“En San Jose, Nohemí Alarcón, Noticias 14.” I wouldn’t go to sleep until I heard those words. That was Moder’s signature signoff.
Moder was my nickname for her, if you were to pronounce the word “mother” with a Hispanic accent. I was her biggest fan! She was a reporter at Univision’s local affiliate in San Jose, California, a job she got just months after graduating with a degree in mass communications from Santa Clara University. After three years in that role, she wanted a bigger challenge and a bigger audience. She set her sights on Miami, “the capital of Latin America,” the perfect place to move her burgeoning career forward.
In 1996, my father, mother and I made the transnational move to the Magic City.
The move was difficult. The challenges, unexpected. As welcoming as Miami was for so many, the same could not be said of the city’s media market. The airwaves had a Cuban stronghold and she was a Venezuelan newcomer with no insider connections. Let’s just say the job offers were not trickling in.
Only one thing guided my mother, though, and that was her vocation for communicating on behalf of her community. If that passion didn’t find a place in Miami, she would find it elsewhere. That unstoppable drive led her to a gig with The Weather Channel in Atlanta. I worried about our future. I was happy in Miami, just starting second grade, making new friends. Would we have to move again?
But we didn’t give up on Miami and Miami didn’t give up on us.
After that year of uncertainty, my mother got her big break and started working at el Nuevo Herald. She was a general assignment reporter and had a weekly column dedicated to issues relevant to the Venezuelan diaspora. She also became the public face of el Nuevo Herald with her own segment on Telemundo 51 and then Univision 23, where she would give a rundown of the most important stories folks could find in the next edition of the paper.
That was just the beginning. Bien tempranito, bright and early, her new signature signoff, was more than a tagline — it became a way of life. She was up bright and early dashing all over Miami, finding the story that had to be told. Her talent was finally being recognized and opportunities came pouring in. She started her day on the radio with Cuban journalist Agustin Acosta on WQBA 1140-AM with a morning show appropriately titled, “Good Morning, Miami!” From there she would head to the Herald and end the day at the TV station. She was covering stories she had only dreamed of, including interviewing Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. And most important for her, she was a voice for Miami’s growing Venezuelan community.
It was all happening! And I was along for the ride! I grew up in Miami’s newsrooms as Moder’s most trusted production assistant. Between homework and book reports I helped her research her stories, practice her script, and of course, choose her outfits. Layered between the bustle of the news world were my most important life lessons. Moder always said the most rewarding aspect of her career was being able to convey the stories of all kinds of people, from presidents to homeless families, sometimes all in one day. And she treated each with the same respect and dignity.
Those values are what made her such a beloved figure in our community. Everywhere she went, from the ventanita in Hialeah to the supermarket in Miami Lakes, someone had a kind word for her. Her charisma was infectious, her journalism chops, among the best. What folks did not see on screen or read between her lines were the pains of a difficult divorce from my father, who eventually became estranged, the struggle of raising me alone while her whole family was back in Venezuela, and the challenge of advancing a career in journalism as newspapers were in rapid decline.
Eventually, Moder left journalism, but never Miami. In 2006 she became the regional director for community relations at Aetna, serving our city by providing grants and resources to organizations advancing health and wellness in the Magic City.
Ironically, after surviving a battle with cancer, post-surgical health complications took Moder’s life too soon.
Since her passing in 2013, the Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay has been torn down and local news viewership is not what it used to be, but the mark she made on both will never be forgotten.
Before she was Nohemí Alarcón, she was Nohemí Torrealba. Hailing from Altagracia de Orituco, a small town in the plains of Venezuela, she was the fourth child and only daughter of Dora Lopez and Amador Torrealba. After 23 years growing up in Caracas, she married Federico Alarcón and followed him to the United States, mostly for love, but also led by the dream of going to an American university to study what she loved the most, journalism. The rest, as they say, is history.
As I look back at her life I cannot help but make so many parallels to my own. Two years ago my then-fiancé and I decided to leave our exciting life in Washington, D.C., to move back home. Like my family’s trajectory, our move to Miami also didn’t go according to plan.
But as fate would have it, we’re proud residents of “Doralzuela,” living not even a mile away from my first home in Miami, from John I. Smith Elementary, my first school in Florida, and from that same Univision station where I grew up. In so many ways I am my mother’s daughter.
Today would have been Moder’s 51st birthday. The best birthday gift I can give her is remembering her Miami story, our Miami story, and renewing that pledge we made over two decades ago to never give up on Miami just as it continues to not give up on us.
Happy Birthday, Moder. I hope to keep making you proud.