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.
So thankful for these hooligans. I’m grateful for everything that they have taught me about journalism, theology, life and myself. Even though it’s almost over, I know that we all will remain friends. So grateful for you guys everyday.
Two weeks ago, there was a lot about migration across the U.S.-Mexico border that I was unaware of. After spending two weeks on the border, I understand more, but I realize there is still so much more to learn.
Operation Streamline is one such concept I was ignorant of. Operation Streamline began in 2005 under the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. It requires almost all undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to be prosecuted through the federal justice system.
Last week, we had the opportunity to witness just this. Inside the federal courthouse in Tucson, we sat in the back of the large courtroom, notebooks in hand.
Roughly 70 migrants with handcuffs shackling their wrists, and a chain snaking around their torso, continuing down to their feet. Headphones cupped their ears, as a means for them to hear the Spanish translation of what the judge said. They looked scared, confused. As I watched them, I felt awkward. Knowing if I were a defendant, about to stand up in front of a crowded courtroom to plead guilty, I would be so humiliated and angered to have strangers watching me.
Five at a time, the migrants walked forward to be prosecuted. To each migrant the judge rattled off questions: Do you understand the rights you’re giving up? Yes. How do you plead? Guilty. Do you understand the consequences of pleading guilty? Yes. Are you a U.S. citizen? No. Are you pleading voluntarily and of your own free will? Yes.
In the U.S., each first-time offender is prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry and a six-month maximum sentence. Those who have tried crossing previously, are prosecuted with felony reentry and given a two-year maximum sentence, which can be more if the migrant has a criminal record.
I was unaware that this happened at all, and shocked to discover it happens every day of the week. Here were my main takeaways after witnessing Operation Streamline and doing some research.
Deters the attention of lawmakers away from fighting violence on the border. Law enforcement must focus on the prosecution of migrants who have entered illegally for the first time. Meanwhile, drug smuggling and human trafficking is occurring at the border.
Fails at reducing undocumented immigration. Petty immigration prosecutions are increasing, while the number of migrants attempting to cross the border is declining.
Is unconstitutional. Migrants are not given due process. Many defendants don’t receive probable cause determinations within 48 hours of their warrantless arrests, as the Fourth Amendment requires (see attacked article below).
After we walked out of the courtroom, a Magistrate Judge who was off duty followed us out and asked if we wanted to talk about what we had just witnessed. After answering a lot of our questions, it was obvious that he too was frustrated with the current system.
“Everyone wants to be tough on crime. No one talks about being just in crime,” he said.
He encouraged each of us to reach out to our state congressmen, voicing our concern with the process. I hope to do just that, as well as educate others that this injustice is occurring. For a more thorough explanation of Operation Streamline, I strongly encourage you to checkout Berkeley Law School’s review of the system.
On Saturday, our group ventured out early in the morning to set out on a desert hike to experience what the migrant goes through. The only thing I was sure of was that it was earlier than I was used to and the road to get there was barely even a road.
Our tour guide’s name was John, a crunchy granola looking fellow with long, white hair. His quirky character and love for all humanity is probably what stuck out to me the most. He took us across grasslands, up and down hills, through ravines, along both beaten and unbeaten paths. I fell within the first 15 minutes and tried to catch myself. My hands landed on some rugged rocks and got pretty scratched up.
As we were walking, I tried to listen to what John was telling us. We were crossing over from a cattle trail to a migrant trail when he told us that we were part of the story now, that this wasn’t just a migrant story. That struck a chord with me. Up until then, I always saw it as their story, their struggles, their lives. But it’s the story of the human race, including all of our struggles and our dreams.
Above is a photo of Isabel Navasca Corpuz, also known as my Lola (Grandma in Tagalog). She was born on July 7, 1927 in Manilla, Philippines.
During WWII, she lived in a house with five other families on a farm in a rural area. She had just become a teenager but she was prohibited from going anywhere public by herself. Whenever she did go out, she had to disguise herself in old woman clothes so that the Japanese would not capture her and rape her.
