The New York Times describes Maria Elena Salinas as “the most recognized and trusted Hispanic newswoman in America.” Salinas has been the coanchor (with Jorge Ramos) of Noticiero Univision—the nightly newscast of the nation’s most-watched Spanish-language broadcast television network—for two decades. After rising from being the only female reporter at a small LA affiliate of Univision, her many journalistic coups include interviews with, in her words, “the heads of state in every Latin American country. Actually, in almost any country. I have also interviewed the Pope.” In 2000, Salinas’s coverage of Hurricane Mitch contributed to a national Emmy Award for Univision—the first such honor awarded to a Spanish-language network. Salinas has used her visibility to tirelessly advocate for Hispanic interests. She has long practiced “advocacy journalism,” leading initiatives to keep Hispanic students in school, participating in voter education drives, and advising the U.S. Department of Health and Education on issues pertinent to her Hispanic audience. An iconic presence in Hispanic media, Salinas has noted, with justifiable pride, “I have been a female anchor for almost 20 years. Not as a decoration on the set, but as someone with credibility who can carry a program.”
Maria Elena Salinas was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1954, but she was raised in Mexico City until the age of eight. Her mother, Luz, was a seamstress, and her father, Jose, was a highly educated ex-priest who lost his U.S. residency status before Maria Elena was born—making him an illegal immigrant upon the family’s re-entry to the United States. The difficulties faced by her father in his efforts to provide for his family would inform her later role as a passionate advocate for Hispanic Americans. Money was tight, and Salinas worked a variety of jobs as a teenager to pay for her Catholic school tuition. She attended East Los Angeles Community College, where she earned a marketing degree. After graduation, Salinas worked for a time at a friend’s “finishing school,” where she helped disadvantaged women learn social graces. Part of the job entailed advertising cosmetics over the radio, where Salinas’s talent was recognized by the station’s management, who encouraged her to take on DJ and newscasting duties.
Now determined to forge a career in media, Salinas was hired by KMEX-TV (the Los Angeles affiliate of Univision, the nation’s premier Spanish-language television network) as a reporter and talk show host. She was the only woman reporter employed by the station, and, anxious about her credentials, Salinas enrolled in journalism courses at UCLA. Salinas remembered, “Although the station was small, I only had a background in marketing and radio. I had no experience in journalism or broadcasting. I had a hangup about that for a long time.”
But Univision recognized her talent, and in 1987 promoted her to the anchor chair for its nightly newscast. For two decades, Salinas has been the coanchor of the vastly popular Noticiero Univision, where her interview subjects have included presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; Panama’s Manuel Noriega; Nicuragua’s Daniel Ortega; and Mexican rebel leader Sub-Commandante Marcos. She won a second Emmy for moderating a town hall meeting with Mexican president Vicente Fox. Salinas was also part of a news team awarded an Edward R. Murrow Award for its coverage of the Atlanta Olympic Park bombings.
In addition to her anchoring duties, Salinas is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and radio commentator. She was a founding member the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and she annually funds the scholarship prize awarded by that organization to promising student journalists pursuing careers in Spanish-language media. In 2006, Salinas was inducted into the NAHJ’s Hall of Fame. From the start of her career as a public figure, Salinas has recognized “the need there was in the Hispanic community. I realized that people were hungry for information out there.”