Maria Hinojosa Credit: Futuro Media Group / NPR

Over the course of her nearly 30-year career, award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa has covered everything from abuses at immigrant detention centers to Latino voters’ impact on the 2016 presidential election. Born in Mexico City, she came to the U.S. as a toddler in 1962 and was raised in Hyde Park. Today, as the longtime host and executive producer of NPR’s Latino USA, Hinojosa delves into every aspect of Latino news and culture. She has sometimes made headlines herself, as she did in October after confronting a member of Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council on live television over his use of the term “illegals” to describe undocumented immigrants. Last year, through her company Futuro Media Group, she launched In the Thick, a new political podcast.

On Thursday, Hinojosa comes to DePaul University, where she serves as the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz chair of Latin American and Latino Studies, for a series of panels on Latinos in America’s political conversation. The Reader talked to Hinojosa by phone last week to hear how she’s been approaching her work since Trump’s election ushered in a political sea change.

A recent segment on Latino USA focused on Denison, Iowa, featured a Mexican immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship in 2013 but supports President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Can you speak about how you’ve been approaching the complexities of Latino communities and issues important to them in the Trump era?

Both Julio Ricardo Varela, who is my [podcast] cohost and is the digital director of Futuro, and myself are political geeks. I’ve been a political reporter since forever. I have spent pretty much the last two months reporting out in the field. I’m trying to understand midwest and heartland voters. I’ve spent a lot of time since the election trying to understand and speaking to a lot of Latinos and Latinas who voted for Trump, and people in general who voted for Trump.

There’s some bigger issues, though, right? A quarter of Latino voters, more or less, said they were prepared to vote for a third party or a write-in candidate. These were numbers right before the election. And they’re pretty strong numbers. The Democrats’ and Republicans’ ears should be on fire right about now if there’s a quarter of Latino voters who are even playing with the idea of going to a third party or write-ins. That’s crazy. Insane. It could shift the entire conversation.

What are your thoughts on President Trump’s first 100 days?

I have thought a lot about Trump’s first 100 days. I’ve thought about the first 100 days of President Barack Obama, and what would have happened if he had delivered immigration reform when he could have. We could have changed the narrative of what happened in the Democratic Party. I don’t know. On the other hand, while there has been this really dark, thunderous, storm-filled cloud, it has a silver lining: people are much more awake, much more woke to what is happening in terms of immigration.

They are not 100 percent woke, because people don’t understand the sentiment on the street in immigrant communities. African, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Korean, Jamaican, all different immigrant communities, are living under a very particular kind of fear. There are no immediate protests like at the airport, because ICE does its work very effectively. Very early in the morning they are out knocking on people’s doors and taking people away before anyone can even know. I have heard people who have a historical perspective call it a type of Gestapo. . . . It has been happening for years, and it is simply intensifying more under the Trump administration because of his rhetoric and because he is pushing through certain policies. But no one could care less [about these immigrant communities] until now. 

Last month an NPR analysis of immigration data from Trump’s first 100 days in office showed he was able to drastically reduce the flow of immigrants to the U.S., both legal and illegal, without really relying on any new legislation to do so. Like you’re saying, fear seems to be this administration’s most useful tool.

The real question now comes down to data. You have to look at what happens when you have a shrinkage of the immigrant population and of their engagement with the daily economy. People are saying they’re not leaving the house, not even to go shopping or to go buy things at the corner grocery. They’re not going out to dinner, to the movies. What does it look like when you have people who decide not to come [to the U.S.]? Is this going to make the U.S. economy strong, filled with growth? We’ll see. But obviously this is what a certain part of the electorate believed we needed to do.

You know, all of the data from the National Academy of Sciences, from the Rand Corporation, which is no communist lefty sympathizer asking for open borders, government data from the state of Texas, all of it continually shows that immigration, documented and undocumented, is a net gain to the economy.

Yes, we have to talk about the losers. But overwhelmingly, what’s happening to the American economy with all immigrants is that it’s a boost. So we’ll talk about that, because sadly, it’s still a part of the conversation that much of the mainstream media doesn’t really refer to. They only talk about Latinos and Latinas from the concept of takers. They’re immigrants, they are takers and don’t contribute, and are getting free stuff and don’t speak English. It’s just like, what Latinos are you talking about?

“While there has been this really dark, thunderous, storm-filled cloud, it has a silver lining: people are much more awake, much more woke to what is happening in terms of immigration.”

—Maria Hinojosa

And data also shows that immigrants are much more likely to open a small business than people born in the U.S.

I consider myself part of that. I created my own nonprofit media company. I employ 20 people. I am the only Latina that’s running a nonprofit media organization in the United States. We control the narrative of the kind of journalism stories we’re going to tell. We can do that because I took a huge risk and created Futuro. I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore. I was tired of pitching my stories and getting turned down. It was incredibly risky and scary. I didn’t want to go on unemployment, but I didn’t want to work for someone else. So I created this thing. I got my chutzpah from Chicago, which is a very media-heavy town. And I remember consuming media when I was in Hyde Park, but I never saw anyone that was like me. There were no stories about people like me, not even in the Reader, which we read every week. So I allowed myself to see a problem and dream that I could be part of the solution. But my perspective as a Latina, as a Mexican from the south side of Chicago, was completely invisible and unheard in the national narrative.

Well, now I run a company, and we’re doing these stories and this kind of coverage. v