When the war was over, my Lola finished her college education. She met and fell in love with Raymundo Corpuz and together they bore two sons. However, they saw that the Philippines was not the best place for them to raise their sons. Like many immigrants, they faced oppression in the country that they happened to be born in. With prayers tucked into their pockets, they left whatever material things they had behind in hope for a brighter future. They found refuge in this country that I call my own, America, the land of the free.
Almost a half of a century later, Lola has five grandchildren. Both of her sons have pursued higher education and have been able to provide for their own families.
Above is a picture of Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quiteros. She was born on September 15, 1993 in El Salvador. When she was young, her parents left of the United States in order to make more money to support their family. Both came into the country illegally and had been working in the shadows. Meanwhile, Josseline was in charge of taking care of her younger brother. Eventually, her mother, Sonia, had made enough money to hire a guide to take both of her children all the way from El Salvador to Los Angeles.
Josseline, 14, and her brother, 10, went with other trusted adults to travel over 2,000 miles; jumping walls, hiking up and down the mountains, and trekking through the desert. They only brought with them the clothes on their backs. Josseline chose a pair of jeans and some sweatpants that had “Hollywood” bedazzled on the bottom. She planned to wear them when she arrived to the land of the famous.
They hid from Mexico’s national police as well as the United States Border Patrol. Just after they had crossed the US/Mexican border, Josseline started to get sick. The rest of the group were on a time crunch. They needed to be at a certain location where they would be picked up and time was running out. Josseline could barely walk. She encouraged the group to go on without her. Her brother cried and refused to leave his main caretaker. She encouraged him and told him to tell their mother where she was and to send help the second that he was able to.
Her first nights alone in the desert were spent in the freezing cold. She had on two jackets and two pairs of pants, but that still wasn’t enough to beat the 29 degree weather.
Three weeks later, members of No More Deaths were hiking the migrant trails to leave out jugs of water and canned goods for migrants. They stumbled upon the small body of a girl whose dreams were cut short. A memorial was held at the site where Josseline’s body was found. However, her family was not able to make it in fear of being arrested and deported back to Mexico.
I will be a part of my grandchildren’s history, like Lola was a part of mine. I grew up asking her stories of her hardships, of her hopes for her family, of her American Dream. When my grandchildren ask me questions, I want them to be as proud of my accomplishments as I am of Lola’s. I want them to learn from my courage and my determination for social justice. I want them to know how much I would sacrifice for our family and for our brothers and sisters around the world. I’m lucky that my Lola’s experience was not as difficult at Josseline’s and I have my life to show for it. I can only hope to do my 4 foot 6 inch grandmother justice.
Migration isn’t an us versus them issue, this is a we issue. When we see them as people with families and friends, with fears and dreams, then we will be able to stand in solidarity with them and fight for change.
On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 3:45 am, and after a few hits of the snooze button and a couple cups of coffee, our 16-person backpack journalism squad rolled out to a local hilltop neighborhood to film some sunrise b-roll. As the sun inched over two neighboring cities of the same name, a long and looming copper wall became more and more evident rising and falling with the dessert hills.
Over the past four days, we’ve spent equal amounts of time in loaded silence and hysterical laughter. Hearing stories that challenge our understandings of life in all its forms makes us forget how tired we are from dessert heat, emotional roller coasters, and 12+ hour days. During late nights and early mornings, I’ve had many opportunities to blog about how this experience has been so far, but I just haven’t been able to find the words.
Every interview, conversation, observation and reflection makes me more and more confused about the reality of migration. The Olivia Pope ‘fixer’ in me gets frustrated with every new piece of information, as it makes a realistic solution seem even further out of reach.
My fixer instinct was particularly defeated in seeing a train marked with “Union Pacific – Building America” cruising past downtown Nogales on the Mexican side, through a gate opening in the wall, and straight into the US. As this train is “Building America” by delivering cheaply produced goods from Mexican factories to American consumers, Mexican citizens wait in line for 20 years for the chance to be called American and treated as such.
This raises the question — how deeply rooted and systematically unjust is the relationship between the US and Mexico, and how does that relationship trickle down to affect individuals every day? Union Pacific, headquartered in downtown Omaha, employs dozens of Creighton students. Are they contributing? I love to eat avocado toast for breakfast, and “Avocados from Mexico” brand avocados are tasty and cheap. Is my avocado addiction to blame?
