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La Liga de Las Americas

20/20’s John Quiñones shares personal stories and advocates for better education


By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent


John Quiñones proves that anything is possible with hard work, passion, and a good education. The ABC correspondent for 20/20 and Primetime Live has won six Emmy Awards and numerous other prestigious awards for his coverage of Latin America, immigration, health, and war.


He shared his personal story with more than 300 people at the Cleveland Intercontinental Hotel on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007.


“I always wanted to be a reporter, even as a child I was the “chisme” spreading the latest gossip,” said Quiñones. “I love reporting and representing our people on TV,” he said.

John Quinones and Andres Gonzales


Quiñones was invited to Cleveland by Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Diversity and SALUD (Cleveland Clinic’s Hispanic/Latino Employee Resource Group) to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.


Andres Gonzáles, Director of Office of Diversity, said Quiñones is the best person to represent the community and speak to its struggles and needs. “He is very engaging and can relate to kids and professionals alike,” Gonzáles said.


“He is very inspirational and very humble,” said Patty Quiñonez, who was captivated by Quiñones’s speech at the City Club of Cleveland and wanted to hear more about his experiences.

“I was born with nothing,” said Quiñones, whose father was a janitor and mother a house cleaner in Texas. At 8 years old, he was out in the streets shining shoes until he was jumped and robbed by a gang. At age 13, he became a migrant worker and traveled north to Michigan to pick cherries and then to Toledo to pick tomatoes.


“I wanted to do more with my life,” he said. Quiñones credits Upward Bound program for giving him a chance. “If it hadn’t been for Upward Bound I would not be here,” he said. Upward Bound gives high schools students from low income households a chance to take college courses and prepare them for graduate studies.

Angel Glavan, John Quinones, and Doris Yee

Photos by Arooj

Doris Yee
was thrilled to hear Quiñones was part of Upward Bound like herself and said he is a role model for the inner city kids. “The fact he is standing here speaks volumes to the opportunities available in this country,” she said.


“I have become a Pied Piper for education,” said Quiñones. Quiñones called Cleveland’s 76 percent high school drop-out rate outrageous and encouraged guest students to get an education and strengthen their bilingual skills. His friend had encouraged him to attend a high school in a different district so they would be forced to learn and speak English.

“I was able to get the stories not just because I spoke Spanish and am Latino but because I was able to convey compassion and empathy,” he said.


“I was a shy kid so to break out of my shell I took drama classes,” Quiñones said. He landed the lead role in Shakespeare’s classical romance, Romeo & Juliet. The only draw back, “I had to wear tights in a very macho neighborhood,” he said. He is grateful for his mother’s vigilance in keeping him off the streets and away from drugs. “She would throw shoes at me, anything to keep me alive,” he said.


His heritage also allowed Quiñones to dig deep within the issues and reveal a different perspective. In 1980, Quiñones posed as a Mexican citizen attempting to immigrate without documentation to the U.S. He arranged a meeting with his smugglers and swam across the Rio Grande with his clothes in a plastic bag for a report on undocumented immigration.


“I got a fake social security card and I.D. for $300,” he said. The story won him two Emmy Awards. While he won’t be swimming across the Rio Grande again, he is doing a series of reports on the current status of immigration and immigration reform.

20/20's John Quinones with Cleveland students Photos by Arooj


“They are splitting families apart and we need new immigration reform so this will end,” he said. Quiñones said he still is asked when his family migrated to the U.S. “We were in Texas for seven generations and then someone came and changed the border and we had to learn English,” he said.


His first Primetime story on the horrific plight of the “sewer children” from Bogotá, Colombia won him World Hunger Media Award and a Citation from the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.


As a result of his report, the U.S.-American public donated $1 million for the “sewer children” and changed their lives. Quiñones said that is when he realized the true power of the media. “The media is incredibly powerful if you use it right,” he said.


Quiñones spent five weeks in Kuwait as the Iraq War began and said the conditions are worst now. He is not very optimistic about the war’s conclusion, “I just don’t see any solution; even before we went in we had children telling us you will see suicide bombers before we will let the U.S. control Iraq,” he said. Images of young scared soldiers sitting in the back of trucks as they hauled into Iraq still resonate with him.


“I love telling the truth no matter who it hurts,” he said adding the media is not controlled or manipulated by anyone; a reporter’s job is to report the facts. He said he has never been prevented from reporting on a valuable story, although ABC lawyers are always on hand to fine comb each story for possible legal problems.


Quiñones has no plans to enter the political scene but he might be writing a book about his experiences.







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