María Martin, a groundbreaking journalist and the creator of Latino USA, died Saturday after a recent operation, according to NPR. She was 72.
Martin elevated Latinx voices on public radio and later trained journalists throughout Latin America.
She was “a tireless reporter and creative producer, dedicated to journalism at its highest level and its broadest reach,” her friend Ellin O’Leary, founder of what is now YR Media, said in an email shared with Current.
“Pioneer and legendary have described her for decades,” journalist Michelle García said in a tribute on Martin’s Facebook page. “To me and countless others, Maria was a visionary.”
“Maria created a world where someone with the name Patricia Guadalupe could be a Washington correspondent. Where someone with the last name Hinojosa could be a host,” García wrote. “She gave meaning and purpose to the now overly used term, ‘Representation Matters.’ And by doing so, she taught us what we could be, who we could be in the media world, and that we could be heard.”
“Maria Martin was one of the people I owe my entire career to, especially in English-language broadcast media,” said journalist Patricia Guadalupe in a Facebook post.
Martin launched Latino USA May 5, 1993, during a public radio conference, with President Bill Clinton addressing an audience of industry leaders.
She recalled in a Current article earlier this year that it was her “dream to produce a program with Latino/a editorial control, one that would tell the Latino/a story in all its beauty and all its pain, and that spoke of Latino/a contributions to this country. I dreamt of a radio project that would help make public media more ‘public’ and create bridges of cross-cultural understanding.”
“I wanted Latino USA to be a creatively produced program of substance, as good as anything heard on NPR,” she added. “This was a tall order with just a small staff, insufficient funding, and dealing with the gender and ethnic discrimination Latinas and other women then faced daily.”
Earlier in her career, Martin worked as news director for KBBF in Santa Rosa, Calif., the first fully bilingual, bicultural educational radio service in the U.S.
She went on to work at NPR, where she was the network’s first and only Latino affairs editor. She was also an editor for Latin File, a national NPR program.
In 2020, she published the book Crossing Bridges: A Journalist’s Heart in Latin America.
Martin later founded the GraciasVida Center for Media, a journalism training nonprofit in Guatemala, and trained journalists in Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico and Bolivia.
Martin told the Knight Center in 2015, “I tell my students that when people tell you their stories, they are giving you a gift, they are opening up their hearts and their souls and you have to let them know that you appreciate that, in whatever way it is.”