Noticiero Univision co-anchor María Elena Salinas is a luchadora. "It's a fighter… a person who fights, who struggles in a very positive way," she explains. Salinas, one of the most influential journalists of our time, will address graduating students, family and friends at the American University School of Communication commencement on May 7.
An advocate for educational opportunity and civic participation, she takes real pride in the fact that she will also receive an honorary degree that day. "I think that when I receive this honorary degree, my daughters will realize that there was someone out there who recognized that their mother is a luchadora. And that their mother has worked to make a difference not only in their lives, but in the lives of many people."
Let no one doubt that Salinas has received her share of recognition. She has earned seven Emmys, a PEABODY, a Walter Cronkite Award and was the first Hispanic woman to receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She has interviewed every living president since President Jimmy Carter and participated in the first-ever bilingual presidential candidate debate on Hispanic issues in 2004 and in 2007, she co-hosted the first ever Democratic and Republican presidential candidate forum in Spanish on the Univision Network. She has covered global crises like the war in Iraq and natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, among others. She has elevated critical issues to the national stage, including the exodus of children from Central America to the United States. With her social media network of over a million followers, she has a large footprint, which she uses to empower as well as inform.
SOC professor Carolyn Brown was drawn to Salinas' impressive accomplishments as both a journalist and advocate for the Hispanic community and approached her to participate in Brown's upcoming film, "Las Mujeres: Latina Lives, American Dreams."
"I chose to include Salinas in my film about Latinas because she is one of the most respected and beloved Latinas living in the United States. Anyone who is an immigrant from Latin America, or the child of immigrant (like myself), is keenly aware of Salinas' important and influential voice as a journalist."
Brown was instrumental to bringing Salinas to AU last fall for a standing room only interview and Q&A with students. At the event, Salinas reflected on the question of advocacy in journalism. "I don't think that we necessarily practice advocacy journalism," she said. However, "I think all of us who work in Spanish-language media, up to a certain point, do have a social responsibility to our community." She has dedicated her time and effort to this work as much as to her career.
One of the founders of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Salinas also established an NAHJ scholarship in her own name for aspiring Spanish-language broadcast journalists. She also sits on the board of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
She is the official spokesperson for Ya Es Hora, a civic engagement initiative that encourages immigrants to apply for citizenship, participate in the political process and vote. For these efforts, she has received awards and recognition from the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials, NAHJ, and the National Organization for Women, to name a few.
"I can't think of anyone more fitting to speak at SOC's commencement," said SOC Dean Jeff Rutenbeck. "In addition to being a renowned journalist of the highest caliber, María Elena embodies the idea that communication can create change, which inspires so many of our students."
Brown is personally energized to have Salinas address SOC commencement. "As a Latina Journalist and the daughter of a South American immigrant, who grew up with Univision on in our house all day, I'm especially proud and excited Salinas was chosen for this honor. I imagine this is also important to the Latino/a students at American University and in SOC. Seeing themselves reflected in the graduation speaker is powerful."