Marlon Bishop is a producer at Latino USA, and has been reporting on Latin American issues for many years. He was in Arizona earlier this summer on a Round Earth Media reporting trip with Alicia Fernandez, a Juarez-based editorial producer. Marlon’s previous reporting trip with Round Earth Media resulted in the Peabody-winning piece “Gangs, Murder, and Migration in Honduras.”
How was reporting in Arizona different from reporting in Honduras?
The exchange that happens between the reporters is different. I brought my perspective to their countries and their situations, and they brought this very local knowledge, and in a way that was flipped around this time. I’d never been to the southwest, but overall, it was within the U.S. context. And it was interesting for Alicia, who’s worked on the drug war and on so many things related to the border region, for her to be in the U.S. and look at these issues from the other side. Meeting some of these American artists, who are so dedicated and so compassionate to the cause of helping bring attention to Mexican migrants was very impactful for her.
And for me, it was very intense to be in the desert, this environment I’d never been in before,that blazing heat, 115 degrees or whatever.
One of the artists we went out with specifically looks for toothbrushes and toothpaste. Because those are things that, he thinks, a lot of people are surprised when they hear migrants bring toothbrushes and toothpaste. But if you think about it, if you were going on a three day trip through the desert, wouldn’t you want a toothbrush also? So the artist, Deborah McCollough, found that the toothbrush brought a sense of dignity and humanity to the statistics in the minds of many Americans.
Seeing that firsthand was really interesting, having never been to the border region. I have traveled all over Latin America, but in certain ways, the southwest U.S. was more exotic than many other places I’ve been as a northeasterner, from New York.
How was it more “exotic?”
Well, also, terrible word. It’s just the entire environment, the desert, the sunset, the heat, it was just unlike any place I’d ever been. Beautiful, full of really strange contradictions in the of ways the place is being used.
We visited a neatly manicured suburban retirement home, and it’s literally right next to these trail where thousands of people every year try to make it to the U.S. for a better life. The interplay between those elements is just so strange, and fascinating, and sometimes very sad, and sometimes very hopeful.
What’s it like to be an American reporting on these issues?
I think it’s important for reporters to report on migration, whether you’re American or not, whether you’re Latino or not, because the movement of people has really defined the world we live in in so many ways. Whatever country you’re from, the history of how people have moved to and from there defines so much about the place: who lives there, what economic things they’re involved in. The U.S. is a country of immigrants, Hispanic or no. If you’re not interested or concerned about immigration on some level, I don’t think you’re paying attention to this country.
Today, there’s 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., many of whom have taken that trip across the border. That border trip is an essential part of the American experience, I think its really important for people to understand that.
So whether I’ve been investigating the root causes of child migration in Honduras, or whether I was doing more recent reporting in Arizona, it’s all part of that same story, that the U.S. is part of a greater region that is interconnected in every single possible way. Oftentimes, migration is reported in very simplistic terms, like, ‘this person over here is poor so they left their home,’ but why are they poor? What aspects of American history have contributed to that poverty and violence and all these other things people are fleeing?
How has Round Earth Media helped you tell that story of interconnectedness?
Working with this model of partnering with journalists from other countries is so valuable. Journalists share a common mission, a common attitude, and I found that every single time I’ve done one of these projects, worked with someone from another country, I’d instantly recognize this person as kind of someone like me, personality-wise. People who are curious, and adventurous, and intellectual, it’s been honestly one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had as a journalist, meeting and sharing with them. And there’s so much we’ve learned from each other in the process. So many people go and maybe they have a fixer model, where a person will employ a local journalist to help them get contacts. But what we’ve done at Round Earth is really work as partners, and that has been. There’s such a huge difference, when you’re two equal partners, working on a project together.