The goal of the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists is to help newsrooms better reflect the diverse population of Texas. The organization is comprised of local journalists, public relations professionals, students, and others interested in the communications industry.

Our goals are to give away scholarships to students to help foster diversity in media and storytelling, provide networking opportunities for Latinos in journalism and communications careers, develop Latino leaders in journalism, and be an advocate for coverage of minority populations including that of Latinos.

In 1987, few journalists of color worked in San Antonio media outlets despite the city was then – as it remains today – one of the most Latino of larger U.S. cities. In that climate, the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists was organized to increase and foster the number of Hispanic journalists in the city’s newsrooms.

Its founding members were Enedelia Obregon, president; Rossanna Salazar, vice president; Dino Chiecchi as secretary; and Javier Rodriguez, treasurer. Within a few months of forming though, Chiecchi became president after three of its officers left for jobs elsewhere.

The group has survived over the years and had early members that were instrumental in shepherding its development: Jessie Degollado, Thomas Edwards, Matt Flores, Nora Lopez, John Rosales, Joe Sandoval, David Sedeno, Bill Spehn and Isabelle Valle.

At the time, a newspaper editor noted sarcastically that SAAHJ’s membership could fit in a restaurant booth. The comment energized the group, spurring membership drives. Within a few short years, more than 50 members were recruited and the group earned its tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

As of early 2014, SAAHJ has more than 60 active members, along with a communications network of over 365 people who receive our outreach letters and help support our events.

Throughout its history, SAAHJ has taken on a wide range of projects in addition to its annual scholarship gala that has become its marquee event as the group believes the best way to keep journalism and media alive and thriving is to help get the next generation through college and onto their first internships and jobs.

SAAHJ hosted a regional conference co-sponsored with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, with whom the local organization supports their mission although not formally a chapter of NAHJ. SAAHJ has also organized a writing contest for high school students, and sponsored a softball match between the San Antonio Express-News and San Antonio Light to raise scholarship funds when the city had two daily newspapers.

Over the years, SAAHJ has awarded almost $200,000 in scholarships, and in 2014 plans to award the most ever in one year with $30,000 going to students. Dozens of scholarship winners have entered journalism and communications, including the first two chosen: Eddie Leos and Nancy Gonzalez. Its current president, Francisco Vara-Orta, won four consecutive scholarships between 2002 and 2006 that helped him become the first person in his family to get through college and later land jobs in several newsrooms before taking SAAHJ’s helm.

More recently, SAAHJ has branched out to sponsor film screenings, mixers, lectures, fashion events and partnering with other locally active journalism groups such as the Society of Professional Journalists and San Antonio Association of Black Journalists.

Today, the group has seen diversity take root in newsrooms across San Antonio since SAAHJ started nearly three decades ago. The Express-News staff is more than 30 percent Latino, with many more radio and television reporters of Latino heritage, including some primetime anchors.

2014 will be a grand year as for SAAHJ as it will partner with NAHJ on its first ever national conference in the Alamo City. It will mark the occasion by incorporating its gala into the conference and give away $30,000 in scholarships – the largest amount ever in one year – in commemoration of NAHJ’s 30th year in existence.

– Contributions from Dino Chiecchi, Elaine Ayala, and Francisco Vara-Orta, January 2014