Briana Sanchez frowns at the images on her computer screen.
“I need to add some happier photos in here,” she says.
Sanchez, lead photojournalist at the El Paso Times, knows better than anyone the difficult times that the border has been through in the last two years. After spending eight years away, first in college in Georgia and Arizona and then working at newspapers in the Midwest, Sanchez returned home to El Paso in the spring of 2019.
“As soon as I moved back here, we had those patriots at the border, protecting the border on their own volition,” she says. “And then we had the ‘We Build the Wall’ people. And then we had the mass shooting. And then we had a global pandemic, and then we had an anniversary of that mass shooting.”
Not all of the challenges Sanchez faces in El Paso come from the events she covers. As a child of Mexican immigrants who themselves came to the United States at a young age, Sanchez never learned to speak Spanish even though she closely identifies with her Mexican heritage.
“When I took the job in El Paso, some people were like, ‘Oh, I just assumed you spoke Spanish,’ Sanchez says. “It’s literally the underlining theme of my entire life. I do think it is an identity that I put on myself. I truly want to be able to communicate with people who have a similar background to me. But at the same time, it’s just been kind of rooted in my siblings and I (that) we’re American.”
Sitting in front of her digital gallery of images, Sanchez finally stops scrolling and points at a little girl on the screen. The picture is from February of 2020.
“She was just dancing her heart out. It was so cool. Just the smoke and the colors and everything,” she smiles. “That was fun.”