Alicia Fernández sits in her car, parked somewhere between the two points that anchor her to Juárez, Mexico: her home where she lives with her parents and two sisters, and the offices of El Diaro where she works as an editorial producer. Through her windshield she observes a convenience store, a bridge spanning some distance, and other vehicles, “going one way and another.”
“It’s not a very fun scene, but that’s kind of life,” she says.
Fernández was born and raised in Juárez, and began documenting life there as a photojournalist when she was 18. Since then, she’s broadened her view of journalism, delving into reporting, experimenting with new media tools, and collaborating with foreign journalists, like Marlon Bishop of Latin USA.
United by Round Earth Media, Fernández and Bishop have just finished reporting on artists that create sculptures from belongings abandoned by migrants in the Sonora desert on their journeys north. Through the artful display of everyday items, these artists hope to reconstruct the humanity of migrants before the public eye.
The found objects vary widely, from little girls’ backpacks, to tattered shoes, to toothbrushes. “[The objects were] very interesting to [the artists] because they found many people don’t humanize the people that are crossing the border, like having the same necessities as all humans like brushing their teeth,” Fernández says.
“They decided to make art because they think it is a very good way to show that [migrants] are not like murders or violent people like many of the people say […] Sometimes when the politics don’t work so well people have to run out in another direction—have to move on just to have better opportunities,” Fernández says.
Situated near the U.S. border, Juárez is prime drug trafficking territory, and groups like the Juárez Cartel and the Sinaloa Federation, led by El Chapo, have fought viciously for the domain. Those covering the drug wars have been targeted, making Juárez one of the most dangerous cities in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“When many of these things were happening in Juárez, like the war, and the city was very dangerous, I felt like I wanted to stay. […] It was my city, I must try to show what was happening here,” Fernández says. “We don’t have the appropriate laws to protect us to do what we have to do. In that way it is a little bit risky, but necessary.”
“I think that government must protect more this kind of job—in general must protect the whole country—but you know it’s difficult because it’s a little bit corrupt. As you may see in the past days one of the most wanted narco-traffickers got out of jail, just out of the blue. It was like, oh my god, in a country like this how could you ask for protection for journalists even? ”
Fernández is involved with Red de Periodistas de Juárez, an organization working to better journalism in Mexico by bringing in reporters from around the world. They workshop on everything from photography to investigative reporting to narrative-style writing. They think that local and foreign storytelling will strengthen through input from experienced international perspectives—an idea that resonates closely with Round Earth Media’s.
“The project for Round Earth Media was a very good collaboration,” Fernández says. She found that reporting news in different languages for local and international audiences resulted an interesting mixing of cultures. “Marlon and I were with different points of view looking at the same subject, putting it in perspective for each other.”
Fernández found that somewhere along her walks with the artists she assigned new meaning to the ordinary items scattered in the desert—a sight she had seen many times previously. “I noticed that many of the things that were left in the desert are part of the Mexican way of being, and they are left in the desert the same way as you must leave your identity maybe [when you migrate], because you need to engage in another country.”
To continue expanding her understanding, Fernández wants to leave Juárez for a while. “I think there are projects that could be similar or could be related to problems that are in Juárez,” she says. “After all, we are talking about the same planet.” She is particularly interested in the psychological effects of families torn apart by violence, which is connected to the grand-scale problems of poverty and corrupt politics in Mexico, she says.
Effectiveness as a reporter, especially as a new reporter, in covering Mexico’s challenges hinges on partnership with others, Fernández says. “You must be with people that you trust in. I think that the people you may trust are other reporters.”
Read Fernández’s full story for El Diario here.
Alicia Fernández is a visual journalist based in Juárez. She leads the multimedia team at El Diaro de Juárez, is a member of Red de Periodistas de Juárez, and contributes to other media organizations, including Round Earth Media. She has also worked as a fixer for correspondents from Europe and the Americas that report in Juárez.
Fernández has been documenting the effects of the drug cartel wars on the society of Juárez since 2010. In 2012, Fernández began working on several independent projects. One such project focuses on teaching photography to children in marginalized neighborhoods in order to help them express their ideas, and also to document the violations of their human rights.
Fernández has also contributed to the collective multimedia project of Periodistas de a Pie A.C. ‘Among the Ashes, Stories of life in times of death’, where she exhibited two video stories in which victims of violence in Juárez have used their courage to organize and undertake projects of common welfare.
Fernández is currently working on collecting city icons and citizens’ stories for a book that she hopes will promote the image of Juárez as a survivor and will support a strong social identity.
Follow her on Twitter @Mictlanita.