramírez: “Esta noche, es noche de la velada, de los señores que ya se fueron, y entonces es que venimos a recibirlos para mañana, mañana es el primer día que llegan ellos, esas personas”
Maria Martin: In the characteristic sing song Spanish of the Indians, 60 year old Marcos Ramirez tells me that this is the night for the vigil for those who have gone. We come to wait for them, he says. Tomorrow is the first day that they come, and after tomorrow, well, they say goodbye and go away again.
Marcos Ramírez:“Ese es el recuerdo de cada año”
María Martin: “Esta noche vienen”
Marcos Ramírez: “Si esta noche”
María Martin: “Ustedes tienen mucha familia”
“Nada más una, mi mamá”
Maria Martin: This is the memory of every year. Do you come tonight? Yes, tonight. Do you have a lot of family that will come? Several of Senor Ramirez’s eight children and about a dozen of his grandchildren stand around a white tomb, sprinkled with marigold petals and decorated with at least a hundred tiny tapered candles.
It’s the resting place of Mrs. Ramirez.
It’s not a morbid sight, nor a sad one, really. Some people pray, some people sing, and the children play games.
And the tourists, like me, walk around. Taking photographs, Denver artist George Rivera has a special interest in El Dia de los Muertos. He’s been documenting these observances in Mexico for a couple of years now.
George Rivera: I see families here, some of them I’m sure that some of the dead are long forgotten, the images of who they are. But the feeling and the kind of meaning that they had to their lives is still there. So I see this. As a time of just paying respect to generations and, and understanding the continuity of generations. Think about the children here. One day they will come and, and, and do that to their own, uh, to their own mother and father.
They’ll be here, our brother and sister, that day will come when they do it. So they begin to get socialized into that. That’s the way we honor each other, long after they’re gone. It’s community. It’s community.((Music))
Maria Martin: This community celebration officially gets underway on the 31st of October and continues through November 3rd.
In many ways, it’s like a party for the living and the dead.
Alicia López: “Si es muy especial par ala gente, nosotros los osaxaqueños es muy especial y todo mundo celebra día de muertos”
Maria Martin: Under the glare of a string of bare light bulbs outside the cemetery gate, dozens of food vendors like Alicia López have set up their puestos, their stalls, and the smells of sweet pastries and other traditional foods waft through the crisp Oaxacan night.
Alicia López: Pozole, los taquitos, los charrines, las donas, elotes, el ponche con alcohol.
Maria Martin: I make my way to the big open air market in Oaxaca City Juarez.
Hundreds of vendors sell just about everything you could imagine or want from calculators to cheeses, candles to magic potions, and of course. At this time of year, there’s a special Día de los Muertos candies shaped like hearts and angels, and the sugar candy skulls called calaveras, and the Day of the Dead folk art, like funerary scenes and tiny painted cardboard tombs.
Alicia López: “Es una tumba, como las tumbas del cementerio”
Maria Martin: It’s a tomb, like the tombs at the cemetery. There are also mountains of the symbolic bread called pan de muerto. It’s a traditional sweet anise bread that’s made only for this time of year.
And in Oaxaca, the loaves are often decorated with the faces of angels.
And so here, at the mercado, I’ll buy what I need for the altar that I’ve set up. set up in my hotel room. And maybe tonight the soul of my mother, Adela Garcia Rios, the Martin will come to visit enticed by the smells of the aguacates, the avocados, the mangoes and the pan dulce she’s so loved for Latino USA. I’m Maria Martin
Maria Hinojosa: Coming up on Latino USA. Maria Martin’s life. After Latino USA and the most ambitious reporting project that Maria took on in her career. Stay with us. No te vayas.
Maria Hinojosa: Hey, we’re back. We’re continuing our special episode, remembering Latino USA founder and public radio trailblazer Maria Emilia Martin, who passed away this past December. In the spring of 2023, as we were preparing a show to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of Latino USA, we tried to tell an oral history of our show.
So, we reached out to Mem, and I had a chance for the very first time to sit down and have an on the record conversation with Maria about the show that she founded.
What do you remember about those early shows of Latino USA?
Maria Martin: I remember working hundreds of hours. I remember sleeping on the floor of the office and the studio. Because we wanted to make sure that it sounded great.
Maria Hinojosa: We also revisited a painful moment in the history of Latino USA and in the life of Maria Martin. In 2003, after 11 years at the helm of Latino USA, Maria says she was forced out of the show that she had founded, the show that she considered her baby.
Maria Martin: It wasn’t my decision to leave Latino USA. I was forced out, basically, and yes, it was very painful to leave that baby. When I look back, I see that what happened to me was quite symbolic of what was happening. I was not the only Latina. Who was in power, who was talented and had earned a place in my case in public radio, but you know, this happened to women of color facing gender issues, facing racism.
