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How comics conventions helped me embrace my geekdom IRL

1 hour 46 min ago

I have been a geek since I was a kid. I love comic books, I love video games, I love superhero movies and I love dressing up like my favorite characters. I love being a geek.

Although this lifestyle may seem odd to some people, it brings a lot of fun and joy to geeks like me and those around them.

When I was young, I was criticized by many people for being a geek, but now I am encouraged to embrace the nerd within.

The many superhero movies in the last few years have people geeking out and showing off their fandom by cosplaying.

Spider-Man and Spider-Man Noir coming together at EP Comic Con.

When someone cosplays, the person dresses up as a character from a movie, TV show, book or comic book or video game.

I’ve seen many cosplays where people have invested hundreds or thousands of dollars in an elaborate costume.

Though that kind of spending might shock some people, including myself, it shows how much people love their favorite characters.

But fans don’t need to invest a fortune to demonstrate their devotion. I spent less than $40 putting together my very own cosplay of Spider-Man Noir from the hit film, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018).

Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheroes and I always wanted to find a costume that I could pull off with my limited resources.

Truth be told, I never would have thought El Paso has so many cosplayers like me but I discovered them at El Paso Comic Con and Soldier Con.

People talking exploring the wonders of EP Comic Con.

Events like these really bring out not just the geek community, but El Pasoans of all ages for fun and new connections.

I attended EP Comic Con in 2018 and 2019 and attendance continues to grow every year which makes me feel amazing.

At EP Comic Con 2019, I dressed up as Spider-Man Noir and the reaction to my cosplay was very unexpected.

People had me taking pictures with them and had long conversations with me on comics, anime, movies and video games.

These gestures made me feel accepted, loved and welcomed because I used to be bullied for doing stuff like this.

I’ve made some close friends collaborating with them by playing multiplayer video games and we also get together in person.

I’ve been reading comic books and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was a kid. The thing that really unleashed my inner geek though has been the release of all these new superhero movies.

I used to be embarrassed to ask someone if they saw the new superhero movie and when someone asked me first, I thought they were trying to mess with me.

However, when they told me about a specific part from the movie that they really enjoyed, and I knew immediately they wanted me to express my fandom.

It may seem strange to see an adult dressing up in cartoon or superhero costumes , but it shows that geeks are not afraid to be who they are; they are not ashamed of it.

Geek culture is becoming a phenomenon, and it can lighten up a person’s day in many ways, like it has for me; no one should be ashamed to embrace who they really are.

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Categories: Local Blogs

Fathers need to care for themselves as well as their kids – but often don’t

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 7:26am

By Derek M. Griffith, Vanderbilt University and Elizabeth C. Stewart, Vanderbilt University

If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a healthy father or a good father?

Studies suggest men often choose being a good father over being healthy.

Becoming a father is a major milestone in the life of a man, often shifting the way he thinks from being “me focused” to “we focused.” But fatherhood can also shift how men perceive their health. Our research has found that fathers can view health not in terms of going to the doctor or eating vegetables but how they hold a job, provide for their family, protect and teach their children, and belong to a community or social network.

As founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University and as a postdoctoral fellow from Meharry Medical College, we study why men live shorter lives than women, male attitudes about fatherhood, how to help men engage in healthier behavior – as well as what can be done to reduce men’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Work, sex and health

Working with men to try to get them to be more physically active, eat healthier and maintain a healthy weight, we found that for many, their own physical and mental health is not high on their list of priorities. Men, we found, treat their bodies as tools to do a job. Health is not always important or something they pay much attention to until poor health gets in the way of their ability to go to work, have sex or do something else important to them. These roles and responsibilities are often the ways they define themselves as men and how others in their lives define their worth.

While many aspects of gender roles have changed, we have found that many men still recognize they are often defined as good or successful if they have paid employment that is enough to take care of their children and other responsibilities. Fathers generally aspire to be able to look after their children, spouse, partner or other loved ones. That may mean less sleep, longer hours at work and less free time for hobbies and exercise.

Wanting to be a great dad can motivate men to push themselves to work longer and harder than they may have thought possible, but these choices can come at a cost, particularly if they also are not making time to take care of themselves.

We have seen evidence of despair, such as depressive symptoms, having thoughts of suicide, heavy drinking and marijuana use, among adults in their 20s and 30s. These behaviors tend to be higher in men during the time when they tend to become fathers for the first time. Consistent with this pattern, unintentional injuries and suicide are leading causes of death for men across racial and ethnic groups in their 20s and 30s. This is not the case for women.

By age 45, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for all groups of men. These chronic diseases can be prevented, to some degree, by not smoking, eating healthier foods and drinking less alcohol. Also, improving sleep, sitting less and moving more are important behaviors for good health.

Rather than trying to restart these behaviors after taking a break from them for a number of years, studies have found that it is important to help men keep healthy behaviors a part of their lives as they age.

Men’s health needs and the relationship with their children change as they age.
Monkey Business Images/

As men age, they may not make deliberate choices to engage in less healthy behavior, but they may just do so because their lives and environments make unhealthy choices easier than healthy ones. Policymakers have to think about how to make it easier to make healthy choices in men’s daily lives and to incorporate health into the time fathers spend with children and family or at work. Men don’t have equal access to healthy foods or the same opportunities to go to the doctor, be physically active or earn a living wage, and yet, if asked, they all want to be healthy and have a positive influence on their children and families.

Where does making time for their own mental and physical health fit into dads’ busy, stressful lives? We have found that it will be different for every father, but loved ones have to help them find a way. Based on our research, we believe that families, particularly women in men’s lives, can play an important role in encouraging fathers to eat healthier and take better care of their health.

Wives in particular often provide emotional support, offer advice, facilitate men going to the doctor and promote healthy behavior. Wives, daughters and other women in fathers’ lives are important sources of information about men’s health, and they often play a key role in helping fathers and other men better understand and cope with stress.

As we celebrate fathers, it is important to recognize that fathers, generally speaking, may not place health at the top of their priorities. Many fathers gladly sacrifice to see their children happy, safe and successful. The problem is that if fathers think only about these goals, their own health can often suffer.

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Derek M. Griffith, Professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Founder and Director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health, Vanderbilt University and Elizabeth C. Stewart, Postdoctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Categories: Local Blogs

Through ‘Homecoming’ Beyoncé hits chords on cultural pride and her teachings reach new learners

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 7:17am

I am Mexican-American – more Mexican than American if I’m being honest – living in a city where we don’t really experience racism because it has a predominantly Hispanic population. My culture tends to have a lot of machismo where women are seen as less than the man. So when I started following Beyonce’s work, I was woken up with topics I was unaware of related to racism, police brutality against Blacks, white privilege, and feminism.

I’ve been a Beyonce fan since 2008. Through her work I have learned what being a feminist means and the history, the struggles and the pride of African-Americans. Although I would like to talk about all the ways she has inspired me, I’m only going to focus on her most recent piece of art.

Beyonce debuted as a director and producer when her film Homecoming premiered on Netflix on April 17, 2019. It showcases a combination of her two performances at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival as well as parts of her journey to create one of the best performances in Coachella’s history. It was released just around 2 a.m. And yes, I stayed up to watch the premiere. It lasts two hours and seventeen minutes, so I went to sleep around 5 a.m., but the sleep deprivation was worth it. It has become the most celebrated concert film according to several sources. But what really made it special was her feminist approach and her celebration of black excellence. Something to admire from Beyonce is that not only does she try to be the best as a performer, but she’s also an activist and uses the platform she has created to influence and make an impact in today’s society.

“When i decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” Beyonce says.

Below are three things I learned that made “Homecoming: a film by Beyonce” not just a concert film but a celebration to feminism and black culture.

1. First African-American Women To Headline Coachella

Originally, Beyonce was supposed to perform in 2017. But she got pregnant with twins and had to cancel all her shows from that year. A disappointment for us, her fans, but it gave Beyonce and her team another year to plan and perfect what has become known as ‘’Beychella.”

“Coachella thank you for allowing me to be the first Black woman to headline Coachella,” Beyonce says right before she started signing “Run The World (Girls).”

Since I started listening to her music, Beyonce has always been a strong feminist and she is known for encouraging girl power in her songs. Throughout the two hour show, she made sure to hype up all the audience but especially women by asking things like “Ladies, are we smart? Are we strong? Do we have any strong women out there tonight?” And by making a “suck on my balls, balls” step performance that showcases feminine strength. Although she’s an icon, a living legend, she is still a human being with her own struggles.

The Queen B talked about her difficult pregnancy and how hard it was to get back into shape for this performance. It was her first big appearance on stage after giving birth to Rumi and Sir and she wanted to create her own homecoming. “I definitely pushed myself further than I could,” the singer says. I felt that as the strong feminist woman she is, she wanted to demonstrate that she can be a mother, a wife and still one of the greatest living entertainers.

2. Black National Anthem & Important Black Figures

Coachella is known to have a predominately white audience. Therefore Beyoncé, being the first black woman to headline the show, had to make a statement, just like she did back in 2016 when she performed Formation at the Super Bowl. Right after she sang Freedom, she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that says “Let our rejoicing rise, high as the list’ning skies, let us march on ‘till victory is won.” At first, i thought it was a beautiful song she cover for the concert, but then I found out this song is known to be a Black national anthem in the United States.

She also used references of important black figures I was unaware of, like an excerpt from Malcolm X’s 1962 “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself” and Nina Simone when she talks about blackness:,

“Giving out to them that Blackness, that Black power, that Black pushing them to identify with Black culture; I think that’s what you’re asking. I have no choice over it; in the first place, to me we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world, black people. My job is to somehow make them curious enough or persuade them, by hook or crook, to get more aware of themselves and where they came from and what they are into and what is already there, and just to bring it out. This is what compels me to compel them and I will do it by whatever means necessary.”

I think Beyonce in a way feels the need to represent her culture, her people, her roots just like Nina Simone. And she is doing it. She is reaching to all kinds of people, especially at a music festival of this magnitude and using a platform like Netflix to showcase her work is a clever way to reach another type of audience.

3. Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)

Queen B’s performance had a theme for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and she talks about the meaning behind it. “I always dream of going to an HBCU. My college was Destiny’s Child. My college was traveling around the world and life was my teacher,” Beyonce says as images and videos of the rehearsals pass by. She wanted to give us not just black culture, but black college culture. Yonce wanted a full homecoming experience and in order to do that she and her team got the best, a full on marching band, a drum line, a choir, steppers, and a lot of dancers. “I wanted a Black orchestra, i wanted the steppers, i needed the vocalists,” Beyonce says.

Over 100 people were on stage with her, including musicians, dancers, and other performers. Many were former HBCU students. She had five different outfits, and the second costume she wore a cropped hoodie with the Greek letters BAK. When i first saw this i didn’t know what it stand for, so i had to Google it and I found out it that fraternities and sororities are usually named after three Greek letters so the singer created her own paying tribute to Divine Nine, the Black Greek letter organizations. “So many people who are culturally aware and intellectually sound are graduates from historically black colleges and universities, including my father,” she says. “There is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”

In my opinion, Homecoming is more than just a concert film. To me it is an exciting performance with drops of education about black culture, while for African-Americans is a celebration for black pride. Beyonce says, “It’s hard to believe that after all these years, I was the first African-American woman to headline Coachella. It was important to me that everyone that’s had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us.”

