Man with headphones on in front of a radio mic.

Photo courtesy of Radio Bilingüe

Hugo N. Morales

Radio Producer & Radio Network Builder

Bio

Cultural heritage and radio shaped the extraordinary life of Hugo Morales, recipient of the 2020 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship, for his lifetime of work opening spaces for Latino voices in media.

The Moraleses were indigenous Oaxacan farmworkers, Mixtecs who migrated in the 1950s to Healdsburg, California, to pick prunes. Hugo Morales’ violinist father played in a Mexican indigenous farmworker banda and always told his children around the dinner table to be proud of who they were. Corridos in Spanish blared every weekend across the labor camp that was their home. Morales saw how music was essential to people’s well-being and strength as a community.

He credits a bout with tuberculosis in the seventh grade as transformative. While isolated for months, he read extensively and gained new perspectives. He listened to radio news and knew that people of color and their concerns were absent.

Radio further captured his imagination when his brother Cándido launched a local radio show featuring beloved Mexican música. Morales saw how the show deeply moved friends and neighbors, including his brother’s proud use of Spanish over the air.

In high school, Morales excelled, winning scholarships to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He returned home every summer to work with his family. “Much more than getting prunes into those buckets, living that life helped me understand poverty and all the cultures around us in the fields,” he said in a phone interview with Dan Sheehy. “Mexican, but also Filipino, Punjabi, and Native American—it gave me a strong feeling for the power of traditional arts.”

With law degree in hand, Morales returned to California in 1975 to co-found nonprofit Radio Bilingüe, which in 1980 became the first Latino-controlled full-power FM radio station to serve the San Joaquín Valley. Based on “honest” culture by and for the people—and with its multiplicity of sounds, multilingual voices, and values—Radio Bilingüe itself became the trusted voice of community.

Today, Radio Bilingüe is the leading Latino public radio network and content producer in U.S. public media, with 24 stations and 75-plus affiliates serving more than a half million listeners weekly. It is a curator of Latino culture through series like Línea Abierta and Raíces: Art Moments on Radio and major festivals of mariachi and Norteño-Tejano music, with teaching workshops for youth.

Staff and volunteer announcers—Latino, indigenous, and multiethnic—host musical programs like La Hora Mixteca, Mañanitas con Mariachi, Arriba el Norte, Música Folklórica, Son del Caribe, and new-generation folk-rooted and crossover genres.

Morales’ public service earned him a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Edward R. Murrow Award, the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom prize, two honorary doctorates, and more.

He said, “It’s critical for people to help themselves by sharing opinions and cultural experiences. That’s what I heard in the fields. We put it on the radio.”

By Daniel Sheehy, Ph.D., Director & Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2015 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow

Podcasts

Hugo Morales

Music Credit: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand, used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Hugo Morales: (W)e also have people like from the Bay Area who drive into the San Juaquin Valley, and that put Radio Bilingue on on Sundays for their children to listen to and say, “Folks, this is real Mexican Chicano radio. This is indigenous people radio.”

Jo Reed: That is the founder and executive director of Radio Bilingüe and the 2020 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow Hugo Morales….and this is Art Works, the weekly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed.

Hugo Morales has an extraordinary story. A Mixtec born in Oaxaca, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 9 and joined his father in the fields of California harvesting fruit. It was both a difficult life and one filled with tradition and music as his father played the violin and guitar with other indigenous people. And Hugo learned early on how music gave both strength and solace to people and to the community. Hugo ended up at Harvard and then Harvard Law—but he returned each summer to work in the fields and when he graduated he came back to central California for good. His aim was to work for his people; the Mixtec and all farm workers. He chose to do that through radio and Radio Bilingüe was born. The first Latino-controlled full-power FM radio station in the San Joaquín Valley. Now, 30 years later, Radio Bilingüe is leading Latino public radio network and content producer for the nation’s public broadcasting system with 24 stations and over 75 affiliates. Based on “honest” culture by and for the people—Radio Bilingüe has become the trusted voice of community—broadcasting the diverse voices, music and culture of farmworkers. Hugo Morales has led Radio Bilingüe since its inception and he has won many many awards including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Edward R Murrow Award and now he’s been named a National Heritage Fellow….But enough from me….Let’s hear from Hugo Morales