Facing the kind of situations that we now look back and say, this is really unjust, you know, very much like what happened to women in terms of being harassed. I think that in terms of the racial and ethnic reckoning that we have started to do with our past, but haven’t really. done it yet. That was part of what happened to me. It’s much more complicated than that. And certainly, as I said, painful. But, you know, life works in mysterious ways.
Maria Hinojosa: If there are two words to describe Maria Martin, maybe undeterred and undaunted would do. Because even with her heart broken after that painful loss, Maria went on doing what she did best, journalism. She moved to her beloved Guatemala and founded the Gracias Vida Center for Media that same year. There, she produced the most ambitious project of her career.
It was called Después de las Guerras, Central America After the Wars, an expansive documentary project that looked at the legacy of the wars in the region. As Central Americans were becoming the fastest growing Latino population in the United States.
Maria lived in Antigua in Guatemala, and with her Gracias Vida Center, she worked with local journalists across Latin America, training them on radio production and digital skills, with a particular focus on training indigenous journalists.
She never stopped reporting to enrich the understanding of Central America on U.S. Public Radio.
Anchor: Reporter Maria Martin has more from Guatemala.
Maria Martin: Bernardo Arevalo, the candidate no one expected to win, continues his tour of heavily attended campaign stops.
Maria Hinojosa: So, to end this special episode, dear listener, we’re going to take a listen to an edited version of one of the award winning segments that Maria Martin produced for Después de las Guerras, Central America After the Wars.
It’s reporting that is still relevant today, which shows Just what great journalism can do here. Once again, is Maria Martin with her reporting from Guatemala, which first aired on Latino USA in 2004. And a quick warning. There are some descriptions of violence
Maria Martin: Today, we’re traveling down what appears to be an ordinary dirt road in Guatemala’s North and rain forest headed towards the tiny village of Santa Maria Tzejá. Our guide is an anthropologist Beatriz Manz.
Beatriz Manz: This road has seen terror and the world did not care.
Maria Martin: Since she was a young graduate student in the 1970s, Manz, who’s originally from Chile, has been witnessing and telling the story of this rainforest community.
Beatriz Manz: The area that we’re going to see on the left pretty soon is where, you know, villagers were kept and tortured. Many people who came up this road never returned. They were tortured. Of course, truckloads of people were brought here, and, uh, they’re probably buried right where we are driving over, or thrown to the river, or thrown into.
Maria Martin: Manz has just published Paradise in Ashes, which documents the history of this one village, just one of hundreds destroyed during the worst years of the bloody Civil War.
It records the memories that are often difficult. For those in Santa Maria Tzejá, to remember.
Edwin Camil: Hay veces que se me dificulta un poco, pero hay veces que sí puedo.
Maria Martin: Edwin Canil says it’s hard for him to talk about the events of February 1982. In the United States then, Ronald Reagan was president. The headlines in American newspapers told of other happenings in Central America, in El Salvador, and Nicaragua. But there was little news of what was happening in this part of the region. About how, just south of the Mexican border, a column of Guatemalan soldiers marched into the isolated jungle settlement called Santa María Tzejá. Edwin was just six years old then.
Edwin Camil: Solo recuerdo que me metí entre la vegetación, como te decía hay plantas que cortan, otras que son espinas y me metí así, y el ejército con toda su carga que lleva no puede pasar entre eso.. No me fui muy lejos. I only remember running. When I heard the gunshots and screams, I didn’t turn around. There was a fallen tree trunk, and there I hid. Then I heard a little girl crying, and it was my little sister. It seemed as if I were watching a play. Then I saw a soldier lift her up and take out his knife and I did not understand what I was seeing.
I did not know what death was. Later, when soldiers left me, I went back where the bodies lay in a circle and I laid down with them, waiting for them to wake up. My mother, my grandmother, my cousins and uncles, my little sister. I began to talk to them. Mother, grandmother. They wouldn’t answer. They wouldn’t wake up.
I was afraid. I was scared. Then I left. Fue la primera vez que sentí un miedo muy feo.
Maria Martin: Sixteen people died that day, in just one hour, in just one village. Sixteen of an estimated 200, 000 killed or disappeared during the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutality of that day stands in stark contrast to the hope and optimism that landless peasants To the rainforest in the first place.
Beatriz Manz: It took the most courageous, the most energetic, the most optimistic to come here and do this.
Maria Martin: Anthropologist Beatriz Manz had studied the conditions in the Guatemalan highlands, where the poverty of the Mayans kept them obligated to work in the coffee, sugar, and cotton plantations on the south coast, only to come home year after year, no better off.
Beatriz Manz: When the people came here in 1970, even though they came from different areas in the highlands, they had one common purpose, and it became very clear to them that unity and belonging to a cooperative was very important, and they wanted land, and they needed to be strong.
