Spanish-language radio pioneer ‘feeling proud’ as she retires after 57 years

After 57 years, Lu Reyes says she’s pulling back from her duties as founding host of Holland’s first Spanish-language radio show, but not from her life’s work – advocating for the marginalized and disenfranchised.
That mission led Reyes to start the weekly program at WHTC-AM/FM’s studios on Central Avenue in Holland when she was a young mother and Hispanic activist.
She remembers gathering with others to discuss how they could support the growing Latino community that struggled to be seen and heard in a community known for its Dutch heritage.
“We began thinking that we need something to represent our people on the air, because we're listening to this music and it has nothing to do with us,” Reyes says. 

‘Happy’ from the start
Reyes approached the station’s then-manager, Bill Gargano, to make the vision happen. Gargano agreed on the condition that she hosted the show, which was named “Alegria Latina.” Alegria means “happy” in Spanish.

Gargano, 97, remembers talking with Reyes about what to name the show.

“I said, ‘Let’s give it a name,’ and I said, ‘How are you most of the time,'” he told WHTC for a story about her retirement. “She said, ‘I’m happy most of the time,’ so the name was her idea.”
Reyes ​​remembers feeling nervous about going on the air the first time. She had collected music from others because she didn’t have her own. Fortunately, she only had to fill 25 of the 30 minutes because news filled the balance.
“When I got off the air, my back was all wet with sweat,” Reyes says. 

The show has expanded from a bare half-hour Saturday show to a Sunday evening powerhouse with a cadre of co-hosts, airing from 7 p.m. to midnight Sundays on 927 The Van, WHTC’s sibling station. The format features a range of Spanish-language music, such as Mariachi, Banda, Tejano, Bachata, and Rancheras, interviews, news, and calls from listeners -- many connecting online from across the U.S. and a few Spanish-speaking countries.
Personal sacrifice
Bringing this program to Holland and beyond for decades has required a sacrifice.
“There were times when there was a gathering and I had to leave to go to the show. And that didn't sit well with them,” says Reyes, who turned 84 on Nov. 30. “So I decided after 57 years of doing that to them, I think I better share what's left in my life with my family.” 
Reyes plans to use her free Sunday evenings to spend more time with her growing family that includes five children, a dozen grandchildren and another grandchild on the way.
“I leave Alegria Latina feeling proud of the program’s accomplishments, its contributions to the community and all the fans,” Reyes told WHTC.
She’s handing the reins to her co-hosts Jesse Martinez and Yeli Romero.

Before running and being elected in November to represent Holland City Council Ward 3, Belinda Coronado served as a cohost on Alegria Latina. She says joining the team because she was a longtime fan of the program.
Advocacy achievements
Reyes’ role as an advocate began with her being underestimated. After moving to Holland from Texas with her parents in 1945,  she was placed in a class with developmentally delayed students because she didn’t speak English.  She went on to graduate from Grand Valley State University with a degree in social work; earn her master’s in social work from Western Michigan University; and get another master’s, in business administration and management, from Aquinas College.
As an activist, Reyes founded multiple organizations in Holland, including Latin Americans United for Progress in 1964, and the annual Fiesta; Community Action House in 1969; and Holland Community Health Center, in 1995, among other groups.
She rose to clinical supervisor for patients and family counseling at Holland Hospital before opening her own counseling business in 2013, which she continues to use to help people in the community.
Reyes has garnered many accolades over her life, including the 2018 Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan’s Top 50 women award.

Reyes will sign off as host on her Dec. 12 show. Holland market manager Kevin Oswald, who runs WHTC and 927 The Van, says the stations will air a retrospective of her work later this month.