A story this week in the Los Angeles Times illustrates the importance and impact of examining a larger trend through the prism of one person’s experience.
In “A hard life for one Latino teenager,” Richard Fausset documents the world of Miriam Hernandez, a 16-year-old Georgia-born teenager whose biological father was a Mexican immigrant and whose mother is a white Southerner. Miriam’s stepfather is an illegal immigrant who returned to his native El Salvador rather than face deportation.
The piece, part of the paper’s ongoing series examining “The New Latino South,” follows Miriam as she goes to school, works various jobs to support her family and tries to navigate daily life in a place adapting to sweeping demographic changes.
Like thousands of other Latino teenagers, Miriam is a blend of cultures and often caught between worlds, as Fausset points out in this description:
“She sings along to Sinaloan bandas when she is busing tables at her uncle’s Mexican restaurant out by the shuttered chicken plant. She sings along to country hit-maker Luke Bryant when she’s driving in the family van with her white Southern mother.”
And in this one:
“[Miriam], the newest kind of American Southerner, struggles to survive and succeed and make sense of the world that remains.
She is in the Junior ROTC at Cedar Shoals High School. She is taking an honors literature course. She aspires to attend college and have a white-collar career, perhaps one that exploits her ability to bridge two cultures that can seem irreconcilably disconnected.
Perhaps, she says, she will become an immigration attorney.”
The story highlights a population that is growing quickly but remains often unexamined or covered in simplistic generalizations: Latino youth. It also contains lessons for reporters covering Latino issues.
- Spend as much time as possible with your subject. It’s difficult to do in these days of banging out stories, but Fausset’s meticulously reported piece shows the rewards of being a fly on the wall. The reader gets a clear sense of Miriam’s struggles, dreams, and conflicting loyalties.
- Put your subject in context. Even while focusing on one person or one school, remember that what you find often illustrates a greater trend or more universal concern. As Fausset notes: “Miriam’s world did not really exist two decades ago. In 1990, there were about 100,000 Latinos in Georgia; today there are 850,000.”
- Look for small moments and details that reveal volumes. An example from Fausset’s piece: “The police have pulled her over twice recently, and both times asked if she was a legal resident. It pains her. So does the absence of people in her life who were, in fact, here illegally — the stepfather and her boyfriend, the friends and friends’ parents — all of them forced back across the border, leaving families split and sometimes shattered.” In those two sentences, Fausset offers insight into the emotional roller coaster of young Latino immigrants with mixed-status families.