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Categories: Local Blogs

SoldierCon: Comic books and cosplay for the troops

Thu, 06/13/2019 - 7:03am

FORT BLISS, Texas – Sgt. Joshua Rodriguez dresses up in his Texas National Guard uniform every day but at the recent SoldierCon, he dressed up as an Umbrella Corporation mercenary from the Resident Evil video game series.

Rodriguez has served in the guard for six years as a transportation operator and this is the first year he attended SoldierCon – a convention that invited plenty of cosplay, where comic book super hero fans dressed up as their favorite character.

“It has given me a new outlet to explore my cosplay. It’s amazing to see the creativity,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez always has been a fan of cosplay, and he says that SoldierCon ties the El Paso community together because people enjoy dressing up.

SoldierCon was a family-friendly event filled with vendors selling comic books, action figures, toys and unique art. Photo by Adam Guajardo,

Many of the attendees put a great deal of time and thought into their costumes. The February 2019 SoldierCon was organized as a way to show appreciation for men and women serving in the military.

Rodriguez isn’t the only soldier who dressed up for this event. U.S. Army Sgt. Major Jason Leeworthy attended the event dressed up as Storm Shadow, a character from G.I. Joe.

“This one is I think pretty successful … with everything right here, the cars are right here, all the people are right here, hopefully it’ll get better as the years go on,” Leeworthy said.

SoldierCon brought in some famous cosplayers like Timmy Byland, Christina Dark and others.

SoldierCon was a family-friendly event filled with vendors selling comic books, action figures, toys and unique art .

“Just being able to like bring to life certain characters for young kids and they just enjoy it like: ‘that guy,’ I love that feeling,” said Timmy Byland, who dressed up as Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy.


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Categories: Local Blogs

Fab Lab presenta al primer humanoide filosofo Aristoteles

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 12:51pm

CIUDAD JUÁREZ — Aristóteles, el primer humanoide filósofo fue creado con la idea de conversar y debatir al nivel del pensamiento de un humano.

Ingeniero Mecánico Electricista Marco Barraza de 65 años, construyo el robot en Fab Lab, un laboratorio de creación de prototipos a pequeña escala en Ciudad Juárez.

“Aristóteles es probar los algoritmos de inteligencia artificial la idea es que razone, escuche y hable como un humano, que vea casi como un humano, que vea y reconozca un objeto, reconozca personas y puede interactuar con una persona”, dijo Barraza.

Marco Barraza junto con su creacion Aristoteles acompañado de Juan Vargas y Samuel Badillo, asistente y gerente de Fab Lab respectivamente. Photo credit: Ingrid Giese

Conforme a esto, Aristóteles puede hacer casi todos los movimientos de la cintura, caderas, brazos, cabeza y ojos como un humano y leer una variedad de artículos al día.

Ingeniero Barraza en el proceso de creacion del robot Aristoteles en Fab Lab, ubicado en Ciudad Juárez. Photo credit: Ingrid Giese

“Ahorita por ejemplo puede leer 25 mil artículos en día y hacer cerca de entre 300 a 500 mil fichas en un día, entonces va a ser un robot de conocimiento”, dice Barraza.

Estudiante en Ingeniería Mecatrónica Juan Vargas de 22 años, está en colaboración en el proyecto y relata que el siguiente reto es hacer caminar a Aristóteles según Vargas.

“Entonces para poder hacerlo caminar hay que ver diferentes mecanismos para obtener el balance perfecto del robot y sobre todo investigar los sensores que se tienen que utilizar” dice Vargas

Para que esto suceda, sensores como el giroscópico que funciona básicamente para obtener un punto de equilibrio en especifico de algún objeto, seria un punto clave para que el robot tenga un equilibrio exacto, explico Vargas.

Aristóteles consiste con un aproximado de 500 piezas impresas. Dependiendo de la pieza puede tomar de 24 hasta arriba de 30 horas para imprimir, explico Juan.

La experiencia del Gerente de Fab Lab, Samuel Badillo de 31 años, al ver Aristóteles por primera vez fue de asombro.

“Lo que yo vi primero fue la mano y el antebrazo, se me hizo muy interesante pero realmente no es nada más en que sea una mano o tenga movimiento, si no todo el conocimiento, las técnicas que requiere algo así que puede verse simple”, dice Badillo.

De acuerdo con el Gerente de Fab Lab Badillo, Aristoteles es el primer robot especializado en filosofía creado en un Fab Lab.

El proyecto Aristóteles ha llevado un proceso de un año y medio, el cual el Ingeniero Barraza espera que dentro de otro año y medio más se pueda seguir perfeccionando a éste humanoide con inteligencia artificial.





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Categories: Local Blogs

Today’s border reality: River hazards, refugee child trauma; an end to migrating wildlife

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 7:47am

There are many perils for humans and wildlife crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, from the hazards of navigating challenging terrain to the trauma of being detained by law enforcement. As tensions rise with each newly erected section of border wall, the impact of hardline policies can be seen taking a toll on the mental, physical, and environmental health of the borderland.

Rising waters threaten migrants crossing Rio Grande

Vice President of Operations and Technical Services for El Paso Water Utility Alan Schubert gestures at the intake for the American Canal in El Paso, Texas on June 3, 2019. Photo by Fred Batiste.

Risks to migrants crossing into the U.S. near El Paso have increased with the annual release of Rio Grande water from upriver in New Mexico. The release replenishes the borderlands and allows its farmers to irrigate, but the surge of water and migrants is a potentially deadly combination. Migrants who bypass barriers at U.S. ports of entry to seek asylum by crossing the Rio Grande risk drowning in the high water of the borderland canals.

El Paso Water Utility is working with a local nonprofit, the Hope Border Institute, to place posters in shelters on the Juarez side of the border to urge migrants not to try to cross the river and the canals.


Wildlife Across Borders

Erecting physical barriers along the U.S. southern border endangers the wellbeing of native wildlife in the area, says Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center (SWEC). He is concerned that a wall’s environmental impact could lead to loss of habitat and biodiversity.

Listen: Barriers to healthy wildlife migration

The SWEC has lobbied against the wall in Washington, D.C. and organized protest rallies at the wall itself. The center is a participant in two active lawsuits against the wall.

The first lawsuit was filed March 2018 in reaction to the Department of Homeland Security’s waiver of laws — including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act — in clearing the way to build a border wall. That suit currently resides in a D.C. federal district court.

The other lawsuit was filed in February by the ACLU, Sierra Club, and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, of which the center is a part. The suit calls for a halt to construction on 57 miles of border wall in New Mexico and Arizona which was sanctioned by President Trump’s national emergency declaration earlier this year. A judge recently granted an injunction temporarily stopping construction.

When construction began last year on a new stretch of wall near the Santa Teresa port of entry, the center installed 20 cameras to bring attention to wildlife in the area. Over the course of about a year they captured images and video of mountain lions, bobcats, javelina, mule deer, coyotes, grey foxes, and badgers, among others.

A bobcat captured by one of the motion sensor cameras posted by the Southwest Environmental Center along the border. Photo courtesy Southwest Environmental Center.

“They would all be too big to pass through the wall that was built,” Bixby said.

The center is currently trying to raise $10,000 to support its staff while it continues its efforts to oppose border wall construction.


Uncaged Art Turns Lens on Trauma of Child Detainees

Among the migrant stories of hardship and life-threatening danger in the past year, one of the most controversial is that of the Tornillo tent camp where unaccompanied migrant children were detained on the eastern edge of El Paso County.

Related: ‘Uncaged Art’ exhibit gives voice to migrant children detained in Tornillo tent city

The Tornillo tent camp opened in June 2018 with room for 400 and spent the next several months adding capacity before finally shutting down in January following protests and congressional criticism. About 6,000 children passed through Tornillo during the seven months it stood.

An exhibit at the Centennial Museum at the University of Texas at El Paso titled “Uncaged Art” showcases artwork created by the children, mostly teens who were detained in Tornillo. The exhibit is a visible artifact of the mass detention of youth in the U.S. that gives visitors a sense of the conditions more than 10,000 migrant children continue to face in detention centers throughout the country.

“This is a very dangerous policy that hurts children in large numbers,” said Mark Lusk, UTEP associate dean of Health Sciences.


The Quetzal Bird of Hope

The colorful Quetzal bird is the heart of the ‘Uncaged Art’ exhibit, representing freedom for the children of Tornillo. The exhibit also includes scenes celebrating soccer, fashion, faith, and native culture.

This multimedia story was produced for 2019 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy by Fred Batiste, Jenna Duncan and Molly Hunter.

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Categories: Local Blogs

Like two exhausted boxers, Border Patrol and Central Americans seek respite

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 11:23pm

By Walt Baranger

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico – Just feet away from a large freeway-like sign declaring “Boundary of the United States of America,” children play in the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. But this is not exactly true; they gambol in a narrow strip of the United States that lies between the Mexican state of Chihuahua and the American border fence, perhaps a dozen feet of disused territory between the invisible international border and the steel slats that soar up to 26 feet high, forming a rust-colored dotted line across the continent.

Happily for the youngsters, the designers of the United States’ border fence failed to take them into consideration. A shoeless pre-teen can easily scramble nearly to the top of the barrier here, and later ask $1 of American passersby who are amazed to see the fence so easily scaled.

Bemused U.S. Border Patrol agents occasionally hand out granola bars or other treats to the little hands that reach north through the bars. The agents know the children by name, and on a recent Monday even chided them for not being in school.

This thin necklace of sand may be United States soil, but sovereignty has been ceded to the nimble fence-climber and his friends, and their pet dog.

In this parched rural stretch of the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, audiences for the fence climbers are an increasingly rare commodity as agents are diverted from patrolling the fence duties elsewhere. The migrants who attract Washington’s attention are no longer Mexican job seekers, but Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran families, driven north by poverty, violence and endemic government corruption.

Officials report that the number of migrants apprehended in the El Paso area over the past seven months is up a staggering 374% from a year ago, to more than 10,000. The number of families taken into custody is up 1,816% in the same period, to more than 74,000. In the entire Southwest, the number of families caught by the Border Patrol may rise 400% this year, the government estimates.

Actually, “caught” misstates another trend that the vexes the Border Patrol: Families from Central America seeking asylum frequently make no attempt to evade border guards, and instead seek out agents to whom they can surrender. The border security system was designed to apprehend and quickly deport single Mexican males who crossed the border. Small holding cells near the border were never designed for families.

El Paso is the epicenter of this surge of humanity, and a Border Patrol spokesman said that 40% of the region’s field agents have been reassigned from patrol duties in an effort to buttress processing and detention centers.

By all accounts, both the Border Patrol and the migrants they encounter are in dire straits. Federal processing centers and detention facilities are beyond their designed capacities, filled with the poor and dispossessed, the young and the old, often suffering from health problems after such an arduous journey north.

On a recent day near downtown El Paso, Border Patrol agents in plain sight along the Rio Grande, which is easily forded but muddy, warned two families in Juárez not to cross. But they splashed ashore anyway and then waited patiently – the mothers and children appeared exhausted – while reporters quizzed them in Spanish and the agents arranged for their transportation to a processing center.

The migrants were driven away in a faded blue government bus of uncertain vintage. One of the families had decamped from a village in Honduras, some 2,100 miles away.

