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.
Five weeks ago I walked into a room with 13 strangers in it. The majority were journalism majors and they were all older than me. I asked myself, “What are you doing here?” I had no idea that I would have an experience of a lifetime.
Now I have 13 new friends who I know I can always say hi to. Getting to know them as a group and on a personally level is one of my favorite things from the trip. I have gained confidence in my abilities to write and in being able to talk to strangers and not be shy.
I’ve learned so many things on this trip that I cannot share them all in this blog. The thing that will stick with me the most is the stories I heard in El Comedor. Before I went down to Nogales I thought of immigration as huge political mess, which it is, but now that I have faces and stories that factor into this mess I am on the side of allowing more migrants to seek asylum in America.
Being with the migrants made me the happiest. Hearing their stories was very moving and inspiring. They also made me think of how lucky I really am. Also they made me think how I can help in this large issue of immigration.
One thing that I will do differently based upon what I learned is to just live each moment like it’s my last. This trip was a true blessing to me and one I will never forget.
Here in my last day on this wonderful journey down here in Nogales I would like to just through out some final thoughts onto paper to share.
We started the morning by going to El Comedor to say our goodbyes. It was hard to leave because I know that I have left a chunk of my heart down here. I have fallen in love with the migrants who come in with their heads down but leave as a family and smiles on their faces.
Then we went to downtown Nogales, Sonora and walked around for almost 2 hours. That was really fun because we weren’t carrying cameras or doing anything but soaking it all in. Matthew and I walked about as far as you could go before going into the neighborhoods. Then we really wanted ice cream so we asked shop owners along the way who knew little or no English. It was actually a really great experience. We ended up getting smoothies that were made of fresh fruit and it was so delicious. It was the largest smoothie I had ever seen and it was only $3.50!
In the early afternoon we went to Patagonia Park which is this beautiful 2 mile long lake near Nogales. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Definitely much need after these past two weeks and before our two days of driving ahead. Also if you want to see me learn ballet in a lake check out our snapchat account. It was pretty fun.
After we got back I went for a run from our house to the wall and ran along side it for a while. I turned my music off there and just reflected on all the stories I have heard and how complicated this issue really is.
I finished the night talking to Father Pete for a while. I lost track of time but I think it was about one and a half hours. It was a great way to end my time here. We talked about many things including what I had experienced in the last few weeks and life experiences.
Truly a part of my heart will forever be in Nogales and the people who work and pass through El Comedor. As I was on my run I was listening to some music and the song Sometimes it takes a Mountain came on by the Gaither Vocal Band. Below is a snippet of it but I encourage you to watch it on YouTube.
I faced a mountain,
That I never faced before
That’s why I’m calling on the Lord
I know it’s been awhile,
But Lord please hear my prayer
I need you like I never have before.
Sometimes it takes a mountain
Sometimes a troubled sea
Sometimes it takes a desert
To get a hold of me
Your Love is so much stronger
Then whatever troubles me
Sometimes it takes a mountain
To trust you and believe
My prayer tonight is for an openness of heart. An openness to hear God’s voice and His voice through others. For all of the warriors I have met and all of those who are on their journey to the United States, for safe travel and a promising future. For all those who can not escape violence in Mexico and South America. For all who pass away on their migration north for a better life. For Father Pete, Ivan, Joanna, Father Sean, and all of the sisters so that they may continue to serve all who come to El Comedor and to continue to bring smiles and love to all they meet. For the cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora so that they may continue in their efforts to help migrants and to keep open minds and open hearts when faced with difficult decisions regarding immigration. And for safe travels for our group as we travel back tomorrow morning to Omaha. Amen.
The morning began again at El Comedor. We got a lot of B-roll of the inside before breakfast started. Then I got some really great shots of migrants faces and actions while one of the sisters was talking. Every time I go in El Comedor I learn so much. Although language can be a barrier, just a simple smile can go a long way. I would say gracias and smile and the migrants would beam and some even said that I have very good pronunciation!
I saw my friend who, described in a blog from earlier, left his children in order to get a better job in America. He said he is going to wait a while before he crosses but he plans on doing it for his little girls. His face lite up when he saw my face and greeted me with a, “hello brother.”
We also met up with a Jesuit from the Kino Border Initiative. His name was Father Peter and we talked a lot just by ourselves. He is truly an amazing guy who has seen a lot in his sixty plus years. He loves giving me hard time and whenever a Hispanic would be standing there he would talk to him or her and start speaking in Spanish and pointing and laughing at me. He has made me want to learn Spanish just so I can understand him and that’s exactly why he was doing it. His story is very similar when it comes to foreign language. He grew up not liking Spanish and not getting it in an academic setting. When he was about 30 he was immersed in the culture and learned it that way. I never enjoyed Spanish classes growing up but being down here makes me want to learn the language from the people.
As we were interviewing our fourth person of the day in El Comedor I talked to Ivan, a Jesuit at Kino, about all these beautiful crosses I had been seeing migrants painting. He told me stories behind some of them and said that they are for sell and that the migrants who painted them get 80% of the profit. The other 20% goes towards buying more wood and materials. The one featured below is going to an art gallery to be put on display. I really wish I could have bought it.
Everyone but four of us went out to lunch in Nogales, Sonora. We who remained got ready for an interview of a migrant who just tried crossing the border. It was a very moving story. He got beaten up by Mexican authorities, then American Border Patrol, and when he was brought back to Mexico he was threatened by the cartel.
I went out on my own to shoot some B-roll of where the cars drive to get to the U.S. It was no more than 100 yards from El Comedor but it seemed like miles. When I was shooting I noticed a few Mexicans walking around in my area. Then the bridge I was by had five or six cartel members under it and they were very curious about what I was doing. By the end of my shoot here was around 20 cartel members within 50 yards of me wandering all around. They would look at my screen to see what I was filming. I kept my cool and even said hola and smiled and they smiled back and conversed a little. I was a little scared but not enough to make it seem like I was rattled or afraid.
My partner Goose and I had a great day together. While an interview was going on in the women’s shelter we went outside and shot a lot of B-roll in the area. Then we went to the downtown port in Nogales, Sonora with Father Peter. We got B-roll of the port and the cattle shoot. I ventured off on my own for a while to where the train tracks go into the United States. I wanted to get pictures and video of when the last rail car goes through and the U.S. Border Patrol closes the gates. It was a great shot but something that struck me so wrong was how it was a Union Pacific train that said, “Building America” on the side. A train that likely traveled thousands of miles through Mexico says that they are building America.
Lastly Goose and I made sixteen hamburgers and 5 hot dogs for dinner. We cooked them over a charcoal fire but with that much meat you are bound to get a lot of juice to fall and start a giant flame. We ran and got everything off the fire and spread the coals out even more. At this point the burgers where black on both sides and bright red in the middle. We then put them back on when the flames died down and put cheese on them to hide our mistakes a bit. No one complained and they actually tasted pretty good! It was a great end to another good day.