Hugo Morales: I was born in Oaxaca. I’m a Mixtec indigenous person. I’m a Mixtec from the Mixteco tribe, so I was born in Oaxaca, which is a remote village at 8,000 feet. And our tribe is about three million people of our own tribe. We have our own language, our own culture, our own music, our own food, <laughs> our own history. And so I grew up only knowing my own people until the age of nine. In other words, I thought the world was only made of Mixtecos like myself, like my parents. So from then-- I did not know my father until I was nine. He left. He was an undocumented worker, would come-- left the family and came to the U.S., to California to look for economic opportunities. So when he legalized in 1957, the next year he was able to bring the family legally, and I was-- became part of the farm labor force in California in 1968 at age of nine. And so growing up-- and so this was new to me. You know, I was-- I came from the high mountains. Now I was at sea level. And I came from the high desert, and now I was in lush Sonoma County. And so I grew up in a farm labor camp. It was very beautiful place in a lot of ways, fertile lands, lots of water and so forth compared to the desert I had grown up in. And I met my father, who was a musician. He played the guitar. He played the violin, he was a violinist, and he also practiced music with other indigenous people, and among them were the Otomis. They were from the Otomi tribe, and they worked in the adjoining town called Sebastopol. And so they would come weekly to practice with my father. My father was the leader. He’s the one that used to pass on musical technique to the other folks who were also farm workers working the apple fields. So I grew up among these artists and picked prunes and other crops. So we’re literally an impoverished community. The people that I came in contact with mostly were other children during the summer who were poor whites, poor blacks, poor Mexican-Americans from Texas, migrant stream, and also poor Mexican-American children from the Central Valley, where I now live. So that’s how it was, so it was a kind of very isolated community within the mainstream English-speaking Anglo white community there in Sonoma County. And so we had our own culture as indigenous people and as Mexican people, as farm workers. So that’s how it was growing up in the labor camp, isolation.

Jo Reed: There was isolation, but there was also the foundation of traditional music that was so important, as you said, to you, to your family, to your community.

Hugo Morales: That’s right, and that’s something that was very important to me, became important to me, and it was very important particularly to my father. Maybe it was same to my ma, but she wouldn’t articulate it. But my father lost no time, and consistently at our dinner table telling us about the pride we should have and the culture we had in being indigenous, having a rich history, a rich culture, wonderful traditions. And he also talked about how he learned a lot coming to the U.S., that he had learned some wonderful traditions in the United States that he thought we should adopt because they were good traditions, and then he would-- but he also said that we should be proud of being who we are because, you know, considering the racism in this country, and there’s a lot of prejudice for those of us that stand out and stand up to identify to be different. And he said we should always be proud of who we are. And it’s not just in the U.S. This is the truth in Mexico where we as indigenous people are singled out also for discrimination.

Jo Reed: And you mentioned it was an isolated existence. And then, you developed tuberculosis. And even though you had to be literally physically isolated, in a kind of ironic way that opened the world up for you.

Hugo Morales: Yeah. I mean basically, you know, I was a child and obviously I was under the family unit, so I had no idea of the outside world. To me, the outside world was the mainstream. <laughs> And so when I was-- you know, when I was 12, I got diagnosed with tuberculosis and I was literally put in isolation in a locked room 12 by 12, no bathroom, no shower, no radio, no TV. So I really had a lot of opportunity to read, <laughs> so that’s what I did. And so being in isolation, I really got an appreciation for the mainstream. I didn’t realize that there was a such thing as the mainstream, so I learned a lot of what I could as a 12 year old of what the mainstream was about through periodicals and books. And I also began to see the perspective of how the mainstream looked at other people like African-Americans and Native Americans, immigrants, and so that began to form me. I began to get a-- how do you say-- a view of the landscape, the socioeconomic landscape in this country and the world at that age. And so for me it was very educational, and in Spanish I would say, <speaks Spanish>, which means it was a real opportunity to harvest a lot of information and digest that and process it and come out of there with something positive. My father was always a positive man, and, luckily, I hope <laughs> I inherited some of that.

Jo Reed: Oh, <laughs> I think you did. Now, how did you become first involved in radio?

