For more than two decades, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has recognized news leaders whose efforts have improved news coverage of the country’s Hispanic and Latino communities at the organization’s annual Hall of Fame Gala.
At the 2023 celebration, held in Miami, the organization honored two borer reporters, the daughter of Cuban immigrants who made waves in television news and an investigative journalist who exposed corruption in Latin America and the United States.
Alfredo Corchado and Angela Kocherga made NAHJ history this year as the first married couple to be inducted into the Hall of Fame together. They met in 1989 and got married last year. They have collaborated on many stories together, including some for The Dallas Morning News.
While they’ve worked together covering the border, helping each other along the way, Kocherga said they have always been on separate journeys in their careers and don’t like being seen as extensions of one another.
Corchado said journalism wasn’t his first choice for a career. He was a farm worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California with his family when he was a child, and he didn’t know he could do more. When he watched the 1975 film, “Shampoo,” he thought about becoming a hairdresser. It wasn’t until he arrived at the University of Texas-El Paso that he dared to dream bigger.
An aptitude test and encouragement from an advisor changed that. This test determined Corchado’s career when the results came back and his advisor pushed him to look into becoming a foreign correspondent.
He had a desire to reconnect with his Mexican roots, and took his career to the southern U.S. border. Working in Ciudad Juárez, he reported on the rise of a paramilitary group, the Zetas. He eventually became the Mexico bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News.
In the beginning, though, his parents weren’t fully on board. They were skeptical that journalism could be a viable career.
“The first thing they said to me when I told them what I was going to study was, ‘¿Y cuánto paga eso?’” he said.
One of his biggest struggles as a foreign correspondent was coming to terms with the lack of safety that Mexican journalists were afforded — compared to their American counterparts, he says. “Era vergonzoso. It was shameful knowing I had safety they didn’t, just because I had a little blue passport.”
That only pushed him to work harder, realizing the responsibility he had to help give some people a voice, he said.
He said he considered leaving the industry early in his career, discouraged by trying to fit in as a Latino working in a field dominated by white journalists. But the National Association of Hispanic Journalists kept him motivated to stay.
NAHJ has been a family for Corchado since he joined in 1985. Over the years, he has recruited other Hispanic and Latino journalists.
Corchado said he was deeply grateful not only for the honor of being inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame, but also for the motivation that NAHJ has given him to remain in the industry.
Angela Kocherga left her home in Mexico to study journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, where she realized that she could better elevate the stories of her home country from the United States. She’s spent her career focusing on border issues including migration, border security buildup and other binational issues.
She grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, where began her practice of chronicling the world around her by taking notes of community happenings in small journals. She participated in her high school newspaper and figured out that journalism would be how she could bring vital information to the world.
As a child, she didn’t know what her work would look like or where it would take her, but after she left Mexico, it became obvious that she needed to report on the issues she had seen as a little girl. She knew that she could do more than the Mexican journalists she worked alongside with, and felt a sense of responsibility to tackle stories that Mexican journalists “are not able to,” she said.
The stories she’s covered have been painful. She has written about migrant children and family separation along the border under the Trump administration. When she covered stories about cartels in Juárez, Mexico, she chose to focus more on how border violence impacted families and less on cartels themselves.
Stories like those can be emotionally taxing, she said. Still, she believes the role of journalists is to put their personal feelings aside for the sake of the story, although she is glad that journalists are being more aware of the trauma they endure.
Kocherga, an Emmy-winning multimedia journalist, has served as the news director at KTEP and Borderzine, and she has been a multimedia editor at ElPasoMatters.org.
Kocherga said she’s grateful to be inducted into the Hall of Fame by her peers, who feel like family. She believes it’s a privilege to cover both sides of the border.
“Bilingual, binational journalists are needed now more than ever,” she said. “Especially in leadership roles.”
Lori Montenegro, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami by two immigrant parents who did not graduate high school, said she didn’t feel like she had the luxury of aspiring to greatness. The only thing she ever briefly considered was being a teacher or helping her parents with their business.
She attended private school up until the eighth grade. After then, her parents couldn’t afford it and Montenegro didn’t make plans for college.
“I just figured, ‘No hay dinero para eso,‘” Montenegro said.
Still, her mother encouraged her to attend. When she got to Miami Dade College, she chose to focus on journalism. She just figured, “why not?” she said. Montenegro entered the field with no expectations, but quickly learned the work that she’d be doing was serious.
“I had a professor early on tell me that this was not a game,” Montenegro said. “This was serious business.”
She got her start in radio, often the only person and woman of color in the newsroom, she said. At times, she would walk into an interview and simply be asked when she could start the job without any conversation about her qualifications. She said that it bothered her to be seen as a token.
“Me chocó. At my second job, the manager didn’t even know if I could write,” she said. “He saw a woman, a Black woman and a Latina and that was enough for him.”
It wasn’t until her third job that she began reflecting on what her role as a journalist was.
With no previous television experience, she began her on-screen career at Channel 51 in Miami. Montenegro then worked as a foreign political affairs correspondent for the United States Information Agency. She is now the D.C. Bureau Chief for Noticias Telemundo.
Montenegro said she didn’t think much about what it meant to be one of the first Afro-Latinas on television at the time that she was hired.
“She was just focused on the stories she was working on,” said Erika Angulo of NBC Nightly News, her longtime friend. “If people were criticizing her, she was tuning them out.”
The best part of being inducted into the NAHJ Hall of Fame, she said, is that the recognition is coming from her peers. She knows the recognition isn’t because of the color of her skin but for her contributions to the community of Latino .
“It’s humbling, and a call to action for me to keep going, no matter where I’m at,” Montenegro said. “This is the mandate, to keep going.”
Enrique Flor Zapler, who is being honored posthumously, was described by his friends as an excellent father, friend and journalist. In every role he took in his life, his loved ones said he was a luchador.
Zapler, died in March at 50-years-old from complications from a stroke. Longtime friend and former colleague, Erika Carrillo, who nominated Zapler, said he provided motivation for everyone he worked with.
“Cuando uno de sus colegas estaba enfrentando una privación, siempre motivo que siguieran con la lucha,” she said.
Passionate about bringing social justice to communities, he focused his work on investigating corruption. Many of his stories inspired change. After working on an investigative project, “Nightmare Condos,” about electoral fraud on the boards of directors of condominium associations, embezzlement and fraudulent bids to award contracts, condominium laws in Florida were changed.
He exposed many other stories of corruption in Peru, where he got his start, and in the United States. He did so by building rapport with individuals at several institutions, longtime friend and former colleague Sarah Moreno said. During his career he worked in investigations for El Comercio in Peru, Sun Sentinel and El Nuevo Herald in Florida.
He loved collaborating with others. He motivated local Spanish-speaking journalists to immerse themselves in investigations because he was driven by a desire to grow Spanish-language investigations.
“Les diría que tenían que ser valiente,” Carrillo said. “Que había muchos cobardes en el mundo y que uno como periodista tenía que ser valiente.”
The loves of his life were his daughter Mariana, his mother and journalism, Carrillo said. They motivated him to improve him physical health.
“Kike se fue peleando,” Carrillo said, referring to him by his nickname. “Siempre fue luchador.”
Evelyn Mejia is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln majoring in journalism with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a fellow at The Flatwater Free Press and aspires to become an investigative reporter. Reach her at evelynmejiasal [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter at @evelynmejiaaa.