Even if you don’t recognize Claudia Garcia de la Huerta’s warm, open face, if you’re a Winnipegger and you’ve listened to CBC radio or Classic 107.1 FM, you’ve probably heard her mellifluous voice on-air. Claudia’s current role as Program Director at Classic 107.1 FM involves working behind the scenes, but you will hear her on-air at least once a week. Aside from a hiatus when she worked in the film industry, Claudia spent most of her career on the airwaves as a CBC radio host both in Winnipeg and in Toronto. As a student in Red River’s Creative Communications Program, Claudia serendipitously landed an internship at CBC Radio and fell in love with the medium.
How did you break into radio?
I didn’t pay my dues. I was very lucky. Ironically, my work placement at CBC came about because I had a dispute about a comment one of my instructor’s made about Chilean President Allende’s government. It was inaccurate and racist, so I took issue with it and called her out in front of the entire class. Our relationship was strained after that and she happened to be in charge of work placements. I had listed radio as my last choice. I had no interest in radio and I did not listen to CBC, but that’s where I got placed and that’s how my career began.
As an intern, I did break a story about Mount Carmel Clinic. They had the only program for survivors of torture. They had started it when Chilean refugees arrived in Winnipeg. Over the years, the program grew as people came from other parts of the world where torture was prevalent. I learned that the province was about to close the program down. This was right in the midst when they were dealing with refugees from Serbia, Croatia and Rwanda. So I did a story because it was something that was near to my heart due to the fact my father experienced torture. The province ended up not closing the program down.
Once I started working in radio, I fell in love with it as a medium. I started to see how much more you can do in radio than in television. There weren’t the same barriers. Having a little microphone or hand-held device is far less intimidating than a camera and a crew. I loved that I could get into places so easily. It was just me and my recorder—and you could have that intimate conversation. That is so difficult to do on-camera.
You’ve interviewed many artists, writers, politicians and public figures over the years. Which interview stands out most in your memory?
I would have to say a Toronto-based jazz singer named Serafin LaRiviere. She was kicked out of her house at a very young age and lived on the streets, but she still found the strength to pursue the life she wanted—as a person, a beautiful jazz singer and the sex that she wanted to be. That attitude of “I don’t care what anyone says, you have to accept me, and if you don’t, fuck off” was juxtaposed with the incredible love inside her. I was in tears during the interview. She has since adopted an Aboriginal boy and blogs about not only the prejudices she encounters as a transgendered person but also as a parent. To this day, whenever I think about her, I feel deeply moved.
What has been the highlight of your career in radio?
Interviewing the Chilean author Isabel Allende. I have been reading her books since I was a young girl. I was so in awe that I could barely interview her. I overthought every question. I wanted to impress her and I wanted a good interview, but the reality is that I just wanted to sit there and stare at her. I was with CBC Toronto and my producer knew how much she meant to me. So we set up an interview through HarperCollins. Really, there wasn’t that much of an angle. It wasn’t the best interview because we were grasping. The focus was her connection to Toronto and looking at how Latin Americans had flourished in Toronto, but she really couldn’t answer that question. I think she had maybe one friend in Toronto. We talked quite a bit off-air. I told her a bit about my father’s former position as a secret service agent for President Allende and his exile.
How has being the daughter of a Chilean exile influenced you?
Being the daughter of an exile has influenced me greatly. My whole life I’ve been straddling two cultures. Although my family felt it was important to assimilate to Canadian life, it was much easier said than done. My father was extremely strict and dealing with what we now know to be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We had a very difficult relationship growing up; however, he did instill in me a strong sense of independence and the notion that I must always be well informed about the world around me. He taught me to question and to investigate. He taught me respect and discipline—and he taught me loyalty. He would have given his life for President Allende. He has greatly influenced my political persuasions and taught me to be my own person. He’s also taught me to never forget the past and most importantly that the truth always comes out.