Breaking bread with legendary Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa on 2020 elections, Detroit… And food

Photo by Serena Maria Daniels. Maria Hinojosa, left, Nicole Rothwell, center, Julio Ricardo Varela, recording at La Noria Wood-Fired Bistro.

It’s a refreshingly sunny March afternoon in Detroit (albeit still chilly) and journalist Maria Hinojosa enters La Noria Wood-Fired Bistro.

Sporting aviator shades, jeans, and a beautiful blue silk scarf covered with Loteria cards, Hinojosa, one of the most influential Latina journalists in the United States, embodies a Hollywood-like swagger as she takes a seat.

She’s joined by another journalism luminary, Julio Ricardo Varela (founder of the groundbreaking Latino Rebels site), and veteran producers Natalia Fidelholtz and Nicole Rothwell. In a few hours, the team will descend upon Southwest Detroit’s historic Senate Theatre for a live recording of their In The Thick political podcast to talk with Detroiters about the issues they find most pressing just days ahead of the upcoming Michigan primary.

Photo by Serena Maria Daniels. Gabriela Santiago-Romero, who’s running for a spot on the Wayne County Commission, being interviewed by In The Thick co-host Julio Ricardo Varela at La Noria Wood-Fired Bistro.

Along with Stephen Henderson, host of WDET’s Detroit Today and immigration attorney Migladys Bermudez of Justice for Our Neighbors Michigan, they’ll talk suppression of black and brown voters, the racial divide between African Americans and Latinxs, and the systemic sexism that plagued news coverage of XSenator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.

But first, it’s time for lunch (organized by Tostada Magazine founder Serena Maria Daniels) with a handful of local journalists and Latina leaders. She scans the menu and to her delight, Hinojosa finds chile en nogada, one of La Noria Chef Norberto Garita’s specialties and one of Mexico’s most prized dishes.

“I usually only ever see this dish during Christmas time,” she says.

This year, In The Thick began a multi-city tour across the country with voters in regions that don’t often otherwise get the spotlight. So far, they’ve been in Jackson, Miss., Las Vegas, and on March 4, the team was in Detroit.

It’s an effort that echos the show’s mission — to cover politics with the same intensity as most other national media outlets but all from a PoC perspective.

In The Thick is one of a growing number of brands under Hinojosa’s Harlem-based nonprofit Futuro Media Group, which also produces NPR’s Latino USA, one of public radio’s pioneering programs dedicated to Latino issues. In 2018, Futuro Media acquired Varela’s Latino Rebels, which in its inception in 2011 was considered to be a trailblazer for its ability to reach younger Latinos.

Tostada Magazine took the opportunity during this momentous visit to chat with Hinojosa briefly about the ITT tour, her longtime love of Detroit, and of course, some of her favorite foods on her trips so far.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

It seems like you’ve been picking places that don’t necessarily get the spotlight on a regular basis when it comes to national politics or, or in journalism in general.

We looked and we made a decision as to where are the places that we want to go that we think that other people won’t be. We were in Nevada before other people kind of discovered Nevada for the Caucus. We were in Mississippi when people weren’t thinking about the American South. They’re certainly are talking about it now and now we’re here in Michigan, you know when the conversation is going to turn to states like Michigan. These are places that somehow feel glossed over. Whenever there’s a discussion about these states, it feels very removed. And so when we’re on the ground here for us, it’s like our vitamin pills, you know, it keeps us grounded. It puts us in communities and it gives us a better sense of how to talk about politics in our country. So yeah, we made a purposeful decision not to go to places that would seem somewhat predictable.

So, you guys talk about Detroit a lot and this is not the first time that ITT has recorded an episode here. What is it about this city that is so interesting for you and then, and especially considering the upcoming elections?

Look, I’m Mexican born, but I’m a Midwesterner. I grew up in Chicago, so for me, a lot of it has to do with the region, the Midwest in general, just really understanding and kind of centering a Midwestern understanding of politics. I think that becomes even more important now after what we just witnessed on super Tuesday where the country seems kind of divided. In the American South black voters are going more for Biden and Latinx voters going for Sanders. Where does the Midwest and the Heartland end up? So I find Detroit as a Midwestern city to be super fascinating obviously given the presidential election in 2016, the fact that Michigan was one of the states that delivered this to Trump, that’s writ large.

I’ve always understood the complexity demographically in Detroit. My first time in Detroit was actually in maybe 1982. It was an annual conference of grassroots leaders all across the country who were here and I was an activist at that time with Central American refugees. I understood that there was the black community here, but it’s also very mixed, I just remember feeling like there are a lot of Mexicans here, there are a lot of Arabic Americans. So I’ve always known that there is a lot of racial complexity here and that this is a city where the issue of class is also very present. It feels very present, might be invisible, but it is very, very present. I also just think that Latinos and Latinas are going to continue to increase their presence here. So that’s why it’s so interesting and why I’m so happy that we decided to return it and get again now.

What have you been noticing here on your latest visit?

We were driving around, I was doing some reporting and we saw a man doing a sidewalk barbecue. He does all of the seasoning and the woman who was actually cooking over the barrel was a Honduran refugee who’s been here for a year and she says to me that this is her American dream. Detroit, Michigan is her American dream. To me, it kind of captures the grit and the hope that people have in a place like Detroit.

Last question, favorite foods during the ITT tour?

The places that we’ve been to, I have to say, have been all really good, gastronomical experiences. We were lucky that we were in Vegas. We ate good food, none of it local per se, but all of it good. I think it was Chinese food and then we had Mexican food. Very expensive but very good, very tasty. Then in Jackson, it was not just about the food, it was about going to the blues bar where the food was being catered by a local woman who was just selling it from some warmers out in the lobby and then going to more kind of down-home, a typical bar food where I had my first ever deep-fried barbecue spare ribs. I can’t stop talking about them. And then here in Detroit, it’s been a really yummy experience. Yesterday I had the best arepas I have had in my life with chicken. It’s a particular kind of chicken that is mixed up with the avocado and no se que but it different from other arepas, es muy particular. Delicious. I got some of the chicken off the street from the guy we met on the sidewalk. He insisted that I take half a chicken home and tortillas and rice and guacamole so I heated that up in my hotel room. This morning I had avocado toast, which was pretty yummy with this new chef at this hotel where we’re staying. And now we’re here and I just had chiles en nogada, which is like the most Mexican of Mexican dishes, and it’s March in 2020 and I’m having chiles en nogada, which were very delicious, super fresh. Pomegranates were yummy, good guacamole and red salsa and I’m about to dig into some flan.

If you didn’t get the chance to attend the ITT recording at the Senate Theater, you can catch the full episode by clicking here.

This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.

Serena Maria Daniels

Author: Serena Maria Daniels

Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit. She specializes in reporting on issues that intersect food, identity, and culture.

Find her one Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!

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