Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Every other summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals across the United States. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora.
The next project is scheduled for the summer of 2020 and will focus on deforestation in Eastern Africa.
Lately, I keep thinking of Fr. Sobrino’s speech to the graduating class at Regis. He talked about the Jesuits who were murdered in El Salvador. Those Jesuits were scholastically decorated. They were very successful intellectuals, but Sobrino did not mention any of it. Instead, he talked about how they were truly human. He defined human by one who “lives in the reality of the world.” The Jesuits who lived in El Salvador lived in a dangerous place. Sobrino said that because they were murdered just as the other El Salvadorians were, they were truly human. They were not treated any different because they were from a different place, and they did not hide from the reality they joined. They truly lived and died as El Salvadorians. He then compared them to Jesus. Jesus came to earth, and lived and died as a human. He did not save himself to remove himself from the reality of earth.
I think this comparison is really cool, but it evokes difficult questions. If I am to be truly human, am I called to go move to a place where the reality of the world is more present?
I think some people actually are called to that extreme life, but I don’t think I am one of them. I think I am called to live in the reality in different ways. I am still trying to discern what those ways are, but I think there are multiple ways to be truly human. This experience in Nogales has opened my mind to so many things to think about I have never considered before, and I am so grateful for that.
I knew from the start that my passion for social justice was about to grow indefinitely. I was completely right. I have learned so much on this backpack journalism trip.
I’ve learned how to be a better photographer. I’ve become an amateur film maker. I’ve learned how to conduct interviews, set up cameras, make sure all of the chords are plugged into the right places, always have backup sound in case you forget a chord, converse with the interviewee, and edit the final product. I have learned how to capture a variety of shots in one setting so that I can edit them into one scene later.
I’ve learned about the Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church. I was introduced to the many varieties of these models and how they can differ depending on the location of the Church. While I grew up in the Catholic Church, I never thought of the concept of the church being based on models. I also had this idea in my head that the Church was the same everywhere. I personally thought that everyone had the same old way of doing things. I became bored with the monotone masses I was attending and found myself not being able to relate to anything concerned with the church. In my time at Marian and Creighton, I have had my views altered and had them evolve. Avery Dulles, SJ, brought up a whole new dimension to the church in his book, Models of the Church. Before I read this book, I saw the Church as more of an institution of old men and chanting people.
I believe that Dulles brought to mind some good points and recognized the disadvantages as well. It went hand and hand with our trip to Nogales. I assume that the knowledge will help me in the future as well. I wa able to learn more about the Church as well as myself and my position within the Church.
I read and watched a lot about Jon Sobrino, S.J. who is a liberation theologist. He discussed this idea of the Crucified People.
We are called to stand in solidarity with migrants who can easily be seen as a Crucified People. These are our neighbors that we are talking about here. Since we as Americans are the more privileged of the two, we are called to advocate for those who cannot. Both countries have a shared “faith that calls for a living and just world, not one that is ruined by violence and discrimination.” We followers of Christ, we must work and pray for the universal good.
My confidence in the subject of migration has evolved and although I am not a master, I am more educated. I know that I will be able to live differently by how I handle myself when encountering strangers. Everyone has their own cross to bear, their own hardships. It is not my place to turn a blind eye or judge them. Instead I will meet them where they are and walk with them as my brothers and sisters.
My mother is 5’10, caucasian, with eyes bluer than the sky. My father is barely 5’6, which is tall for a Filipino, with eyes the color of coffee. I am 5’5, half Filipino, half mutt, with eyes the color of poop. When I was growing up, I lived in a mostly white, suburban neighborhood and attended a mostly white, upper-middle class Catholic middle school. My childhood ran pretty smoothly: playing at the park with my neighborhood friends, doing my homework and practicing my piano, beating up my little brothers, babying my little sister, and occasionally getting into trouble.
