By Debra Kaufman
Henry Alfaro, who will be inducted June 17 into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame, has a unique position in the constellation of Hispanic journalists.
A true pioneer, Mr. Alfaro was one of the first Mexican American reporters in the nation. In June 1970 he began his career as a reporter with KABC-TV’s Eyewitness News, and quickly became a familiar presence in news broadcasting in Los Angeles. Since then he has received numerous honors, including six Emmys, five Golden Mike Awards and a Peabody Award nomination.
Born and raised in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles, Mr. Alfaro went to Pepperdine University on journalism and football scholarships. But he gave up sports to work full time to help pay his tuition. He met his wife, Carol, while at Pepperdine, and married her during his senior year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1957. Pepperdine University named Mr. Alfaro its Alumnus of the Year in 1995.
His interest in journalism initially landed him a job as a financial reporter for the now-defunct Los Angeles Examiner. After three years Mr. Alfaro transitioned to a career in public relations. He then heard about an opening at KABC specifically for a Mexican American reporter. Though he was initially wary of a position related to his ethnic heritage, Mr. Alfaro quickly realized that the job represented far more than simply reporting-he was representing his community in the mainstream media.
Hungry for Help
Thus began an illustrious 35-year career during which Mr. Alfaro became a touchstone for the Mexican American community-its most visible face and a vocal advocate for important issues. In the early 1970s, he was one of the founders of the California Chicano News Media Association, whose members are dedicated to serving the Mexican American community through media. Being fluent in Spanish and English, Mr. Alfaro quickly found that the community was hungry for his help and the role of the communicator and advocate that he began to play. Not long afterward he won his first Golden Mike Award.
“I was initially hired because of my nationality,” he said. “I assumed a responsibility to represent my community and took it on as a challenge, because I wasn’t going to embarrass myself or the people I represent. I have never ever forgotten my responsibility to the community and my commitment to using the media to bring out the good that the community does as well as point out the problems.”
Mr. Alfaro has covered more than three decades’ worth of local, regional and national stories, from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles to the 1992 riots. Much of his advocacy focused on practical needs in the community; he was well known for helping neighborhoods obtain streetlights, new sewage systems and repaved sidewalks and roads. Throughout his career he covered issues related to immigration and undocumented workers.
Mr. Alfaro has also proved to be a strong role model, especially for Mexican American youth and aspiring journalists. He acknowledged hard-working high school students with “Cool Kids,” a weekly news segment that recognized inspirational high school students for making a difference in their communities. Each student profiled received a $1,000 savings bond. “Education to me is the key,” Mr. Alfaro said. “My mother came to this country illegally to escape the horrors of the revolution in Mexico. My parents had little or no education, and like so many others, I was the first in my family to graduate from grammar school, high school and college.”
In 1994 Mr. Alfaro proposed the creation of a half-hour news program that would highlight the positive stories within the Hispanic community for English-speaking viewers. “Vista LA,” which Mr. Alfaro also hosted, was the first TV program in Southern California to provide entertaining information about the Hispanic community to an English-speaking audience.
Mr. Alfaro’s role as an influential and pioneering news journalist has been acknowledged by numerous awards, among them the Eagle Award for excellence in the field of television reporting by Nosotros and the Humanitarian Award from the League of United Latino American Communities National Organization for his influence as a role model. He was also named one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the U.S. by Hispanic Magazine, and was the first male to receive the Ray of HOPE award from Hispa%F1;as Organized for Political Equality, a professional Hispanic women’s organization. He has been honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
A year after his retirement in May 2005, Mr. Alfaro’s induction into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame holds a special significance for him. “This is a national honor and I appreciate that,” he said. “Perhaps it’s a fitting conclusion to having founded the California Chicano News Media Association, out of which organizations like the NAHJ emerged. The California Chicano News Media Association still exists, and I’m still involved. That’s our legacy.”
In retirement, Mr. Alfaro lectures at schools and colleges, no less passionately involved than he was as a journalist. “I’m motivating not just Latino kids but journalists in general, to assume a tough stance, to assume a role of helping the community, to pursue a role of making change,” he said.