From his experience as a migrant farmworker to becoming the host of ABC's "What Would You Do?", broadcast journalist John Quiñones kicked off the first day of Texas State's Diversity and First-Gen Week with a discussion on adversity, journalism and family as Common Experience's LBJ Distinguished Lecture Series speaker Nov. 9.
Streamed virtually via YouTube Live, the event had 1,289 live viewers making it the 9th largest event in Common Experience history. The event began with an introduction by President Denise Trauth who discussed Quiñones' accomplishments and career. Moderator and Texas State alumna, Dalyah Jones took over for questions on Quiñones' life and legacy.
Quiñones began by discussing his roots on the westside of San Antonio and how living in poverty impacted him growing up.
"We didn't have much, my father made $50 a week as a janitor and I used to shine shoes on Guadalupe St. in San Antonio for 10 cents a pair to help contribute something to the family," Quiñones said. "When I was 13, my dad was laid off from work as a janitor and we wound up doing what a lot of Latino families in south Texas had to do—we became migrant farmworkers."
As a migrant farmworker, Quiñones said he and his family learned not only the value of unity in difficult times but also realized the importance of receiving an education.
"I'll never forget being on my knees on the cold, hard ground at six in the morning with my father Bruno looking at a row of tomato plants; a young 13-year-old boy's eyes seemed to go on for miles and miles, that's what I had to look forward to that day," Quiñones said. "And my father Bruno looking down and saying, 'Juanito, do you want to do this kind of work for the rest of your life? Or do you want to get a college education someday?' It was a no-brainer; I knew I didn't want to do that kind of back-breaking work for the rest of my life, but no one believed in me."
Quiñones is a first-generation college graduate from St. Mary's University where he received a bachelor of arts in speech communication and later received a master's from the Columbia University School of Journalism. He said his involvement in programs like Upward Bound gave him the direction he needed to be successful in college and life.
During his time in Upward Bound, he got the opportunity to visit universities like Texas State and experience first-hand what college is really like.
To this day, Quiñones said he owes his career to Upward Bound and continues to support them by traveling to Washington and testifying on behalf of the program when the government threatens to cut it due to low funding.
Before his 38 year tenure at ABC News, Quiñones was a radio news editor at KTRH radio, an anchor-news reporter at KPRC-TV in Houston and a reporter at WBBM-TV in Chicago. Throughout his career, he has won seven Emmy awards for his work in programs like "Primetime Live," "Burning Questions" and "20/20". He is now in the 14th season of his show "What Would You Do?".
The way in which diversity and inclusion have changed in the journalism industry is a motivating factor for Quiñones to continue his career.
"Finally people are saying we haven't done things right," Quiñones said. "Now we're hiring people in the decision making position ranks of Disney and ABC News because it's not just having John Quiñones this Latino on the air but it's having someone in New York who actually assigns John Quiñones to go do that story, a person of color because they're the ones who are making the decisions."
As Quiñones prepares for what lies ahead in journalism, his three children continue to follow in his footsteps by stepping into the industry themselves. Julian Quiñones is a producer for CNN's docuseries "The Wonder List" while Andrea Quiñones works behind the scenes of MTV's "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant" in New York. Nicco Quiñones is a producer and filmmaker who creates documentaries in Miami.
Quiñones' advice to his kids and to those interested in becoming journalists is not to worry about fame and fortune, but to focus on telling stories that are unique and can change the world.
"Journalists, he or she, is the person with the little candle or the little flashlight in the dark and they can shine it on the darkest corners of the room to illuminate injustice, to illuminate corruption and civil rights violations and human rights violations," he said. "When journalism is done right, those are the kinds of stories that we should be telling, those are the kinds of stories that I am proudest of; going into places where no one else has gone, shining a light on the darkness, giving a voice to people who don't have a voice, not only speaking to the movers and the shakers of the world but to the moved and the shaken."