Car horns blare as dozens of impatient drivers slowly weave in and out of lanes looking for familiar faces from the many strange ones staring at them from the curb. A trip to the airport can be exciting if you are being dropped off; it is a different story when you are there to pick somebody up. To a 9-year old kid, few things can be more boring, but I was happy to be spending some time with my “Pops”, and well, there was that promise of an ice cream cone if I behaved well.
Riding shotgun to the airport with my father was commonplace for me. We would make the run to pick up families arriving from his native Peru once or twice a month. I never knew anyone we met; sometimes he didn’t either, but that didn’t matter because “what we are doing is important”, he would often tell me.
My father, one of the first Peruvians to immigrate to the United States, arrived in the 1960’s, a 21-year old looking for work and a better life. He found both in the industrious inner city of Paterson, New Jersey. His weekdays would begin early on the Ford Motor Company assembly line and end late at various other jobs. He was already gone when I woke up to go to school in the morning and I was already in bed when he finally got home from work at night. Weekends weren’t any less busy for him. He would juggle time between family and community. Many Saturdays he integrated both, bringing me along to the airport to pick up Peruvian immigrants like himself, people looking for work and a better life.
One of the first times I joined him, I remember complaining. “The trip is too long, I wouldn’t know anyone and it’s a boring way to spend the weekend”, I said annoyed. He pulled the car over in order for us to have one of our little talks.
“You might not know their faces or names, but you know who they are”, he said in a stern voice. I looked at him with a questioning expression.
“They are like me, like your Mami”, he explained. “We came to this country for better opportunities. We are fortunate to have been able to realize many of them thanks to kind people who helped us when we first arrived; who help us now.” He paused for a moment to make sure I was paying attention before saying to me, “It is our responsibility to help others. No one succeeds in this world alone.” He went on to give me examples of how everything I took for granted like my bedroom, toys, clothes, food and home weren’t just provided by the money he and my mother earned from working, but also by the people who gave them chances.
After that car chat, I started to think differently about our weekend trips to the airport. The men and women who we picked up, often with children by their side, no longer seemed strangers to me as I imagined a similar airport encounter with my parents several years earlier.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi
My entire life has been an investment in the service of others.
I am Hugo Sr. and Graciela Balta’s son, immigrants from Peru, who by example taught me, among many lessons, the value of investing in one’s community. If I have had any success, in all aspects of my life, it is in great part because generous people (family, friends and colleagues) have allegorically lifted me on their shoulders and helped me reach higher and see farther than I ever could on my own two feet. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) does the same for me and thousands of its members.
NAHJ provides valuable training to improve one’s skillset, a pipeline to network with industry leaders and a structure of support throughout career peaks and valleys. It is my responsibility to do the same for others. Since founding the NAHJ New Jersey professional chapter in 2007 and serving in several national board positions, culminating with president in 2012, I have dedicated myself to championing NAHJ’s mission of advocating for the fair and accurate treatment of Latinos in mass media.
We live in a troublesome time, attacked as journalists and Latinos; verbally assaulted as enemies of the people and criminals. This type of fear propaganda by those in positions of power and influence often go unchecked and fuel the increasing political, social and racial divide in our country.
I choose to run for president of NAHJ to regain the association’s prominence as a respected leader, collaborating in realizing diverse and inclusive newsrooms, speaking out against injustices by supporting and providing visibility to journalists exercising their constitutional right.
My commitment to NAHJ, its’ members, partners, community and journalism is to fearlessly uphold, against popular opposition and risking personal reputation…the constitutional duty of all journalists to give voice to the voiceless, hold the powerful accountable and empower the public to act. I make this pledge, thinking of my father’s words to me on a trip to the airport to pick up strangers so many years ago…”what we are doing is important”, the work of NAHJ is important.
NAHJ President 2018