In February 2016, award-winning journalists Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela decided to carve out a few hours from their already busy schedules for In the Thick, a weekly politics podcast dedicated to highlighting issues about the Latino community that often go ignored. Now, more than a year later, the show – which Hinojosa describes as a “cooler, hipper, much more POC version of Meet the Press“ – earned a Webby Award nomination for the Interview/Talk Show category in the podcast and digital audio medium. And perhaps the two wouldn’t have found themselves nominated among other well-established podcasts – including BuzzFeed’s Another Round, Institute of Politics’ The Axe Files, Slate’s The Gist With Mike Pesca, and the FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast – if things had worked out differently with Hinojosa and Meet the Press.
“One of the highlights of my career as an American journalist covering politics in this country was when I was asked to be on Meet the Press, mostly because I really felt so honored,” Hinojosa told me in a phone interview. “That was the show that my dad, my Mexican-born dad, loved to watch. So it was a big deal to me, the first Latina to be on, I think it was like six or seven times.”
But after a few appearances, Meet the Press stopped asking her to come on, something she took “very personally.” But the tight-knit staff at Futuro Media Group – the company Hinojosa started in 2010 that produces Latino USA – suggested that she start her own politics podcast. And just like the groundbreaking work Hinojosa, Varela, and the rest of the staff do on Latino USA, In the Thick delves into the complexities within the Latino culture.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media treats Latinos more like a monolithic group, which means they only capture part of the story. Both Julio and Maria have found themselves frustrated with how the media can completely miss the mark when it comes to discussing the Latino population. “I’m done screaming at the television about what I hear: the same voice over and over saying the same thing and simplifying a lot of POC issues,” Varela said. “I don’t have to scream at the television anymore. I get to just hang out with Maria and go behind the mic.”
Just by existing, In the Thick makes it so that other Latinos aren’t in the unfair position of having to represent the entire community. Many times, Maria and Julio have been the only Latinos on a panel, which puts undue pressure on them. In the Thick often features people of color, and even when it doesn’t, the conversation revolves around understanding how the system affects disenfranchised communities. For example, on the December 5, 2016 episode, the duo interviewed Mike German – who Maria called “the whitest guy that we’ve put on” – to discuss the white supremacist movement. German, a former FBI agent, helped them understand the “context in which people of color, journalists of color are working, under what kind of institutional and structural racism are things being framed,” Hinojosa said.
Varela and Hinojosa engage in difficult conversations on In the Thick, but they also want the Latino community to take these conversations into their own homes. “One of the things that has been said is that Latinos aren’t engaged politically in terms of voting, because we don’t own the conversation about American politics in our homes,” Hinojosa said, adding that we should be discussing these topics for “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Varela and Hinojosa are certainly leading the way. With this nod, they’re getting the credit they deserve. The Webby Awards give out two awards per category – one chosen by the members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and the other voted on by the rest of the internet. As the deadline for the People’s Voice nears, you can support Hinojosa and Varela by voting for In the Thick. The two are the only Latinos in their category. And though there’s some content from other Latinos in the podcast medium, Julio and Maria are also the only Latino hosts. Voting ends April 20.