Maria Martin, Latino USA public radio program founder, dies at 72 Maria Martin created the public radio program Latino USA in 1993, was a reporter and helped train generations of radio journalists in the U.S. and Latin America.

Pioneering Latina public radio journalist Maria Martin dies at 72

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Journalist Maria Martin was a former NPR colleague who created the radio show Latino USA. She died over the weekend in Austin, Texas. NPR's Mandalit del Barco was a friend and protege. She shares this remembrance.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: For nearly half a century, Maria Emilia Martin brought the voices of Latinos and Latin Americans to public radio.

MARIA MARTIN: I'm Maria Martin reporting.

DEL BARCO: She reported for NPR, the BBC and other outlets in recent years from her home in Antigua, Guatemala, near a volcano, she could see out her window. With her gentle and determined commitment, Maria documented the politics, culture and resilience of indigenous communities in and migrants from Central America.

MARTIN: That is an area that is just crucial for U.S. public radio audiences to understand why so many human beings are making that terrible, risky, hard, tragic trek up here.

DEL BARCO: In 1999, she told the story of Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American Catholic nun who was kidnapped and tortured by the Guatemalan government. In her radio documentary series "Despues de las Guerras: Central America After the Wars," Maria chronicled the aftermath of a massacre in one rural Guatemalan village.


MARTIN: Some called it a showdown between communist-inspired revolution and the status quo of privilege and militarism. The people of Santa Maria Tzeja just called it la violencia - the time of violence.

DEL BARCO: Maria was born in Mexico City and grew up along the Tex-Mex border and in California. Her Chicana radio roots began in the mid-1970s at KBBF in Santa Rosa, Calif., the first Latino-owned bilingual community radio station in the U.S. By the 1980s, she was filing stories for the Latin American News Service and NPR's Spanish-language news magazine Enfoque Nacional.

MARTIN: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Maria was the editor for the short-lived NPR show Latin File, where I first worked with her in 1990. Then she became NPR's first and only Latino affairs editor. But in 1992, she left to create the independent, nationally syndicated radio program Latino USA.

MARTIN: To reflect the diversity of the Latino community in all of its beauty and all of its pain. Imagine the sounds of Calle Ocho and the Bronx and the fields of Fresno. These stories were crying to be told.

DEL BARCO: In her mission to inform and celebrate Latinos, Maria often encountered resistance and struggles for funding and respect. But for Latino USA's launch party, she somehow got the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, to welcome the show.

BILL CLINTON: Viva public radio. And thank you...

DEL BARCO: I was one of Latino USA's first reporters. Thirty years later, the show endures. Host Maria Hinojosa credits Maria Martin.

MARIA HINOJOSA, BYLINE: She was the one who had that original vision, and she taught enough of us - right? - to just keep going no matter what because of this sense of journalistic responsibility, and to make sure that we are not erased and invisible-ized (ph).

DEL BARCO: Maria Martin also trained and mentored generations of journalists in the U.S., Bolivia, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Among those she taught are music journalist Betto Arcos, who appears frequently on NPR, and Guatemalan TV anchor Diana Alonzo.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Maria opened the door to so many voices of Latinos who were never heard before on public radio.

DIANA ALONZO: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Alonzo says Maria taught her everyone has a story to be told with dignity. She was a madrina, a godmother to many of us, leading with light and love. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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