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Maria Hinojosa on the Latinx Vote, Bipartisan Immigration Abuses & New Memoir, “Once I Was You”

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Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa joins us to discuss her new book, “Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America,” which tells the story of U.S. immigration through her own journey to the United States from Mexico as a small child to her groundbreaking work as a reporter. She says it wasn’t until the height of the family separation crisis under the Trump administration that she learned about her own family’s near-separation by U.S. immigration agents. “That was almost you,” Hinojosa says her mother told her through tears. “The babies that have been taken, they almost did that to you.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Hinojosa, you have just come out with the book Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America. It is a heartrending book. It is a beautiful story of not only your life — and, of course, it is a memoir — but, through you, the issue of, among other things, immigration, starting with your own family story. You grew up on the South Side of Chicago. But you talk about almost having been separated from your mother when your family migrated from Mexico in the 1960s. Can you talk about what happened and this whole issue of child separation and how it plays out in the election, not only for the Latinx population, because you say that it’s not only immigration the Latinx voting population cares about, but actually across this country?

MARIA HINOJOSA: Yeah. So, Amy, you know, I didn’t fully understand my own story, because this is what trauma looks like. You know, you think you know a story. I knew something had happened at the airport. What I didn’t know was the level to which it escalated.

So, essentially, my dad — may he rest in peace — Dr. Raul Hinojosa, was recruited by the University of Chicago. He was a brilliant man. He helped to create the cochlear implant. That’s how we end up in Chicago. He goes first, and a few months later my mom and the four of us kids come by plane. So we had privilege. We came by plane, from Mexico City to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago, via airplane. And we had our green cards. I was a baby in my mother’s arms.

And what we thought was — what I had thought was some kind of a communication, you know, that happened, actually, in the moment when we all lived through the babies and children that we heard screaming, the toddlers in those cages, we heard those voices in 2018. That’s when my mother called me. My mother, already in her eighties, calls me, crying, as we say in Mexican Spanish, a moco suelto. Ella dijo — “Mami, ¿qué pasa?” “No, mijita, es que that was almost me.” I’m like, “Mom, what are you talking about?” ”No, mijita, es que that was almost you. The babies that have been taken, they almost did that to you.” And I was like, “What?”

So, there was — there are these policies, Amy — that’s what I write about in Once I Was You — that, on the books in the state of Texas, allowed immigration agents to search our bodies to see if we were clean enough to come into the United States. Sound familiar? Body cavity searches that were happening, potentially at the airport. That’s why I was almost taken. The immigration agent says, “Your daughter has a rash, and so we’re going to put her into quarantine. You can go ahead on to Chicago.” And my mother has a mental breakdown right there and then, freaks out, calls on her privilege, starts screaming at the immigration agent. And that’s why I’m in this country, because she lost it.

And in that phone call, my mother said, “I wasn’t just a big mouth.” She said, “I went into a state of trauma. That’s why I started screaming at him.” So, imagine my surprise, Amy, that I have a relationship — now I understand why I do the work that I do and the way that I do it, which informs the work Once I Was You. It is, yes, a memoir. Thank you for saying it was magnificent, Amy Goodman, once who was my boss. I love you. Thank you for saying that. You know, what I’m trying to say here is that it is not only my story; it is a policy, right? It is historical policy. The narrative is we love immigrants. The policies are, not so much.

So, how does that apply to this moment? As I said, Chuck is exactly right. There is this entire generation, like, let’s say, in Arizona, where I was exactly 10 years ago. Those were the young people who were activists, who are now running for office and who are inspiring other young Latinos and Latinas to go to the polls. I’m not surprised that the issue of immigration is not number one. That’s my job. That’s my job as a journalist, is to be pushing that policy all the time, because immigrants who are suffering from that actually cannot vote, right? It’s the ones who vote who are thinking about these other issues. So that’s my responsibility.

And on the issue of immigration, we do not have a so-called immigration issue in this country. There is zero net immigration. Refugees are down to what? Ten thousand? Fifteen thousand? It is basically at a zero. What this country has — and we shall see whether or not Joe Biden and Kamala Harris respond to this — is an international human rights crisis. We have women whose uteruses have been taken, and their children have been taken from them. And this is not a one-time thing. It’s been happening since they took Indigenous children away, since they took the children of enslaved Africans away, since they took the children of Japanese Americans during the internment. We have been — this is part of our history. And only we, and possibly this politician, if he wins, can change that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Maria, speaking of this whole issue of tearing families apart, the latest report that the numbers of children held in detention, not just by the Trump administration but also by the Obama administration, was much greater than had been officially recognized up until this point. Could you talk about how your reporting — your decision to get into journalism and the path that you took to get into journalism to report these untold stories?

MARIA HINOJOSA: You know, Juan, first of all, thank you to you, Juan. I’ve been shouting you out on every single interview. Everybody needs to read Juan and Joe Torres’s book, News for All the People. Thank you, Juan. I understand why I do what I do. You helped me understand that. I am part of Frederick Douglass, who is — you know, I’m lucky enough to be five blocks away from a statue of him right here in Harlem. He is the man who helped me to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. You helped me to understand that.

So, the issue of immigration, Juan. You know, why is it that this country, on the one hand, is saying that it appreciates immigrants and, on the other hand, acts in total indifference to us? And you’re exactly right. One of the hardest — not hard, because I’m a journalist. I’m not a member of a party. I don’t really care about party politics. But, you know, to have to actually pull out the research and just be like, “Whoa, the last president — I mean, yes, Ronald Reagan, but the last president who actually increased numbers was George H.W. Bush, former head of the CIA.” He increased immigration numbers, increased TPS, increased refugees. So, Bill Clinton was the one who created the wall. He started the wall. He ran on an anti-immigrant platform. So, both — a pox on both of their houses.

Now, this is where it gets tricky in terms of this moment, in terms of this election, because I think, really, for many Latinos and Latinas, that issue of immigration, they feel it again en la carne propia because it is their parents who cannot vote. And so, that is something that is motivating them to get to the polls and speak out. I don’t see that generation, of being directly impacted by these human rights violations and these immigration policies, sitting down and sitting on their hands.

And you’re right, Juan, I was the one who went into the detention camps in 2011 and pointed the finger at Barack Obama. And while we all love Barack — you know, he’s amazing — the truth is, is that this is his Achilles’ heel. It will follow him and Joe Biden forever, until they fully apologize for what they have done, and say, “And we’re going to do better.” It’s not that hard, Juan, when you look at the level of dehumanization that we are all living with. Babies and children right now are being held in cages in the United States. They are not being fed. They are being psychologically tortured. There is torture occurring today, right now, on the backs of women, children, men, adolescents, simply because, like me, we were not born in this country. And it needs to stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Hinojosa, we want to thank you so much for being with us, award-winning journalist, author of the new memoir, Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America. Maria is founder of Futuro Media, host of Latino USA and co-host of the podcast In the Thick.

And thanks to Chuck Rocha, the president of Solidarity Strategies, founder of Nuestro PAC, the largest Latino-focused partisan super PAC in the country, author of Tío Bernie: The Inside Story of How Bernie Sanders Brought Latinos into the Political Revolution. He was a senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

He will be joining us again tonight for our three-hour special election coverage. We will be broadcasting tonight beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern time. And you can go to, or you can see if your local TV or radio station is broadcasting Democracy Now! as scores of stations are across the country.

Coming up, we’ll look at how racial justice, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, ranked-choice voting — just some of the ballot initiatives being voted on across the country, in addition to presidents and vice presidents and senators and congresspeople. Stay with us.

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