Ilia Calderón reflects on career as an Afro-Latina in journalism
On April 11 in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium, Yale Law School professor Claudia Flores and Univision Primetime Anchor Ilia Calderón spoke on “Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race.”
Adam Walker, Contributing Photographer
Yale Law School professor Claudia Flores and Emmy Award-winning journalist Ilia Calderón discussed reclaiming one’s heritage and addressing issues of race in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon.
The discussion was organized by Nadia Ahmad GRD ’28, sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism and co-sponsored by several campus offices, departments and student groups. At the talk, titled “Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race,” Flores asked Calderón questions about her childhood in Colombia and journey as a journalist. Additionally, Calderón spoke about the importance of diversity in journalism, particularly for the Afro-Latino community.
“Ilia Calderón exemplifies the hallmarks of excellence in journalism through her courage, brilliance and integrity,” Ahmad told the News. “She has been a trailblazer on and off the camera through her work for environmental protection, free speech, and immigrant rights.”
Calderón is the co-anchor of Univision’s flagship evening newscast, “Noticiero Univision,” and co-host of Univision’s primetime news magazine, “Aquí y Ahora.” She previously co-anchored three other news desks for Univision and two others for Telemundo. She was the first Afro-Latina to anchor a national weekday evening newscast for a major Hispanic broadcast network in the United States.
Ahmad also highlighted Calderón’s skills as an intrepid storyteller and masterful investigator. She said that Calderón’s work has inspired a new generation of journalists and activists, which makes her visit to New Haven an exciting opportunity.
At the event, Calderón first spoke about her upbringing in Colombia and what led to her choosing journalism as a career path.
Calderón said that she was born in a predominantly Black region in Chocó, Colombia, that had been abandoned by the local government for centuries. When she was growing up, she did not have a refrigerator, color television, running water or power. She grew up seeing the differences between what she had and what others had — both those with more and those with less. This drove her passion for social work to address the gap she saw in her community.
Calderón started her journalism career in Medellín, Colombia, where she lived at the time with her mother, sister and other family members. She initially took on the role of covering local news stories as a temporary replacement for someone on summer vacation, but ended up keeping the job.
During her time in Medellín, Calderón was able to combine her passions for social work and journalism. She said she saw journalism as a tool to fight for her community and raise awareness of the issues affecting its residents. She later became the first Afro-Latina to host a national news program in Colombia.
As a journalist, Calderón wanted to bring attention to the abandoned regions of Colombia. She took the camera out to capture coastal towns, fishing communities and people living in extreme poverty, looking to bring awareness to those regions of Colombia.
Calderón also has used journalism to raise awareness for environmental issues. At the talk, she spoke about a documentary she did in which she traveled to Mexico and Easter Island to cover issues with microplastics in the region. She said that through research, she learned that the data shows that by the year 2050, there could potentially be more plastic in the ocean than fish. She wanted to use her voice as a journalist to show the reality of these situations, she said, as many governments are ignoring these environmental problems.
Flores then turned the conversation towards the inner workings of journalism and inquired about how stories are chosen in a newsroom, given the vast amount of events happening around the world. She sought Calderón’s insights on the decision-making process.
Calderón explained that the decision process is never made alone, as there are many producers and executive producers who also help decide which stories get told. She explained that Afro-Latino journalists don’t usually have a voice in these discussions, which increases her responsibility to bring topics affecting her community to the table — otherwise, many of these stories will fade away. She emphasized the importance of diversity in newsrooms, as having an Afro-Latino voice present increases the likelihood of these stories being covered and represented in the news.
In Calderón’s book titled “My Time to Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race,” she explored how racism and colorism affected her throughout her life, as well as how it can be hard for people of color to get a voice in the newsroom.
“Even as adults, sometimes we are not able to speak up for ourselves,” she said. “We need to as a society be more understanding, and the ones who are not minorities [should] play the role of an ally, and the ones that are in positions of power [should] play the role of an ally [and] be aligned with that person and say something if [a minority] cannot.”
Calderón shared her personal experience of growing up and hearing jokes about skin color, highlighting the deep history of racism in Latin America. She explained how in Latin America, a lot of times there is favoritism towards people with lighter skin complexions. She said that due to this racism, different Black communities in the region often remain unaware of their proximity to each other. Calderón added that she felt a sense of responsibility to raise awareness for various Afro-Latino communities and serve as a voice for those who may not have one.
Flores’ also questioned Calderón on her Emmy Award-winning interview with Christopher Barker, an Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Though she knew Barker was a Ku Klux Klan member, Calderón said she still wanted to tell the story because she did not want to let her race dictate which stories she reported.
Calderón explained that the purpose of the interview was to address the escalating racial violence in America. However, during the interview, Barker was taken aback when he realized that Calderón was not only a “Hispanic woman of color,” but also a Black woman. Despite Barker’s discomfort and use of racist language during the interview, Calderón saw its importance in highlighting the need for marginalized communities to come together and fight against racism.
“It is this incredibly crucial job of journalism to kind of force conversations that people don’t want to have naturally as everybody wants to be in their own little worlds now,” said Flores in her final statement.
The discussion ended with a question-and-answer session open to the audience. Attendees were encouraged to ask any remaining questions and had the opportunity to speak with Calderón directly.
In the United States, around six million adults identify as Afro-Latino.