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Alarcón Discusses the Importance of Sharing Spanish Language Stories

When Daniel Alarcón had a negative experience working on a BBC documentary in which none of the Spanish speakers he interviewed were included in the final cut, it caused him to pause and reflect, he said.

“It led me to a question, which is, ‘What would a place for Spanish language stories sound like?’” Alarcón said.

Alarcón, a Peruvian-American journalist and host of the NPR Spanish language podcast Radio Ambulante, visited Boston College on Wednesday as a part of the Lowell Humanity Series. 

While Alarcón was born in Peru and focuses much of his journalism on Latin America, he spent most of his childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, he said.

“It’s a pretty exotic place to grow up if you’re going to grow up to tell Latin American stories,” Alarcón said. 

Alarcón said he never felt like he entirely belonged in Birmingham.

“I wanted to know more about that place, about Peru,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t fit in exactly where I was.”

When Alarcón decided he wanted to start a Spanish language podcast, many people voiced concerns about such a podcast’s potential, he said.

“Everyone told us it wouldn’t work and had many reasons,” Alarcón said. “They said, ‘Mexicans only care about Mexico, you’re not gonna get Mexicans to care about Columbia, you’re not gonna get Columbians to care about Puerto Rico, you’re not gonna get Puerto Ricans to listen to a story about Argentina.’”

Nevertheless, Alarcón said he and his wife knew people from all across Latin America who would care about the stories their podcast aimed to tell.

But interest wasn’t the only issue—the Latino community was also largely unfamiliar with the concept of a podcast, he said.

“We looked at the numbers and said, ‘Okay, so Latinos don’t know what a podcast is yet, but they will.’”

So, ignoring skeptics, Alarcón and his wife decided to begin raising money to fund their podcast, he said.

“[Like many] great American entrepreneurs, we had a bake sale,” Alarcón said. “We raised a bunch of money and we also got married. In lieu of household plates we said, ‘Donate to our kickstarter.’”

Ultimately, the efforts paid off—Radio Ambulante became a success, with over a million downloads as of last month, Alarcón said.

For Alarcón, an important part of his work on Radio Ambulante is his mission of telling other people’s stories.

“I really like hearing people talk,” Alarcón said. “I really wanna hear people’s stories. It’s a really genuine thing for me, in part because I know that other people have lots of things to teach.”

Alarcón shared a number of these stories during his talk, one of which featured clips of an interview with a woman named Karla, who discussed the challenges and anxieties of growing up in Cuba during the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s primary trading partner at the time, Alarcón said.

Because of Radio Ambulante, stories like Karla’s can be shared with the world and leave lasting impacts on listeners, Alarcón said.

“A country that feels different where doors that were fully open are now suddenly closed, where there is danger and crisis in the face of your neighbors, family, and friends,” Alarcón said. “I can’t stop thinking about [this] since Karla and I spoke.”

March 3, 2024