Hugo Morales: Well, so I went in the tuberculosis hospital at the age of 12, but by the time I was 14, my brother had just graduated high school, and he worked did a radio show on a commercial country western station, KVRA in Santa Rosa. So I used to go and help him with his coffee. They’d tear the teletype, the UPI and then also--

Jo Reed: Oh, my god.

Hugo Morales: --and also help him with these records. But I was not allowed on the port. But what it exposed me to was the power of radio, because even though it was a small population of Mexicans where the signal reached was of course Sonoma, Napa Counties, everybody, all the families listened to his radio shows on Sundays. And that’s where I learned the power of radio.

Jo Reed: And your life took you to Harvard as an undergraduate. What was that experience like? It’s just so different in every way, not just culturally but geographically so different.

Hugo Morales: Yeah, well, you know, it was a very-- you know, what happened during the years at the sanitarium, I realized that I really needed to get an education. <laughs> And my mom always wanted me to get an education, but I thought that what I should do is go to a school where I could be a leader, at least in my simplistic head, <laughs> and so I wanted to go to an Ivy League school. So I was accepted to Harvard, also to Stanford and Berkeley. And so I went to Harvard College, and I became the only Mexican-American there in my class, so that was very strange, because I didn’t realize there were some things that actually were very close to me that I had no idea that I would miss. Basically it’s my family, which everybody misses their family, but the food, my god. <laughs> I know I always had rice-- I mean, I’m sorry, tortillas and beans every day, <laughs> and all the sudden there’s no tortillas and there’s no beans, and hot peppers. So, you know, that was my basic diet, and so it was very, very traumatic in that sense, that the cultural part was very traumatic. But I met some wonderful classmates, particularly from Michigan, who were incredibly generous and welcoming.

Jo Reed: And you also worked on the radio there, didn’t you, at Harvard?

Hugo Morales: Yeah. By the time I was a junior, 1970, ’71, there were now several Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans and the Harvard School of Education. There was an effort to have the radio station have served a local Latino population community, and so there was an effort to do that by the students, and I joined that effort. And Harvard College had and probably still does have a rule that only undergrads can staff that radio station, and so I was one of the few <laughs> Latinos that actually qualified, which was being registered undergraduate, so I became a programmer there at WHRB, which reaches the whole Boston area. So I was the one who introduced LatinoVoices to Boston coming from a campus. I may be the first person to have introduced campus radio with a Latino format in the U.S. <laughs> I don't know. I’d have to check that, but definitely in the Ivy League along the eastern seaboard, I was the one in 1970. And what I did was instead of me just having my own show like all the other undergrads, I invited people in the community to come and do the show. So I had Puerto Rican young people do the radio show on Saturday nights for an hour. And then on Sunday the one hour became the show produced by Mexican-Americans from Texas who had settled in the Boston area. So those were the folks who actually did the show, and I did the mixing. So that’s how I learned again the power of radio and the importance of giving voices to the community. I mean I felt very privileged to be a Harvard student, and I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be good to open these airwaves to the community, and that’s what I did. And I was the only undergrad who did that, by the way.

Jo Reed: And you went on to Harvard Law School.

Hugo Morales: Correct.

Jo Reed: You kept going back to the Central Valley. You kept going back to California and working in the fields during the summer when you obviously had the option to do other things as well. Tell me what your thinking was about making that choice

