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.
I grew up in a conservative, small town in Wisconsin. I was raised to believe that immigration was wrong and that the “illegals” were stealing our jobs. I accepted that because I wasn’t exposed to the reality. Perhaps that is why I am understanding of those who are still against migration. The north is like a bubble, safe from the truth of the ugly parts of the south. However, it is a personal responsibility, no matter where one lives, to be educated and exposed.
When I entered college, I began to think for myself and discover what makes me mad. For me, anger is the strongest motivator. I am so angry here. I am angry that for every person found dead in the desert, there are ten more bodies. I am angry that men have come back to the comedor with bloody, torn up faces because BC pushed them into barbed wire. I am angry that the cartel keeps constant watch over the people and migrants of Nogales. I am angry that our country is just now processing paperwork from 20 years ago. I am angry that the reason some migrants carry drugs is because of the Americans who demand them. Mostly, I am angry that these people are classified as criminals and rapists when a large majority of them are just trying to survive.
As I said, anger motivates me. I’m the type of person who needs to brainstorm solutions whenever I hear a problem. I think that stems from my dad’s catchphrase, “Ok. So what are you going to do about it?” With him, I could never just complain or vent, I had to take action to solve my own problems. Listening to the stories of the people here, from both sides of the issue, has confirmed my desire to attend law school so that I can start a solution of my own.
So many of the people we have interviewed here have talked about young people and how they give them hope. A lawyer we spoke with called us “dreamers”. Those same people have also said that the dreamers fade out and the next round comes in and tries to change the world. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to learn until I am no longer ignorant. I want to think until a problem is solved. I want to dream until I am no longer angry.
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.
At 3:30 am I woke up to start the day. After showering and eating we drove for about 10 minutes to a beautiful vantage point above the city. We broke out into our teams and we all had different shots we had to film of the sunrise. My partners name is Maria aka Goose (check out her blog to get the story behind her nickname). We climbed up a hill, higher than everyone else, in order to get the perfect shot.
We reached the top of the hill and could see almost all of Nogales, Arizona. It was quite a site to see. We set the camera up that we share in order to film the sunrise but it didn’t go as planned. Nico, our videographer expert didn’t mention the trick about shooting sunrises until we met back up at the van. Long story short we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the city and the landscape that empties to the mountains but our camera told a completely different story. Our aperture was perfect at the beginning but by the time the sun was up it was a white screen.
Later in the morning around 8, Joanna came back to our house and we went to a women’s shelter in Nogales, Sonora (Mexico). It was an eye opening experience seeing the women and their children who were either just deported or planning on making their way across illegally.
The thing I enjoyed most about today was getting to know some of my fellow classmates better. I had many good conversations wether it was walking across the border or walking around in downtown Nogales, Sonora. One of these walks led to where El Chapo lived and where he built his tunnel under the wall. It was really cool standing in front of his house and knowing that there is a tunnel under your feet that was used for drug smuggling among other things.
Tomorrow is another busy day and I am already excited. We have nine more days down here on the border until we depart back to Omaha and I already know that I am not going to want to leave. The culture, the people, and the landscape is truly unreal. I am blessed to be here and I hope I can really do something meaningful and impactful through this project.