Behind the Curtain at TMM

Notes From A Rookie

Mandalit del Barco, here ...

It's all so new for me, this hosting gig. Guest hosting, I should say. Michel Martin was kind enough to hand me the mic, to vamp in her place for a few days while she was travelling. I'm so honored to be invited to fill in on the show, and really grateful to the thoughtful ...and sympathetic.... producers and editors who've made me feel at home. I came all the way from NPR West in Los Angeles to be here at the headquarters I call "NPR East."

See, as an NPR correspondent, I'm used to being a street reporter, having adventures in the field, telling other people's stories. And as a producer, I'm used to masterminding the audio. But filling an entire show with interviews? That's been an exciting challenge. And I like challenges.

Before my debut, I admit I was kinda nervous, but mostly excited. "Just be yourself," advised everyone, from Michel to another NPR host, Scott Simon, to my friends around the country (who I updated regularly via Facebook and Twitter). I wanted to preserve the spirit and mission of "Tell Me More": lively and provocative chats about diverse topics with folks we don't always get to hear from on the airwaves.


With this in mind, the staff and I delved into some of the kinds of stories I really wanted to tell as a host. The debate over health care and undocumented immigrants is broiling, and this week, it really got hot, not only during the conservative rally here in D.C. last weekend, but also in this week's radio-thon with right-wing talk show hosts. I'd heard of a growing movement against one of those hosts, a certain CNN personality who's been criticized for a long time over his views on illegal immigrants. I was hoping for an exclusive interview. Sadly, despite our best efforts, Lou Dobbs was not available.

Nevertheless, we had a very engaging discussion about the tenor of the debate around immigrants and healthcare reform. And today, we tackled another intriguing issue of the day: the question of racism in the debate over healthcare reform. We had a great talk, in the wake of former President Jimmy Carter critique that racism is at play.

In Los Angeles, I cover street gangs, and one of my best sources is Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who is a gang interventionist. Over the years, I've marveled at the way he's able to literally speak the same language as the homeboys and homegirls he helps. I was very pleased to be able to share with the audience my conversation about faith, spirituality and redemption with Father G... also known as G-Dogg by the L.A. Homies ...

And being Peruvian-Mexican-American, I was also very happy to offer up some Latino-related stories: the Latin Grammies, Puerto Rican independentistas, telenovelas and even a 1941 trip by Walt Disney trip to South America. In fact, we did so many Latino-oriented stories that my friend and colleague, NPR's Carrie Kahn, suggested we rename the show "Dime Mas" ("Tell Me More" in Spanish)!

We also got to talk about Hip Hop, one of my favorite music genres, in our chat about Jay-Z's new album. And I got to step into the show's "Barbershop," where Jimi Izrael proceeded to try to nickname me, as he has with everyone else who puts in their two bits. I was having none of his off-the-fly moniker "Mandy." I still cringe when I hear the Barry Manilow song. (Although, I have to admit that I used the nickname as a student journalist when I went undercover for an investigative expose of sorority rush at Berkeley.)

"Oh, Mandy?" I joked with the guys. "Can't you do any better than that?"

Then I suggested a better moniker. My Peruvian cousins call me "Manda"— which sorta translates as "one who commands."

Jimi laughed and suggested I was commanding the show.

Only for two days this week, I thought, and I didn't really command anything. This was a team effort.

But I plan to be back with the show in October, contributing from L.A.. I look forward to working with this fantastic staff. Thanks everyone.

Until then, I hand the space back to my companera Michel. Dime mas!!!!

- Mandalit del Barco



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