Hugo Morales: Well, you know, part of it, a lot of it goes for being indigenous. Being indigenous in our community, when people leave our community to go school, whatever, to look for a better life economically, a lot of people don’t come back. So there’s this cultural value in our village, in Oaxaca, to somehow not do that, that, you know, we should be proud <laughs> of our own village, our own people, our own customs, so that was part of it. But the other was that while I was at Harvard I realized that what a rare <laughs> experience I was going through. I mean there was not a single indigenous-- I never met another indigenous person at Harvard College when I was there. I knew that another indigenous person had been accepted because he was featured in The Harvard Crimson, the school newspaper, the first week of school, but I never got to see the gentleman. So not until I got to Harvard Law did I meet another indigenous person. But, anyway, there was very few of us. So it was very, very interesting for me to know-- also what happened is at Harvard College, I realized that even literature about poor people and poverty was very, very rare, and so I would often be asked by my own classmates to <laughs> tell them about the experience of being a farm worker, and then-- because they were really sincere. This is, again, the generation of change. <laughs> Class of ’72, ’68 to ’72, you know, a lot of interest by the mainstream youth to want to change the world, so they wanted to know about what it was being a farm worker. But also like graduate students, like sometimes graduate students in the school of design would have me come over and talk to their group about how they would build sanitary, comfortable, useful, warm housing for farm workers. So I would go, and so they would have me tell like this interview, <laughs> about my life and about how we lived and our customs and all that so they could build housing that was friendly to that lifestyle. So, anyway, I realized what an incredible opportunity I had but also what a valuable opportunity I had in that here I was going to Harvard College, Harvard Law, in that I could be a resource to help the people I wanted to help, which was the farm workers. I still identified as a farm worker, so I figured as long as I could be among my people, farm workers, my own family, indigenous family, and go to the dances, go to the socials and work in the fields and get on my knees and put those prunes in the bucket, well that was a good thing. It’s something that was unique, was an opportunity, and then also I thought that it’d be an experience that maybe some of my fellow undergrads would obviously benefit from that experience. And so about five or six of my classmates did come to live in the farm fields with us in the labor camp and work in the fields. They took that much interest in wanting to help farm workers. So that’s why I went back, in a way. Also, I wanted to be able to narrate and speak for that community, and that at some point I had to leave that community, but as long as I could be there and experience it I would be better able to articulate that experience, and so-- in a positive way. And so that’s-- so it was-- I really enjoyed and benefited from all those years being an Ivy Leaguer and also living and working in the fields.

Jo Reed: When you graduated and you went back to California, was radio on your mind? Did you know that you really did want to use that great power of broadcasting to have an effect on people’s lives and hear about their lives?

Hugo Morales: Yes, exactly, and you have it right. I want them to tell their own stories, and so that’s what I did. And so I really, really wanted to go to Fresno and help my fellow farm workers, there, and so that’s what I did. So, yes, I had-- and I looked at Fresno because it’s the center of agribusiness in the United States, and the San Juaquin Valley has the largest concentration of farm workers in the United States, and I wanted to be-- I wanted to have an impact. For whatever reason, I felt that I had leadership potential. I had something to contribute. I’d spent seven years at Harvard, and I figured, you know-- and this is something that not just Cesar Chavez would tell us as youth, but also my own parents. They said, “You should go to school, come back, and help us,” so that was the whole idea of me doing that. And also, again, those voices, to have the farm workers help each other, share information, showcase the wealth of our music, our music genres in the plural and have a good time and enjoy that music, those traditions, but also being powered by information that would help our own families uplift ourselves and make our life healthier but also more economically viable.

Jo Reed: Before we talk about the origin of Radio Bilingue, I’m curious about what the radio landscape was for Spanish-speaking people in California at the time. Were there Spanish-language radio stations? What was going on in public radio? What was the landscape?

Hugo Morales: Well, the landscape was like in 1976 when I started Radio Bilingue here in Fresno, there was two AM radio stations that broadcast in Fresno, that was it, and only during daytime. And both of them were not owned by Latinos, and that was very, very typical. San Francisco did not have a Spanish language station. The only Bay Area service was one, KLOK, out of San Jose. That served the whole Bay Area. And that station could only be heard right around San Jose during the day, <laughs> like essentially Santa Clara County. And then during the night its signal would go throughout the whole Bay Area, so I grew up listening to that station when we would wake up at four in the morning to go to the fields, and that’s how I got connected with some of the genres like Tejano music and so on. So, in other words, it was very, very sparse. All those stations were not owned by Latinos. And, then, my experience at Harvard really helped in terms of the radio because it was student-run, and every semester we’d have to elect our own officers at the radio station. We’re all volunteer students, undergrads. And it always-- it became a political, how do you say it, alignment there at Harvard. It was essentially the news department of students and classical versus jazz and <laughs> folk, you know, and alternative. <laughs> There’s just these two camps. And so every semester I had to justify La Hora, the Latino Hour, to this board of directors who were other undergrads. And these kids didn’t even know a thing about what I was doing, right? <laughs> So I figured that that’s the same thing, what happens in the adult world, is that often those people who own the airwaves have no sense or interest, frankly, in what is going over the airwaves if they’re not connected somehow with the content. And so when I got out, when I graduated, I wanted to see-- and became a militant for Latino-owned media, and I chose radio because I figured that it could be cheap, at least less expensive than television, and accessible, and which would lend itself to independence. Independence for me and for us are so critical, for us to be able to guide the format and the narrative over the airwaves.

