Devin and Imelda met in a hotel lobby in Phoenix, one of the few places offering a reprieve from the Arizona August. Apart from the assignment they shared, the Round Earth Media partners didn’t appear to have much in common. Imelda Robles was a print journalist; Devin Browne created stories for the radio. Browne hailed from laid back Los Angeles; Robles called Monterrey, Mexico home.
Their differences showed immediately. Browne was dressed for the triple digit temperatures, American-style—Robles was not.
“[Imelda] showed up in long jeans and high platform heels, which is very, very northern Mexican,” Browne said. “In Phoenix, the uniform is cut-off shorts. It’s 115 degrees there, and no one is wearing jeans.”
“It was the first time I’d gone to Phoenix,” Robles admitted. “It was very hot.”
When it came to fashion, the pair was mismatched, but the diversity in their backgrounds and their experiences as journalists helped them report on a Mexican-American quinceañera as a cohesive team.
The coming-of-age narrative had more layers than the 15-year-old protagonist’s ruffled party dress. Together Imelda and Devin worked to unravel a story about migrant nostalgia and reinvented traditions as Kimberly and her family and friends prepared for a lavish Mexican-style celebration.
“Every place that we went there were multiple people to speak with. We’d go to dance practice and there’s Kimberly, and there’s her mother, and there’s her father, and there’s all these 15- and 16-year-old boys in basketball shorts and dancing boots, sweating, trying to learn this gorgeous traditional number to a modern Antonio Banderas song—there was plenty for us to cover at all of those places,” Browne said.
The volume of material was overwhelming, so the journalists stuck to their strengths and relied on each other to fill in any gaps in their reporting.
“We shared everything,” Browne said. “[Imelda]’s a really, really good photographer. I leaned on her heavily for the visuals,” she said. “She’s also way better at social media than I am. […] She was tweeting and posting like it was nothing, and I was like, ‘Oh right that’s what modern journalists in the field do.’”
If Imelda had an eye for the story, Devin had an ear for it.
“She works for radio. She needs to give a lot of importance to the sounds, to the audio,” Robles said. “If she recorded something it was always clean.” Devin’s clips caught quotes Imelda might otherwise have missed, and Imelda explained to Devin elements of the Spanish conversations she had not fully understood.
During one interview Kimberley’s little sister asked their mother why she had to wear a Mexican outfit and braids to school when she was from the U.S. ‘Because you are Mexican,’ the mother explained, addressing her daughter as Usted, the formal Spanish word for “you.”
“‘Porque Ud. es Mexicana,’” Browne recalled her saying. “And I was like who is she talking to? Her daughter is like six or seven years old. I played it for Imelda, and Imelda [said that] sometimes when parents are really trying to drive something home they’ll use Ud. with their children. I had never heard that before.”
Parts of the story surprised Imelda too.
“There is a lot of news about immigration. But we don’t have an idea of how life is for Mexicans in the United States. So, to reveal the pain is […] to know what has happened and to know that [those who] have come here have not forgotten that they are Mexicans and they haven’t forgotten their social customs,” Robles said.
Ultimately the pair’s exchange of reported information and personal knowledge gave the story its depth.
“It could have just been a quinceañera—and there have been a lot of pieces about quinceañeras—and the end of this one is not really about that at all,” Browne said. “This piece is mostly about how […] we reinvent places that we’re from once we’ve left. Questions that you can’t help but answer them through your own cultural lens,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone with a different filter there.”
“Before Round Earth Media, I didn’t know any organization that worked in this way,” Robles said. “I think it is very innovative and very enriching for both journalists.”
-Article by Sarah Barchus (@sarahbarchus)