Their destination will be Border Patrol holding cells in the El Paso area that, in the words of Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, are “overcrowded,” “dangerous” and “unsanitary.” In May 2019, one El Paso detention facility designed for 125 detainees held 900, with some cells so crowded that there was no room to sit.

“We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers,” said the inspector general on May 30.

This multimedia package was produced for 2019 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy by Farideh Dada, Nancy Garcia and Walt Baranger.



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Categories: Local Blogs

Tired but determined volunteers sustain El Paso’s migrant relief services

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 6:32pm

As U.S. border officials detain thousands of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border every day, another group waits for the men, women and families who have often been walking for days: volunteers.

In El Paso, where Border Patrol agents apprehended 136,922 migrants between October 2018 and May 2019, residents have responded to the influx of migrants with meals and shelter.

But it’s been eight months since the latest surge of Central American migrants started. Volunteer coordinators have had to adapt their efforts to a timeline that has no end in sight.

“The current volunteers are starting to get fatigued,” Christina Lamour, director of community impact for United Way of El Paso County, said. “That’s where United Way comes in to help.”

Lamour said the city and county asked United Way of El Paso to recruit and build a sustainable infrastructure than can relieve volunteers when they need a break without disrupting what migrants need.

Enter Angelica Mata Lindstrom, United Way’s new volunteer coordinator for migrant services. She was born and raised in El Paso and was hired as a direct result of the migrant influx.

“Immigration, migration has always existed here, especially on the border,” she said.

A grant from the El Paso Community Foundation and the Prudential Foundation pay sfor Mata Lindstrom’s position for one year. That means ramping up fast.

“Back in January, we worked with shelter in the northeast, and three or four weeks ago, we were asked to start building the capacity of that shelter, to increase the number of migrants that they can take in per week,” Lamour said.

The Northeast El Paso shelter is open Thursday to Sunday now, and Lamour hopes to have enough volunteers available to keep it open for at least one or two more days by the end of June.

“If we’re going to increase it for one day, you need to sustain it with 12 individuals, at least for an a.m. shift, and then an additional 12 individuals for a p.m. shift,” she said.

To increase its volunteers, United Way of El Paso will rely not only on Mata Lindstrom’s efforts  but also its website, That’s where volunteers register for a background check, choose volunteer shifts and duties.

Mata Lindstrom said volunteers should be flexible and know their limits.

“People are constantly on their feet, so don’t overexert yourself,” she said. “Balance it out with your everyday life because at the end of the day the individuals you’re interacting with are lovely people that are very appreciative of the work and if they could help us as well, they would.”

Faith informs and sustains local El Paso pastor

Additional community organizations in El Paso have also adapted their volunteer efforts as the ongoing influx of migrants seeking asylum.

Inside a modest store-front church in Central El Paso, refugees from Latin America and beyond regularly take refuge in triple-decker bunk beds. The towering structures that nearly touch the bedroom ceiling are exactly what the weary migrants need after spending days, weeks or longer on their trek to the United States.  

They’ve been making Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey their waystation ever since Pastor Rose Mary Sánchez-Guzmán decided to open the Evangelical Lutheran church’s doors to asylum-seekers who have just been processed by the U.S. government. During the migrants’ short stay before moving on other destinations, warm meals feed their bodies and prayers feed their souls.

The number of refugees who’ve made the church their waystation has increased significantly in the past two years: 200 in 2017, 800 in 2018 and already more than 2,500 this year. Church members, 60% of whom are undocumented themselves, offer hospitality to the refugees.

“My people have been transformed by the interaction with the refugees, hearing their stories and being able to serve them,” said Sánchez-Guzmán. “They feel like they they’re kind of in the same journey. The only difference is that my people are hiding there in the shadows. The refugees have some kind of status while they’re here while they go to court and their cases decided.”

University and high school students, in addition to folks across the country, also interact with the migrants through the church’s immersion program, aimed at increasing knowledge of border communities and their unique issues. When their paths cross at the church, refugees share their stories with immersion program participants.

Helping out poor migrants isn’t a matter of politics, according to Sánchez-Guzmán.

“I wish people would understand that. It’s not about being Republican or being Democrats … This is about being God’s people, loving the world and making the world a better place,” she said.

Borderland Rainbow Center serves both LGBTQ and migrant communities

From a modest one-stove kitchen, Omar Ventura, a refugee relief coordinator at Borderland Rainbow Center (BRC), cooks meals for hundreds of migrants every week. Donated packages of hotdogs, tubs of peanut butter and giant bags of lettuce are the building blocks for feeding hundreds of migrants. Disposable foil roasting pans of pasta, chicken, beans and rice are staple dishes in Ventura’s repertoire.

“We’ll end up making pasta, and then stretch out that pasta and have rice and beans on the side,” Ventura said. “You never see those two together, but our best thing is to get them fed, and also give them something that they recognize.”

Borderland Rainbow Center has been providing about 600 meals a week for migrant shelters in El Paso. The center’s main mission is to serve El Paso’s LGBTQ community, but recently expanded its relief services in response to the influx of migrants since December 23, 2018, when ICE left more than 150 migrants at the Greyhound bus station.

“It is a lot on the community,” said Ashley Heidebrecht, a social work intern at BRC. “But we’d rather have them in our community, released to people who are going to care about them, make sure they have that hot meal, and help them get to their next destination, rather than sitting in a freezing cell in detention.”

BRC is a small organization and has to keep costs down for the food they buy. Heidebrecht said she shops at discount food stores to keep each meal less than a dollar.

Ventura, who is originally from Salt Lake City, said he relates to the migrants’ struggle.

“I’ve been on my own since I was 14 years old, so I know what it’s like to be hungry,” he said.

This multimedia story was produced for 2019 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy by Stephanie Bluestein, Jacqueline Fellows and Adam Schrag.

Click hear to read Tired but determined volunteers sustain El Paso’s migrant relief services

Categories: Local Blogs

U.S. border businesses feeling pain of fewer shoppers from Mexico and tariff threats

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 5:49pm

El Paso Street buzzes by 9 a.m. on a weekday.

A shop owner with a front-row view of the Paso del Norte Bridge picks up a bedazzled pump and sets it on a box containing the mate. A jackhammer pulses two stores down, caution tape forcing walkers to the street. A steady stream of feet — some quick-paced, others leisurely — move past a Customs and Border Protection officer watching the scene unfold.

Life moves, but not at the pace it once did.

“Business is a lot slower now,” said Angel Macías, an employee at a business on the strip, where Spanish-language music is a soundtrack. “People from Mexico, like I have some friends over there who don’t want to cross anymore. They say it’s pointless … we did used to get a lot of customers that crossed over from Mexico. They don’t want to cross over anymore — because of the lines.”

Hundreds of CBP officers who normally process people walking and driving into the United States have been diverted in recent months to the care and processing of migrants who have been taken into custody at the border. That has led to longer lines for people walking or driving into El Paso.

The El Paso/Ciudad Juárez ports of entry saw $72 billion in trade in 2015, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Talk of tariffs, potential shutdowns, and slower lines is making border business owners nervous about the future.

“It’s drastically impacted the business, not only in downtown. Of course I think downtown is the biggest impacted, but of course this is everywhere in El Paso,” said Gustavo Tavera, owner of Tee Box on El Paso Street.

Business not as usual

Tavera has been in business for 29 years in one place or another along El Paso Street. His inventory is a mix or primary-colored polo shirts, neon tights, and basic t-shirts.

A few years ago, he had 11 employees. Today, he has four. He said he owes his suppliers money, struggles to make his car payment and worries that the business that put his kids through college may go bust.

“I’ve been adjusting the business for so long already … we have not many choices anymore. How many times can you lower the price on a shirt? You have four workers, you only give them 20 hours a week of work now,” said Tavera.

The problem, he said, starts in Central America. Since October  2018, the number of migrants moving through Mexico with sights set on the United States has increased.

“Nothing’s getting better,” he said. “From here to Christmas, we’re expecting another half a million people at least.”

The influx has meant customs agents are spread thin, increasing wait times to walk or drive onto El Paso Street, he said. People once making trips into the United States four times a week are now only coming once. When there’s hope among business owners to see more customers, such as upcoming school breaks that historically would bring more foot traffic from Juárez, it is shattered by reality.

Sergio González, owner of La Esquina at the corner of El Paso Street and Father Rahm Avenue, estimates a 15% loss of sales for the last 18 months. His store offers a variety of products, from self-care items to novelty character lunch boxes to live Betta fish.

Clothing businesses are down 40%, González said. Businesses are closing down.

“We’re friends,” Tavera said of other business owners in the area. “Every morning it’s the same thing. ‘How are you, how are you doing, how was yesterday.’ The answers? They’re always the same. ‘Oh bad.’ How was it Saturday? ‘Oh bad.’”

Early rise for cross-border employment

Macías wakes up between 4 and 5 a.m. to start his journey to work, less than a mile into Texas, just to make sure he’s on time. His queue time for entry to the United States was, until recently, on average 30 minutes. In early June, he waited more than an hour to be admitted.

“I’ve been crossing over for about four years,” he said. “The lines started a month, a month and a half ago … You get used to it. I got used to it. It’s like normal now.”

Macías is a U.S. citizen. His wife is a Mexican national. The couple has two daughters.

To make it to work on time, he’s up early. His commute includes a 45 minute bus ride from his home in Juárez. Leisurely trips to El Paso no longer exist.

“I know people that just want to come over and eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, there’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken,” he said. “There’s people who just want to come over and eat and go back, but they can’t do that because it’s about two to three hours to cross.”

Their money, Macías said, is being spent in Mexico instead. A shift in spending brings fear among employees in downtown, many who cross the border for the better wages.

“We are afraid because we work out of the stores downtown and, like, if the stores close, we’re going to have to move even further looking for jobs. So we hope for the best, but it’s going down as far as I see it. It’s decreasing on sales. It’s going from worse to worse.”

Working longer for just as much

On the corner of the Sixth and El Paso streets, a group of men patiently await customers coming from Mexico. They try to stay away from the sun of the summer standing in the narrow strip of shade provided by a wall.

This used to be a very busy spot in downtown, with taxi drivers going back and forth from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez and with many people crossing from Mexico to shop in El Paso. But now, taxi drivers are having a hard time to get enough clients and most of them have to work longer hours to make at least $60 or $80 per day.

“You have to work all day for that,” said Martín Ramírez, who has been a taxi driver for 30 years. “It was better before because the line would keep moving faster, but now with this, we have to stay longer hours to make three to four trips a day.”

He avoids taking trips to Juárez too.

“Whenever you get a trip to go to Juárez to the airport or to the bus station, on the way back it takes about three hours, if not about four hours to come back because they don’t have enough immigration agents to check all the cars; they just have two lanes open,” he says.

But occasionally, the long waiting lines benefit the drivers.

“Sometimes people coming are late to work, so they have to take a cab, but not always,” he adds.

Like the other taxi drivers in this corner, Ramírez works from Monday to Saturday, if not Sundays too. “It is not easy,” he says. “You got to work a lot of hours. It is getting bad.”  

Beyond the border

Trade at the El Paso ports of entry is down 7.3%, impacting both imports and exports, according to a May 2019 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Imports were down 9.8% to $45.3 billion.

