Words of support for the people of El Paso, Juarez from U.S. journalism professors who have been here

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The shock and sorrow felt after the Aug. 3 attack on Borderland residents at an El Paso Walmart continues to resonate throughout the community more than a month after 22 people were killed in the mass shooting.

Near the site of the tragedy, an impromptu memorial of flowers, crosses and posters attracts a stream of visitors daily.  Words of support are still being sent by people from around the world to try to offer some comfort.

Borderzine has heard from a number of journalism professors who visited El Paso as part of the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy annual summer program that has been running for 10 years at UT El Paso. They wanted to share their own words to the community that made them feel welcome as they worked on stories about life here. This is what they want you to know.

Rick Brunson
Associate Instructor
Nicholson School of Communication and Media
University of Central Florida

Within an hour of landing in El Paso, I fell in love with it — even though I’d never visited the city.  My first stop after arriving for the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy at UTEP was the Whataburger on Mesa Street near campus.

At the table to my right, three high school girls — one white, one black, one Latina — chatted and gossiped away. At the table to my left, three construction workers — one Anglo and two Hispanics — laughed easily about their work day. Above me, a buzz of Spanish and English melded as naturally as the air I was breathing.

For the rest of week, I was welcomed as if I’d lived in El Paso all my life. The city’s hospitality won my heart. So much so that when I returned home to Orlando, I wrote a column about it that was picked up by 13 news organizations and won a national writing award. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/migrant-crisis-hits-us-border_b_5637289 But it wasn’t me. It was El Paso.

Now, from far away I mourn the darkness that has descended on the Sun City. But it will rise because the same love it showed me five years ago lives every day in the lives of its 700,000 citizens and is part of the city’s history, geography and DNA.

Love you, El Paso.

 

Jennifer Thomas
Assistant Professor
Department of Media, Journalism and Film
Howard University

My heart sank when l saw the news about the mass shooting. I’m praying for all of the families who’ve been affected and also for all of you and the community. I often think of our ‘17 cohort and how important the stories were that we covered … then and now.

 

Brad Mello
Associate Professor, Department Chair
Communication Department
St. Xavier University

I came across these historical markers during our day exploring the border/wall as part of the multimedia training workshop and learned of the rich history of the region. 

The residents of the area have always been resilient, as the stories on these markers reveal and I know they’ll figure out how to move forward in the face of this tragedy.

 

Karima A. Haynes
Assistant Professor
Bowie State University, Maryland

I am heartbroken over the slaughter of innocent people in El Paso.

I first visited El Paso as part of the 2016 Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy. I loved the beautiful blend of Mexican and Native American culture set against the backdrop of the Old American West.

Hispanic, African-American and Caucasian people moved as easily between Juárez and El Paso as they did switching from English to Spanish. Our team of journalism professors from HBCUs and HSIs, and trainers from UTEP, were just as diverse and cohesive — which is not an oxymoron.

El Paso will always be in my heart.

 

 Geoff Campbell
Adjunct Assistant Professor
UT Arlington Department of Communication

My heart ached when news of the Walmart mass shooting broke. My mind raced with thoughts of the all the beautiful people I met when, in June 2018, I attended the Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy at UTEP.

It was the first time I’d been to El Paso in some 20 years, and I wasn’t certain what to expect.

What I encountered was love. I was struck by the pride of everyday El Pasoans in their city and its rich, multicultural stew. From Uber drivers to craft brewers, from former and current governmental leaders to restaurant wait staff, I felt the city’s great spirit of welcome and pride. It is with me still. And it comes as no surprise to me that the city is meeting this tragedy with love.

 

Farideh Dada
Instructor
De Anza and at San Jose City colleges

I’ve been following the El Paso news and have been saddened by the recent tragedy. My heart goes to you and the beautiful El Paso community.

I’m with you in spirit. Please take care of yourself.

 

 
Stu VanAirsdale
Professional Journalist in Residence
Sacramento State University

While attending the Dow Jones News Fund’s Multimedia Training Academy in 2016, I was assigned to report on the planned revival of the El Paso Streetcar. My team, drawn from journalism professors in California, Texas, and Louisiana, spent an afternoon downtown surveying the streetcar’s planned route and considering its century-old legacy as a link between El Paso and Juárez.

Amid the reporting, I was struck by a mural overlooking a parking lot on Stanton Street: “Ánimo Sin Fronteras” (“Spirit Without Borders”), by the street artist El Mac. The mural depicts Melchor Flores, who for years has sought answers in the disappearance of his son in Nuevo Leon in 2009. The piece is a companion to “Juarense y Poderosa,” El Mac’s mural in Juárez depicting a young woman named Diana whose mother was kidnapped years earlier.

The murals testify to not only the bond between the two cities, but the capacity for resilience and defiance in the face of anguish, terror, and what can only be described as pathological political inaction.

