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Journalism student writes to foster empathy and understanding

Rochelle[M]y junior year in high school I had my son. I had financial responsibilities most students didn’t, but I felt college offered the best chance of finding a career that would support me but also had purpose beyond that. I enrolled at the University of Kansas, double majoring in journalism and Spanish. Spanish is a personal and professional goal; my father emigrated from Costa Rica and Spanish is my link to that heritage and will also expand my reach as a journalist.

My progress has been slow because as a single parent I’ve worked between 25 and 40 hours a week throughout my college career. That sometimes meant I only had the time for one class per semester. But with scholarships, loans, and savings, I enrolled full-time and studied abroad in Costa Rica in 2013, bringing my son along.

In Costa Rica, I experienced a different life. I spent time with my family in the slightly slanting wooden house, tulip-orange paint coating the horizontal planks, that my father and his nine siblings grew up in. For the first couple months, I lived nearby with my grandma in a cinderblock house with glossy, tiled floors and ants in the walls. A morning soon after my arrival, when I looked away as my grandma cleaned all remnants of food from her plate with a licked index finger, she told me there was no shame in hunger. From then on, I didn’t look away, but my eyes still ached with the urge to.

I thought of the stories my father told me as a child, about being teased at school for wearing shoes with the soles cut from old tires. About making a ball by tying strings around wads of plastic bags and playing barefoot soccer in the street. Living in Costa Rica gave those stories a living backdrop in my mind, and I appreciate his efforts to better his life in a way I never could before.

My grandma told me stories too. One was of the time she tried to go back to school. She had been working in a factory and at 16 married my grandfather, 15 years her senior. Then not working, she enrolled in classes. My grandfather traveled frequently for work, but eventually found out. He forbade her to go back. He disliked her leaving the house so much he even did the grocery shopping.

But my grandma told me, smiling, that she still remembered something she’d learned in that class: that to make something mean more than one you put ‘s’ or ‘es’ on the end. Finding this so basic, I assumed she meant she’d learned how to make nouns plural in English. “Nooo,” she said, “en Español.” Her tone was like of course in Spanish. I felt in that moment I appreciated the difference that time, place, and circumstance had made in my life.

I realize the effort to get me to the social position I am in now was made by my father, and for that I am grateful. I realize my path to education was flatter and straighter than his, but I hope because of that I don’t value it less.

I want to use journalism to have a positive effect. I don’t want to look away; I want to tell the stories with uncomfortable truths. I want my reporting to reflect the diversity of our population by including the underrepresented and marginalized: women, minorities, immigrants, impoverished. I want to practice journalism in the public interest, without political bias or corporate influence. Rather than further alienating opposing groups and polarizing issues, I want my writing to foster the empathy and understanding necessary for cooperation.

We are proud to announce Rochelle Valverde is one of the current LatPro Scholarship finalists. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘star’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.

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