Jo Reed: Well, you said at one point that you founded Radio Bilingue on the principle of honest culture by and for the people, and I love that concept of honest culture. And I’d like you to just talk a bit about what you mean by it.

Hugo Morales: Well, what I mean is that it’s authentic, you know. We’re not hiding anything. <laughs> We’re broadcasting to our own people, and they know what’s authentic and what’s not. And also that it’s a forum where people can call and feel comfortable and feel welcome. For example, right now we have a radio show. It’s a very high-ranking-- yeah, a highly-listened-to radio show on Sundays that teachers, indigenous Mixteco and other indigenous music from southern Mexico, mostly Oaxaca, Terrero, and Veracruz and Puebla. And so this music is the real thing, and it’s authentic. It’s honest. We’re very honest about our people. We treasure and highlight those treasures among our own tribe and our own sectors. But we also accept the voices, you know. I mean we have, for example, our Poet Laureate come on national talk show, and he invites people, has invited people to the longest poem in the U.S.

Jo Reed: That’s Juan Felipe Herrara

Hugo Morales: Correct. So here we are on Radio Bilingue, and people are calling in, farm workers or teachers or doctors or-- farm workers calling in and reciting their own versus, you know. So that becomes the poem. It’s that kind of voice, those kind of voices that is so important. And also we feature not just indigenous music but Tejano and with downhome Tejano music, you know, of Conjunto, and the music that’s been tradition of the border, Veracruz, mariachi, and other genres. And so that’s what the authenticity is, is the voices and the music of the people.

Jo Reed: Hugo, I know independent radio and starting a radio station is not easy. And how did you work to make this happen? <laughs> Tell me about that.

Hugo Morales: You know, that’s very, very <laughs> interesting. You know, well, for me, I didn’t realize how, I didn’t know how I was-- how bold I was when I was 13 when I came out of the hospital, and I set sights on doing something meaningful. But I really had the idea that I could do anything. <laughs> I wanted to read now and do. And now obviously as an adult, I realize <laughs> that was not possible, but at that time I really believed it. And I think that blind energy, <laughs> shall we say, boldness, like wanted to go to Stanford, wanted to go to Harvard, you know, or Berkeley, or go to college, period, that’s pretty bold. And I didn’t realize <laughs> how difficult it was to get in. You know, I didn’t look at the statistics. But I think it’s that boldness so that when I graduated Harvard Law I was thinking, well, god, I can do anything. And so what I did is with no money I just read up on what could be done to build a station, and that’s how I did it. And then I had a lot of faith in the local community here. I heard through the grapevine there was a high school student, a 15 year old who said he could build a station but nobody would believe him. So I went to his high school and said, “Hey, you know how to build a station?” And he said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” <laughs> So his father was a chief engineer for the local ABC affiliate, and so he’s the one that actually did it. And then on fundraising, you know, I still had-- my parents were organizers, so I come from a long line of community organizers, and they had organized dances and so on. My father had a band and so on. They raised money for scholarships and a funeral fund, so I thought I would do that because I wanted to have independent airwaves. I did not want to depend on corporations for funding, thinking that money would corrupt. So what was happening is this other farm worker that I told you went to Harvard with was in between Stanford School of Education and Law School. And he came back to Fresno in between those two schools and said-- and then he told me how he could help. And so I told him I needed help, <laughs> and he says, “Well, you know what you really need help is in fundraising.” He says, “You can't raise money on menudo breakfasts like you are and all these small dances with volunteers. You really need to go to foundations.” And that’s where the whole, how would I say, building a different-- literally a different paradigm for independent Latino radio began. And, essentially, many parts didn’t come from me but from people who chose to help me.

Jo Reed: Now, is the station, or was the station then staffed by volunteers, and did you find volunteers from the community to come in and run the board, have shows? How do you work out the staffing?