One of the things that I did struggle with while growing up was how to identify myself. I got made fun of for my mom being taller than my dad. I was half white, but the white kids didn’t see me as white. I got made fun of for being brown so I started hanging out with the three other Asian girls in my class, all of whom were adopted and 100% Asian. But I was only half Asian. I remember asking my mom if she was sure that I wasn’t adopted to which she responded by pulling out my baby photos with pointing to the ones where she held my newborn-self in the hospital. However, I remained skeptical.
For some of you readers, this may seem like a pretty big hardship, for others, this may not seem in the slightest bit a trivial matter. I remember someone telling me a while ago, that God gives you what he knows you can handle. For me as a child, my heritage and the color of my skin was something to be ashamed of. This was my cross to bear.
Suffering is not something to be identified with. We each have our own crosses to bear. However, there is something about the suffering of Jesus that is good news and a sign of liberation for the oppressed.
Rev. Jon Sobrino S.J. gave a commencement speech to a graduating class at Regis University. During it, he said that in order to be successful in life, one must be human. In order to be human, we must transform the reality of ours to one of life rather than death. He asks the graduating class if they bring justice to society.
In his book, The Crucified People, he asks the reader thought provoking questions:
What have you done to put someone on their cross? Have you looked away? Did you not care? Did you put the nails in yourself?
He demands that temporary care is not enough, but that you are called to liberate them from whatever is making them suffer.
When we see the problems that our brothers and sisters around the world face Sobrino reminds us to think: What have we done? What are we doing? What are we going to do?
A lot of people say that I look and act like my mom. We have the same cheeks, on our face and rear end. We both like to talk way too much and think we are funnier than we really are. I always have to be careful when I am in public because the odds are that someone knows who my mom is. I used to annoy her by constantly asking “Why?” to things that she said. I was never satisfied with simple answers.
My mom used to tell me about her college days at Creighton. These were some of the best years of the first part of her life before I was born (the dull years). After I was born, the next 21 years would be her favorite because, duh, I am a delight.
There are two specific events that my mom recalls the most.
The first being when she met her best friend, my dad, in a car on the way to the store to get party supplies. Intrigued by hi
s silence, she asked her friends about him. Eventually, she befriended the quiet, brown boy. In an attempt to flirt, they would play tag and run up and down the stairs, chasing each other in circles. She sprained her ankle one too many times. Whether or not this was an effort to trap my dad into feeling bad for her or if she was really hurt, I do not know. After dating for seven years, they got married in Saint John’s on June 20th (Happy Anniversary).
They waited two more years before they had the most incredible child they could ever dream of. Afterwards came three more hooligan children with whom I have had to teach how to be civilized.
The second noteworthy experience that my mother had at Creighton was her immersion to the Dominican Republic with the ILAC program. She was one of the first females to lead a group as well as one of the only non-medical students. This experience helped her become more fluent in Spanish. I would flip through her albums and see her grinning with her braided hair talking to the Dominicans. This was one of the few moments that I thought my mom was cool. There was one picture that I distinctly remember. It was of a little girl, maybe 3 or 4, and a bowl full of dirty water where she was cleaning her sandals. I took interest in the photograph because the girl looked to be around my age at the time.
That was my first exposure to the third world and to those less fortunate than me.
My mom planted a seed within me. Ever since then, she has taken me along with her to serve those less fortunate in our community. My mom made sure that I would become a women for others. She has taught me that it is important to pray, but even more important to act. She has taught me that it is important to act, but even more important to do thoughtfully and intentionally. She has taught me to do things with purpose and with love. She has taught me to not be satisfied with the initial image that I am presented with while serving others. But to rather ask why things are the way they are?
During my journey to the border, I tried to keep her lessons in mind. I saw a wall that literally divided a city into two, that sliced streets right through the middle. What happened that the US felt a need to build something so ugly and disrupt a city? I saw women and children who had been exposed to the desert, left to fend for themselves. Why were they left so vulnerable? I experienced the border patrol and the stone cold faces that they wore. Why the cold vibes? I saw the unjust Operation Streamline and how many people a day, in just one court setting, were prosecuted as criminals for illegal entry and re-entry. Why do they need to be prosecuted as criminals and face time in private jails? Why are people okay with putting millions of their own tax dollars into private people’s pockets by putting migrants into jail? I saw people face dehumanization, corruption, violence. Why have we become so immune to these injustices. Why do we find it okay to devalue someone else’s life?