The Fed cited “recent long delays at the border crossing due to Customs and Border Protection officers being diverted to process migrants.”

What starts at the border, makes its way into the city, state and country, creating ripple effects.

“Eighty percent of our freight comes all the way from Mexico and the interior of the republic and the other 20 percent is what we call domestic, either from El Paso or somewhere into El Paso or something just inside the United States,” said Angel Ponce, senior sales manager at Erives Enterprises Inc. in El Paso. 

The day at Erives starts with the sound of diesel engines revving to life. Border struggles put the company’s fleet of 210 trucks, and the jobs attached to those rigs, on the line. Lower import numbers slow down business.

“We’re talking about drivers who are making a paycheck every week,” said Ponce. “So when tariffs hit or the market slows down, some of those drivers have to stay home. We’re talking about drivers not having a week of payment. Not a lot of us can go through that.”

The past couple weeks, particularly, have been hard, said Ponce. The fleet is operating at 85 to 90% efficiency. Below 80 is cause for concern, which could result in a red line at the end of the month. No business wants to bleed money, said Ponce.

“We have a social responsibility to be successful, to be profitable for employees and for investors and the people that depend on us, including our customers and our stakeholders,” said Ponce.

Slowdowns to entry into the United States mean Erives has gone as far as hiring security to protect cargo overnight.

It’s more than just tariffs and slowdowns, though. Another Trumped-discussed threat looms with the potential replacement or change of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We have learned the last couple years that trying to predict what’s going to happen is a fool’s errand,” said Ponce. “The worst case scenario is for NAFTA to go away. I can tell you first hand that if NAFTA goes away, a lot of businesses are going to go away.”

This multimedia story was produced for 2019 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy by Tara Cuslidge-Staiano, Lourdes Cardenas and Steve J. Collins

Click hear to read U.S. border businesses feeling pain of fewer shoppers from Mexico and tariff threats

Categories: Local Blogs

Momentum grows for Border Tuner public art project linking El Paso, Juárez

Thu, 05/30/2019 - 12:36am

Border Tuner, a major new public artwork by internationally renowned visual artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, is set to take place in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in November 2019. The interactive art installation will highlight the complex connections between Juárez and El Paso through a series of nightly conversations and performances that involve residents from both sides of the border and beyond.  

The project is designed to shine a light on unity between the two sister cities and the people of both the U.S. and Mexico and aims to help the border community reclaim its own narrative in the national spotlight.

“Those of us who live and work here in the El Paso-Juárez border know how interlinked our two communities are and know how important we are to one another’s culture and history,” said Kerry Doyle, director of the Rubin Center for Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso. “As the nation’s attention has turned to the border increasingly in 2019, its important that we share our story and reclaim our narrative as one border community. This project aims to highlight the many ways in which Juárez and El Paso are interconnected.”


What is Border Tuner?

This groundbreaking project is an interactive light and sound installation with stations on either of side of the border, at the Parque Chamizal in Juárez and the parking lots of Bowie High School in El Paso. Three stations control 18 of the most powerful searchlight beams in the world. The light beams will be visible from a 10-mile radius. When lights from either of the two sites are directed at each other, powerful bridges of light and sound are created – activating microphones and speakers – allowing participants to communicate with one another and creating a cross-border connection and communication.

Each evening, Border Tuner will feature themed programming focused on the border community, including history, the environment, popular music, literature and commerce. The public may participate freely by using the tuning stations from either side of the border to engage in conversations.

Because of the ambitious nature of Border Tuner, the project will require both participation and investment from a wide range of organizations and individuals in both El Paso and Juárez. Border Tuner has already garnered the support of the El Paso Community Foundation, Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte de Ciudad Juárez, The City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department, the State of Chihuahua, the Municipio de Ciudad Juárez and the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso, among others in both the private and public sector.  This growing network is itself is a central part of the piece, showcasing the power of cross-border collaboration.

To kick off the project, Lozano-Hemmer attended two special screenings of the ongoing documentary Megalodemocrat: The Public Art of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in Juárez and El Paso to publicly launch Border Tuner. On May 14, he attended the screening at the Technology HUB in Juárez. On May 15, the artist attended a screening at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in El Paso.

Crowd-funding and sponsorship campaigns have been launched to help make Border Tuner and its programming a reality.

Sintonizador Fronterizo from Antimodular Research on Vimeo.


About Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Lozano-Hemmer is one of the most innovative and well-known artists working in the public space, having created large-scale, interactive works in cities around the world including Paris, Dubai, New York City, Philadelphia and Montreal. 

Born in Mexico City, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is known for creating interactive installations that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art. Lozano-Hemmer’s art focuses on creating platforms for public participation.

His large-scale interactive installations have been commissioned for events such as the Millennium Celebrations in Mexico City (1999), the Cultural Capital of Europe in Rotterdam (2001), the UN World Summit of Cities in Lyon (2003), the Winter Olympics in Vancouver (2010) and the pre-opening exhibition of the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi (2015).

Lozano-Hemmer was recently the subject of solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the MUAC Museum in Mexico City and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. He was the first artist to represent Mexico at the Venice Biennale with a solo exhibition at Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel in 2007.

The artist has received two BAFTA British Academy Awards for Interactive Art in London, a Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica in Austria, an Artist of the Year Rave Award from Wired Magazine, a Rockefeller Fellowship and the Trophée des Lumières in Lyon, among many other awards and accolades.

Shot over 10 years in 17 countries, Megalodemocrat, follows Lozano-Hemmer’s career creating large-scale works that entice an increasingly isolated public into transforming their cities and reconnecting with one another. Border Tuner, and in turn Juárez-El Paso, will be the final project and site featured in the film.

Facebook/Instagram @bordertuner

Editor’s note: Borderzine is participating in the Border Tuner project planning group.

Click hear to read Momentum grows for Border Tuner public art project linking El Paso, Juárez

Categories: Local Blogs

U.S.–Mexico border becomes multimedia journalism classroom for Cal State University students reporting from both sides

Wed, 05/29/2019 - 11:49pm

By Julio J. Bermejo

Dominic Torres wasn’t getting what he needed from the interview, and he knew it.

Torres, a senior majoring in journalism at California State University, Fullerton, in Southern California, was on the outskirts of Tijuana, Baja California, in November at a residential shelter for child victims of sexual exploitation. He was there to interview “Lucy” (a pseudonym), a 21-year-old survivor of a childhood of abuse at the hands of her father. Her story was to be a central element of the multimedia news package on child sexual exploitation in the U.S.–Mexico border region Torres was assembling as part of his work in the university’s new course, “Specialized Reporting on Minorities of the Southern Border.” 

See the stories: California State University Fullerton Reports From The Border

Yet, even though Lucy had agreed to the interview through the shelter director, who sat translating between her and Torres, who did not speak Spanish; even though the camera was trained only on her hands; and even with the promised use of the pseudonym and an offer to alter her voice in the footage, Lucy was reluctant to offer any details of her story. Torres slowly switched off the camera and hung his head in thought. He faced a moment of truth: Would he try again to elicit details, or would he settle for what he’d gotten?   

After a long period of silence, Torres asked the director, Alma Tucker, for her assistance in reassuring Lucy about the interview. In gentle tones, Tucker, who leads a binational organization dedicated to the rescue of women and children from sexual abuse and human trafficking, encouraged the young woman to speak about matters she had earlier expressed a willingness to discuss. Torres switched on the camera. And Lucy began speaking.

“The abuse started when I was four years old,” Lucy said, her hands fidgeting in her lap. “I thought it was something normal, because it was coming from someone who loved me so much. He was my father, and I didn’t think he would want to hurt me.” As Torres recorded, she told of the abuse and of the changing tactics her father used to control her as she grew older, going from a reliance on a young child’s naiveté to coercion and threats of violence. “Don’t wait until you feel like you’re drowning or that you want to die” before reaching out for help, she told the audience she envisioned watching the news story Torres would ultimately assemble.

In Spanish, there is a phrase, abrir brecha, which can mean both to open a path through an obstacle (think Shakespeare’s Henry V urging his troops “once more unto the breach”) and to create new opportunity. Last fall, first-year full-time lecturer and veteran broadcast journalist Jesús Ayala, with the crucial support of administrators and other faculty at Cal State Fullerton, a Hispanic-serving institution, abrió brecha for the 10 students — nine women, one man, the majority of them Latino — who enrolled in the border reporting course. The course was focused on building the participants’ broadcast reporting and multimedia production skills. Its culminating activity was a reporting boot camp Nov. 1 – 5 that took them to Tijuana and San Diego to report stories as professional journalists would. So while President Donald Trump hardened borders and hardened hearts against asylum seekers and immigrants ahead of midterm elections, the students moved through physical, systemic and personal barriers that can separate the student from the professional. It was movement accompanied by all the uncertainty and accomplishment one would expect of such a training experience or rite of passage.

Lucy’s responses were “kind of just beating around the bush,” Torres later said, reflecting on the interview. “I had to make a decision: ‘Look, I came out her for a story, and I need to get that story.’ That’s why I stopped the camera.”

Without asking for too much, he said, he needed Lucy to understand that “if you want me to tell your story, and you want me to make this story make a difference for society or raise awareness for something, then I need to know your story.” Without her firsthand experiences, as difficult as they might be to share, “your story is going to be out there for no reason.” 

From left, Cal State Fullerton journalism students Viviana Borroel, Brandy Flores and Dominic Torres discuss the interviews and footage they’ve collected at Friendship Park at the western terminus of the U.S.–Mexico border in San Diego County, California, on Nov. 4, 2018. Photo by Julio J. Bermejo, special to

Torres’ story was one of the 10 multimedia news packages written, reported and produced by the students who participated in the boot camp. Each package consisted of a four–five-minute video news story and its accompanying online news article, along with photographs taken and infographics designed by the students. Leading up to the boot camp, the course was heavy with readings and lectures on topics such as a history of the U.S.–Mexico border, trade between Latin America and the United States, migration and human rights, the trade in illegal drugs, and border militarization. The students also were required to report a news story at midterm to hone their reporting and multimedia skills ahead of the boot camp.

For the instructor, an award-winning 15-year veteran of national broadcast news, the course and the timing created an opportunity to bring together two of his major interests to help prepare students for the realities of the journalism profession.

The chance to combine journalism and politics “was just perfect,” said Ayala, who as an undergraduate majored in political science. “It just seemed like the perfect time to teach it.” In the syllabus he distributed to the class in August, he noted that “there is no other issue in the news right now that is more polarizing than the border debate.”

Ayala said his learning objectives for the course were simple. “I tell my students at the beginning: ‘I want you to be employable.’ That is my number one goal. There’s no point in getting the degree if you’re not going to be employable or if you’re learning things that are not going to get you hired.” His second objective, if simple to articulate, was nevertheless ambitious: for the boot camp and course “to be a transformational experience,” he said. “That’s really it. But for me, in general, with all my courses, it’s really just those two things.”

Each student pitched and produced her or his own story. Their eventual pieces reflected some of the variety of human experience at one of the world’s busiest land border crossings and the city of 1.3 million people immediately to its south at a moment of heightened international interest. The stories ran the gamut, from the experiences of families participating in the migrant caravan then making its way to the U.S.–Mexico border; to Tijuana’s community of Haitian migrants, who fled Haiti in the wake of a 2010 earthquake there; to Uber’s arrival in Mexico and its impact on Tijuana’s taxi industry and drivers; to lighter fare.