Hugo Morales: Yeah, so we began the broadcasting July 4th, 1980, and we chose July 4th 1980, again, First Amendment and Independence and being American. And so what we did, just like you said, we began with volunteers. I really believe in volunteers on voices and so on, so that’s what we did. But we also learned about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They insisted on five people being paid, and so what we did is we got some seeder money, and this is government job training program money, and that’s how we began with a small grant for five people to get training <laughs> in radio including myself. We all got minimum wage jobs, and that’s where we began. And we used to train-- you know, we trained over 1,000 people. These were farm workers, there was janitors, these were packing house workers, lawyers, teachers. We trained all these folks in radio in the eighties. It was an incredible experience to be part of that and be the leader of that. And so it was-- it was the voices. In other words, we took the voices of the local people, and also what was interesting, it was all young people. Nobody was older than me. We were all, <laughs> when we went on the air we were about 30 years old, and they were all 30 and younger and we’re all under five-six, <laughs> and so--

Jo Reed: <laughs> You know, you grew this into a network, which is extraordinary. All of you did. I understand it’s a group effort. But is it a bit challenging when suddenly it’s 24 radio stations as opposed to one for everybody to have the same mission and have the same goal?

Hugo Morales: Well, one of the things that keeps us grounded is the fact that it’s live interactive. When I came to Fresno, Fresno’s like most cities in the world and in the United States, are subrogated. There’s neighborhoods that are for poor people and neighborhoods that are for the well-to-do. So I chose to live among the poor people, so that was very important to me, to be able to live among-- continue to live among poor people, earn minimum wage, and so <laughs> I wouldn’t lose that perspective. And to build a culture including within myself that this is not my radio station. This is a community station, which is very much the indigenous tradition. You know, we in our indigenous villages have a tradition of tekio which is essentially a volunteer system, and that’s how we have kept our communities alive and functioning, with volunteer mayors, volunteer secretaries, volunteer school committee, whatever, all volunteers. So that’s how I grew with that culture, and so we’ve had really good luck about having board members and staff that believe in that mission. And so we’ve had incredible, like I said, opportunities to do that. And we’re tested from time to time, you know, like right now in the pandemic. Again, it shows the value of community radio and authentic Latino voices being a trusted messenger. We cannot be trusted if the voices that are on the air are not trusted voices, and they’re <laughs> trusted voices because they come from the community. People identify with them. And it’s not just their voice but the way they speak, also their-- you know, the cultural references, their lifestyle, all that is from the community, and so that makes it a very powerful platform for engagement. And the music, <laughs> I mean incredible. The music they can't hear anywhere else, right? I mean, you know, and it goes very deep into these genres, whether it be Mixteco music or whether it be Tejano, Conjunto, whether it be mariachi, you know. There’s no station like they’ve been in Mexico for mariachi <laughs> or for indigenous music in Oaxaca, you know. They have to come here to the U.S. to enjoy it. So, in fact, we have listeners in Mexico City, <laughs> indigenous people who tune in because they can't get anything like that in Mexico. So, anyway, so that’s very, very important for us. So in the pandemic, it makes all of us, whether it’s myself, whether it’s the staff, volunteers appreciate what we do. I mean we have people, for example, impromptu, almost daily, saying, “You know, you folks provide information we can't get anywhere else.”

Jo Reed: I think sometimes it is frequently underestimated that-- just completely contradicted myself. I’ll take that again. I think it is frequently underestimated how much, when you hear your own culture coming at you through the airwaves and you hear Tejano or mariachi or any of the musics that you play. And the way it just affirms your identity, and in a time like Covid, something like that, it’s ineffable, but it just-- I don't know, it just-- it’s like a kind hand on your back.

Hugo Morales: Oh, yes. You know, even for the pandemic, we’ve had testimonials by people, particularly the elderly, calling in and saying, “You know, I wake up to Radio Bilingue every morning. <laughs> It makes me feel good,” you know? Or we also have people like from the Bay Area who drive into the San Juaquin Valley, and that put Radio Bilingue on on Sundays for their children to listen to and say, “Folks, this is real Mexican Chicano radio. This is indigenous people radio.” And they tell us about how proud they are that they’re able to have a platform where their children can be educated about what the real world is for farm workers and for the Latino community that are working class or working families.

Jo Reed: Well, but you’ve also opened up Radio Bilingue because there are shows, for example, the Hmong or Filipinos or African Caribbean traditional music. They also have a home there.

