Campus Life Presents: An Evening with Maria Hinojosa
As an award-winning journalist, anchor, and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa uses her powerful voice for the empowerment of people across a diverse spectrum of cultures and communities. For example, in her recently published memoir, Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America (available in Spanish as: Una vez fui tú) she depicts the vulnerable experience of many U.S. immigrants as seen through her lens as a Mexican American growing up in Hyde Park, Chicago. On March 18th, MCPHS Campus Life hosted a webinar with Maria Hinojosa, moderated by MCPHS-Worcester student Joanna Lopez, PharmD ’22, to discuss the experiences of Latinx Americans, and healthcare disparities of those communities as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maria Hinojosa began the conversation by sharing her special connection to the healthcare community: It was because of her father’s dream to make a difference in medicine that she grew up in the United States. Her father, Dr. Raul Hinojosa, was a physician who dreamed of discovering a way to help the deaf hear. When the University of Chicago recruited him to their research team, he and his family left their beloved home in Mexico to make that dream come true; in Chicago, Raul became part of the large team that created the first cochlear implant. Maria Hinojosa encourages students to find their own narrative and dream of what may seem impossible, the way her father did.
Turning the conversation over to Joanna Lopez and her career path in the Doctor of Pharmacy (Accelerated PharmD) program, Hinojosa mused how the pharmacist is an extremely trusted healthcare provider, and a source of guidance for people in Mexico. “You have a very important role to play in our community health,” she said. “And how you handle yourself in your community as a provider is going to set the tone for so many people. And you are already, Joanna, a role model for so many people in your own community.”
Opening up about her personal experience through the pandemic, Maria Hinojosa shared how it was nearly a year ago to date that she became infected COVID-19, and how she just recently received her first vaccine shot. Rather than describing the relief or pride that most people flash on social media with their vaccine-verification card, Maria Hinojosa admitted feeling emotionally distressed: “After having symptoms for thirty days and having lost friends and family…I’m not afraid to say; no, es que eso me ha miedo [no, that scared me].” Hinojosa said that despite the double-layered face mask she was wearing at the time of her vaccination, the nurse could sense her anguish. The nurse, who was herself an immigrant from Ghana, offered to talk through everything with her, regardless of the long line of people waiting. She made sure Hinojosa felt comfortable and informed about the vaccine and reminded her that it was ultimately her choice to get it or not. She even related her own experiences to Hinojosa and encouraged her by saying it was the “freedom shot.” The nurse’s leadership and message of liberation reminded Hinojosa of Harriet Tubman guiding people to safety. Hinojosa urged Joanna and all MCPHS’s providers-in-the-making to be mindful that they too will be leaders and have a strong impact in the healthcare conversation.
Maria Hinojosa also talked about responsibility, not just in terms of leadership, but also in terms of privilege. She was the first Latina ever hired at NPR, the first Latina correspondent at CNN, and the first Latina correspondent at PBS. “Being the first meant that I understood that I did have privilege, and therefore I had responsibility,” she said. She wanted to use her achievements to give back; to ensure that although she was the first, she would not be the last. In 2010, Hinojosa founded The Futuro Media Group, a nonprofit multimedia organization that covers national Latinx news, and shares untold stories overlooked by mainstream media. One such story is that of her podcast, Suave, which follows the life of a man who was imprisoned for life at the age of 17 until the Supreme Court aligned with scientific research (here, she gestured to Joanna) in saying the adolescent brain is not fully developed until age 26.
As founder and executive producer of Futuro Media, Hinojosa is the first and only Latina to run a non-profit newsroom. She credits the success of her career to the belief and trust that she has had in herself despite the labels others have given her, like “minority.” She says that such labels can affect how people within certain groups see themselves, as well as how society sees them. “We now know that inequity in healthcare and in access is real, and we have to take this moment, all of us together, to paint a picture of what this looks like and talk about it,” Hinojosa said. She went on to say how she felt a responsibility as a journalist to figure out why the COVID-19 morbidity rate was so much higher among Latinos and Latinas in New York City. Joanna expressed a similar feeling of responsibility to her community, as a first-generation Guatemalan American with a healthcare provider perspective. Joanna, who works at a hospital pharmacy, recalled seeing a board with the names of covid-positive patients in the ICU. Realizing that they were all Hispanic, she brought it up to one of the nurses, and they discussed possible reasons that Hispanic and black communities were being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. “A lot of Hispanic people don’t have the privilege of staying home and working from home. They’re obligated to go out and work every day. And I know that that was the case with my parents, and actually my father got really sick not too long ago.” Thankfully, her father recovered, but the uncertainty of whether he would pull through the illness was both heartbreaking and eye-opening for Joanna to be on the patient side. She said that the experience has given her perspective that she will take with her as a future healthcare provider.
Maria Hinojosa and Joanna Lopez agreed that an important part of dispelling healthcare disparities among Latinx communities is to create trust and an active dialogue between providers and patients. Hinojosa stressed that leadership is not authoritarian, but humanitarian. She used the example of Dr. Anthony Fauci shedding a tear during an interview she had with him on the very morning her cousin passed away from COVID-19: “That capacity to be a leader, to stand for something, and yet maintain your humanity, to me, is really the essence of the way we handle ourselves as professionals, whether we’re journalists or in the health or medical field. You want to be a leader, but you also want to have a deep sense of humanity. To me, that means everything.”
Among many other accolades spanning a career of over 25 years, Maria Hinojosa has won four Emmys, a Peabody Award, the 2012 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Reporting on the Disadvantaged, as well as many honorary degrees.