Right before the pandemic arrived in the Centennial State, staff at Colorado Public Radio (CPR) launched a committee to address how it could better serve and represent the local Latino community. That’s when May Ortega, a CPR journalist and host, and her team pitched an idea to create a podcast focused on the stories of Latino, Hispanic, and Chicano individuals. Although CPR leadership was supportive, Ortega didn’t want to make what she called another “inspirational Latinos overcome adversity” podcast. Instead, ¿Quién Are We? will feature the everyday lives of Colorado Latinos, Hispanics, and Chicanos—and spare the audience the clichés. 5280 caught up with Ortega ahead of the July 8 launch date to learn more about her ambitions for the podcast.

CPR’s May Ortega. Photo courtesy of Hart Van Denburg.

 

 

5280: How is ¿Quién Are We? different from other podcasts out there?
May Ortega: There’s already so much media out there about how hard Latinos’ lives are and how they’ve overcome so much and are so inspirational. Those stories matter, but it feels like those are the only stories we ever hear about. From the beginning, I’ve held that I don’t want to interview people who are famous for this. I want to hear from everyday people, and I want to hear their everyday stories. Having Jennifer Lopez on the show would be cool, but I’d just rather hear about someone’s cousin and what they do. This podcast is really meant to highlight local community members and hopefully inspire other Latinos to look within themselves and face their identities.

You have a background in health journalism. How has that influenced your reporting for this podcast?
I’m from the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, and that’s where I started my journalism career. Being from the [U.S.-Mexico] border, raised by two immigrants, and learning the basics of journalism there informed what I’m doing now in a few different ways. Throughout my career in health journalism, I spent a lot of my time talking to regular people instead of people in power, and I really liked that. My time doing that taught me how to find people who have a lot to say, but not a lot of people to say it to. Plus, I grew up surrounded by incredible Latinos, Chicanos, and Hispanics. These folks have so much to say, so I want this podcast to be a soapbox that I can give them so they can share their stories.

Are there any episodes you’re particularly excited about?
The first episode is about the assistant brewer at Dos Luces Brewery [in Platt Park], which I’m really excited about. We talk about his life and the stories behind Chicha and Pulque, two traditional Aztec and Mayan drinks. Another episode is on the owner behind a local plant shop, the Plant Room, who’s Mexican American and heavily influenced by his family. There’s also a few people featured who aren’t necessarily Colorado-tied, like a general manager for a baseball team in Eugene, Oregon, who’s Nicaraguan.

Latino culture is so complex and diverse and is made up of so many different identities. How does the podcast reconcile that?
That’s something we’ve kept in mind constantly while working on the show. My experience as a first-generation Mexican American from Texas is so different from someone who’s Puerto Rican or Afro Latino. We try to embrace those differences on the show. But surprisingly, we’ve noticed some unintentional similarities among everyone on the podcast, regardless of their backgrounds. All of the people that we’ve talked to are doing something to make their family proud. Everyone is using their passion to become more familiar with their roots. There are a lot of differences, but also lots of similarities.

What challenges have you faced along the way in putting ¿Quién Are We? together?
The biggest thing is that we wanted to create a podcast that’s actually useful. There’s way too many shows out there that are just podcasts to be podcasts—people who like to hear themselves talk. The whole reason this podcast was born was to be helpful to listeners. We’ve heard from people that the content out there now is either about Latinos doing incredible, amazing things that the average person can’t do, or about tragic stories about Latinos facing hardships. Keeping that focus of creating a podcast about everyday individuals was challenging. Striking that perfect tone took a lot of time, and I think we managed it.

What do you hope listeners take away from this?
Joy. It feels like everything is bad right now, and that often leaks into forms of media that we turn to for relief. I want listeners to hear these stories and see themselves and not feel like they’re the only person who has been through these things. One of my coworkers told me that when he was growing up, he would play games with his friends where they would try to figure out who would play them in a movie. As a Latino, he realized he would only have like two people who could play him, or they’d have to find a white actor. I hope that this podcast is just the beginning of Latinos being portrayed accurately in the media, and in the future, little Latinos will actually have options for who could play them in movies.

The first episode of ¿Quién Are We? launches July 8 and can be found on the CPR website or Apple podcasts.