Hugo Morales: That is correct, and we have done that. We had a Filipino show when we first opened up here in Fresno throughout the eighties until the gentleman passed. And then we were the first radio station to offer the Hmong, who have a high concentration here in the San Juaquin Valley, to have their own radio show. And it wasn’t <laughs> somebody else doing their show. We literally trained them just like we trained everybody else to speak for themselves through the medium. And they-- so we were the first radio show, Hmong radio, in the western hemisphere, Radio Bilingue. And then African-Americans find a friendly platform here and so on. I mean it’s-- I’m just really, really proud of that, and I think part of it came from being in the labor camp and growing up with African-American children, poor white kids who were often called Okies in school, and identifying with them and saying, you know, hey, we have resources here. Why don’t we share? And I think that’s the attitude that we take at Radio Bilingue, and I wish we could do more.

Jo Reed: When you look at the work you’ve all done at Radio Bilingue, what gives you the most happiness, the most satisfaction, do you think?

Hugo Morales: Wow, there’s a lot of things. One of them is the information. It is incredible, the amount of information that we’ve given out that is very-- you know, so important, not just-- well, first of all, the basic information, like during the pandemic, where do you get your testing at. You know, what is <laughs> the virus, you know, all this basic information that in the mainstream is well-known, but to the working families that do not speak English, it’s very difficult to get to. But also to be able to build that platform where you can have an educated engagement about policy, and to have farm workers <laughs> talking to their congressman or the local city council person or a school board member or activists that are organizing around the environment or around the arts, or to have a conversation between Nati Cano, the great <laughs> mariachero with people that enjoy his music. Same with Flaco Jimenez and all those folk.

Jo Reed: I love Flaco.

Hugo Morales: Yeah. <laughs> So you have these. You know, and then you also have not Flaco Jimenez, but some of the more local unknown artists, shall we say, so that’s what we do. And these festivals we did with mariachi spanning over 20 years annually and a decade of Tejano Norteno concerts as well, live. And the promotion of this music, highlighting it on 24 of our own, 24/7, and then having 70 other affiliates around the country, it’s just incredible to have done that. I think that’s-- to me, to hear those voices, to feel people identify that, identify with that, and you can hear it through the testimonials of people calling, it’s-- and participating, it’s just an incredible, how would I say, achievement. And I know it’s a team effort, you know. There’s no way that I could’ve done it. And, frankly, when I was 13 years old, I thought it was <laughs> a one-man show, but I quickly learned was that it’s not a one-man show. It really is a team effort, and we’ve been blessed with an incredible supportive board but also incredible generations of volunteers, thousands, literally, and then generations of staff that have been so committed and professional and committed to the mission but also committed to the organization. I feel we’re really, truly blessed.

Jo Reed:. Okay. And, finally, being named a National Heritage Fellow, what does that mean for you, Hugo?

Hugo Morales: Well, first of all, you know, I cannot really place myself in that category. It’s hard for me to, how would I say, to accept that I’m in that way special, you know, because there’s just so many wonderful people who are doing incredible work. But I think for me it’s more about institutional recognition by the National Endowment of the Arts. To be an immigrant in the U.S. at this time, to be recognized, to me that means a lot. And, also, I think it means a lot for community radio, a validation of the model of community radio, community supported radio being authentic radio for authentic voices, independent radio. And then also living cultures and the value of immigrants and the value of diversity and respect for others: diverse people woven together by a common goal to make their communities better and to be one community of diversity, that that can thrive and exist and be functional <laughs> and operate, and Radio Bilingue is an example of that. I really appreciate that, Radio Bilingue is recognized by a national institution like the National Endowment for the Arts.

Jo Reed: Well, Hugo, it’s so well-deserved for everyone who’s worked on Radio Bilingue, which is a gift to the country, so many, many thanks, and thank you for giving me your time.

Hugo Morales: Thank you.

Jo Reed: That was the founder and executive director of Radio Bilingüe and the 2020 Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellow Hugo Morales

Because of the pandemic, the annual celebration of the new class of National Heritage Fellows will take place virtually this year.

Details will be available shortly at arts.gov. You've been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. And don’t forget to subscribe to Art Works and leave us a rating on Apple it helps people to find us. And follow us on twitter @NEAarts.

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Stay safe. Stay Kind. And thanks for listening.

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