Eva Martinez moved back to her native San Francisco in 1989, four years after moving to Los Angeles with her new husband, a labor organizer. The marriage hadn’t worked out, so she and her 14-year-old son, Dionisio, were on their own again.
Martinez left behind a job at Cal State Los Angeles. She had always managed to move from job to job easily enough within nonprofits and academia, but the recession seemed to douse that run of luck; she had applied to 15 positions at San Francisco State University, and she received no word from anyone.
Still, when a consumer support group called her about a position, Martinez said no. She was waiting for a call from Jon Funabiki about the office manager position at SFSU’s newest program, the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism (CIIJ). As a lifelong activist, she had been excited about melding her passion for community work and her respect for journalism.
Twelve years later, she still hasn’t quite gotten over the suspense of waiting for Funabiki’s call. “I never forgave him,” Martinez laughs.
Martinez likely will be as thorough in finding her own replacement as CIIJ’s executive director. The job has grown enormously since former SFSU journalism chair Betty Medsger, the first woman on the faculty’s tenure track, founded the center. The program set out to stem the flow of students who were leaving the profession before they even had a chance to begin. Most disturbing, students of color were changing majors at a higher rate than other students.
With approval from the faculty and a grant from what is now The Freedom Forum, CIIJ started in a small office with one executive director, one student assistant, an old “army issue” desk and two gunmetal gray file cabinets.
The cabinets still anchor a corner of Martinez’s neat cubicle space, but the center has grown in both size and scope since its inception. Its core-mentoring program has gone from 30 coaches to nearly 250. CIIJ also has maintained its summer journalism program for teens, expanded its campus job fair to a regional recruiting ground and hosts a weeklong newspaper boot camp for high school teachers. On a national level, it oversees the News Watch Project, a biannual magazine and Web site in collaboration with various ethnic and gay journalism member organizations, and runs the contest judging for New California Media, an alliance of the state’s ethnic media.
Martinez nurtured the program under two executive directors until she finally assumed that role herself three years ago. Now, although her last day is May 31, she already has been working part time since December on her next position: executive director of Acción Latina, located in the heart of San Francisco’s heavily Hispanic Mission District. Formed in conjunction with San Francisco’s oldest running bilingual newspaper, the El Tecolote, Acción Latina promotes Latino cultural arts while the biweekly focuses on local issues and international politics.
The indefatigable activist admits she’s “a little tired,” but she refers not to her schedule but her readiness to move on. Martinez never expected to stay for 12 years at CIIJ – a long time nowadays in journalism-related pursuits – and she certainly never expected to fall into a career.
“I really want to go back to the community,” she said. “Maybe it was turning 50.” Martinez has always been involved in community projects; for a “Latina from the Avenues” growing up in the largely white Sunset district, she has done everything from working at a summer Head Start program at age 19 to political theater to working in a performance company promoting Brazilian dance.
Martinez said it’s time for someone else’s vision to bring CIIJ to the next level. She leaves heartened by the recognition that diversity – from race to disability to religion – has become a professional goal among news organizations.
“At the same time,” she said, “I think it’s the same old story.” Diversity programs are the first to go in a troubled economy. Minorities haven’t penetrated in significant numbers at the management level. Another problem is the divide between the mainstream and ethnic press.
“The ethnic media has been growing by leaps and bounds,” she said. Still, an “elitist” mainstream press has largely ignored them as a resource. “There needs to be some link between those two that can’t be parasitic.”
As Acción Latina’s executive director, she’ll be working with El Tecolote. Largely run by volunteers – some of whom work for papers such as the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times – the biweekly has reported overlooked issues. A series on the dangers resulting from a lack of Spanish-speaking staff prompted San Francisco General to hire translators.
Ironically, Martinez’s self-consciousness about her lack of mainstream journalism experience held her back when Funabiki left the position of executive director of CIIJ. By the time his replacement, Ivan Roman, left the center, she was ready to step from behind the scenes.
“‘I can do this. I can do this now,’” Martinez recalled thinking to herself. She attributes her success to her ability to recognize her own ignorance. “I’m very clear on what I don’t know. I try to bring people in who do know,” she said.
Although Martinez won’t miss the bureaucracy, she said she would miss the students, especially those who have that “spark (and) buy into the greater cause of journalism.” Many have become her friends, as have those who have inspired her, like Medsger and Funabiki.
But Martinez said there’s also plenty to accomplish in her new position, and she looks forward to renewing old ties within the Latino community.
“It’s kind of selfish in me,” she said. “I like to be around people who are dedicated to some cause. I don’t know – am I some groupie?”
Vera H-C Chan, a former features reporter at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a free-lance writer and budding author.