The Story Behind Her: How Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Center the Latinx Community

Women journalists have always been at the forefront of change—so as the U.S. faces compounding crises, it’s no surprise that women journalists are stepping up to bring truth to the public.

During Women’s History Month 2021, the International Women’s Media Foundation and Ms. began spotlighting women journalists who are making the news media stronger, more diverse and equitable. But their work didn’t end on March 31—and neither does ours. Change starts with recognizing the people behind the byline. All year, join us on the last Thursday of the month to learn The Story Behind Her.


This month: Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix

The Story Behind Her: Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Are Making Space for the Latinx Community
Maritza L. Félix (left) and Valeria Fernández. (Courtesy)

This month, meet Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix, co-hosts of the “Comadres Al Aire” podcast based in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to co-producing and co-hosting the podcast, Fernández (@valfernandez) is a managing editor of Palabra and Félix (@MaritzaLFelix) is a freelance journalist.


I am a journalist, but I’m also…

Valeria Fernández: A first-time mom in her 40s to a toddler with another one on the way. I’m a Uruguayan immigrant. I’m a dream maker, a storyteller, a songwriter of both super funny and really heartbreaking songs. I’m a mentor to young and not-so-young journalists. I bake birthday cakes for those I love.

Maritza L. Félix: A Latina, an immigrant, a street photographer, a human being, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, (sometimes a very good bad influence, ha!), active member of my community, a mentor, a very resilient and happy person, and a woman #conacentoycontalento!

The Story Behind Her: Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Are Making Space for the Latinx Community
“For me, doing journalism is a way of telling our community that they matter,” said Valeria Fernández. (Courtesy)

How do your identities shape your work? When did your intersections help you do your job better or help you approach work differently?

Fernández: I started my career in a small Spanish newspaper in Phoenix back in 2003. I was a new immigrant to the U.S. and most of our readers were immigrants from Mexico. While my experience migrating was very privileged, I still experienced the sadness of family separation and had to grieve long distance. I also worked for many years in the underground economy. My accent often made me a target of discrimination. Those experiences humbled me and helped me have greater empathy for those I was writing about. For me, doing journalism is a way of telling our community that they matter.

When I became a mom, I felt the urgency to create something that would empower other women, including non-binary and trans people to advocate for our health. Then the pandemic happened, and it became even more important.

Félix: Since I was a child, I knew that I was born to tell stories. The stories came to life in my imagination, but real people came to life in my notebooks. That’s how I fell in love with journalism. In my career, I have discovered the wonder of print and radio, the challenges of television and documentaries, and during the pandemic, I discovered the magic of community journalism through the digital world and social media. Amid a social and public health crisis, I created and built a hyperlocal media outlet with national reach, Conecta Arizona, and co-created, co-presented and co-produced an amazing podcast with one of my best friends, “Comadres al Aire.”

I am a Latina. I am an immigrant journalist. Yo hablo español. That allows me to deeply understand the needs of the Hispanic community in Arizona. I was not born into a family of privilege, and like many of our Conecta Arizona participants and “Comadres al Aire” listeners, I have had to work harder than my white non-immigrant colleagues to earn trust in the news industry. That empathy has served as my strength, and my hard work supports my credibility. I’m part of my community.


“I am a Latina. I am an immigrant journalist. Yo hablo español. That allows me to deeply understand the needs of the Hispanic community in Arizona.”


The Story Behind Her: Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Are Making Space for the Latinx Community
Maritza L. Félix reporting along the South Texas border. (Courtesy)

Your podcast, “Comadres al Aire,” takes on conversations about health from a human perspective. What do you see as the importance of hosting these inclusive, holistic discussions on wellness?

Fernández: Too often our communities are blamed for the health care problems they face. Our approach is different because we are centering on the community as part of the solution and in that way, we are redefining the narrative to empower women, non-binary and trans people. It’s important to create safe spaces like “Comadres” to ditch taboos and prejudice so we can start having more honest conversations about what healing looks like in all its extent: healing from racism, historical trauma, discrimination and sexism that permeate health care systems.

