Tag Archives: bearing witness


This experience has transformed my understanding of community in a number of ways.

We’ve seen how the border lands can harden the hearts of people through grueling physical challenges of the desert and the threatening control of the cartel, but we’ve also seen how the community there can heal any physical or emotional wounds. For every heartbreaking story, we heard two hopeful stories of people working together towards justice.

Community is the fuel of every fire there — fires of hope, justice, dreams, spirituality, friendship, and family. There is more of an emphasis on community than anything else. Poverty emphasizes living within the means, and finding faith in reality, however simple.

Living simply without man-made pressures of excessive materialism has allowed these people to focus on community and relationship. These people don’t work for nicer cars, branded watches, or giant houses — they work for their families and children to have better lives. They find joy in community — the intersection of communication and unity.

Communication, in its many forms, connects people across different realities to unify us all in the common threads of our humanity. Laughter, smiles, tears, hugs — the kind of communication that does not require words, are the types of gestures that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Where norms, expectations and values vary across different political and economic cultures, these types of communication remind us that no matter our differences, we’re all created in the same likeness of God. We, as humans, possess all of the same emotional capacities of love and compassion, but also heartbreak.

A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora
A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora

It has been fulfilling to be reminded of these consistencies of humanity, and carry those memories with me beyond the border lands. In addition to that, I am particularly grateful to have been able to record these intentional conversations (i.e. interviews) and images of the reality of Nogales and bring them home to share with the world.

I was reminded of the way communication can unify the communities of migrants and activists in Nogales. I was reminded of the way communication allowed us to be in solidarity with these people, despite cultural barriers. And I was also reminded of the way documentary-style communication can bear witness to the rest of the world. Our documentary has taken on a life of itself. Now the stories we heard won’t end with us, they’ll continue on to plant seeds with anyone willing to listen.

Blessed to be a witness

There’s a song by Ben Harper that has become the unofficial anthem of Backpack Journalism (yes, this is besides our dance songs like  Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t  Stop the Feeling” with a close

Group photo of Backpack Journalism and two vans
The Backpack Journalism group in the Sonoran desert. Photo by Nico Sandi and drone

second being  Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” and the “Coyote” song.)

Harper’s song is called “Blessed to be a Witness.” It fits perfectly with our mantra that it is our responsibility as journalists and people to bear witness, to be men and women for and with others. From the terrific blogs written by these students, you can see how deeply they feel that imperative to bear witness. It is difficult. Bearing witness can shake what you’ve believed. Bearing w

itness can make you sad and uncomfortable. Bearing witness can mean you have tears rolling down your face as your listen to a young woman’s story of her migrant family and the responsibility she feels.

One of the best and worst parts of being a journalist is your closeness to tragedy and to joy and to everything in-between. What you learn can make you angry or frustrated or just happy.

The responsibility and joy of bearing witness comes home to me as I work with my colleagues and the terrific group of Backpack Journalism students here at the border between the United States and Mexico

. Their capacity to bear witness and their dedication to the task inspire me everyday.


Eyes Open

After hours and hours of training on the camera operations, interview techniques, and theological concepts, the reality and proximity of the Alaska departure date has finally set in. Alaska is no longer a future plan, but part of the present! It is still baffling to me that in just two short days I will be on a plane ready to begin one of the most amazing adventures of my life.

I cannot wait to begin the journey as I head off to Alaska on Sunday. Although this is a domestic trip, the idea of Bethel, Alaska, a town that is showered in sunshine over 20 hours a day, is unreachable by road, and displays a unique culture and way of life, is completely foreign to me. I am going into this trip without any real concept or preconceived idea of who I will encounter or what I will learn. Without having these expectations, I think that my eyes will be open to whatever comes my way and I will be able embrace the wonderful cultural experience with open arms.

I came across a quote by Marcel Proust that reads, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” As I begin my journey I will be referring back to this quote as I try to take every experience in Alaska with an open mind and an open heart. I hope that in constructing this documentary, we are able to be true to the people of Bethel and share their wonderful stories and culture with the world. Though we may have an idea of what our documentary will develop into, it really depends on what we find when we step off of the plane in two days. The story we write needs to be the story that the people of Bethel tell us. If we take on the experience with eyes ready to learn and immerse ourselves into the Bethel culture, this will be the lens in which we film our documentary, and in this way, we will be able to create a documentary we are proud of.

The task of filming a documentary in 2 weeks in a remote town in Alaska, without having had any previous camera experience and without a strongly developed storyline is daunting, but I am confident that we will create an astounding piece and hopefully open people’s eyes to the situation in Alaska. I’ve got my adventure lenses ready and I am prepared for whatever Alaska throws at me!


More Marcel Proust quotes: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/marcel_proust.html