When Diana Navarette Marquis and Evelyn Hernandez met each other during a reception in Fort Worth 25 years ago, they never envisioned that their efforts to form a networking and support organization would still be alive today and would continue to help young people throughout North Texas fulfill their dreams.
The year was 1981 and Marquis at the time was a producer at WFAA-TV (Channel 8). Hernandez was a young reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The two had been invited to a mixer being sponsored by the recently formed Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Black Communicators.
“Evelyn and I just started talking about what a great idea it was that this organization was around and wouldn’t it be great if we (Hispanics) had something like this too,” said Marquis, former manager of development at the Center for Nonprofit Management in Dallas.
So Marquis and Hernandez, former opinion page editor at El Diario/LA PRENSA in New York, decided to organize the Dallas-Fort Worth Network of Hispanic Communicators. The basic premise of the group was that it would serve as a support network for Hispanics in the communications industry and also to help advocate for workplace issues.
“We felt we needed to know each other, who was working where and how many of us there were,” Marquis said.
The initial efforts were not always successful. Some felt an organization like this could not survive because there would not be enough interest.
But about the same time, a national committee made up of journalism professionals from throughout the United States also was working on a similar effort but on a nationwide scale.
That committee eventually organized the first ever National Hispanic Media Conference that took place in San Diego. It was the springboard from which in 1984 the National Association of Hispanic Journalists was formed.
Back in DFW, Marquis and Hernandez continued to generate interest in the local organization. Its goal was to be as inclusive as possible, not only reaching out to English-language media professionals, but also those in Spanish-language newspapers, radio and television. The DFW group also made the decision to include public relations professionals and interested members of the community.
“At that point there were so few of us that we didn’t feel we could exclude anybody,” Marquis said. “Plus, we needed each other. We each had resources we could share with each other.”
She recalled that among early members were the Gonzalez brothers in Dallas who operated a Hispanic Yellow Pages company and allowed the Network to set up an office in their building.
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez recalled she became involved with the Network in 1982 when she came to Dallas from Boston to work at WFAA-TV as reporter. She already had been working as part of the committee working on setting up the first National Hispanic Media Conference, so it was natural for her to become involved in the DFW group.
Rivas-Rodriguez, who is now associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas in Austin, remembers that sometime in 1983, several of the women in the Network had a slumber party at her Dallas apartment. During that party the group discussed things the Network might become involved in.
Rivas-Rodriguez suggested a writing contest and the group quickly liked the idea of holding such a contest to generate enthusiasm among young people for writing and for careers in journalism. The first writing contest, open to all area high school students was held that year.
The first awards ceremony was a brunch held at the original location of Mia’s Restaurant in Dallas.
One of the winners was Anna Macias, who was in her senior year at North Dallas High School. She recalled that the contest called for students to write an essay about someone they admired or had the most influence on them. She wrote about a relative who lived in a small village in Mexico. Her name was “Tia Pepa.”
Tia Pepa was a strong, self-sufficient woman who had lived all her life in her tiny village, but still managed to educate herself about world affairs and was a caring compassionate person not only to her family but to all those around her. Macias recalls going to The Dallas Morning News building to deliver her contest entry. She stopped at the entrance and looked up at the building and became somewhat emotional, recalling that her grandfather has once worked as a gardener for one of the newspaper founding families.
“And here I was, walking into this building and thinking about the possibility that I could be a journalist,” Macias said.
Through her association with the Network, Macias said she met several Hispanic journalists who became her friends and mentors.
“When I met these people, I felt like I’d met brothers and sisters who were going to give me their hand and they have never let go,” Macias said.
Macias did become a reporter and worked at The Dallas Morning News for several years. She is now a reporter for the Texas Catholic newspaper.
In 1988, when the National Association of Hispanic Journalists held its national convention in Dallas, Network members were a key part of the event. Rivas-Rodriguez helped organize a newspaper to cover the convention events, with students as reporters and professionals as editors.
The newspaper was so successful that other journalism organizations have used it as a model for their conventions.
The Network continued the writing contest for several years, and in 1989 the organization also began awarding scholarships to area young people.
The first year, a total of $6,000 was awarded to seven students. Through 2005, a total of 248 students have received scholarships totaling $268,303. Nearly $24,000 has been awarded to high school writing contest winners.
Marquis said she believes that when the Network started the writing contest and scholarship programs and other efforts for young people, “that’s what gave the organization its heart.”
“I think that professionals can pretty much fend for themselves if they have to, but with the writing contest and the scholarships and the student newspaper at the conferences, that’s when we found out what really mattered,” she said.