Father Peter Neeley, a Jesuit and the Assistant Director of Education at Kino Border Initiative, believes that the dehumanization of migrants comes down to American people valuing things over people. We care a lot about keeping the prices of our favorite goods and foods low, and as a result, economic dependence on cheap Mexican labor continues. Yet, criminalization and dehumanization of migrant populations stimulates a culture of fear despite economic dependency.
For me, comprehending all this comes down to a single quote: “to live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.” With this in mind alongside inspiration from the love and passion of the people that have dedicated their lives to working towards resolving this issue, it seems that hope and faith can be found in knowing that the sun will rise over the wall again tomorrow with a solution somewhere down the road.
I never get nervous. I love giving speeches. I use to dance in front of hundreds of people and never get nervous. I moved away from home when I was 16 and moved to Connecticut, but I never once was nervous. But the night before the trip to Arizona I am nothing but nerves.
I feel sick to my stomach, a sensation I’ve never really experienced in terms of anxiety before a trip. I’m not sure what exactly is the cause of my nerves. It is a mix of excitement and stress.
I want to make sure that this film is honest and that it tells a story. I don’t want to mess up filming, interviewing or to be the one who forgets to charge their camera battery (sorry nico).
I want to move outside my comfort zone and to do an interview and use the camera. I am hoping that after this trip I will be willing to take more risks. If I am able to do that I think it will have a profound impact on my quality of life.
As a type a person I can sometimes micromanage my life too much. My planner consists of:
7:05-get out of bed
7:10 make bed and pee
I wish I was joking. I need a constant schedule. I like how distracting schedules can be. But I get stuck in the constant motions and tend to not notice all the amazing things that are happening around me.
The good thing about these next two weeks is that I can’t micromanage my life. I like think that it’ll be a different type of schedule and structure that I’m not use to. The days will be long but it’ll be a new adventure and new task everyday.
Hopefully after his trip I will be able to input that idea into my everyday life and not get stuck in the motions.
I think one of the things that has most stood out to me through this past week of 8-hour-a-day coursework is the level of complexity and art involved in videography. It’s easy to narrow the process of capturing video as simply pointing and shooting footage, but so much more time, effort, and thought goes into each individual scene. This is something that has become more and more clear to me the more videos I watch this week. I appreciate scenes so much more and am constantly trying to imagine how videographers get some of their more artistic or well-angled shots. While I’m fascinated by the artistic freedom video allows, I’m also intimidated by the level of detail and attention it takes to make a good scene.
We’ve learned how to capture a variety of angles, how to work with color and light, and how to work with audio. We’ve also learned a variety of rules that should always be applied when doing video: the rule of thirds, holding the shot, making sure everything is focused, etc. One element of documentary making that is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be is shooting interviews versus shooting b-roll (all the footage that isn’t an interview). Setting up an interview involves just the right lighting, just the right angles, just the right background, and a lot of sound checks. The whole process ends up taking the 12 of us around 45 minutes before we even start the actual interview.
Interviewing itself is an intimidating aspect of the documentary making process. While I have some experience interviewing people for print, no interview I’ve ever done deals with an issue as complicated as immigration. There is a lot of pressure to interview these individuals in such a way that I am able to help them tell their story effectively. There is also a different art to documentary filming versus print interviewing: you have to encourage your subject to include the question in the answer, you have to be dead silent while interviewing (no encouraging laughs or “mhm”s which will be tough for me). Other than that, it’s just important to always be thinking of follow up based on their responses, to have a number of questions previously prepared, to note what kind of b-roll you might gather based on their answers, and to leave space after their answers for them to add additional thoughts.
I’ve learned so much in this short week and am completely overwhelmed and deliriously excited to begin to apply what I’ve learned so far. I can’t wait to see what else I learn as we begin the real journey!
Tomorrow is the day! We embark on our journey to Nogales, Arizona, right on the edge of the United States/Mexico border. I’m an absolute mix of emotions from “eep!” excitement to “Oh God, what have I gotten myself into” nerves.
