Valeria Fernandez, a freelance journalist who leads Arizona State University’s Spanish-language journalism program, is the kind of journalist we need in any era, but especially with Donald Trump in power. For more than two decades, the Uruguay native has dedicated her time to covering maligned immigrant communities for several publications, including The Associated Press, The Guardian, and PRI’s The World. This week, she earned much-deserved recognition for her work. Fernandez, along with freelance journalist Jaeah Lee, received the inaugural American Mosaic Journalism Prize for their gripping reporting of the struggles of US immigrants and other marginalized groups.
“In today’s journalism, freelancers are both vulnerable and valuable,” the Heising-Simons Foundation, which created the award, said on Tuesday. “With trimming of newsroom staff, many journalists are working without the support of an institution and with limited resources. And yet, some of the most important works of journalism come from these freelance journalists who commit long periods of time to their stories.”
Upon winning the prize, Fernandez said she hoped that it would inspire others, especially “students of color, to see their culture and their roots as strengths to ground their work, so they also work to listen to unrepresented voices, pursue nuanced stories, and become a force for understanding.”
To celebrate Valeria’s big win, we’re looking at four of her stories – published between July 2016 and August 2017 – that exemplify her commitment to immigration journalism.
"El muro de Trump amenaza la tradición milenaria de una nación indígena"
This piece delves into how the indigenous Tohono O’odham nation stands to be impacted by the construction of a border wall. The Spanish-language report shows how the indigenous group has maintained its traditions and why living in a space without barriers is necessary. Check it out here.
"These asylum-seekers are being forced to raise their kids in immigration 'jails'"
As Central American immigrants flee gang violence in their native homes, they are met with more challenges in the United States. In this PRI story, Fernandez reports about a young woman who was forced to bring her children to an immigrant detention center. She originally thought she could leave them in her sister’s care, but quickly learned immigration officials had other plans. Her story is just one of many who have been affected by a Department of Homeland Security tactic to impede Central Americans to come to the US. Read the story here.
"He’s been deported twice. This third time, his family is leaving the US with him."
Deportation breaks up families. While some make the painful decision to get by without their loved ones, others have decided to move their families to follow the person who was deported. This story follows Katerina Karrys Barron – a US citizen that barely speaks Spanish – who moved her children to Mexico so that they could remain together. Read the story here.
"Sara's Demons Crossed the Border with Her: Where Could She Find Help for Her Mental-Health Problems?"
In this Phoenix New Times feature, Fernandez talks about Sara (which is not her real name), an 18-year-old immigrant from El Salvador. As she paints a picture of how the met and kept in touch over the years, she also describes how the young woman was sexually abused and living in a new country that made it difficult for her to heal. Read the piece here.