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Hispanic Heritage Month: Blanca Torres

As part of our recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, KCTS 9 sat down with Seattle Times writer Blanca Torres. Torres recently joined the Times as an editorial writer and columnist, making her the first Latina on the Times editorial board. We spoke with her on her cultural upbringing, obstacles she faced, Latinos in media, and the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month.

You grew up in a small town in Eastern Washington, which is known to be a very highly Latino populated region. In what ways did you feel challenged or taken out of your comfort zone when you moved from Eastern Washington to Baltimore, San Francisco or Nashville? Did you experience a culture shock? Was there a culture shock to others by you?

I grew up in Pasco, a small town in the Tri-Cities area, and there was one high school which is half—if not more—Hispanic individuals. My parents moved to Washington from Mexico and I grew up speaking both Spanish and English and was always surrounded by the traditions and culture. In my high school Latino students didn't really tend to graduate or go on to a four-year college, so for me my parents were very big on education. I grew up wanting to go to a four-year school and I always looked forward to high school. I just always knew I was going to go to college and it was really important to me and my family.

I ended up going to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I had never been to Tennessee; I had never been to the South, so when I got to Nashville it was major culture shock. Vanderbilt is a private school—very southern—and I just had no way of preparing myself for that. I was used to being around other Latinos and being at Vanderbilt was the first time I met a lot of other Latinos who were not Mexican. It was a big change, but great experience. It was fun to meet other people and get to know the similarities and differences between different types of Latinos.  Overall, it was a big adjustment and when I first got there I wasn’t sure if I would fit in or if I was ever going to acclimate to it, but eventually I did and I loved it there. I joined so many organizations and I began to feel like I wasn’t just at school, but really a part of the community there. Taking part really helped me see that I was bringing something different and adding to the culture there …  something that wasn’t there before or adding something in a different way.

Torres with her family in 2009 as she graduated from Mills College with a Masters in Creative Writing.

You recently moved back to Washington to take on a new position as an Editorial Writer and Columnist at The Seattle Times—making you the first Latina to be hired on The Seattle Times editorial board.  That is a huge title to have— were you surprised?

I wasn't really surprised, because for a long time editorial boards for a lot of newspapers were made up of older, white male individuals. However, the industry is becoming more diverse in the sense of backgrounds and experience. The Seattle Times has made a lot of effort to diversify the editorial board as a lot of the people on it come from different backgrounds and perspectives.

How it makes me feel personally, I am excited to bring my voice and awareness to Latino issues and the community because I think that is something that is missing from editorial boards now. When I got to college I got involved with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and that organization really taught me the importance of being a Latina in the newsroom or in any capacity. One of the things I learned was its great to have Latinos in newsrooms—we are still underrepresented by far—but what’s also is important is to have Latinos in different positions. Currently, in my role, it’s my responsibility to bring a Latino perspective to my work and though I can’t speak for every Latino, I am at least conscious of what their concerns are.

Your career in journalism spans, professionally, around 10 years. Reflecting from then to now, have you seen a growth of Latino journalists?

Journalism as an industry has been through some difficult times in the last 5-10 years. The industry is much smaller than it was a decade ago; just fewer journalists who have jobs or are working in media. Overall, the numbers are not great for Latinos—they are underrepresented in the newsrooms … . However, over the last year or two the industry has been rebuilding and coming back, so you do see more Latinos in the media. Yet, overall, I think there needs to be more Latinos in journalism and that played hugely into why I served on the board for NAHJ because I thought it was important to promote the mission of getting more Latinos into journalism.

Over the years, the voice of Latinos in media in regards to issues such as immigration has grown; how has that impacted you as a journalist and individual? Is the representation of Latinos in the media improved?

When I think about Latinos or Latino issues being covered or represented in media I think what happens often from newsrooms is that they want to cover the hot topic, which is immigration. Though that issue is really important, Latinos are more than immigration. There are a lot of stories that are not being told because people tend to focus on the political issues. I think that’s where we can see a lot of progress— more coverage of the culture, lifestyle, individuals or other issues like education or health.

Torres and rights activist Dolores Huerta after an interview for San Francisco Business Times in 2010.

Did you ever experience any obstacles in relation to your race in life or in your career? If so what were they and how did you overcome such things?