I could probably write a lengthy narrative as to why I am excited for this experience, but I’ll keep it short and sweet for this blog post. Somewhere along my life path, I began to understand the beauty of humanity in combination with the beauty of photography. As an optimist, I have found I tend to look for the good in people, but the world in which we live today doesn’t always depict humanity this way.
This is where the nerves come in. How do I portray the migrants who pass through Nogales in a way that tells their story without losing their human element? How do I explain their hardships but maintain dignity and respect for each individual? Or other worries that have crossed my mind: What if I don’t ask the right questions? What if the camera or microphone malfunctions? What if we get back to Creighton and we don’t have enough b-roll?
While I am a worrier to my core, I won’t let the “what ifs” control my experience, but I’ll let the “so whats” take the reins. After understanding the experiences of migrants and immersing ourselves into the city of Nogales, we’ll ask ourselves, “so what do we do now?” The answer is our documentary, viewed through the lens of a Jesuit education, which will hopefully be a response to the “so what” of migration, but most certainly not the only answer.
Even though I’m going into this experience with a combination of nerves and excitement, I know this adventure will be both a challenge and an opportunity for growth. This is my first significant moment to utilize my journalism skills in the field and I’m extremely fortunate to be given this opportunity. I hope I can be a voice for the voiceless and tell the stories of migrants and people of Nogales to the best of my ability without losing their human dignity.
I remember a few years ago when I used to go to high school back in Texas. I remember having to wake up around 6:30 everyday just to get ready in the morning, then get to school an hour later and wait for class to start at 8. I would stay in that school the entire day until the very last class period at 4:30, go home to do my homework, and try to go to sleep at a reasonable time every weekday. It’s times like this week that make me think back to those high school days and think to myself: “How in the world did I manage to survive being in school all day everyday?!”
While waking up early and staying in a classroom all day has taken a toll on my spoiled, nap-riddled sleep schedule, I can still honestly say I’ve enjoyed every sleep deprived moment of this week. I’ve learned so much in the past few days, not about just film, editing, and videography as a whole from Nico Sandi, but also about feature writing from Carol Zuegner, as well as some ecclesiology lessons from Dr. John O’Keefe. It’s been a busy week jam packed with multiple lectures, lessons, and tutorials, and it’s been an incredible ride so far.
This week has been especially great for me in terms of learning new things, because I’ve always been curious about how exactly a camera works. I never knew what ISO was, or how shutter speeds and the aperture affects shots, and how to balance all of these factors to get the picture/video you want. But after this week, I’ve gotten the main gist of how all of these things work, and how to use them effectively in film. I’m actually pretty sure I even had a dream about it at one point; I just couldn’t get it out of my mind after learning about it and seeing it in action every day! Additionally, Nico helped all of us out by giving us cheat sheets with different shots, as well as hints and tips when it comes to shooting, which has been immensely helpful this past week.
I’m very excited to put everything that I’ve learned this week so far into use while we’re all in Arizona and Mexico. Everyone in our group is very talented and have been doing some awesome stuff as far as shooting and editing videos go, so I’m even more excited to see how well we’ll all work together as a team!
Anticipating, waiting, preparing, hoping. Any synonymous verb is exactly what I am feeling as I, along with several students, a graduate student, and two professors get ready to embark on a journey to Nogales, which is a community split on the border between Arizona and Mexico. The Kino Border Initiative, which assists migrants coming to the United States, is an organization we’ll be working closely with during our time in Nogales.
We’re not only making a journey to this community, we’ll be creating a documentary on the journeys of migrants to the United States. Our program, titled Backpack Journalism, is five weeks long: two weeks being on-site and three weeks of learning videography and rough cutting the film.
We’ll be driving to the border, which mirrors, but pales in comparison to the journey migrants make to a new place. As the saying goes, the journey is half of the experience.
I am highly anticipating this trip as it meshes quite closely to what I would like to do as a career. I am a journalism major and my focus is on photojournalism, so my hope is to work for a nonprofit organization one day photographing the world in a way that brings about social, political, and economic change.
I will leave my readers with one of my favorite quotes to keep in mind as I and fellow students update our blog and continue our work creating our documentary in Nogales.
Aaron Siskind, an American photographer, once said, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” I truly hope that our time in Nogales can effectively encapsulate the story of the lives we encounter.