Dec 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Maria Martin, founder of "Latino USA," dies at 72

Maria Martin at her home studio office in front of her computer.

Maria Martin at her home studio office in Guatemala. Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Xiloj/ GraciasVida Center for Media

Maria Martin, a ground-breaking Latina radio journalist who later founded "Latino USA," one of the first nationally syndicated radio programs about Latinos, died Saturday. She was 72.

Driving the news: Martin died following complications from a medical procedure and had suffered from several illnesses in recent years.

  • A statement from an official message chain updating friends about her health status said she died "in a room full of peace and love surrounded by her family."

The big picture: Martin had mentored hundreds of Latino journalists in the U.S. and Latin America throughout her career and remained a tireless advocate for media diversity until her final days.

  • As one of the first notable Latina journalists in public radio, she strived to get more Mexican American, Puerto Rican and Central American voices into stories while busting stereotypes.

Details: Born in Mexico City and raised in California, Martin got her start in radio at KBBF 89.1 FM in Santa Rosa, California, in 1975 before becoming an editor on NPR's short-lived national show, "Latin File."

Zoom out: With assistance from the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Mexican American Studies and a Ford Foundation grant, Martin founded the English-language public radio program that would become "Latino USA" in 1993.

  • The program was housed at Austin's KUT-FM and introduced the likes of Los Angeles-based cartoonist and satirist Lalo Alcaraz and several overlooked Latino musicians to a larger audience.
  • She also hired Maria Hinojosa, then an unknown journalist, as a host.
  • Then-President Bill Clinton even came to the "Latino USA" launch party. "I hope that 'Latino USA' does for its audiences what programs like 'All Things Considered' and 'Morning Edition' do for audiences all across America," he said.

Today, "Latino USA" is the longest-running public radio program produced from a Latino perspective.

Yes, but: Martin said she was later forced out by radio executives from the program she founded.

  • "What was happening to me was quite symbolic of what was happening (to women of color)," she told "Latino USA" on its 30th anniversary show.
  • Martin then moved to Guatemala, where she trained Indigenous people in radio journalism and corresponded with journalists around the world.

The intrigue: Martin told Axios before she died that she was working on a book about her experiences in Texas and events that led to her ousting.

  • It's not known if she finished the manuscript.

Of note: After Axios launched in March 2021 the Axios Latino newsletter, Martin congratulated Axios on the new project.

  • "Remember, try not to make it about you ... it's about the stories and the people you find."
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