Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa shed new light on the contentious issues surrounding Latino immigration when she kicked off the Syracuse University Lectures Series on Tuesday. The audience filling Hendricks Chapel felt the impact of the Latina’s trailblazing work in investigative journalism in her lecture titled, “Making the Invisible Visible."
Hinojosa described the past two years she’s spent working on “The Latino List,” a documentary debuting this week on HBO, and “Lost in Detention,” a PBS Frontline documentary. She explained “the reality of being Latino.”
She has interviewed countless prominent Hispanics for "The Latino List," including NASA astronaut Jose Moreno Hernandez and actress Eva Longoria. She is also host of NPR’s Latino USA and anchor of the Emmy-award winning talk show “Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One.”
But the stories Hinojosa shared were mostly about Latinos who are often overlooked by the media. “She brings a voice to people who don’t have them,” said Bea Gonzalez, dean of University College.
Although Hinojosa celebrated the election of President Obama and appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2010, the passage of Arizona’s immigration law later that year nuanced her hope. “What is happening in this country should make all of us look very closely at due process at this country,” she said.
“Anyone who looks Latino could be asked, ‘Where were you born?’” That, she said, “should bother all of us -- that the question could be asked to any of us.”
For the Frontline documentary, Hinojosa traveled to Arizona. She delved into the realities of “the story of immigrants who are, overwhelmingly, ‘non-criminals.’”
And that reality is one dominated by fear. She described one undocumented “mother in tears” in Arizona, who feared being stopped while her son drove her to her job cleaning houses.
The son, the mother told Hinojosa, would be arrested and sent to jail. “Because she doesn’t have papers, it can be a felony to transport an undocumented immigrant in the state of Arizona,” Hinojosa explained.
Hinojosa asked the audience, “How many of you know that since Barack Obama became president, the U.S. reached an all-time high number of deportations and detentions?” Few hands raised.
Later, she asked, “How many of you know there were two sets of American laws – one for citizens and one for immigrants?” and even fewer hands raised.
With first-hand accounts, Hinojosa described the immigrant detention system –- often run by private companies paid “per body” with tax dollars. “The U.S. has the largest civil detention numbers in the world,” Hinojosa explained. But detainees “don’t have Miranda rights.”
“Try and imagine what it feels like,” Hinojosa said, to put the audience in the shoes of an undocumented immigrant who is detained in America. “If any of you were detained in a different country and didn’t have access to a phone call, a lawyer or to see a judge."
McKenzie Paterson, a freshman majoring in international relations, described how Hinojosa “brings to light the truth behind this issue – and it’s something I haven’t been quite aware of.” Paterson said it’s “almost like we don’t want to believe these facts.”
Television, radio and film sophomore Kelvin Sherman said, “People need to understand the situation where the Latino population is coming from.” He, like many, said he learned about the lack of rights afforded to those in the detention system at the lecture.
“I think it’s something that should be publicized more –- in the African-American community, the white community –- it’s just something that’s not out there at all, because different media don’t touch on that,” Sherman, who also acknowledged his support for Obama, said.
After winning three citywide elections, and as the first Latina elected to the Syracuse Common Council, Gonzalez, the University College dean, described the effects the federally enacted policies in Syracuse have on the Latino population. “We have lost people into the detention system from this community, when it took weeks and weeks for us to find them, because they would’ve been picked up at the bus or train station and they become ‘disappeared,’” Gonzalez said.
Finding someone who’s been detained, she said, takes considerable time, energy and resources. “Thank God there’s a very active coalition here of people here who are paying attention to these issues,” she said.
Rose Montoya, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she admired Hinojosa. “She is the type of person to just speak the truth. Whatever is on her mind she will say it, she will not hold back,” she said.
She appreciated Hinojosa addressing immigration, the Obama administration and “what’s going on in Arizona.”
"It actually touched home, because that’s something that’s going on and people tend to turn their back on it, so I’m glad she brought it up,” Montoya said.
During a question-and-answer session with the audience, Hinojosa faced a student who disagreed with Hinojosa’s high hopes for this country. “There is an openness,” Hinojosa said, about Americans that she witnessed in 49 states.
Hinojosa’s perspective that Americans are more open and accepting than led to believe resonated with information studies graduate student Jessica Santana. “The fact that she reinforced an idealistic America, and is giving us younger generations of people something to look forward to, is something I think I’m going to take away from this lecture,” Santana said.
“I’d been waiting for this lecture for weeks,” in part because Hinojosa is “someone who looked like me.” Said the Brooklyn native: “There were a lot of things that she said that hit home for me.”
We sat down with Maria Hinojosa, host and managing editor of NPR’s "Latino USA," senior correspondent for "NOW on PBS" and host of "Maria Hinojosa: One-on-One" during her Sept. 27, 2011, visit to Syracuse University. Host: Bianca Graulau. Producers: Jessica Cunnington and Julia Palmer. Special Thanks to Nena Garga and Marie Jankinson.