journalist maria hinojosa was the keynote speaker at the César Chávez Convocation last Thursday night. Photo by Morgan Grana.
Journalist Maria Hinojosa was the keynote speaker at the César Chávez Convocation last Thursday night. Photo by Morgan Grana.

Award-winning Mexican-American journalist and author Maria Hinojosa captivated the audience at the Seventh Annual César Chávez Convocation. She touched the crowd with personal stories relating to Latino culture and reiterated the great need for social activism in light of the recently passed laws in Arizona.

Hinojosa helped to honor the memory of one of her heroes, civil rights activist César Chávez, and his formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) last Thursday at Colleges Nine and Ten. Hinojosa presented Chávez as an example for activists, commending his passion for social justice. Many in the UC Santa Cruz community have taken notice.

“[Maria] asks the difficult and probing questions, and is at the same time dedicated to documenting important issues affecting Latina and Latino communities with a keen sense of compassion and dignity,” said Rosa-Lina Fregoso, professor of Latin American and Latino studies.

Hinojosa is anchor and managing editor of National Public Radio’s (NPR) Latino USA, a weekly national program reporting on news and culture in the Latino community. She also has her own talk show in Boston called “One on One with Maria Hinojosa.”

Hinojosa’s efforts have been recognized by various groups, including the National Council of La Raza, which awarded her the Ruben Salazar Award, and the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, which gave her their Lifetime Achievement Award.

At the convocation, she spoke of personal experiences as an immigrant from Mexico and of her struggles growing up in Chicago, Illinois, as well as working as a Latina journalist. She recalled feeling “invisible,” partly because of her ethnicity, but soon discovered the value of her voice as she discovered the power in sharing interviews from individuals whose stories are seldom told.

“My role in journalism was to be visible and not to be quiet,” Hinojosa said.

She has interviewed a wide variety of people throughout her extensive career, including influential politicians, white supremacists, and even gang members. However, she focuses the majority of her attention on stories and issues affecting the Latino community and surrounding immigration rights and reform issues.

Hinojosa also spoke of the need to fight for undocumented people’s rights, especially after the passing of the SB 1070 law and the banning of ethnic studies in the state of Arizona. She said feelings of self-doubt and a lack of belonging are occurring among Latinos in the United States as a result of these current events.

“We are living in a moment of history that is frankly quite devastating,” Hinojosa said in her speech concerning the future of immigrants. “This is a dramatic situation. There’s a lot of ignorance, and this ignorance has been reared into hate. That’s where it gets really ugly.”

Some audience members said that the convocation and the content of Hinojosa’s speaking could not have been more appropriate in light of what is going on in Arizona.

“I thought the event was really inspirational and that the message [Maria] was giving everyone, particularly the youth in the audience, was very motivating,” said Wendy Baxter, associate college administrative officer (ACAO) of co-curricular and college programs at Colleges Nine and Ten. “She stressed the urgent nature of what is going on in this country right now.”

The event attracted many who wanted to honor Chávez and listen to Hinojosa speak.

“This is one of my favorite events that I look forward to all year,” said Helen Shapiro, provost of Colleges Nine and Ten. “The spirit and energy is incomparable.”

The event was planned by Shapiro, College Ten co-curricular programs, the Chicano Latino Resource Center (El Centro), and CARE: Community and Resource Empowerment. The groups shared the task of planning and setting up for the event.

“Everyone was working double and triple-time,” Shapiro said. “I’m pleased people are still working to make this event possible.”

Throughout her speech, Hinojosa continually urged the people in the crowd to continue fighting for immigrants’ rights, and considered the ability to promote dialogue invaluable.

“To be an American is to question and participate,” Hinojosa said. “It is the simple acts of protest that ignite the fire. Activism is organic, you have to trust it.”

Attendees were engaged by Hinojosa’s words and said the journalist related well to the audience.

“I felt really lucky to be there,” Wendy Baxter said. “She was so brilliant and thoughtful and personable, and connected so effectively with all of us. It felt like you were listening to a friend. I think she is something special.”

As the convocation came to a close, Hinojosa stressed the importance and need for openness and compassion in humanity. She said that, when people see each other equality, mutual respect and understanding will be the result.

As she stated, “This is the vision that I have for America with activism that comes from the heart.”