Félix: We needed a space to express and vent, to be us, a space where we could speak to you about who we are out loud, about what we feel from the womb to the subconscious… and in our language, with our own words—como digo yo, con acento y con talento, en confianza.

Valeria and I are journalists, but also women, moms and friends, and for the first time we allowed ourselves to do something more personal, to show our vulnerabilities, to show many more that they are not alone with what they feel and live. We do it in our own way, but always with the journalistic rigor that characterizes us. It is very important to create these spaces in Spanish.

Also, we believe in sisterhood, la sorodidad. We have lived through a lot together, from coffee in the morning to happy hours with wine. Together we have discovered motherhood, navigated immigration problems, traveled for pleasure and work, we have spent many nights dreaming awake together and ranting or crying. That is what comadres do, and then, holding hands and with the strength of the other, we lean forward, nos vamos pa’lante. And we want others to feel the same, that we are here to liberate and flow together as a family—as comadres.

The Story Behind Her: Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Are Making Space for the Latinx Community
Valeria Fernández (left) and Maritza L. Félix. (Courtesy)

How do you take time for your own health and wellness? What are the things that nourish you?

Fernández: I’m very curious about my own body, which has led me to explore approaches beyond Western medicine, like acupuncture. I like acupuncture because it looks at the roots of your problems and doesn’t treat just the symptoms. What we eat also matters a lot, so I try to keep a balanced diet (which includes frequent pizzas). I rarely weigh myself. I also practice yoga and really love sound healing. 

Music and art nourish my soul; books, poetry and my son’s perplexed look when he discovers something new. I’m beyond grateful to have a partner that is compassionate and works every day to make this world a better place with big and small gestures. That inspires me.

Félix: Reading, writing, traveling, taking long walks with my family, playing with my twins, watching mindless series, looking for beauty in the everyday, connecting with my community through Conecta Arizona. Getting massages once a month helps a lot, too. Talking to my friends or chatting with my mom and spending days at the border and taking photos with my Leica. I’m learning to say no and that is so great for my mental health.


“We do it in our own way, but always with the journalistic rigor that characterizes us. It is very important to create these spaces in Spanish.”


How does your community lift you up, and how do you lift up others in your community?

Fernández: My community is resilient, generous and powerful. They lift me up every time they share a bit of themselves with me so I can tell their story, but they lift me up even more in those conversations and times we share that never become a news piece, in the relationships of trust that we build. As an immigrant in Arizona, our immigrant community has become my extended family.

I lift others by being present, showing up even when it’s hard, never giving up when someone reaches out for help and simply listening however many hours it takes.

Félix: The moment we stop referring to our community as them everything changes. It is us, it has always been us and hopefully always be us. I believe together we are stronger. I believe in the power to listen, engage and do. I believe that a good education and meeting people who are looking for the same answers empowers us and our communities. We are here to bring dialogue to journalism, to have difficult conversations, to be questioned, so that our own community has the confidence to ask and know that there will be answers.  We want to tell their stories with their voices, accents, and nuances. That lifts me up: the idea of building something together.

The Story Behind Her: Journalists Valeria Fernández and Maritza L. Félix Are Making Space for the Latinx Community
“Too often our communities are blamed for the health care problems they face. Our approach is different because we are centering on the community as part of the solution and in that way, we are redefining the narrative to empower women, non-binary and trans people,” said Valeria Fernández. (Courtesy)

Who’s in your ideal group chat?

Fernández: Las fantásticas, we’re four friends in media including my partner in Comadres, Maritza L. Félix. We can talk about anything: journalism, love, motherhood, sex, and health. They are wise and fun.

Félix: I already have it with Conecta Arizona. We are changing narratives together. And we are welcoming more and more Comadres.

Up next:


If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About

The International Women’s Media Foundation's mission is to unleash the potential of women journalists as champions of press freedom to transform the global news media.