A New Education, Not About Me
Stepping through the broken glass of a government building, I pushed my camera into a throng of reporters to where a group of masked women was chanting. The reporter I was with, Hazel, had told me to stay back, but only long enough for the protestors to break the line of TV news cameras that acted as the building’s security.
The metropolitan area of Mexico City has over 20 million people, making it the most populous city in the Western Hemisphere. Even this protest, at 1 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, attracted a crowd large enough to close down a major highway that bisected two neighborhoods.
Covering protests as a photographer would become my favorite assignment at CIMAC; being welcomed into a circle of women fighting for their rights and capturing marginalized groups who needed and wanted to be seen, allowed me to connect with people in Mexico City when language failed.
Admittedly, my time spent in CDMX was less about the actual reporting, and more about the process it took me to get there. I came in with a limited understanding of Spanish, and my white privilege forced me to reevaluate the way I interacted with Mexican culture. Each day at CIMAC brought me new challenges. The first few weeks were spent on photography assignments and learning to write again, this time in Spanish. When my assignments weren’t good enough, I was sent out of the newsroom and to a volunteer table downstairs, where I worked on a research project instead of reporting.
On these afternoons when I was upset and feeling defeated, I explored freelance work. Writing for the Seattle Globalist allowed me to find ways to use English sources to improve my Spanish writing. Eventually, I earned my place back in the newsroom.
The pride of working in an all-female office, however, dwarfed every challenge I faced. Being surrounded by women in a professional setting has allowed me to see just how underrepresented we are in every facet of life. Before I left for Mexico, I publically came out as queer, bisexual, or whatever label you want to put on it. However, I’d never really embraced my queerness openly as part of my identity until I got to CIMAC. The women there made me feel completely myself, while also exposing me to the challenges that queer women face in other countries, especially in Mexico where femicide is rampant.
As the first white, non-Spanish speaking woman to get chosen for this internship, I also felt a particular responsibility to use my time in Mexico City to address and explore my personal biases. Living with, and talking to, the people in Mexico dispelled many stereotypes I held, including some of the more common assumptions people in my life liked to vocalize when I told them about my summer adventure.
One of the biggest “aha moments” came when I was covering an immigration protest in front of the U.S. Embassy. Led by an American Group, called Democrats Abroad, and local immigration advocacy groups, I spoke to U.S. citizens who had been returned to Mexico after going through the U.S. immigration system.
Surrounded by a predominantly male swarm of TV reporters, the female spokesperson for Democrats Abroad reiterated just how many American citizens were living in Mexico City, and not by choice. Beyond her, individuals wept as they spoke into cameras about being forced out by a system that did not explicitly tell them to leave, but left them with no support, despite their status as American citizens.
For the first time in my life, I was interacting with an issue that I’d only seen on TV. I was told there were half a million U.S. citizens living in Mexico City, many of them children with citizenship, who had been forced to return because their parents were undocumented or could not support their family in the American socio-economic system.
While I will not speak in place of those who are marginalized or forgotten by a system that favors those who are white and have money, I think it’s important to remember that as I fought my way through my own stereotypes about Mexico and its people, thousands of migrants have fought harder to get across the border into a country I call home.
Beyond journalism, I fell in love with the art and culture of the city. Brightly colored buildings, endless murals, and music filled my days. I found my favorite pitch after I discovered a branch of the Seattle-based Georgetown Records in CDMX. One thing led to another, and I published my story AND got a tattoo by a local Latina artist.
On weekends I went on adventures around the area, finding organic gardens and clothing bazaars. Friday nights were for fast food tacos and Netflix, while Saturdays were the bigger adventures like climbing a nearby volcano. If the smog was bad, I had smaller adventures; cuddling the house dog, and practicing vocabulary by scribbling in “101 Cosas que Dibujar.” Sundays were exclusively fruit-themed, and consisted of early afternoons walking through one of the many urban parks, listening to podcasts, and watching dogs play.
I’m forever thankful for my time in Mexico and to the Journalism North American Scholarship for giving me the opportunity to improve my writing and Spanish, and for giving me a better sense of who I am in the greater context of the world.
By Sammi Bushman