Why am I just now discovering all of the injustices that are going on at our Southern border? What other injustices have I not yet learned about? How can I continue to act and serve when I am just one, broke, college student?
I firmly believe that Backpack Journalism changed me for the better within the month that we all worked together. It’s something that I would absolutely jump on to do again when the opportunity arises, regardless of where next year’s trip will be heading. I not only got to develop my journalistic skills of using cameras and setting up interviews, but I also able to see life through the eyes of other people and understand where they are coming from. It’s impossible to completely understand a lot of the pain and experiences that the migrants we met, as well as many migrants who have gone through the dehumanizing process of deportation, have gone through, but it’s not hard to understand that they are human beings who have gone through hell and back to do what they need to do to support their families, to see them again, and to find a better life.
I started off the trip being fairly reserved to myself and didn’t branch out that much. I had only known two other people prior to the trip, so I mainly talked to them for the most part. But by the end of the whole experience, I think I can say I’ve made good relations with everyone on our team. And what a team we were; everyone worked flawlessly together and always had each others backs. Everyone was able to hone in on their own specialties during interviews and capturing b-roll and all the like. And everyone did their fair share of work, whether it was during the interviews or during cooking and chores back in our home in Nogales, Arizona.
There were so many great moments on this trip, from volunteering in the Comedor by serving food to the migrants there and getting to have conversations with them to know them better, to waking up ridiculously early to get some beautiful early morning b-roll, to being able to have so much amazing food through the entirety of the trip (after having authentic Mexican tacos, I don’t think I can ever go back to Tex-Mex). But with so many eye-opening experiences throughout the trip, it was the little things that I really appreciated. Getting B-roll in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge in Sasabe was one of the most calming experiences I’ve had. To be able to just sit in silence in the middle of golden plains, to just focus and listen to the sounds of nature around us, and to watch the sunset behind the mountains, was really a great moment for me, and made me really happy. At that point our group and seen and heard so much, that it was a good reflective and meditative break to have in the midst of all the hectic work we’ve been doing.
Of course, with every great experience, there’s always a bad one. For me, one of the lowest days was when we drove up to Phoenix to see Operation Streamline take place. It was a lot for me to take in to see a judge dish out a guilty sentence every 30 seconds to 70+ individuals, who could only speak Spanish, and who were really given no other choice but to plead guilty. It was extremely frustrating knowing that a process like that exists, and even more frustrating that there’s nothing that we can do about it. That day I felt pretty defeated, but after hearing the stories of the migrants in the Comedor and seeing the determination they all had to find a better life, it gave me hope that one day, those people who all plead guilty will also be able to accomplish what they’re striving for one day.
If there’s one thing that I could do differently based on what I’ve learned during this trip, it’s to start volunteering more. I have never been one to do volunteering work before, but after this experience I wanted to change that, and help wherever I can, whoever I can, whenever I can. I discovered the importance of volunteering, even in the smallest ways possible, whether it be serving food or cleaning dishes, or just being there for someone to talk to. This experience made me want to take what I’ve learned and apply it in different aspects of my life, to become a more selfless person, and to be more aware of the things that are happening around me.
It may be cliche to say, but I really do believe that this trip was pretty life-changing and eye-opening for me. I absolutely look forward to the chance to be able to travel to another community, with another group of fantastic people, to make another great film about the lives of other people around the world that we live in.
When I first signed up to join the Backpack journalism group, I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting myself into. I only knew a little bit about the project beforehand, which was enough to get me to want to join, but I didn’t fully understand its purpose at the time. Before going on the trip, I just thought that this project would be about getting to hone in on your filmography and photography skills, to help you become a better interviewer or a better photographer. I knew that we would be going to a border town and doing volunteer work, but I guess I just didn’t understand the significance of what we would be doing before we actually did it.
