Fostering community in troubled times: Latin American podcasts in the era of Trump

This Tuesday opened in strikingly somber fashion, with the announcement that the Trump administration will be rescinding the provisions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA for short. The DACA program, a sort of stopgap measure enacted by the Obama administration following the many Congressional defeats of the proposed DREAM Act, covers nearly 800,000 individuals who are the children of undocumented immigrants. This is an act of unprovoked, unmitigated hatred, full stop. To see it any other way is to fundamentally misunderstand the aim of the program, to not grasp the complexity to childhood immigration, or to be willfully afflicted with cultural myopia.

While the move affects immigrants from many countries, it will be hardest felt by individuals of Latin American origin, particularly those from Mexico. This is in line with the campaign rhetoric frequently spouted by then-candidate Trump, whose animus towards the country and its people is seemingly now becoming official White House policy. In an increasingly divided nation, such broad-brushstrokes attacks only serve to legitimize the fallacy that immigrants are the real threat to America.

In awful times like this we can focus on the myriad ways that podcasts are able to help productively steer the conversation, connecting listeners with the truths of the immigrant experience in America—whether first, second, third generation or beyond. This can be in helping guide listeners towards organizations they can support or sparking individual action, but there are additional levels to be considered. There is an adage about humans which suggests that we have a propensity to fear that which we don’t understand, and the simplest corrective for such prejudices is education and exposure. As the onus is never on a marginalized community to educate their oppressors, one of the best secondary benefits of the podcast format is its ability to passively provide uninformed listeners with these connections.

One of the most beautiful aspects of the podcast medium is its openness, giving a platform to voices that are often overlooked by mainstream media. We at Constant Listener see a moment like this as an appropriate time to shed a light on the many wonderful programs that have, for some time now, been documenting the realities of life in America as a person of South, Central, and Caribbean American heritage. Whether you are or aren’t a member of those communities, these programs are essential listening, for the way that they help to foster community through representation and mutual understanding. Beyond that, each and  every show discussed herein is quite simply a standout production, deserving of increased promotion and audience. There are a bunch of podcasts which fall into that genre, and if you feel like we’ve missed anything big we’d love to hear from you below.

To begin with, there is no program that has enjoyed the same longevity and cultural status as Latino USA, hosted by the inimitable Maria Hinojosa. The program has covered nearly every facet of the Latin American experience over the course of its 25 year run. Yet, in the last five years, the show has continued to expand its format to only further encompass deep dives into important stories, growing from a 30 minute show to a full hour-long program.

The program’s enviable run and NPR distribution has helped cement its status as the leader in the Latin American podcast space, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Hinojosa. Her expertise as a journalist, host, and producer is virtually peerless. Incisive, funny, This is particularly evident in the way that LUSA manages to balance the factuality of its news coverage with a humanistic and easily personable approach as well. For instance, in a recent episode of the show on the gang MS-13, it isn’t simply about dispelling conservative myths about the gang, it also includes an interview with a former MS-13 member working to help end gang violence.

In addition to all of the work that Hinojosa does for LUSA, she is also the president, CEO, and founder of the Futuro Media Group, a journalistic nonprofit focused on telling American stories from marginalized perspectives. One of the group’s other podcast properties is the year and a half old In The Thick which was launched to discuss the ways that journalists of color dealt with the unique challenges posed to them in covering the 2016 election. Following the unlikely election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the program blossomed into a full-on exploration of the ways that his administration disproportionately affects communities of color. Despite the weight of the subject matter the show has a bit of a lighter tone overall, employing a panel discussion format with an ever-changing stable of journalists, communications professionals, and activists. Discussions illuminate aspects of stories which go under-reported by mainstream media outlets, as well as providing critical commentary on the work being done within those institutions.   

One of the best things to come from the program’s continued run is the ascension of Futuro political editor Julio Ricardo Varela to the position of co-host, alongside Hinojosa. The pair have a great chemistry, and Varela’s presence adds a necessary level of panache to the whole affair. Since its debut last February, In The Thick has been a bit of a revelation, providing electric, must-listen conversations from diverse perspectives with a welcome injection of humor to keep the show on its toes. Few shows are able to provide as much joy and genuine insight. For a perfect encapsulation of this, look no further than this week’s episode where Hinojosa and Varela discuss the fresh hell that is the end of DACA with Mexican American comedian Cristela Alonzo. It’s a constantly engaging, laugh-through-the-rage kind of affair.

Of course, not all of the programs that make up this list are news programs, but they are no less important. In fact, they may be an even more vital part of the overall conversation because. Particularly, I have found that many of these shows are coming from younger, intersectional creators who are exploring Latin American life from a place of individual experience and interpretation. These are podcasts which exemplify the format’s core strength of providing interesting individuals with a mechanism for engagement. For me, it just took discovering one excellent show to fall into an entire community. 

