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Gracias, gracias. Buenas noches. Good evening.
I bring you greetings from Phoenix, desde el DF, desde El Paso. I am grateful, grateful beyond words for this award. It still feels very strange for me to stand before you, many of you mentors, friends to receive such recognition. The Lifetime Achievement. Thank you, but I still have a lot of stories to write.
This means a lot, especially here in California. I still consider myself an immigrant from Durango, Mexico, con el nopal en frente, so to receive such an award is a tremendous honor. Joe Rodriguez, thank you very much, NAHJ, CCNMA board members. And Dean Chris Callahan, thank you for making the trip from Phoenix. Thank you distinguished guests, friends and colleagues.
This is a scholarship banquet so to the students: I want to share two quick stories that might help explain how a high school dropout from the fields of the San Joaquin Valley ended up here tonight.
The first story has to do with my parents, Juan Pablo and Herlinda. This is tribute to their sweat, their sacrifice, their dreams. I am the son of farmworkers, both with a third grade education, both proud members of the Cesar Chavez union. I am a boy who took his parents’ words to heart and believed in my mother’s tireless reminder.
See -- my mother believed in reinvention, she believed that borders could somehow transform us. I remember the summer days after Senator Robert F. Kennedy was killed. We were working in the fields weeding out sugar beets with our long hoes. On a radio dangling from my mother’s waist, RFK’s words, with the help of a translator, would ring out in both Spanish and English. My mother would turn to us, her sons, and quiet us as we gathered around to listen. Those haunting words that I heard then, standing in those sugar beet fields, will stay with me forever
"Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
I had been intrigued by journalism since a TV crew had come to me and asked me what it was like to work in the fields. In California you had to be 15 to work a full day. I was 13. My mother tried making me look older by making me wear large clothes, a hat, anything to make me look like I belonged. But reporters, I still think, are too smart. And this one came up to me and asked me what was it like to work without clean drinking water or sanitation, or even a break - to chow down my egg burrito. I answered every question, honestly and bluntly. I was moved that someone wanted to give me a voice. Someone wanted to share my story. My mother, on the other hand, was horrified. Were we now in trouble with Cesar Chavez? And even though we had green cards, she feared we might be deported back to Mexico. ... Somehow I hoped we would cause I missed Mexico so much.
My second story has to do with finding the right mentors. Being recognized tonight by CCNMA, NAHJ, is particularly poignant. This evening my career comes full circle because it took you, many in this room and people like Ray Chavez, my professor at UT-El Paso and lifelong mentor to help me believe that this career was possible. In 1985 I went to Ray and said I am the new editor of the Prospector college paper. Ray looked at me and said, it’s time you decide to shit or get off the pot. You need clips, you need to get paid because in those days interns got paid. Get your bags packed, organize some clips, we’re going to Tucson, Arizona for the NAHJ convention. I want you to meet some friends. Ray had friends in high places.
I met people like Felix Gutierrez, Charlie Erickson, Robert Montemayor, Jesus Rangel, Ernie Sotomayor, Dianne Solis, Gilbert Bailon, Rick Rodriguez, who's also my colleague now at ASU, and Pulitzer Prize winners like Frank Del Olmo, George Ramos, Frank Sotomayor. They changed my life forever and made me believe that I could do it, become a working journalist. Thank you, CCNMA, NAHJ for making my dream of returning to Mexico as a correspondent come true.
More than anyone, this is a tribute to my colleague and love, Angela Kocherga, who has been my shining light during the darkest times, for sharing this fascinating journey, as we look for the sweet spot of who we are amid turbulent times in our industry and two countries. And thank you, Ernesto Torres, mi querido caminero, for providing many of those powerful images.
I am very proud of my story, my language, my culture, mis raíces en San Luis de Cordero, Durango, the San Joaquin Valley, El Paso, the Ellis Island of the Southwest. And I am proud of how far I’ve come to be here tonight. I’m also aware that because I’m a U.S. journalist I have the freedom and protection to tell the kinds of stories that have led to the murders of so many of my colleagues in Mexico. This is a tribute to them and to those who over the years have trusted me to tell their stories, our story, whether farmworkers, immigrants, or those ravaged by the drug war in Mexico.
Finally, as if that’s not enough, I love what I do. I still love to tell stories. I've come to believe that journalism is an incurable disease. And now guess what? I'm now sharing that passion by helping train a new generation of storytellers at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU. Again, and on behalf of Angela, thank you Dean Chris Callahan for this tremendous opportunity and for your support. And thank you NAHJ, CCNMA, for guiding me throughout my career, and for coming together, merging as one - finally - tonight, to ensure that other young journalists also get a chance.