The New Face Of SPJ

Sonny Albarado, new president of SPJI met Sonny Albarado when he was President-elect during the Excellence in Journalism Conference in New Orleans. That’s where I learned about the SPJ Diversity Leadership Fellows program.  This year I was one of the Diversity Fellows and I sat down with Sonny on the day he was installed as President of SPJ to find out what’s important to him in his new role.

Sandra: What is your biggest goal for SPJ as President?

Sonny: My biggest goal is to help SPJ reshape its image, because as an insider I see SPJ as a very diverse and active organization that’s on the forefront of helping journalists adapt to and manage the technological changes and the business changes that have come about in their profession, recognizing that SPJ stands for some very core values of the journalism profession.

We still have to make sure that people understand that we aren’t just a bunch of old print or old broadcast people who are stuck in some fantasy land of some long ago once it was wonderful golden age. SPJ is a vibrant organization. It is on the cutting edge of several things. We need to make sure that our members understand that, potential members understand that; the general public understands that.

Sandra: And part of the Diversity Fellowship comes with that, so your thoughts on that?

Sonny: To me it’s a crucial part of how SPJ keeps current and keeps becoming more representative of people in the profession. Because we bring in people from minority groups, marginalized groups and we say, “Okay here is what SPJ does.” We introduce them to SPJ’s culture.  We introduce them to SPJ leaders and SPJ activists, and they say, “Oh, maybe I can do that.” And that’s the whole idea.They can become active in their local chapters; they become active on a national level either on committees or other activities, and the hope is that they become members of the national board and ultimately maybe even president.

Sandra: What do you say to the those journalists who say, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of White guys!”?

Sonny: That’s one of my key goals. And it isn’t just a bunch of white guys. We have women. We have Latinos. We have Blacks. We have Asians. We have handicapped people. The organization is a lot more diverse than the image that we have and that’s my key message.

Sandra: We have presidential candidates that are courting the Latino vote from the West coast to the East coast all week long, immigration has been a hot topic, and Sonny you’re not the first, but it’s a good time for a Hispanic president to rise for SPJ.

Sonny: Yes, I think it is. I’ve told fellow SPJers from a Hispanic background I’ve never actually self identified as Hispanic although I know my heritage is Hispanic because it’s one of those situations where I grew up in Anglo culture, well I can’t even say that because I grew up in a Cajun culture. But ever since the census started putting the check mark where you can identify yourself as Hispanic, I made sure that I marked it because that is part of my heritage. Recognizing that, celebrating that, is something that ought be done.

In terms of someone with a Hispanic background becoming president of SPJ, I think it is fortuitous that we’re at a point in the country as a whole where Hispanic culture has become intermixed with our Anglo culture and despite the fears of anti-immigration folks and the folks who say, “Oh no, the White people are losing their identity,” no we are becoming a richer people for it.

Sandra: Last year you were really excited to announce your Hispanic heritage at the business meeting. What sparked that?

Sonny: Well I met Rebecca Aguilar, and she’s such a dynamo and we talked at length about my heritage, and she said, “Albarado, that has to be Spanish,” and so I told her a little bit about my family history. And then she told me the story of her family and it got me thinking there were some similarities there. I don’t speak French. My parents speak French, Cajun French. I don’t speak French because my parents grew up in a time when you were punished in school for speaking French, so they didn’t want their children speaking French, because of the stigma. They didn’t even want us to have an accent. I don’t have that accent. Talking to Rebecca about all these things, I realized I am Hispanic and I need to own that and that why I spoke so fervently at the meeting, and was a revelation: “I am Hispanic, and I need to own that even if I don’t identify as a Latino as someone who has been part of that culture all their lives.

Sandra: What country does this originate from?

Sonny: The Canary Islands; in 1783 Bernardo de Galvez who settled in Louisiana for the Spanish crown brought colonists over and they brought families. The men were hired as soldiers, but they were also brought here to claim land, farm it and raise families. You still have Gonzales’ and Rodriguez’, except the name got shortened to Rodrigue; and Albarados and Alvarez’. In St. Bernard Parish there’s actually a very strong “Islenos” culture.

Sandra Gonzalez is an award winning reporter.  She is currently a reporter at  KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, NV.  She’s a 2012 SPJ Diversity Fellow and a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. 

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