ABC journalist says more diverse ethnicities need to pursue journalism

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St. Philip’s President Adena Williams Loston thanks ABC journalist Jim Avila after he spoke at the Presidential Lecture Series Oct. 1 in Watson Fine Arts Center. Photo by Cassi Armstrong

St. Philip’s President Adena Williams Loston thanks ABC journalist Jim Avila after he spoke at the Presidential Lecture Series Oct. 1 in Watson Fine Arts Center. Photo by Cassi Armstrong

 

Hispanic Heritage Month brings White House correspondent Jim Avila to St. Philip’s College.

By Cassi Armstrong

 

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

 

Young minorities should consider journalism as a career, ABC reporter Jim Avila said Oct. 1 at St. Philip’s College.

Avila was guest speaker at the Presidential Lecture Series for Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I am old enough to be proud of what is happening in this country today, old enough to be proud of what I see here today, a sea of brown and African-American faces looking back up here at a brown brother who grew up in East Los Angeles,” Avila said.

Avila, who has won multiple Edward R. Murrow awards, is ABC’s senior national White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

Before the lecture began, the 600 seats inside Watson Fine Arts Center steadily filled up with high school and SPC students.

Many of the students who attended the lecture were multiracial or ethnic minorities. The focal point of the speech was encouraging them to get involved in journalism.

Avila began with immigration reform and how Hispanics are one of the two fastest-growing populations in America.

Both Avila’s maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1902. Avila said his family history is similar to that of many Hispanic students at the Alamo Colleges.

His grandmother and grandfather had eight children who worked hard in the fields of Imperial Valley in Los Angeles.

Avila recounted the difficult story of his grandparents; his grandfather worked hard until his death at the age of 71, and his grandmother died at 89, never knowing how to speak English.

“This is the proud and aspiring story of a Latino immigrant working and paying his taxes to make this country better,” Avila said.

Avila, whose birth surname was Simon, was born to a veteran radio broadcaster and former president of the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Jim Simon, Avila’s father, and his mother, Eve Avila, were both descendants of immigrants.

Avila referred to his mother as “the gorgeous Latina down the street” and his father was the only white kid at Los Angeles Garfield High School; both of his parents were missionaries.

Avila recalled watching the news as President Nixon was brought down by two journalists, armed with only pen and paper.

“They confronted him with words and questions and he went down,” Avila said. “That is powerful stuff and it made me want to be a journalist.”

Since Avila and his father had the same name, they could easily be mistaken for each other in the broadcasting and television business.

“So most people change their first name, and I changed my last name and I decided to take my mother’s maiden name out of pride for the Hispanic people,” Avila said.

Being Latino and aspiring to be a journalist wasn’t always an easy road for Avila, who said he was rejected the first time he went for a job.

Avila grew up in the barrio, and thought it was just like any other neighborhood.

“I never knew that being Mexican American could be an issue to some people,” Avila said.

Avila gave examples of how difficult things used to be for Latino, or Chicano, journalists.

Avila remembered what an executive said when he interviewed for a job at television station WPBM.

“He told me great stuff; he said you have a real future — just not here because, you see, we already have a Chicano.”

Avila didn’t give up, and he encourages minority students to persevere, too.

He described how careers in journalism have improved for minorities, but the industry still has a long way to go. He said there is a lack of diversity in the production room, but he’s optimistic.

Avila said, “Hopefully some of you students will be in those rooms.”

The twice-yearly Presidential Lecture Series began in 2002-03, with founding co-chairs Dr. Karen Sides and Dr. Dollie Hudspeth. Dr. Adena Williams Loston, president of St. Philip’s for eight years, currently runs the series, along with series chair Beautrice Butler.

Actor LeVar Burton, host of “Reading Rainbow” and star of TV miniseries “Roots,” will speak at 11 a.m. Feb. 11 in Watson Fine Arts Center for the spring series.

For more information, call 210-486-2670 or email bbutler@alamo.edu.

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