Lori Lizarraga’s journey to joining NPR’s Code Switch
The award-winning Latina journalist was named as a co-host for the award-winning podcast in September.
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Lori Lizarraga grew up in an environment in which she would describe as one with “a lot of intersections and crosses of identity and culture.”
As part of the dynamic of growing up in an Ecuadorian-Mexican-American household in Texas, she felt that her upbringing was unique.
However, as she has gotten older, traveled to different parts of the world, and experienced various cultures, she’s learned that she can actually identify with a lot of different people.
“In some way, I feel like I have something in common with everyone,” said Lizarraga during an interview with AL DÍA.
Family has always been a big part of Lizarraga’s life and upbringing growing up. As she got older, she gradually got the opportunity to meet and get to know more and more of her family members.
While she was a part of what she’d call a more traditional Latino household, she’d find uniqueness in that when she was outside the confines of her home, she’d sometimes be the only Latina, only Mexican, and most often, the only Ecuadorian, in the room.
However, in 2016, she went to live in Ecuador — where her mother was born and raised — for a year, which was an eye-opening experience for her.
She expressed how it allowed her to feel a sense of belonging. It made her feel like she fit in as a contrast to standing out.
“It was special, nice, and sort of a first-time experience for me,” said Lizarraga.
All of the code-switching that has often taken place for her depending on which room she was in or which group of people surrounded her, has led her to the role she is taking on now.
Falling Into Journalism
Since beginning her professional career after graduating from Southern Methodist University, Lizarraga has become a notable journalist.
However, being a journalist was never something she aspired to be, or even thought was a possibility.
“I found it much later during college, my second semester junior year,” said Lizarraga.
She immediately fell in love with journalism, and has remained in it ever since.
“I think the reasons that I’ve stuck with it sort of resonate more with how I grew up, who I want to see in [the] news and whose stories I want to tell,” said Lizarraga.
“Once I realized how powerful the platform of journalism is and the news industry can be, that has been what has driven my career since I’ve been in it,” she added.
If she had to point to a specific instance that drove her to community journalism, however, it would be her time in Ecuador, where she spent her final semester of college.
About a month before she was set to return to the U.S. to walk for graduation, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador, killing more than 600 and leaving over 6,000 others severely injured.
Originally planning to return to the states for graduation and then pursue her next career opportunity, Lizarraga instead returned to Ecuador after graduation to help raise money and lead medical supply missions for those affected.
The experience brought Lizarraga to the realization that the most effective way for her to shine a light on the situation that people in Ecuador, and elsewhere, were facing was to develop a reputation as a journalist.
From there, she charted that path.
A Latina in a Traditional Newsroom
When Lizarraga returned to the states full-time, she did so as a reporter with a station in Bakersfield, California, and later another one in Denver, Colorado.
It was her time in Denver — and the subsequent aftermath of her time — that became a source of news nationwide.
Lizarraga shared that often experienced discrimination during her time working in newsrooms.
“I think the circumstances that I was up against in that newsroom are, unfortunately, similar to a lot of people’s experiences in newsrooms, or just in professional American workspaces,” she said.
The concept of entering into a newsroom that had been run one particular way for a long time — albeit successfully — was not lost on her.
However, it still didn’t sit right with her.
“It just didn’t identify and encompass me and the communities that I felt I represented,” Lizarraga added.
However, she stuck with it because she always kept in mind those she did the work for.
In her words, it was about “knowing who benefitted so many times from such good, important, thorough journalism, and using that platform and the reputation and the audience in the reach that 9News has built over the years.”
When the social justice movement was spurred by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Lizarraga was keen on how crucial it was for communities of color to have someone in the newsroom who would advocate for their perspectives, experiences, and ordeals.
In March 2021, she was terminated from the station. Just weeks later, she published an editorial piece highlighting the situations she experienced during her time, igniting a national conversation surrounding the importance of representation in the news and media industry.
Over a year removed from that, she has had time to reflect on those experiences.
“The work is always hard, and I think that in this case, there were challenges that made it harder that didn’t necessarily have to be there,” Lizarraga said.
“Because the work was so effective, though, that was sort of the thing that always made it worth it,” she added.
A Fresh Start with NPR’s Code Switch
After the dust settled from that chapter of her life and career, Lizarraga decided to move to Philadelphia during the summer of 2021.
“I really can’t think of any other place that would have taken me in and adopted me… and let me come to a place where I wanted to both rest and heal and reflect, but [also] move on,” she highlighted. “Philly was the perfect place for all of that.”
In the meantime, Lizarraga did some freelance work and spoke on various panels, while she contemplated what the next career opportunity could be.
In September 2022, that next full-time career opportunity was finalized when she was announced as the newest co-host of NPR’s Code Switch.
The award-winning podcast is hosted by journalists of color who explore the ways in which race affects every part of our society.
“I’m a fan of the show,” Lizarraga said. “It’s served me in such important times in my life… hearing language that nobody else in the rooms I was in, was using.”
Through the show, she learned that there were others out there who also had times when they felt conflicted emotionally when confronted with the intersections between race, identity, and culture.
It helped her gain more confidence in speaking about those kinds of issues.
Now, she is a part of the show and able to incorporate her own experiences and perspectives, helping bring in an even bigger audience.
“This particular role on this particular team has presented me with an opportunity to do the two things that I am good at and that I love in one place and in one role,” said Lizarraga.
As she embarks on this new journey, Lizarraga looks most toward bringing her Latinidad, culture, background and heritage to the table, and letting her lived experiences guide the important conversations she is now going to be a part of.
“This is a space where I will really, for the first time, get a chance to not be the teacher in the room, but to be the taught and able to ask questions… and be really thoughtful over circumstances, situations or experiences in my life that maybe feel normal to me because that’s what I’ve grown up around, but deserves to be delved into and dissected a little to understand them better in a new light and a new lens,” said Lizarraga.
This new platform with NPR’s Code Switch affords her the opportunity to do just that.
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