By Jon Platt
From Baylor to Berkeley to the border, and now back to Baylor, Macarena Hernandez has spent her life telling other people’s stories through media.
It was because of her coverage on international issues and a strong desire to teach on the topic that she was selected as Baylor’s Fred Hartman Distinguished Professor of journalism.
Serving as the Hartman chair allows her to do what she finds important: acknowledge stories and take action around them, she said.
“Teaching allows me to do both of what I love,” she said. “I’m able to do what I wasn’t able to do as a journalist.”
Raised as the child of seasonal migrant workers, Hernandez said she felt a calling to tell the story of this culture, which is often misrepresented in the media.
The media regularly identifies border communities with drugs and violence, she said. Growing up on the border, Hernandez knew the story was much more than this.
“There’s nothing like growing up next to a country where you see children begging for food, to give you perspective and to give you a very committed global identity,” she said.
Hernandez was given the opportunity to tell her family’s story in a 16-page series called “One Family, Two Homelands” with the San Antonio Express-News, where she worked as a reporter for five years.
“I felt like I became a journalist to write that story,” Hernandez said. “My family has been migrating across the border for generations. And, even though I was born in the United States, I’ve always felt very much a part of both countries.”
While at the Express-News, Hernandez worked under Robert Rivard, a notable editor and visionary in the news industry. Rivard said Hernandez’s work was groundbreaking thanks to her hard work and creative talents.
“It was evident to me when I met Macarena that she wasn’t designed for the normal reporter path,” Rivard said. “It was evident that she was a storyteller, that she was a gifted writer. She wanted to tell her family’s story, which is also the story of many families throughout San Antonio and South Texas.”
Rivard said the story’s focus on the border as an arbitrary, political line that separated families came to life because of the passion Hernandez possessed. He said it was the kind of story journalists dream of telling and Hernandez was just the person to tell it. Her work, he said, was recognized, but not as heavily as it should have been.
“It was a groundbreaking series that, in my opinion, deserved far more attention and awards than it received at the time,” he said.
Hernandez’s career in journalism also extends to her role as a columnist and staff writer for The Dallas Morning News for three years and appearances in major newspapers such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
Most recently, Hernandez was named a Media Face to Watch by The Los Angeles Times.
Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media, said Hernandez’s education from Baylor and the University of California, Berkeley, notable career as a journalist and previous teaching experience at the University of Houston-Victoria makes her a rarity in collegiate education. Moody-Ramirez was on the search committee that selected Hernandez for the position and said Hernandez’s well-rounded experience was the perfect balance for Baylor journalism.
“It’s difficult to find someone with those credentials,” Moody-Ramirez said. “And to have her as an alum was icing on the cake.”
Hernandez graduated from Baylor in 1996 with an undergraduate degree in English professional writing and journalism.
Obtaining an undergraduate degree at Baylor made Hernandez an even more ideal candidate, Moody-Ramirez said, since understanding the culture of Baylor is an important perspective to engaging with students.
“We always want someone who will get along with our students, who will be a mentor to our students, who will keep up with trends,” Moody-Ramirez said.
Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media, had Hernandez as a student in the English department while she was an undergraduate.
Hernandez came through with a group of especially talented students, of which many went on to write, publish and create on a national level, Darden said.
“They fed off each other’s enthusiasm and talent,” he said. “She came through with a very creative bunch. I remember her well, and she was easy to follow because of the passion she put into her stories.”
Darden said Hernandez’s coverage of the border is so memorable because of how personable she made it.
“It took someone with a profound ability to not only tell the narrative and ask the questions, but to empathize and cover people in the way that she did,” Darden said. “We all respected her for it. She did it so well. She made them real people.”
The work Hernandez did was easy to follow because it was captivating and timely, Darden said. He followed her work not only because she was a student, but also because he was a fan of her great writing.
However, Darden will no longer need to subscribe to newspapers and search journals because his student has come full circle and now shares an office wall as his colleague.