Ayala, who teaches mostly upper-division courses, said he treats his students as working professionals. “When you come into my class, you should treat it as if you were coming into a newsroom.” In a working newsroom, he said, journalists are expected to write on deadline — and write well — and they are expected to shoot video skillfully. “I demand all of that from them. I really do. Because I don’t want them leaving our campus not having had a real taste.”

Participants agreed the boot camp reflected that philosophy. Regina Yurrita, whose story on families separated by migration took her to Friendship Park, where the first of two U.S. border barriers is opened on weekends so people can see and speak with family or friends on the Tijuana side, said Ayala’s course was different from traditional courses. Most courses are taught in a classroom or anchor studio, said the senior, who was interning in the local news division of a TV network-affiliate. But the boot camp, which provided only one complete day for reporting in Tijuana, “at my internship, that’s what I see. Reporters go out in the field, they have one full day to do it, and then they should be prepared to air it that same day. So, it was awesome.”

Senior Jessica Cárdenas, who reported on the experiences of Central American asylum seekers and caravan participants, called the first-hand exposure as a reporter to issues of migration, “life-changing.” The stories the students reported and the conditions under which they reported them cannot be found near campus, she said. “Seeing it firsthand, and interviewing your source,” Cárdenas said, “and really seeing the rawness of the desperation, and their voice and their stories, that’s when you get to realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this is real life.’”

“I love this course,” she said. “It’s very challenging. It’s very heavy. It’s emotionally heavy, physically heavy. But this is going to be the determining factor for you, in order to decide, ‘Yes, I do want to pursue this,’ or ‘No, I don’t want to.’”

Cal State Fullerton journalism student Viviana Borroel interviews the Rev. Francisco Garcia-Velasquez, as fellow student Dominic Torres records the interview on Nov. 4, 2018, at Friendship Park at the western terminus of the U.S.–Mexico border in San Diego County, California. Borroel interviewed Garcia-Velasquez, who had just concluded a binational communion service through the border fence, for the multimedia story on deported U.S. veterans in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo by Julio J. Bermejo

The border reporting boot camp and course were part of a larger effort in the university’s College of Communications to build a pipeline of qualified, savvy Latino and other graduates ready for careers in mass communications, including in Spanish-language media.

Inez González, director of the college’s Latino Communications Institute, which is leading the effort, said the news and entertainment industries are recognizing their underutilization of diverse talent, but they are also industries with “high barriers to entry.” 

Those barriers appear to produce an underrepresentation of Latinos and women, among others, that continues to mark the American newsroom. Latinos are almost 20 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, according to 2018 research by the Pew Research Center, they make up only 10.5 percent of the TV news workforce and 7.1 percent of TV news directors. Every year, according to Poynter, women receive the majority of degrees in journalism and mass communications. Nine of the 10 participants in the border reporting course were women. Yet, according to research by the American Society of News Editors, women were only 39.1 percent of all newsroom employees in 2017 — up less than two percentage points from 2001.

González said the institute and its courses help provide and develop the two missing components that prevent students and graduates from overcoming key barriers to entry: strong career-relevant training and a network connecting them to industry internships and jobs.

“Industry wants prepared students,” she said, and existing pipelines might lead to “typical elite schools that might not have a lot of diversity. Now we’re really changing the conversation by preparing [students]really well, not only in the classroom, but outside of the classroom.”

Ayala said he saw firsthand the newsroom bias against state university students during his 15 years in the broadcast news business.

“Elite school students get respect,” he said. “And then you might get a student from a Cal State Northridge or Cal State Fullerton. And I’ve seen it, I’ve seen employers turn up their noses, like, ‘Oh, God, state students.’ Automatically the assumption is that their education is inferior.”

But an experience like the border reporting course “sets an even playing field,” he said. Ayala also teaches the institute’s Spanish-language TV news magazine, “Al Día.” It won a 2019 Broadcast Education Association excellence award in its first year after being converted from an extracurricular activity to a credit course.

Broadcast journalism, in Ayala’s view, is a field where ultimately “it really doesn’t matter where you went to school. All that really matters is ‘What do you know how to do?’” 

From a practical perspective, he said, his border reporting students likely did much more last fall than many students in more prestigious programs. “These are hireable packages.”

“Students from Berkeley didn’t go to the border,” said Ayala, who earned his bachelor’s at the UC campus. The work the boot camp participants did, “that on a resume looks amazing. And suddenly you’re asked, ‘Writing sample?’ ‘Here you go.’ ‘Video reel?’ ‘Here you go.’

“Students at CSUs deserve these types of experiences,” Ayala said. “These experiences shouldn’t just be for the USCs or Northwesterns or Columbia Universities of the world.”

One of the groups that might be benefiting most from the new educational and networking opportunities the Latino Communications Institute is developing is first-generation college students. Today, students whose parents have not attended college make up almost a third of Cal State Fullerton’s undergraduates. The resources marshalled by the institute, working with instructors, administrators and industry partners, “help these first-generation college students with limited social capital get into the industry,” the institute’s González said.

Xochilt Lagunas is one of those students. The senior used the boot camp to report on the lives of Central Americans and Mexicans living in a Tijuana shelter as they awaited the opportunity to apply for asylum in the United States. A self-confessed “very sensitive person,” Lagunas spent hours in the shelter listening to stories of violence, threats, fear and compassion. Yet, she was able to maintain her composure, she said, till she was in her rideshare heading back to the hotel where the students, Ayala and other faculty were staying. She said the border reporting course had been a true growth experience for her.

“I treat this class as if it’s also a job,” Lagunas said. “It’s taught me that things are always going to happen. Bad things are always going to happen. There are going to be times when the laptop is going to crash. And I’ve improved, definitely.”

Before the course, she said, “I would just collapse in tears and, ‘Oh, my god, I’m so stressed out!’ But now I hold in my tears, and I stay strong, like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to figure this out, and I’m going to fix this. Because crying is not the answer.’ 

“So I definitely feel that it has made me stronger,” she said. “This course has definitely made me stronger as a person. I feel proud of myself for how I’ve come this far.”

Cal State Fullerton journalism student Rita La Vau descends into a World War II tunnel near the U.S.–Mexico border in San Diego County, California, as fellow student Regina Yurrita looks on during a U.S. Border Patrol tour and presentation on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo courtesy Xochilt Lagunas.

Lagunas attributed her sense of accomplishment to the fact that she had been able to apply what she learned in the course to an important story on what was her first visit to Mexico.

 “I honestly feel that [the course]did prepare me. I’ve never been to Mexico. This is my first time in T.J.,” she said, using a common nickname for Tijuana. “I had no idea what’s going on here. My parents are from Mexico, but I never had that background. I don’t travel.

“So, the fact that I was able to do this, and not only that, apply the knowledge of what my professor was the whole time talking about, and what I’ve been watching on TV, especially right now since the whole caravan situation, it really hit me,” Lagunas said. “It made me see a part of that in actual, real life and experience it. Not me just hearing it from TV or from word of mouth, but actually in person. A person actually telling me their story.”

If it is a question of improved employability, participation in study abroad programs appears to produce tangible benefits when the time comes to find that first post-college job. According to research conducted by study abroad provider IES Abroad, graduates who had studied internationally were twice as likely to find a job within a year of graduation than were those who had not studied internationally. And a survey of employers by the European Union’s Erasmus study abroad program found that 64 percent of them said international experience is important in their recruitment efforts. The same percentage said that employees with international experience are more likely to be given greater job responsibility.

Yet, even with the university’s proximity to the border — a 2 ½-hour trip by car or train — the opportunity to build journalism skills by reporting on current events, and the benefits of participating in study abroad, the boot camp in Tijuana was a tough sell to university officials.

“As far as the university is concerned,” Ayala told his students a few weeks into the semester, “we’re going to Syria.”

A reputation for drug-related violence appears to have dogged the border city. Yet, according to the U.S. State Department, crime in Baja California related to the traffic in illegal drugs typically is focused among criminal groups themselves, and, as in any heavily-touristed city, the most common threat to Tijuana visitors appears to be pickpockets and purse snatchers.

The media propagates an image “that all of Tijuana is dangerous,” said Dean Kazoleas, director of the university’s Maxwell Center for International Communications, “and it’s not.”

University risk management officials were wary of allowing students to work in Tijuana, said Kazoleas, who was instrumental in securing approval for the boot camp. “The idea of just going and basically wandering in Tijuana and reporting” would be seen as too risky, he said. “So what I suggested is that we perhaps work with our partner, CETYS University, and have a program at CETYS Tijuana. The program would be centered around CETYS Tijuana, and they would help us coordinate things. And [Risk Management] said yes.”

Kazoleas and the Maxwell Center have, in recent years, built a relationship with the multi-campus, Mexican university’s Ensenada location, 70 miles south of Tijuana. Since 2016, Cal State Fullerton communications students have studied there during winter and summer sessions, working with local students on tourism-based public relations projects.

Even as the boot camp participants focused on their news packages, learning in more formal forms continued to take place. The students, faculty and host CETYS officials began the first full day in Tijuana with a visit to a Foxconn maquiladora, or duty-free factory, and a CETYS panel on the North American Free Trade Agreement and its replacement under the Trump administration. On their first day back in the United States, the students were given a border tour and briefing by U.S. Border Patrol officials.

According to students, Ayala prepared them well for their encounters with economic and immigration policy at institutional and personal levels.

  During the Border Patrol’s presentation, Cárdenas said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, my god! He literally did teach us everything, with the readings, the classes and everything.’ It was just so much material, but it was material that we needed to know.” 

Without that intensive preparation, she said, “we would be there not knowing anything, not understanding anything, not knowing what questions to ask. That really, really prepared us.” 

Ayala also emphasized the importance of having a command of one’s story subject and its context when on the job market, Torres said. “That was the first thing Jesús told us on the first day. He said, ‘I’m trying to drill you guys with information because when you guys go into a job interview, they’re not going to say, “Oh, how was your Mexico trip?” They’re going to say, “How do you feel about NAFTA, and them taking it away and making a new one?”’

“Outlets are going to ask about current events and compare that to your work,” Torres said. “They won’t restrict themselves to the package, the story.”

In the field in a foreign country, the students relied on each other to get their work done.

“That day that I went to go shoot,” Cárdenas said, “Jesús went with me in the morning. But after that, I stayed at the shelter by myself for two or three hours. And then Brandy [Flores] and Maricela [Pérez], they came to help me finish with everything.

“And after that we went to Maricela’s shoot,” she said. “And we just kept going one place after another, and we were able to finish all the stories, all in time. They helped me with mine, I helped them with theirs. And we finished on deadline.”

Most of the credit for the boot camp’s vision and success goes to Ayala, said the Latino Communications Institute’s González.

“Jesús took the environmental advantage that we are two hours away from another country, and took the students to report on this very critical issue, where all eyes were on the refugees,” she said. “The fact that the students were able to cover this story, in the way that they did, in another country, is really extraordinary.”

Journalism students enrolled in Cal State Fullerton’s course “Specialized Reporting on Minorities of the Southern Border” gather and work in a lounge of their Tijuana, Mexico, hotel on Nov. 1, 2018, the first day of the course’s reporting boot camp at the U.S.–Mexico border. Photo courtesy Xochilt Lagunas.

