Speaking between news broadcasts from Miami on March 17, Univision anchor Ilia Calderón shared her life story, reflections on overcoming barriers, and words of wisdom with the CSUDH community. Calderón was the featured speaker for the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series, a program which invites prominent public figures to discuss their experiences within the context of society’s most pressing issues.
The spring lecture, in celebration of Women’s History Month, focused on women in media and film–specifically, women of color–and why having diverse voices in these spaces is important in the struggle to overcome racism and sexism. For the first half of the event, CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham interviewed Calderón about becoming the first Afro-Latina to anchor a national newscast in Colombia and the U.S.
Calderón described how discrimination had affected her from a young age, and how throughout her career, she was deliberately excluded from news anchor casting calls due to her race. She spoke passionately about a colleague who advocated for her, which ultimately led to Calderón’s casting for a national anchor in Colombia, and then at Univision. She urged CSUDH students to fight not just for themselves, but for their peers.
“You have to keep working for your community,” she said. “You have to recognize others when they succeed and learn from them. Help them to achieve their dreams. Become an ally.”
On diversity in the media and the need for representation, Calderón said that while it was important for her to be on the screen–“We know that seeing someone that you can relate to motivates you”–she stressed that what was more important was having a voice in determining what stories are told. Being part of editorial meetings, she is not only able to share her perspective as a Black woman from a Hispanic country, but also brings attention to the stories of other marginalized people. “I need to advocate…I need to put myself in their shoes and say, ‘This story is important, too.’”
Calderón added that she would also continue her advocacy for representation. “I am proud of myself, and I like to be the first Afro-Latina that anchored the flagship Spanish newscast in the United States. It sounds beautiful, but the commitment is even more beautiful.
“I like to be the first, but I don’t like to be the only one. I need to work to make sure that the door that was one day opened for me–the door that I fought hard to open–remains open for the ones that are coming behind me,” she said.
Following Parham’s conversation with Calderón, panelists took to the stage to continue the discussion. Moderated by College of Arts and Humanities Dean Tim Caron, the panel included Assistant Professor of Advertising, Public Relations, and Journalism Ana de la Serna, Vice President and General Manager of KJLH Radio Karen Slade, and CSUDH film, television, and media major Shahid Samuels.
The need not only for representation, but also for decision-making power, was a recurring sentiment among the panelists, as well. Having women and people of color as producers and content creators ensures that their stories get told, they agreed. For real change, they said, investors and business partners need to put money behind minority-owned media and emerging creators. Samuels added that CSUDH students, in particular, need investment and attention.
“Hollywood talks a lot about new voices and diversity,” Samuels said. “We’re here. Give students at Cal State Dominguez Hills the opportunity and love they deserve.”