When she came to visit family in Salinas in 1987, Delia Saldivar didn’t plan to stay. She intended to go back home to Zacatecas, Mexico, for Christmas, but her ride didn’t materialize. She ended up enrolling in English classes at Hartnell College, and discovered radio by accident.
She has been through boom and bust times at KHDC (90.9 FM), including bankruptcy by the previous owner before the station was acquired by Radio Bilingüe, which was founded in 1976 in Fresno. Today, the nonprofit owns and operates 12 stations in California and the West, reaching more than 500,000 listeners a week, and airs via satellite on more than 100 other stations, delivering a combination of Spanish – and English-language news and music.
Saldivar, who earned a degree in business administration in Mexico and a bachelor’s in human communications at CSU Monterey Bay, has done basically every job at Radio Biilingüe as positions have been cut. She started out in fundraising then moved on to grantwriting before getting into news and programming. Today, Saldivar, 53, is the Salinas station manager and one of two employees at the Oldtown office; the other, Chuy Ramirez, was a participant in Alta Tu Voz, an afterschool program for teens Saldivar started and that Ramirez now runs.
Saldivar spoke to the Weekly from her studio about radio, Salinas and her own story.
Weekly: How did you get involved in radio?
Saldivar: I was taking English classes at Hartnell College, and a professor said, “You have a nice voice. Can you please record a poem for me in Spanish?” I went to the station, and the person who was supposed to host a talkshow program about amnesty wasn’t there. The manager said, “Can you please do me a favor. Just introduce this person.”
Then [he] told me, come back tomorrow. And I started coming every day to do the show. I had just arrived to Salinas a few months ago. I went to Hartnell from 8am-1pm, and I worked at McDonald’s on the East side from 6pm-4am.
When did you sleep?
I used to live with my aunt, and I had a corner in the closet. I preferred not to be at home because it was so crowded. I started eating at McDonald’s. But I would walk from the East side to Hartnell – it was like an hour, an hour and a half – so I didn’t gain weight.
You stuck with radio as a profession. What changed?
First I just did it for a job, because I needed to earn some money. I stayed because of the issues. When I was studying social science in Mexico, I was like a little comunista. I started seeing all the trouble immigrants face – not only immigrants, but their daughters and sons who tried to fit in but couldn’t.
What local news stories aren’t being told?
The struggle farmworkers are facing. We’re not talking about how immigration is changing the way we live. Right now, businesses are bringing a lot of [temporary] H2A visa workers, and those workers are invisible.
And the Affordable Care Act; people are going to a doctor and wait there for eight hours, or it takes two months to get an appointment. It doesn’t matter if people have Medi-Cal, because specialists won’t take it. [You need] private insurance.
You host two programs each week, on health and race. What are you learning about race from Hablando de la Raza?
The other day, we did a show about profiling when you are driving. [A colleague] told me about one of his friends who was stopped by a policeman, and he asked for his social security number.
Are we talking about race enough?
No, we don’t. We stay quiet, because we feel embarrassed.
Does talking about it on the radio help?
Yes, because people share their experience. Before this renovation of [the Taylor building, Maya Cinemas and other new buildings in] Oldtown, it was all Latinos. Little by little, they are pushing. They are making Oldtown Salinas white. I don’t see that as wrong. But why not have a plaza, so people from East Salinas can come and enjoy, and bring together Salinas? Instead, they are separating it.
What do you like to listen to?
I like folk music, it doesn’t matter from which country. I grew up listening to ranchera and banda on a little rancho in Mexico. We didn’t have electricity, water, TV, anything.