It is late Saturday afternoon in Tijuana, after a full day in the field for the boot camp participants. They’ve spent their time in shelters interviewing waylaid asylum seekers and deported U.S. veterans, speaking and riding with taxi drivers nervous about the arrival of ridesharing in their city, traveling dirt roads to reach the canyon home of Tijuana’s Little Haiti and interview some of its residents. Most of the students have trickled back into the hotel, and now they are gathered around a long, tall table in a lounge area off the hotel’s lobby. Fingers tap out stories on laptops or scroll through text messages, emails and news on mobile phones lying on the table, amid cameras, microphones, notebooks. Students chat or listen to music through earbuds and headphones. The scene easily could be one of foreign correspondents deployed to a news hotspot anywhere on the planet, getting the work of journalism done.

Yet, the struggles, triumphs and growth the students experienced were evident too. Speaking with a classmate, Viviana Borroel, who reported on the plight of deported veterans, ran through a litany of the challenges, large and small, she encountered and overcame to get her story. As if finally allowing herself to feel the full weight of the day’s effort, her eyes welled with tears as she spoke. Torres, whose eventual story on child sexual exploitation had begun as a story on sex trafficking across the U.S.–Mexico border, went over the change with Ayala, seeking his teacher’s affirmation of his work and the piece’s new direction.

The changes that occurred over the course of the semester and during the boot camp were not limited to the stories. The students themselves appeared to change, as Ayala had hoped.

Cárdenas, who reported on asylum seekers and caravan participants, had an internship with an entertainment news outlet at the time of the course. She had intended to pursue a career in entertainment media, she said. But speaking back on campus after the boot camp, she said that, while entertainment journalism has its place, “now I would never pursue entertainment.”

“How do you compare interviewing a Central American woman,” Cárdenas asked, thinking back to one of her interviewees, “who is here with her two sons, after having her family members killed, and then her threatened, leaving the country, and now she’s stuck at a migrant shelter, when she did everything the right way, she was an attorney? How do you compare [that to]an entertainment story, like ‘Kim Kardashian did this today’?”

Lagunas, who reported on the lives of asylum seekers inside a migrant shelter, said that, under Ayala’s instruction and supervision, she had found both her voice and her audience. 

The young woman who conducted her own interviews in the shelter said she speaks “basic Spanish” and that, when she encounters formal Spanish in books and other media, her reaction is “Oh, that’s not me.” But through her work in Ayala’s courses, especially the “Al Día” news magazine, she is able to express herself confidently and effectively, she said.

“Me doing live shots through ‘Al Día’ in Spanish has given me the opportunity to just be myself and express things my way to the Latino community, but in an easy way for people to understand.” Formal language can feel exclusionary, she said. “That’s the reason why I try to use simple Spanish words. So that others that are like me can understand.”

The success of the boot camp appears to be creating new opportunities and new direction for the university’s communications students and faculty. The border reporting course is scheduled to be offered again in the spring 2020 term. Ayala said he plans to reduce the amount of time spent on the U.S. side of the border during the boot camp to give the students more time to report from Tijuana. The course also has created interest among communications faculty for teaching in study abroad programs in the Americas, said the Maxwell Center’s Kazoleas. Creating connections between the university and Latin America is “relevant,” he said. “It’s culturally important, especially given the demographics of California and our students.”   

The journey the students went on was both a physical and a mental one. And its biggest impact may have been on their own self-concept.

Two weeks into the semester and the border reporting course, Torres faced a crisis. His financial aid package had fallen through unexpectedly, he said, and he considered dropping out because of the difficulties he would face in trying to pay for the semester.

“But I realized how much I’m involved,” he said during the boot camp. “And one of those involvements was Jesús’ class. And I realized I couldn’t just drop it, because this is a big opportunity. And coming on this trip, it just emphasized it even more.”

Even in those earliest weeks, Torres said, through exposure in class to the issues and struggles surrounding the border, “I already had this idea of ‘How could I drop out and be complaining about (financial aid) right now, when there are people in Central America and Mexico who don’t have an opportunity of their government giving them anything?’”

Torres had already made three trips to the border prior to the boot camp to do research and shoot his midterm story for the course. By the time of the boot camp, through his work and under Ayala’s tutelage, Torres’s relationship to journalism had changed and grown. 

“Two days before I came out here,” Torres said during the boot camp, “somebody asked me why I was going to Mexico. And I said, ‘Well, I’m a journalist,’ and I said it with confidence. I’d never said that before, but I said it with confidence: ‘I’m a journalist. I’m going down to Mexico to film a story.’ That’s the first time I had said that.

“I don’t see (Ayala) as an instructor. I see him as a boss,” he said. “I don’t see this class as a class. I see this as a job, more so.

“I feel like I’m a producer. I feel like I’m a journalist. I feel like I can say that.”

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Categories: Local Blogs

Putting the ‘her’ in hero: Why Hollywood needs superheroines

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 7:51pm

After 10 years and 20 films, Marvel Studios did the apparently unthinkable: released a woman-led superhero film.

In the two months since its release, “Captain Marvel” has smashed box office expectations, raking in over $1 billion worldwide and having the third largest worldwide opening weekend ever for a superhero film behind “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

What has been even bigger though, is the debate the film has set off. Because apparently some people still feel that films highlighting women – especially in the superhero genre – are unnecessary.

While many fans praise the much-needed representation and empowerment for young girls and women who are fans of Marvel that the film provided, some took issue with Marvel’s decision to place a woman hero at the forefront.

The film was subject to a troll campaign, with some trying – and failing – to boycott the film in order to tank its box office numbers. Others organized a smear campaign on film aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, leaving negative reviews of the film before it was even released. Others have still apparently made it their mission to inundate any social media post featuring “Captain Marvel” or its star, Brie Larson, with hateful comments, even going so far as to criticize Larson’s body.

This is not necessarily anything new. “Wonder Woman” experienced similar backlash, although on a smaller scale. This response, however, is old and tired.

Marvel fans are calling for a film featuring its all-woman hero team the A-Force following "Avengers: Endgame."

Because here’s the thing, although films like “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” indicate that a long-overdue changing of the tide is occurring within the world of superhero films, women are still treated largely as invisible by Hollywood.

Yes, we’ve had a small increase in films led by women in the past few years. Yes, we’ve had two superheroine-centric films. But the change is very slow coming and it’s not quite enough.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is only one film franchise, it’s indicative of an entire industry that largely ignores or poorly represents women. The fact is that this is a decade-spanning, multibillion-dollar franchise that has more lead-actors named Chris than films led by a woman hero or hero of color combined.

The statement that makes about the film industry’s representation of minorities is just sad. Especially when films like “Captain Marvel” or “Black Panther” get accused of pushing “radical political agendas.” But the idea that women and people of color should be visible isn’t radical. It’s common sense.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, women made up 51% of movie goers in 2018, and Marvel claims that at least 40% of its comic readers are women. So then, why aren’t women being represented more in in the films based on those comics?

The problem isn’t even limited to the superhero genre. According to an annual study by USC Annenberg, just over a quarter of the 1,200 most popular films since 2007 have had a woman lead or co-lead character.

While superhero men continue to flourish, women are often forced into the shadows reduced to love interests or sidekicks. This is not only frustrating, but potentially harmful to the young girls who watch these films.

One of the things that “Captain Marvel” did so well was allow Carol Danvers to shine on her own and without forcing her into a romantic subplot, but that’s such a rare thing even today. “Wonder Woman,” for all its positive representation, at times felt like Diana was playing sidekick to Steve Trevor’s hero, and her heroic journey often felt overshadowed by her love story with him. Even Black Widow was put into an awkward and unnecessary romantic subplot with Bruce Banner that most of us would rather forget.

Women and young girls deserve to see themselves in the superheroes in their movies just as much as men and young boys do. They deserve to know that they can do anything, be anything or defeat anything that gets in their way. And not despite being a girl, but because of it.

Maybe men can’t fully appreciate just how important women superheroes are, but for many women seeing these fierce, powerful women shine on screen means the world to us. Watch any video on YouTube of women simply reacting to the trailers for “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel,” and that becomes incredibly apparent.

Movies like “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” that put women at the forefront are great. They allow women to feel empowered and represented in a world where they’ve been largely absent. Films like “Black Panther,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and recent entries in the “Avengers” saga have even provided another small step forward by allowing secondary women heroes small moments to shine.

Notably, “Endgame” gave us a short scene that brought all of its heroines together in a nod to its A-Force team from the comics. But the response to that scene is an indication that we still have room for improvement.

Because we can do even better.

Where are our Latina heroines? Our black lead heroines? Our Asian heroines? Our LGBTQ heroines?

How about an all-heroine team-up movie?

Because women come in different colors, shapes and personalities, and deserve to be highlighted in all of our varieties. And these diverse heroes exist within the pages of comic books, you don’t even have to look hard to find them. If Marvel could take a virtually unknown team like the Guardians of the Galaxy and turn them into a box office hit, then they can take a chance on a few more heroines.

And honestly, women superheroes just make sense. Because in reality, women have been catalysts for change and leaders in their movements for centuries, and isn’t that a large part of what heroes do?

As a woman who has been watching superhero films for as long as I can remember, I’ll admit that finally seeing a superheroine command the lead brought tears to my eyes. Because while I might not have any kind of superpowers, there have been plenty of moments throughout my life where I’ve been told that I can’t or shouldn’t do something just because of my gender. Watching a character like Captain Marvel prove her own naysayers wrong felt empowering as hell.

In the end, isn’t that what It’s all about?

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Music Beyond Borders brings together student musicians

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 7:09pm

LAS CRUCES — The Esperanza Azteca Symphony Orchestra of Ciudad Juarez and New Mexico State University Philharmonic Orchestra came together to highlight “Music Beyond Borders” with joint concerts on both sides of the U.S., Mexico border.

The Esperanza Azteca Symphony Orchestra of Ciudad Juarez and New Mexico State University Philharmonic Orchestra

More than 100 student musicians performed a variety of pieces including Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Márquez’s Danzón 2, Gershwin’s Summertime conducted under the baton of teachers Simón Gollo of NMSU and Maestro Jove García of Esperanza Azteca.

“This concert means a lot to me because it represents the union of these two countries and how we see each other,”said Grace Garcia, a student in Azteca Esperanza orchestra.

Student musicians aged 12 to 24 years-old performed together.

“Everyone is really talented I had the pleasure to play with them, I felt really comfortable and I loved all the pieces that we play,” said Ana Patricia Gonzalez, a University of Texas at El Paso student.

Musical instruments await the performance. Photo by Aimee Ayub Perez,

The first concert was on March 1 at the Atkinson Recital Hall in Las Cruces on the NMSU campus and the second performance was the next day at the Paso del Norte Cultural Center in Ciudad Juárez.

Esperanza Azteca has participated in joint concerns with other North American symphonies in the past including the Aspen Institute in Colorado, in Los Angeles where they have an orchestra, and at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York. However this was the first time Esperanza Azteca has played they played in New Mexico with NMSU students.

“It’s the first time that their orchestra comes to New Mexico, and the first time the NMSU Orchestra goes Ciudad Juarez and since meeting all these children, I now consider (Juarez) a wonderful city, a magical city,” said Gollo.