Now that we’ve returned from the trip and put together our rough cut of the documentary, I realize that this entire experience was so much more than just creating a film and working on those film-making skills. It was an unforgettable experience where we were able to have a first hand experience to see how immigration policy and the border affects the lives of those the policies are made against. We were able to talk to those who were affected and listen to their stories, whether they be triumphant, hopeful, longing, or heartbreaking. And more importantly, we were able to help in a sense, by being “servants,” as Sister Alicia would say, to those in the Comedor, by not only serving the migrants their food, but having actual conversations with them and listening to what they had to say.
While I do feel like I did in fact learn a lot of things about both photography and filmography, I don’t think that was the most important part of the trip. The most important part was making those connections with the people down by the border, and being able to see them as other human beings, each with their own individual stories and hardships. It was being able to see the border policies in action and how much of a negative impact they have on the southern communities. It was learning from those we interviewed and hearing their stories as well, about what they do to help, and what we can do to help.
So while I may not have come back from this trip as the next Kubrick or Coppola, I for sure came back as a person with a broadened perspective on the political issue of the wall, and a more open mind on the way I look at different issues in life in general.
After making it back home, we all had the weekend to recover from the three weeks of nonstop working, from the first week of journalistic boot camp, to the two weeks in Nogales of interviewing people, capturing b-roll, and waking up extremely early. But after that, we got right back into the grind of getting work done; this time, it wouldn’t be to capture more b-roll or conduct anymore interviews, but to begin the process of putting our documentary together.
We spent a week and a half doing all the tedious work that you don’t think about when you think of what goes into making a film of any kind: We had to lay out the story of what the documentary would be about, transcribe all the interviews that we conducted, organize the interviews into a coherent story outline, and compile sequences of b-roll to make the film look nice. While tedious, we were all extremely efficient in what we were doing. Transcribing our interviews only took a day, putting together b-roll took maybe two or three, and getting our story outlined and laid out in Final Cut Pro all took place within one week.
By the end of the first week, we had already gotten a nice rough cut of what our film would look like, regardless of it being 20 or so minutes over our maximum given time. After that it was simply refining the interview clips we used by shortening sections of them, picking and choosing what we wanted to keep and what we could do without, and a lot of rearranging of the clips to make a more understandable story.
Both the teams, the editors and the storyboarders, did a great job of getting everything done in a timely manner, and Nico, the master of film, did an even more phenomenal job of putting everything together to create a rough cut we were all happy with. I know that all of us are excited to see the full final cut that Nico creates, and know we will all be extremely happy with the end product.
The end of our trip had shown up much quicker than I expected it to, and by the time I knew it, we were back on the road to return to Omaha. However, the van ride back home was a lot different than it was to Arizona. Before the two weeks, I was still getting to know everyone, and was still fairly shy, only having known two other people prior to the trip. But this time, the 22 hour drive back home was much more bearable, since these were people that I had grown close to and made friendships with during those two weeks. But, much like the first time around, it still consisted of a lot of sleeping, at least for me.
As always, we stopped for some really good food at several different places, including a small restaurant in Hatch, New Mexico that served delicious chile-covered burritos, and another restaurant close to Santa Fe that served even more delicious tacos. In addition to those restaurants, we stopped by the house of an old friend of Carol’s, who served us all breakfast with bagels, fruits, cookies, and coffee. Included with breakfast was a blast from the past, where we were shown old yearbook photos of Carol (who was rocking the thick-rimmed glasses) and her friend. We were very grateful for her and her husband’s hospitality, and were glad we were able to make that stop.
The trip back home gave us a couple of surprises along the way as well. We ran into a man who was running for office in the restaurant in Hatch, who gave us his quick spiel of why we should vote for him. Our vans got temporarily separated while looking for food through a confusion of directions. We even experienced a wreck right in front of us on the highway, where we pulled over for some of us to see what help they could offer (everyone, us and the drivers involved alike, we alright, no worries).
Overall, by the end of the second day, we were all glad to have made it safely back home, and even happier to make it soundly back to our own beds in our respective residences.