Manuel Canil: Yo me vine aquí porque antes no tenía tierra, vivía como mozo en las fincas. I came here because I didn’t have land before.I lived mostly on the farms. I came because before I had no land. I worked like a surf on the plantations where they treated us badly, not like human workers. They only gave us food twice a day and there were no latrines. You should have seen the flies, the pestilence. Pero qué mosquerío y qué pestilencia cuando vivía en esa finca.
Maria Martin: Manuel Kail is the father of Edwin Kail, who was six in 1982. Manuel was one of the first settlers whose dream of owning a piece of land, brought him north to settle in the harsh jungle area, known as the Ixcán.
Manuel Canil: Entonces es cuando supimos que aquí en el Ixcán había tierras nacionales.So when we heard there was national land available, that one could have his own land, that’s when we decided to come. Caminábamos 6 o 7 días a pie.
Maria Martin: They walked north to the rainforest for seven or eight grueling days, forwarding streams and swamps, swinging machetes to clear the jungle.
Manuel Canil: Pero después estábamos organizados en la cooperativa. Things got better because we organized. Then we had cows and the children could have their milk and cheese. We still didn’t have much money, but we had enough to eat. No con tanto dinero pero ya hay suficiente qué comer.
Maria Martin: But then things started to change. The shadows of geopolitical forces found their way into the placid rainforest. Some called it a showdown between communist inspired revolution and the status quo of privilege and militarism. The people of Santa Maria de Tzejá just called it La Violencia, the time of violence.
But then, foreign oil companies started drilling not far from Santa Maria. And it was taking time for the villagers to get legal title to their land. And the army threatened Santa Maria’s peaceful existence. With each apparent attack by the army, the villagers of Santa Maria Tzejá became more and more open to the guerrilla’s message of three years before.
Beatriz Manz: Put yourself in this position. You went through all that effort to clear this. Now the military is coming around, kicking people around, kidnapping already one guy here, assassinating the teacher that had come here to teach in the school. There are oil explorations, there are guerrillas around. And the government refuses to give them land titles.
Well, are we going back to what we just left? That’s why we left the highlands. To escape the dependence on a patron, on a plantation owner.
Maria Martin: As both armies attempted to win through persuasion and through violence, it was the civilian population that suffered the consequences. On the day of February 13th, 1982, the people of Santa María Tzejá heard the army was coming and most fled into the jungle.
The soldiers followed. The family of six year old Edwin Canil had a dog. It barked. That’s when the group of 16, including Edwin’s mother, grandmother, and baby sister, were brutally murdered as Edwin hid in the trees, watching.
Edwin Canil: Estuve un buen rato ahí esperando a que se levantaran y empecé a hablar, mamá, abuelita, nadie me respondía..entonces. I was there for a long time, waiting for them to get up. I waited for them to wake up, but they wouldn’t. So I followed the soldiers being careful because my father had told me that the army kills. And later I saw the soldiers, they were setting a house on fire. And then I went back to the mountain and began to cry out from my father. Papá, papá.
Maria Martin: The village lay in ashes. The army was everywhere, and the people of Santa Maria Tzejá scattered throughout the jungle. Some stayed hidden in the heavy brush of the rainforest for months, even years. Others, like Edwin and his father, Manuel Kail, found their way to Mexico. Then many began a life in exile that lasted for over a decade.
Edwin Canil: Entonces dijeron pueden gritar y todos eh!
Maria Martin: But life was not easy for the refugees in a new country. Still, it may have been even harder for those who stayed behind. Rounded up by the military, many were forced to give information on their former neighbors. Anthropologist Beatriz Manz kept in touch with both groups.
Beatriz Manz: You can see the beginning of disintegration of the sense of community, where people are being accused of, you sold out, under torture you said X. Then I would go to the refugee camps and the refugees would say, All those that remained in the village, they are with the military, they are with the enemy. And when I would come to the village, During the militarization period, the villagers here would say, because that’s what the military would say to them, the ones that went to Mexico are the guerrillas, and they are the ones that cause your troubles.
Maria Martin: Today, and for the last ten years, the village of Santa Maria Tzejá has been living out a new chapter in its history. The former refugees and those who returned to Santa Maria Tzejá under the army’s control are in the process of rebuilding both their village and their shattered sense of community
In many ways, what’s happening Tseha is a microcosm of what Guatemala and other once war ravaged countries in Central America are going through. A difficult journey from the violence, torture, and dislocation of war to a precarious peace and a challenging reconciliation.
Manuel Canil says the first step to build peace is for there to be justice.
Manuel Canil: Y ese es el primer paso aquí Guatemala.
Maria Martin: I ask Manuel would constitute justice.