Esperanza Azteca is a non-profit organization that has 62 symphony orchestras and choirs across Mexico including the one in Juarez at Centro Universitario de las Artes Zona Pronaf . About 12,000 young musicians nationwide participate in the Orchestras where along with music they also develop discipline, the pursuit of excellence and teamwork.

“It is an incubator of good Mexicans, which inspires us to continue working and investing in them” according to Ricardo B. Salinas Pliego, president of Group Salina on the Esperanza Azteca website.

Esperanza Azteca began in 2009 as a social-musical program for children and teens with limited resources.

“In this process we were able to share during two days at our University we opened the doors of a house that was anxious to receive hope, to receive the music that all these young people do,” Gollo said.

This event was full of emotions, much enthusiasm on the part of everyone. The Orchestra and the audience were connected all the time. Lots of dancing and applauding, standing ovation and even singing the national anthem among other melodies.

“Youth showed us that the difference is made from them in their basic environment because of what they bring to the communities of Juarez/El Paso, and now the city of Las Cruces could see the joy, teamwork and solidarity between communities, enthusiasm, participation and social responsibility,” said TV Azteca anchor Noel Edmundo Ramirez.

”At a time where there are administrations that want to build higher walls, we have to keep fighting so that the pentagrams are the only barrier between Juarez and the United States,” Gollo said.

The two-day binational concert had support from both sides of the border in bringing young musicians together including the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, the NMSU Philharmonic Orchestra, the Azteca Foundation and the Association of Friends of the Esperanza Azteca Symphony Orchestra of Ciudad Juarez.

The Esperanza Azteca Orchestra’s website has a full schedule of performances including eight concerts in low income neighborhoods in Ciudad Juarez to inspire other young musicians.


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Categories: Local Blogs

12 professors heading to U.S, Mexico border for Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy 2019

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 10:36am

Twelve journalism instructors from U.S. Hispanic Serving Institutions will travel to the U.S., Mexico border region to participate in the 10th annual Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy May 31 – June 6 at the University of Texas in El Paso.

Thanks to a grant provided by the Dow Jones News Fund, Borderzine organizes this annual training program geared to support multimedia journalism instructors who teach in institutions with a large minority population.

Here is a list of the 12 instructors who were chosen and their institutions:

  • Nancy Garcia, West Texas A&M University
  • Jacqueline Fellows, University of North Texas
  • Ana Lourdes Cardenas, San Francisco State University
  • Stephanie Bluestein, California State University Northridge
  • Joel Harris, California State University San Bernadino
  • Farideh Dada, San Jose City College
  • Frederick Batiste, Houston Community College System
  • Adam Schrag, Fresno Pacific University
  • Tara Cuslidge-Staiano, San Joaquin Delta College
  • Jenna Duncan, Glendale Community College
  • Walter Barranger, California State Fullerton
  • Steve Collins, University of Central Florida

The week-long multimedia-journalism academy has a proven track record of helping journalism educators acquire a new skills in digital storytelling that they can use to help prepare prepare the next generation of Latino college journalists for a competitive media market.

“The trainers at the academy understand what educators need to learn about new and emerging technologies to better prepare their students for the fast-changing future” said Linda Shockley, Deputy Director of Dow Jones News Fund. “This quality of instruction at absolutely no cost to participants and their universities is priceless.”

The goal of this experience is to learn and practice news reporting using a variety of digital equipment, software programs and platforms. Participating instructors are expected to translate this learning into training for their students, making them more competitive in the media industry.

The selected participants come from different teaching backgrounds, specializing in print, photojournalism, broadcast and other platforms. As technology is changing so rapidly, it is essential for college instructors to expand their knowledge and increase their skills to teach multimedia journalism effectively. Current media organizations are looking for journalists who know more than just write, take pictures or do video.

 This hands-on training takes instructors into the field to cover real stories and gain experience for how involved and time-consuming a multimedia production can be.  It also gives professors a chance to collaborate with peers that are struggling with the same challenges. Examples of work published from previous academy sessions can be seen here.

The program director is Kate Gannon, digital content manager for and an associate professor of practice in the UT El Paso Department of Communication. Academy trainers include nationally-known multimedia consultant and NPR Consultant Project Manager, Doug Mitchell; Borderzine Digital Content Editor and former Digital Content Manager for The Coloradoan Media Group, Kate Gannon; Independent radio reporter, Monica Ortiz Uribe; and broadcast TV veteran Andrew Valencia.

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EPCC, UTEP fight student hunger with food pantries

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 5:36pm

EL PASO — One in four college students does not have enough to eat according to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. College food pantries help students cope with food insecurity.

“A lot of students are going hungry, a lot of them live paycheck to paycheck and we wanted to address this issue by opening a food pantry.” said Bryan Mena, president of the El Paso Community College student government association. “We want to make sure every student knows that it’s an option for them.”

In the past five years, student government at both EPCC and the University of Texas at El Paso’s created their own on campus food pantries to offer free food to students and staff in need.

Miguel Archuleta demonstrates how he puts together a box of food for students in need at the Tejano Food Pantry at the Valle Verde EPCC campus. Photo by Catherine Ramirez,

The EPCC and UTEP pantries offer a variety of nonperishable food items for their students and staff ranging from canned meats, beans, soup, cereal, to a variety of canned vegetables.

“A lot of the items that they take tend to be with nutrients of protein,” said Karen Barraza, UTEP graduate assistant and supervisor of the UTEP food pantry. “Whenever we get canned meats, canned chicken that tends to go fast.”

UTEP students only need a valid student ID to gain access to the food pantry.

“It always depends on what the person needs, but we do state to them ‘please be considerate’ because other students do utilize the service and we rely solely on donations,” Barraza said.

Karen Barraza works the UTEP Food Pantry located in Memorial Gym.

Both college pantries also offer a variety of personal hygiene items such as shampoo, tooth brushes, toothpaste, body wash, as well as tampons and pads.

Students who want to use the pantry at EPCC have to demonstrate financial need by filling out an application at the Student Government Association in Building C at the Valle Verde campus to

“You fill out your name, ID number and include how many hosts such as people that live in your house and how many children under 18,” said Miguel Archuleta, Tejano Food Pantry clerk. “We are here to help you (students) the food pantry is for all EPCC students.”

More than 32,000 students are enrolled and attend classes at EPCC’s eight campus locations but on average only 15 students a month use the college’s Tejano Food Pantry. During the fall 2018 semester the Tejano Food Pantry served a total of 61 students according to Mena.

In order to get the word out about college food pantries EPCC and UTEP student government bodies have used flyers, posters and held fundraising events such food drives to encourage students to use the college pantries.

“Several students have said they think the food pantry’s donations are for shelters, or other organizations and not for students,” Mena said.

“Students who have a need for food often have a need for other resources and services, they might be homeless and need a place to stay,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, associate vice president and dean of students at UTEP. “So we are going to start connecting all those services.”

An estimated 200 students of the 25,000 enrolled use the UTEP food pantry each month. The UTEP Dean of Students’ office, which oversees the pantry, is currently collecting more data about how many students use the food pantry and what items they tend to select to better understand the needs of students.

“If you’re not taking care of the most basic necessities, which is food, housing and security that’s really challenging for anything else you’re trying to do, especially degree completion,” McCorry-Andalis said.

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Categories: Local Blogs

Obispos y lideres de fe de la frontera Mexico-EE.UU se unen en solidaridad con los migrantes

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:00am

EL PASO — Obispos Catolicos de la frontera Texas-México se reunieron para conversar sobre temas relacionados con inmigración que se viven a diario en ciudades fronterizas.

“La migración forzada, es producto de un modelo económico que mantienen nuestros políticos en el mundo hoy, junto con los empresarios. Es una explotación del hombre, es un descuido total de la vida humana,” dijo Raúl Veda, Obispo de Saltillo.

La conferencia en Febrero formo parte de un evento que se llevo acabo durante tres días a finales de Febrero y los obispos concedieron una misa para la justicia y la paz en la frontera en el Muro Fronterizo entre Anapra y Sunland Park.

Los obispos en el grupo “Tex-Mex” se reúnen al menos dos veces cada año, pero esta ocasión fue mas urgente por las políticas de la administración Trump respecto a los solicitantes de asilo político, la muerte de dos niños inmigrantes de Guatemala en Diciembre cuando estaban a cargo de U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), y la batalla del presidente el presidente Donald Trump para construir un muro al largo de la frontera.

Aparte de los representantes de la Iglesia católica, también estuvieron presentes líderes interreligiosos, defensores laicos, investigadores y analistas de políticas, el episcopado de México y Estados Unidos, representantes de las iglesias protestantes, de judíos y musulmanes.

Muchas veces son las parroquias y comunidades fronterizas que ofrecen ayuda a las familias migrantes. Y el Arzobispo Gustavo García-Siller de San Antonio dio a resaltar que el gobierno cada vez les ofrece menos recursos. “Confiamos en la buena voluntad de personas y lo hacemos desde la fe. Entonces, no nos va a parar el que los gobiernos hagan mucho, o no mucho,” dijo Arzobispo García-Siller.

Padre Pedro Pantoja de Saltillo, Coahuila comento que las Casas del Inmigrante en México están en sobrecapacidad en estos momentos pero “esto no nos fastidia, nos alegra, por que como Iglesia entonces estamos respondiendo.”

Monseñor José Guadalupe Torres de Ciudad Juárez,dijo, “la experiencia que hoy vivimos, estos tres días, ha sido una experiencia extraordinaria.” Resalto tres aspectos que resumen el propósito de estas reuniones: comunión, solidaridad, y un servicio de caridad y misericordia de un amor para el prójimo.

Los obispos Tex-Mex también hablaron sobre la nueva póliza de E.U.A. apodada “Remain in México/Permanecer en México” que esta vigente en las fronteras de San Ysidro, San Diego, California y ahora El Paso-Ciudad Juarez.

“Estamos muy preocupados por esta norma,” dijo El Obispo de El Paso, Mark J. Seitz.

“Estamos aquí para demostrar nuestra solidaridad con el inmigrante, con los refugiados, y con los solicitantes de asilo,” dijo Dylan Corbett, Fundador y director del Instituto Fronterizo Esperanza. “No mas a la muerte, no mas a las violaciones de los derechos humanos de los inmigrantes,” dijo Corbett.




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New Latinx generation embraces the code-switching identity once derided as ‘pocho’

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 10:44am

EL PASO –For some young borderlanders, pocho is a word that unites two cultures.

“El Paso and Juarez is its own culture. We are neither entirely American and we are neither entirely Mexican so pochismo would be somewhat some of our language,” said Antonio Villaseñor, 23, a University of Texas graduate student and editor of the online magazine Con Safos.

Fernanda Ontiveros, UT El Paso sophomore. Photo credit: Ana Jazmin Herrera.

With outlets like Buzzfeed and we are mitú featuring videos on Youtube describing the experience of being a pocho in the United States and new clothing lines like the L.A-based Pocho wear, the term is being embraced by a new generation of Mexican-Americans.

“I see it as something positive. However, my family in Mexico don’t. They think we are forgetting the culture and the language,” said Fernanda Ontiveros, a sophomore at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The word pocho first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, according to historians, after an increase in immigration to the U.S. by people who escaped the Mexican Revolution.

