In Conversation With The Host Of Mija Podcast

Nov 16, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mija means my daughter in Spanish. And it's also the title of a podcast that tells the stories of one immigrant family with a home in Queens, N.Y., but with roots in Colombia. The stories are told by the daughter in the family.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MIJA")

LORY MARTINEZ: I'm brutally honest. I love deeply and forgive, always. And I love to embellish things to tell a good story, but I'm real. I'm Mija.

MARTIN: That is Lory Martinez. She is the creator and host of the podcast. The stories she tells are personal and relatable, even if you didn't grow up in Queens or come from an immigrant background. Oh, and the stories are told in three different languages - English, Spanish and French, which helps explain how "Mija" reached No. 1 on Apple Podcast fiction charts in both Spain and France. And Lory Martinez is with us now from Paris, where she is now based. Lory Martinez, thank you so much for talking with us. Congratulations.

MARTINEZ: Hi. Thank you so much.

MARTIN: So what inspired you to create this podcast and make it accessible in three languages?

MARTINEZ: It's a bit of a long story. But to start off, I started doing these interviews with my family about a year ago. I was home for my brother's graduation ceremony. And my whole family was able to fly out from Colombia to see the ceremony. And I was just seeing these dynamics between my family members who hadn't seen each other in years for various reasons but mostly because my mother had immigrated from Colombia when she was very young.

And she created this new life here. And I realized that there were all these dynamics between these family members where the distance really - it didn't affect our relationship. We were still so close. And it was kind of beautiful to see how my grandmother, my mother and her sister were acting as they would have when they were younger in the house in Colombia.

So I kind of started taking notes that week. And I actually didn't realize that it was going to become a podcast. But then I had all these short, like, phone interviews with my family members in Spanish. So I knew from the get-go when I decided to create the podcast that it would have to be in English and Spanish. And then I happened to live in France. And so I was seeing that there were a lot of conversations happening around immigration here, too. And I thought what if, you know, I could share this with the French as well?

MARTIN: You know, you've talked about some of the pluses, the minuses of growing up as an immigrant, even in a place as diverse as Queens. But you also talk about how, in a way, it's like your superpower. Like, I love when you talk about el cacumen (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST "MIJA")

MARTINEZ: He had what we in the family call el cacumen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

MARTINEZ: I'm not really sure how to describe it, but it means something along the lines of the genes of a genius, the genes of success, of survival. They basically meant that no matter what obstacles came our way, we'd make it because of el cacumen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

MARTIN: You talk about how - you even say in this episode - you don't even know what some of the stories told about this relative are true. But, hey, sounds good, right? It's inspired.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. I think it's one of those things that actually resonated really well in France as well, I think in part because of the way that I created the sound design to have this kind of memory comeback. So even in later episodes, you'll hear cacumen come back, always with this kind of drum that becomes a salsa. And I think it was a really good way to encompass this kind of hope that a lot of immigrant families have and this very kind of relentless positivity that it's all going to work out in the end even though it's going really badly. But it ends up being like, no, it's going to be OK because you have el cacumen.

So I have this really nice moment when I shared it with a cousin of mine and her children. They're second generation now. And they listened to it. And they said, Mommy, do we el cacumen, too? And that's so beautiful to have that kind of hope instilled even in the next generation, to have that feeling that, you know, we belong there, too.

MARTIN: So talk about the role of music in these pieces. It is, you know - pardon the pun - instrumental to the way the podcast is put together and also the way you mix, like, the music and the sounds of the city to kind of - I don't know, just kind of make it an environment. I just want to play a little bit of some of the...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: How did you come up with that idea? Was that always what was sort of in your head? When you think about growing up where you grew up, that's the sound that you hear?

MARTINEZ: When I created the podcast, I thought the sounds of New York is the subway, street sounds, taxis, people talking in different languages. And you have this music, the salsa music that I've always had in my life. And I just kind of threw it in there. And I was like, that's the sound of "Mija." That is my universe.

MARTIN: You know, before we let you go, I wanted to mention - as you've mentioned, you've been living in France since 2015 now. I think. So now you're an immigrant - irony. I was wondering - do your relatives - your Colombian relatives, do they find that funny or strange or entirely normal that you - you know, they moved to change their lives, and now you've moved to do your thing? I mean, how do your relatives feel about the fact that you are now an immigrant in France?

MARTINEZ: (Laughter) That's a good question. I think they're still dealing with it. But I think they're very proud of the fact that I used the privileges that they gave me as an American citizen to use them and create things like this to be able to tell my story this way. For a long time, my mom - when I told her I was going to leave and just even being in France now for the first few years, she used to say, like, what are you doing over there, mija? Come back.

And when I made the show, she was like, I understand why you're there. You needed to be away to understand your story and tell it and create this beautiful object that tells our lives and our America. And it's - she's very proud of that. And so I'm happy that I could do it.

MARTIN: That was Lory Martinez. She's the host and the creator of the podcast "Mija," which, as we said, is available in English, Spanish and French. And the final episode in the eight-part series is out on Wednesday. Lory Martinez, thank you so much for talking with us.

MARTINEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.