I have worked in a lot of newsrooms were I was the only Latina or the only person of color. I think sometimes even that is a challenge. It makes you feel like, ‘do I really belong?’ or ‘are people going to take me seriously?’ As a young reporter that was something I encountered.  I was reporting a lot on business topics and I was dealing with older executives and I felt like they looked at me like, ‘who are you?’ or ‘what do you know about what I do?’ I think a lot of it is just having confidence and having the mentality of ‘I am trying to do my job, I know what my objective is and I know I have skills and I know I have qualities, I know I can do this work.’ It’s just a matter of getting over that sense of self-doubt that society or individuals can add fuel to and it has to start with you. I think a lot of the challenges people face are of feeling different. You have to embrace that versus letting it define you.

How important is it to continue the growth and study Latinos throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, not only for those who are of Latin decent, but also to those who are not?

I am Mexican-American every day of the year so I am always thinking about the culture and how important it is to me, but I do think it’s vital to take the time to focus on the Hispanic culture because people tend to act like Latinos just arrived here. Latinos have been here since before it was the U.S. We are a huge part of the history here and a lot of times the stories aren’t told and people don’t understand the history and I think that’s just as important as the food and entertainment side of the culture. California used to be Mexico and a lot of people seem to forget that and think somehow that isn’t relevant to today’s history.

It’s still very much a huge part of the culture there and it’s the reason why their families have been speaking Spanish for many generations so it’s not like they’re bringing Spanish—Spanish has been there. It’s very important for people to have that knowledge and to know the U.S. is not a stranger to Latino culture. Our culture has been here and has been part of the mainstream but people tend to not want to see that or just are unaware. That’s why I think its super important to talk about the culture and history and have everyone—Latino or not— understand and be knowledgeable of it.

Also for me, my parents are from Mexico so I am first generation born in the U.S. I feel very connected to Mexico and growing up I traveled there and I always felt connected to the culture, and I have strong roots there— it’s a huge influence on me personally. When I went to grad school for creative writing, I started writing a memoir on my mom’s childhood in Mexico and what led her to come to the U.S. A lot of times people don’t really know their own parents’ or grandparents’ history or what led them to come to the U.S., even though it’s not that long ago. I think it’s important to recognize who are we and where we come from and what makes us unique and special and what makes our story important. Not just to us, but to society as a whole. I think that’s why you have to tell stories, that’s why you have to talk about culture, why you have to be proud of where you come from and where your family’s from because that really shapes who you are.

Torres performing a Mexican folkloric dance in Pasco in celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16.

How did your culture shape you as a person and a professional? What attributes have you carried through over the years?

My parents were very proud of being Mexican and they always talked about their childhood, traditions and how it was different from the U.S. My mom basically moved to the U.S. because this is where my dad wanted to live. I grew up in this household where we felt very connected to Mexico and my parents were very proud of being Mexican. What that taught me is that no matter what your background is you should embrace it and you should be proud of it and make it part of what makes you confident. We live in a society where people tend to think ‘you have to look like this, you have to be like this in order to be successful’ and the only way you are going to disprove that is by being different.

I always felt in my career like, ‘maybe I am the only Latina in the newsroom, but I am going to represent Latinas and maybe I am the only Latina my coworkers know so I talk about my culture’, that starts with me embracing my Mexican culture and being excited about it and not feeling like I have to fit a mold in order to thrive in my career. It all comes down to confidence; share who you are and not feel like you have to leave it at home. When I went to Vanderbilt people would say, ‘Oh you’re Mexican?’ They were surprised and I think it’s because they never really met a Mexican. While growing up in Pasco, everyone was of a Latino decent and everyone knew I was Mexican. So that was a learning process for me, because I just assumed everyone could tell I was Mexican. That was when I realized that I really have to talk about it and help inform others. I think it’s really important to look at what makes you unique and what makes you different and what you are bringing to the table that somebody else isn’t and those are all good things.

I think sometimes we tend to think that being of a racial minority is a disadvantage and I absolutely hate that mentality. I really like being Mexican- American, I like being able to speak English and Spanish, I like having all these different cultural traditions that other Americans don’t have but I also have a lot of American traditions so I think you can almost sort of create your own sense of what it means to be Latino and that’s great, but it takes some conscious effort — what does being Latino mean to me? And then you shape it on your own. It’s a continuous learning experience.

Torres visiting the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico in 2006.


Torres contributed to the anthology ‘Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education,’ released in early 2014 with her essay on leaving home for college called “Going the Distance”.


Dive deeper into Hispanic culture through the personal stories of politicians, students, business owners and more in KCTS 9’s 2013 documentary, Latinos: The Changing Face of Washington and visit PBS’s website dedicated to Hispanic Heritage Month.