That show is Latinos Who Lunch, a delightfully chatty show from a pair of queer Latinx Las Vegans in the art world that covers so much ground over the body of its episodes. The podcast is hosted by artist Justin Favela, who goes by the name FavyFav, and art historian Emanuel Ortega, PhD, who goes by Babelito. I can’t entirely remember how I discovered the show, but I recall FavyFav and Babelito instantly becoming two of the most enjoyable podcast personalities for me to spend time with. Their particular blend of conversational candor and giggly conviviality is extremely contagious. Listening to the two converse is almost always enlightening as well, whether the topic is an in-depth dissection of cultural identity in the art world or the off-screen drama behind RuPaul’s Drag Race. One cannot help but be drawn into their lives and work. However, what I found to be the most important component of their show—beyond their wonderfully rollicking conversations—is the way the pair use their podcast as a hub for growing the community of Latinx podcasts. Every episode features a few offhand mentions of their favorite programs, as well as plugs for interviews that they may have done on another podcast. Within a matter of an episode or two I had ended up subscribing to around five additional programs due to FavyFav and Babelito’s mentions. The pair’s obvious and genuine enthusiasm for the work being done by their contemporaries made me truly want to listen to all of these other programs.

And what a bounty it proved to be. From Latinos Who Lunch I have been turned onto:

  • Tamarindoan LA-based program that bills itself as a socially conscious talk show. The podcast is hosted by Brenda Gonzalez (with a series of guest hosts at present, following the departure of co-creator Luis Octavio to focus on his other program Nos Vemos en el Swap Meet). Tamarindo covers a wide range of topics, but its touchstones are usually politics, race, and LGBTQ issues.
  • Locatora Radioperhaps the most interesting format of all of the programs discussed here, this program aims to become the a sort of radionovela for the millennial Latinx listener. That’s not to say that it is a serialized story per se, but that each episode is framed as a capitulo, or chapter, of an ongoing conversation regarding what it is to be a modern feminist woman of color. The hosts, Mala Muñoz and Diosa Femme provide very interesting viewpoints to these discussions, like the way they discuss how conversations around women in STEM fields dismisses the work of women of color in the fields of personal beauty products.
  • Cafe Con Chisme is a show from Angeleno siblings Sebastian and Yasmin Ferrada that approaches life from a Latinx perspective, particularly issues of race, gender, sexuality, and politics. Both of the hosts’ backgrounds are in Chicano studies, providing a bit more academic rigor to their cultural discussions. The titular chisme doesn’t refer to gossip of a negative nature, more it seeks to recontextualize the practice as a form of storytelling and information sharing free from sexist stigmas.
  • Super Mamás, a podcast from sisters Paulina and Bricia Lopez about navigating new motherhood, childhood education, and all of the joys and perils of family life. But it’s a little reductive to stop there, as the pair’s conversations really run the gamut. Paulina and Bricia are also business owners, running Guelaguetza a Oaxacan restaurant and market in Los Angeles, and they bring their special #MomBoss style to every episode. Beyond that, the show has given rise to a vibrant online and in-person community.

Finally there are a pair of very good Spanish-language podcasts that listeners should seek out if they haven’t already. The first of those is Radio Ambulantethe pioneering narrative documentary program has been telling powerful stories for over five years now from the U.S. as well as Central and South American countries like Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia. Headed by Executive Last year the program joined the NPR stable of programs, providing it with a much greater reach. Producer Daniel Alarcón, along with the help of many journalists and producers, the show has an impressive reach, turning up intensely personal and moving stories of love and loss. For listeners who aren’t fluent in Spanish, the program also offers English translations on its website to follow along while listening. As well, the show is launching their latest season featuring 30 brand new stories on September 12th.

The second of the Spanish-language podcasts is a rather new one, having launched in March of this year. Zona Pop, from CNN en Español, is a comprehensive and enjoyable weekly pop culture discussion program, hosted by Javier Merino in Mexico City and Marysabel Huston from Atlanta. The pair have a great rapport and manage to cover a wide range of topics every episode. Given the show is a CNN product it enjoys a higher level of production polish. It is a fun show full of lively discussion and provides exposure to new musicians and works of popular culture to follow.

It has been heartening to see that in the time since Tuesday’s announcement there has been an outpouring of support for DACA recipients and the turmoil into which they’ve been thrust by the Trump administration, but the fight is far from over. Subscribing to these shows is a great way to keep up with ways to help aid individuals in the U.S. who are being negatively impacted by these policies. Do yourself a favor and broaden your horizons today.

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