Manuel Canil: What I think is I don’t want a justice that would put all those. responsible for the massacres and the torture to death. That’s not what I want. But I do want them punished. That they spend some time reflecting in jail. This will serve as an example for those that will continue to be in power. What I want is that for once For justice, not injustice to rule in this land.
Maria Martin: He and his son Edwin are plaintiffs in a civil suit against former Guatemalan heads of state, Romeo Lucas Garcia and Efrain Ríos Montt. These two generals ruled Guatemala during the most brutal years of the anti insurgency movement, 1981 to 1983, the years in which Santa Maria Tzejá was destroyed, and a time the UN Reconciliation Commission has characterized as a period of mass genocide against indigenous Guatemalans.
With Walter Morgan and Angelica Luevano, I’m Maria Martin reporting.
Maria Hinojosa: After almost five decades of working in public media, Maria left a significant mark, not just in the Latino and Latina community and not just in the U. S. The outpouring of messages show just how many of us feel her loss.
For Maria from Peggy Berryhill, they thought they could bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. Maria, you did it. Your seeds have blossomed. Your work lives forever, passed on to the next generations. For those who were lucky to be your friend, we forever hold your smiles, throaty laughter, and sparkling eyes in our hearts.
I’m Beto Arcos. I’m a freelance music and culture reporter. Maria opened the door to so many voices of Latinos who were never heard. Before on public radio, she was my first editor and let me tell you, she was always pushing me to dig deeper and to be a better writer and storyteller for that, muchisimas gracias.
My name is Ruxandra Guidi and I met Maria in 2004. I had just gotten to Austin to start work as a producer for Latino USA. I needed a place to stay and folks said, why don’t you get in touch with Maria Martin? She’ll take you in. And she did. She rented me a room and I ended up living at her place for about a year. So Maria has been absolutely instrumental in my career. She’s been a close, close friend and mentor. And I miss her a lot.
My name is Enrique Naveda and I’ve been a journalist in Guatemala for almost two decades.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 in the Central American news to the American newspapers and media.
For Maria Emilia from Isabel Alegría, I’m remembering our days in the 1980s at KXER in El Paso and your good humor, love, and dedication to the Latin American news service. So many stories were told with reporters who you connected with and nurtured in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Today, I mourn and celebrate you, but most of all, gracias, Maria Emilia. I feel so lucky to have known and learned from you.
My name is Mincho Jacob and I’m a radio producer and had the honor of working with Maria Martin directly. I think my fondest memory of her is when we were in Guatemala. Out in Barrio Desi Ocho in Guatemala City, talking to gang members. My family was horrified, but it was a really great experience. I hope that Maria Martin rests in power.
My name is Deepa Donde, former producer of Latino USA. I have so many memories of men, it’s hard to pick just one. But 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.
As Maria would say, sending you love. My name is Richard Gonzalez. 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. She was very generous with her time and attention and ultimately with her vision for Bringing the Latino experience to the public radio audience. We owe Maria a great debt. She has my undying respect. When the history of Latinos and public broadcasting is written, an entire chapter will be devoted to the untiring work. And remarkable achievements of Maria Martin.
Maria Hinojosa: As it turns out, we all Latino and Latina Latinx journalists in public media onw, a great debt to Maria Emilia Martin. We can’t hope to repay it. But what we can and will continue to do here on Latino USA is to tell the underreported stories that Maria always pushed us to report on and to keep Maria’s vision for this show alive.
So thank you, Maria Martin. We know that your favorite sign off was always with love and light. And so we thank you for all of the love and light you brought to so many to me personally and to all of us at Latino USA.
This episode was produced by Victoria Estrada. It was edited by Marta Martinez. It was mixed by Julia Caruso. Special thanks to the staff of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection and the University of Texas Libraries for retrieving historical recordings to use in our show. The Latino USA team includes Reynaldo Leanos Jr.,Andrea López Cruzado, Glorimar Marquez, Mike Sargent, Nour Saoudi, and Nancy Trujillo. Peniley Ramirez is our co-executive producer. Our director of engineering is Stephanie Lebow. Additional engineering support by Gabriella Baez and J. J. Carubin. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubinos.
I’m your host and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. Join us again on our next episode. In the meantime, look for us on social media and remember, and this one’s for you, Maria Martin, no te vayas nunca. Ciao.
Latino USA is made possible in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Unlocking knowledge, opportunity, and possibilities more at hsfoundation.org
The Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide and Latino USA 30th anniversary episodes are made possible with support from our legacy sustainers.
The Brett Family Foundation, Alonzo Cantu, Carmen Rita Wong, Vamos Enterprises, The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, April Gasler, Dr. Elmo Randolph, Belinda De La Libertad, Angela Garcia Sims, and Priscilla Rojas.