Carlos Ortega, Chicano Studies lecturer, UT El Paso.

“The word pocho has been historically used by Mexican nationals as a derogatory term to describe Mexican-Americans. The word has been associated with a person that has lost some sense of their identity, their culture, their language, and their heritage by being born and living in the United States,” said Carlos Ortega, a Chicano Studies lecturer at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“A pocho was not considered American enough because of his Mexican heritage but at the same time not Mexican enough because of his assimilation to the American culture,” Ortega said.

Some have experienced the negative perceptions firsthand.

“I remember constantly having children in our parents’ village back in Mexico asking a ver di esto en ingles. Show me your English. In other words, show me how less you have become one of us and how much you have become one of them,” said Estela Reyes, media relations officer for Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.

The nonprofit organization provides healthcare services at multiple clinics in El Paso as well supports a preparatory school and cultural and technology center in Segundo Barrio.

“There is even a tape somewhere floating around the family of me as a six year old singing Old McDonald Had a Farm in my funky six year old English. I can hear laughter in the background and I think, ‘Wow, what a mean thing to do to a little six year old Mexicanita” Reyes said.

Sister Cities mural in downtown El Paso. Photo by Ana Jazmin Herrera,

Despite past negative connotation, the word has evolved and a new generation of Mexican-Americans uses pocho with pride to describe themselves.

“While there would be broader cultural influence in relation to the first person that used the word pocho and decided it meant something negative, the fact that now it is perceived to be something more positive would be associated with a shifting identity,” said Iva Ivanova, a researcher in cognitive science and language at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“People reevaluated how they feel about themselves in relation to this word,” Ivanova explained.

Villaseñor proudly identifies himself as a pocho as he reflects on the future of the word.

“I think most importantly is the rhetoric behind the word. I know that what the word means and how the word is seen are very different, and so I think that is where we need to bridge the gap” he said..





Click hear to read New Latinx generation embraces the code-switching identity once derided as ‘pocho’

Categories: Local Blogs

Juarez dining scene gets Cuban touch amid migrant surge

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 10:04am
JUAREZ, Mexico – Cuban migrants waiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S. are finding some comfort at Little Habana, a restaurant serving homestyle Cuban food in this city on the border next to El Paso, Texas. Cristina Ibarra was operating a Mexican food restaurant called El Mariachi when she noticed the growing demand for Cuban food. She hired migrants who knew the authentic way to make the different dishes and opened Little Habana on Ramón Corona street downtown. The Cuban workers are grateful for an opportunity to earn enough to pay for their basic needs as they wait to hear from the U.S. about their asylum status.

The Little Habana restaurant in Ciudad Juárez began serving Cuban food in response to the growing number of migrants in the city awaiting asylum hearings in the U.S.

Click hear to read Juarez dining scene gets Cuban touch amid migrant surge

Categories: Local Blogs

Community Cats: How El Pasoans are using TNR to live alongside feral cats

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 8:00am

Three years after the City of El Paso switched from its policy of euthanizing feral cats to instead supporting a trap-neuter-return program, El Pasoans are finding ways to coexist with community cats.

Community cats, or feral cats, are ownerless cats that live outdoors. They make their homes, often in small colonies, in neighborhoods. While some can be friendly towards people, most are not socialized and cannot be adopted.

“The cats are our neighbors, we just have to learn to live with them,” said Patti Hack, director of the Cats Spay/Neuter program at the Humane Society of El Paso.

In 2016, El Paso Animal Services discontinued its practice euthanizing feral cats. It now runs a program to vaccinate and neuter or spay the cats that are captured by volunteer groups and residents. The city pays local veterinarians for their services. The cost can run $50-$80 per cat.

Ramon Herrera, Marketing and Public Engagement Manager for El Paso Animal Services, said that for fiscal year 2018 City Animal Services paid about $230,000 to treat and release 4,627 community cats.

Herrera said that under the previous euthanasia model, Animal Services housed the cats in their shelter for a three-day holding period. The city paid about $60 per animal to house and care for the cats during the holding period. In addition, the city incurred costs to pick up the cats and then deliver them to a landfill after they had been euthanized.

In 2014, the peak year of the euthanasia program, El Paso Animal Services euthanized 9,543 cats and spent about $573,000 just to house and care for the cats during their holding period, Herrera said.

“Year after year after year we were euthanizing and euthanizing thousands and thousands of cats, and that didn’t solve the problem of the homelessness of the cats,” Hack said.

She explained the problem continued because of the “vacuum effect” where, as soon as one colony of cats is removed, another moves into its place and reproduces.

A feral cat colony gathers in the backyard of a colony manager’s home for lunch.

The Trap, Neuter, Return strategy

In the community cat program, however, cats are returned to their original locations and they protect their neighborhoods from invasion from other ferals due to their territorial nature.

While some El Pasoans question the idea of returning the cats, both the Humane Society and advocacy group Sun City TNR maintain that a trap, neuter, return strategy is not only the best way to reduce the feral cat population, but it is also the most humane.

“The purpose for returning the cats is that is their home,” said Terry Guerra, secretary of Sun City TNR. “It is against the law to trap them and dump them in other areas because basically that is a death sentence.”

Sun City TNR, which previously operated under the name Sun City Cats, is a non-profit organization that partners with the Humane Society and El Paso Animal Services to carry out the community cat program.

Sun City TNR organizes groups of volunteers to trap feral cats that have been reported to them. They help to educate the public on the importance of spaying and neutering, and on the benefits of TNR and community cats.

Once the cats have been returned to their outdoor homes, Sun City TNR further educates residents on how to be colony managers and care for community cats.

Guerra said a universal sign that a cat has been through the TNR program is having its ear tipped.

“This helps to assure that we’re not accidentally trapping the same cats over and over again,” Guerra said.

Sun City TNR currently owns 125 traps and estimates that they are able to trap and “fix” 3,200 cats per year. In partnership with City Animal Services they sponsor a monthly mass veterinary clinic where 100 cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

Even at those numbers, the group admits it is struggling to keep up with the large volume of feral cats in El Paso due to years of cats roaming freely and reproducing year-round thanks to El Paso’s warm climate.


A clipped ear is a universal sign that a cat has been through the Trap, Neuter, Return program.

Neighbors working together

While Sun City TNR serves all of El Paso county, some neighborhoods are taking it upon themselves to trap and neuter or spay the cats in their own communities.

Bob and Carolyn Niland, owners of Camelot Corporate Condominiums, started a community cat program for their gated community in 2012 after receiving numerous reports from residents of feral cats and kittens roaming the property.

“It got to the point when we went out to take trash out at night and put it in the dumpster, cats would jump out,” Bob Niland said.

The Nilands read up on solutions and found out about other communities that ran TNR programs. Over the following months, they formed a “feral cat committee” in their community that worked as a team to catch the cats.

In total the Nilands trapped 37 cats on their property, including 14 kittens. They socialized the kittens and adopted them out, and spayed or neutered the adults before releasing them back onto the property.

Niland said that residents at Camelot have embraced the program and share in caring for their community cats. The cats roam as they please around the property. Some spend their days lounging in resident’s yards or even napping inside homes that they are welcomed into, although most still keep their distance from people.

“Some of the cats have adopted (the residents),” Bob Niland said.

The Nilands see how effectively community cats at Camelot keep other ferals off the property. In the seven years since they initiated the program, they’ve only had to trap two new cats.

Preventing predators

While some El Pasoans express concerns that free-roaming cats may draw predator animals to their neighborhoods, Hack said there are preventative measures that can be taken. This includes feeding the cats at set times during the day and only leaving the food out for an hour at most.

“The food is what actually attracts predators,” she said.

The Nilands said that the community cats at Camelot had not attracted any additional predator animals, despite the property’s location against the mountains, because the feeding of the cats is closely monitored. Instead, the cats have decreased the number of rodents and pests in their community.

“They haven’t created additional problems that wouldn’t be there, or greater, without the feral cat program,” Bob Niland said.

The Nilands pointed out that it’s now easier than ever to start a neighborhood TNR program because so many more resources, including Sun City TNR, exist than when the program at Camelot was started.

The key to success, they stressed, is teamwork among the community.

“This program can definitely be successful,” Carolyn Niland added. “It’s not only important for the health of the cats but for the health of your community.”

Rachel Haddad, a volunteer coordinator with Sun City TNR, said that El Pasoans need to be patient and allow the TNR program the time it needs to have the desired impact on the number of free roaming cats in the Borderland.

“This isn’t a problem that occurred overnight, so it’s not going to get fixed overnight either,” she said.

For more information on the community cat program, or to volunteer as a trapper, Sun City TNR can be reached through their Facebook or Instagram @sun_city_cats_tnr.


Click hear to read Community Cats: How El Pasoans are using TNR to live alongside feral cats

Categories: Local Blogs

Borderzine now accepting applications for Journalism in July 2019, a summer multimedia workshop for high school students

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 4:37pm
Borderzine is accepting applications from El Paso-area high school juniors and seniors for scholarships to attend the 16th annual Journalism in July (JIJ) workshop at the University of Texas at El Paso on July 22-28, Fill out the application form here. For more than 15 years, the workshop has provided journalism training to more than 220 students from high schools in the Borderland – El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, Las Cruces and surrounding areas. A goal of the workshop is to encourage high school students of diverse backgrounds who are already interested in journalism to pursue future studies and careers in news media and communication. “Journalism in July encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism,” said Gloria Heredia, a 2012 alumna of the program and multimedia journalism student at the University of Texas at El Paso. “This program opened my eyes. I saw myself in college. I saw myself working at a newspaper or being a news anchor. Those 10 days were boot camp for me and life-changing,” said Heredia, a past president of the student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The fast paced one-week training includes a variety of hands on workshops in basic journalism reporting and writing skills, media ethics, video, audio and photo production. The nearly 20 selected students will work on a health-related stories. They will work out of the multimedia journalism lab in the Cotton Memorial building, spend a day field reporting in a local neighborhood, and visit several local newsrooms.  News media professionals will mentor them on story development, reporting and writing, focusing on health issues. The student journalists will publish their bilingual web news magazine on Borderzine on the last day of the workshop. The cost of food, lodging and transportation are covered by grants from Dow Jones News Fund and other local sponsors, and support from Borderzine and the UTEP Communication Department. Applications must be submitted along with the following: a teacher’s letter of recommendation nominating the student to participate, a purpose statement from the student, and work samples (i.e. work on school newspaper, literary magazine, yearbook, radio newscast, television newscast, etc), if available. Students are encouraged to submit two writing samples and one audio and/or video production sample. High school advisers and teachers may nominate more than one student from their high school. Dow Jones News Fund rules prohibit a student repeating a workshop in subsequent years, or going to two DJNF sponsored workshops in the same summer, even if at different universities.  Deadline to apply is midnight, Saturday, June 1. Applicants will be notified if they were selected shortly afterward. To get an idea of the top-quality work produced by last summer’s Journalism in July workshop participants, you may visit their web magazine, Tex-Med. For questions, contact Journalism in July Director Dino Chiecchi at (214) 697-0237 or by email Also, you can reach out to Program Coordinator Paola Pacheco or (915) 504-3094.


Click hear to read Borderzine now accepting applications for Journalism in July 2019, a summer multimedia workshop for high school students

Categories: Local Blogs

by Dr. Radut