Being an immigrant in the U.S. can pose many challenges, but for immigrant journalists at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference in Miami, it has given them distinct advantages.
It informs their reporting, they said, builds empathy and allows them to establish a rapport with sources whose stories may reflect their own.
“It’s about empathy, it is not about being an immigrant, it’s about connecting with those people and making my viewer feel,” said Rosa Flores, a Mexican-born CNN reporter who spoke on a panel Thursday in which immigrant journalists shared their experiences. “Being an immigrant gives you knowledge to cover an undercover community.”
They shared their own family experiences. They talked about how coming from immigrant parents helped them understand the struggles that immigrants who come to this country may face.
Several journalists in attendance have been covering the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that has separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border and detained thousands of immigrants in detention centers across the country.
Doing so can pose a challenge, some said, because the stories are emotional and difficult — and resonate with their own experiences.
Focusing on facts, rather than emotion, has helped them stay focused.
“When we were on the border, one thing I didn’t expect was all these families coming up with stories that were very similar than my own family story,” said Gio Benitez, an ABC News reporter whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. “When we look at those stories as families, as Latinos in America and you see that reflected in the stories you’re covering it makes it interesting from the standpoint that you need to juggle your own emotions with the facts of the story.”
That doesn’t mean forgetting where they came from.
Journalists with immigrant backgrounds said using their own experiences to guide them can help lead them to stories others may not see.
“It’s less about immigration and more about that they came from nothing and that they came to this country with nothing,” said Benitez. “The fact that my parents were immigrants only helped my job because I always used that experience and those feelings, those stories to inform my reporting not to dictate how I do that reporting, but I use it to inform my questioning.”
For Miami Herald reporter Brenda Medina, who immigrated with her parents from the Dominican Republic when she was a teenager, being an immigrant has given her a potent sense of pride.
Throughout her youth, Medina’s parents worked for a carpet cleaning company.
When she first started at the Miami Herald in 2012, Medina walked them through the halls of her new job. As they ascended the steps to the newsroom, they looked down.
The initials of their carpet company lined the floors.
She still wells up as she remembers the moment.
Her parents cleaned those carpets, Medina said, so she could one day walk her own path, with their hard work propping her up every step of the way.