While El Paso has been on my mind in recent weeks amid coverage of detentions and spiraling asylum policy at the border, it wasn’t until news of the shooting that I recalled “Ánimo Sin Flores.” It wasn’t until contemplating Flores’ expression of strength that I aligned it with El Paso’s own redoubtability. It wasn’t until reflecting on the grace, kindness, vibrancy, flintiness and imagination of those Paseños and Juarenses whom I encountered in 2016 that I grasped Flores’ gesture as an emblem of all that the borderland has to offer this country. It says to me one thing: No matter how long and hard we have to resist or fight tragedy and dehumanization, we must resist and fight them.

I’m grateful to El Paso for what it showed me, and what it will no doubt show America in the weeks and months and years ahead.

 

Laura Castañeda
Lecturer, Internship coordinator
San Diego State University

My heart goes out to all of you in El Paso right now.  Not only you as citizens of that beautiful border region, but also all of the journalists who are out there covering the tragic stories.

 El Paso is very special to me because as I told you when we went, El Paso is the birthplace of my father, Ignacio.  He attended Sacred Heart Catholic School in the barrio.  My family has since left El Paso for Illinois, but my dad remembers places, names, and streets vividly.  My sisters and I recently gathered in my current home in San Diego to celebrate his 80th birthday.  I think about the victims and families who will no longer to do that. 

I remember during my stay going to the swap meet with the big white horse outside.  I also had the fortune of going to a very old diner called Lydia’s with my classmates to cover that story. They were a pioneer family of sorts and again it just haunts me to think about the many victims who probably visited these sites on a happy occasion.

My heart is heavy for all of you in El Paso. 

Un abrazo fuerte.

 

Lourdes Cueva Chacon
Doctoral candidate and former Borderzine webmaster
School of Journalism
The University of Texas at Austin

El Paso occupies a very important place in my heart and my mind — which is similar but not the same. I went there to study my master’s degree and, in addition to knowledge, I found much more in the process. I found a community that opened their houses and hearts to foreigners. I found a community that was proud of  its history. A community that suffered from oversight and oblivion from the centers of power but nonetheless fought for what was right for them and newcomers. A community that appreciates the value of multiple cultures and languages coexisting and enriching each other.

Looking at our former UTEP and Borderzine students coming back to report for national news organizations breaks my heart and fills me with pride at the same time. They come from a long line of courageous women and men that value family, the big family of humanity that has members across borders and across languages.

 

Dan Evans
Associate Professor, Journalism
News Director, South Florida News Service
Florida International University

A bit more than a year ago, I attended a multimedia training put on by faculty at the University of Texas, El Paso and sponsored by the Dow Jones News Fund. Outside of a gas stop on my trek on I-10 from California to Miami, it was the first time I had been to the border city.

Still, much of it felt familiar. I grew up in San Diego, so popping over to a foreign country for a bite or a drink on a whim didn’t seem all that odd. I was also used to the dichotomy between the Mexican and U.S. sides – El Paso vs. Ciudad Juárez and San Diego vs. Tijuana.

That is, that the American cities were clean, well-maintained, safe and orderly while the Mexican ones were chaotic messes filled with crime. The recent shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton may have changed these perceptions, at least outside of the hyper-partisan bubble so often seen on cable television.

Though I have been to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and tasted the infamous garlic ice cream (pro tip: don’t), the Walmart shooting in El Paso affected me so much more. I could almost feel the dry heat mixing with the cold sweat of terror that must have dampened the shirts of hundreds of shoppers and dripped from the brows of dozens of police officers who ran into harm’s way.

My first thought was simply: “My god. Why El Paso? They don’t deserve this.” And then: “Why should any city, anywhere, deserve this? Isn’t this America? Aren’t we supposed to be better than this?” And then, sadly: “Not yet.”

Putting aside how things are going to get better, and how that might be done, one thing is certain: El Paso will endure. Despite my relatively brief time in the area, I was struck by so many Pasenos’ endurance, internal steel and, yes, stubbornness — traits seemingly required to live and thrive in often unforgiving landscape that is West Texas.

As part of my time in the multimedia academy, our little team of reporters focused on a group of mostly women keeping a vigil over the developers – and bulldozers – attempting to remake their neighborhood. Duranguito is in a rapidly gentrifying part of downtown El Paso, with the land suddenly worth far more than ever before. But for these women, the area had been their home for decades, and they had no intention of moving. (If you’re interested, here’s the story: http://borderzine.com/2018/06/on-the-wake-of-pancho-villas-140th-birthday-three-women-wage-a-battle-against-gentrification-in-el-pasos-oldest-neighborhood/)

A quick check of news about the neighborhood indicates the fight – despite the increasingly heavy odds to those opposed to development – continues on. This does not surprise me, but it stands as near proof-positive that El Paso will survive this senseless tragedy and, against all odds, that something good will come of it.

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