In 2012, I found out about an opportunity to participate in the Authentic Journalism School sponsored by Narco News, an on-line news bulletin with an affinity for the construction of and solidarity with movements for authentic democracy and ending the war on drugs in Mexico.
For personal reasons or otherwise, I wasn’t accepted into the program but I was left with a lengthy (about 26 pages) memoir that vividly expressed my passion for writing and journalism. The Narco News application is now something I go back to read and to continue to deconstruct what moves me about writing, specifically about social movements and social justice in Latin America and in the U.S., in a practical and creative effort to understand how I see myself contributing to these efforts.
Reviewing these responses comes at an interesting time, when I start contemplating pursuing a Master’s in Journalism, meanwhile brainstorming how I could develop experience and write with creative courage.
What I’d like to now share is my (working) response about the gigantic and complex question: “What do you most want to learn about journalism?” Aquí les comparto, compas:
Well I want to learn many things really. I want to see how others perceive journalism, whether they also see it as an outlet for community empowerment, be it at the level of communities like East Los Angeles or larger communities like Mexico. I see journalism as a tool for empowerment in my community, a way to communicate its perceptions of itself. Boyle Heights is painted as a violence-filled neighborhood by mainstream Los Angeles media and while although gang violence does indeed inform much of the social scheme of things in my community, social reality transcends dread and violence. It is a culturally rich community, with many spaces and members that are working against those who seek to make the community itself think they are nothing more than gangsters, teen mothers and a disposable and docile labor force.
I see correlations between the ways in which the media reports on Boyle Heights and the way it paints a whole country like Mexico. Every morning I monitor the U.S. English language news for the Americas Program MexicoBlog and it is honestly very spiritually exhausting and intellectually frustrating. As I explained in a Facebook post one morning, everyday I take a couple of hours to monitor the news on Mexico in relation to migration, politics, the drug war, transnational mining, and the list goes on, for my internship with the Center for International Policy. Overall, the news reports as well as the news itself can be so overwhelming, so ridiculous and so disheartening. The dehumanized Mexican criminal, migrant, citizen is always confronting perpetual misery. Their (our) existence isn’t restricted to those generalizations and misinformed categorizations.
To be more specific, in the month of September of 2012 there was a boom in news stories describing how Mexican “drug pin” criminals and warmongers have been apprehended and thus mark “success stories” in Calderon’s war on drugs. A critical and informed reader understands that the rise in sudden drug war success stories is correlated to the 2012 electoral conjuncture and the fact that Calderon is on his way out of the presidency and that Enrique Peña Nieto and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional is on the way in. However, informed by mainstream mass media, the Mexican and U.S. public are told to rest assured that the madmen producing and distributing the drugs and perpetuating the violence have been apprehended. “Drug king-pins” aren’t the source of the problem. Violence, lynched Mexican citizens, dead drug lords are plastered in photographs all over the covers of newspapers and magazines that fill Mexican newsstands.
I wonder sometimes what that does to the collective psyche of the Mexican populace, how they understand themselves, and the country in which they live. The way the drug war is reported and portrayed in mainstream U.S. and Mexican media criminalizes Mexican drug cartels and ignores the role of U.S. consumption of the drugs, the flow of arms to Mexico from the U.S. and the complacency from both the U.S. and Mexican government. How can we change this? How can we turn journalism away from a weapon of distraction, hopelessness and dehumanization to a tool for empowerment and consciousness? How can journalism help a child or teenager from Boyle Heights or a colonia in the heart of Mexico City understand themselves, understand they have the power to influence the world, to challenge their own realities? I want to learn what can be done to challenge and change the way news is reported transnationally, from the barrios of Los Angeles to those of Mexico City.