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Dangerous Times For Journalists

Published: August 7, 2017

Only Syria and Afghanistan are more dangerous for journalists than Mexico. That grim fact convinces journalism and mass communications’ Teresa Puente that American asylum is their best hope.

“Journalists are in danger in Mexico,” said the member of the university since 2016. “The violence does not affect drug traffickers alone but innocent bystanders and journalists are among those innocent people. What we need is a shift in U.S. policy that would grant asylum to journalists, activists and others in Mexico whose lives have been threatened by the drug cartels or by government authorities in collusion with them.”

Puente recalls during her 20 years of working in and covering Mexico when she began interviewing journalists only to have them tell her to put away her recorder and notebook.

“They did not want to be recognized as reporters,” she recalled. “Bylines are outdated for many Mexican reporters. Their video reports go to Mexico City for anonymity. It is that dangerous.”

As a fourth-generation Latino whose great-grandfather arrived in the U.S. on horseback, the Chicago native feels very connected to Mexican culture.

“In Mexico, journalists have being targeted and killed for reporting on the drug war and government corruption,” she said. “Recently, Javier Valdez, who covered drug trafficking in the northern state of Sinaloa, was gunned down and killed. He is the sixth journalist to be killed Mexico in 2017. The free speech organization Article 19 reports that more than 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000.”

She remembers meeting Valdez in 2011.

“What is incredible to me is that Valdez knew his life was in danger but he did his work anyway. He was so brave,” she said. “I never forget I do not have to worry about being arrested or killed for reporting. I hope that we do not see that in this country. It is my hope that the current American political situation will bring a rebirth to investigative journalism. It is the role of the journalist to make government accountable. There may be frustrations for a journalist here but there also is privilege and freedom. In Mexico, journalists are dying to do the same thing.”

Puente praised the success of the June 15 Day of Remembrance observed by media worldwide to underline their commitment to fellow reporters.

“Our voice is our strength,” she said. “Media from as far away as Australia observed the day.”

Her goal is to urge the Mexican government to do something to investigate journalistic murders.

“However, the truth is that 90 percent of the murders in Mexico go unsolved so the chances of solving the murders of journalists are not likely,” she said. The answer she offers is asylum for threatened Mexican journalists.

“In fiscal 2016, 12,831 Mexican nationals sought asylum and only 464 applications were approved,” she added. “If the U.S. travel ban will not let in people from Syria, there is little chance for Mexican asylum in the current political climate. However, America cannot remain silent.”

Puente sees a parallel between serving as a war correspondent and covering crime in Mexico.

“A war correspondent knows the warring parties and what side the U.S. is on. Their enemies even could be government officials or fellow journalists bought off by the cartels to spy on other journalists. With all that danger, it is hard to know whom to trust,” she said. “I have seen self-censorship in border towns. Newspapers decline to publish news about narco violence, especially when those newspapers see their reporters slain.”

Teresa Puente

Puente comes to CSULB with experience that includes serving as a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and the editorial board at the Chicago Sun-Times. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, the Hill and the Miami Herald. She is the recipient of the Studs Terkel Award (given by Public Narrative) for her coverage of Chicago’s diverse communities. She has taught journalism and communications at the Tecnológico de Monterrey campus in Guadalajara, Mexico. She has a MFA degree in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and a bachelor’s degree with a double major in journalism and political science from Indiana University-Bloomington.

Puente serves as the mentor advisor to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ (NAHJ) student chapter on campus.

“In the fall, they made a Day of the Dead alter in honor of the late Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar,” she said. “They also made a video to show the dangers faced by journalists in Latin America. In spring, they recorded a Spanish-language talk show in collaboration with film and electronic arts’ Rafael Nieto. We also brought in guest speakers, including from ESPN. I am planning to take students to the NAHJ conference in Anaheim in the fall. It is important that students start networking and preparing for careers in journalism. We also discuss the need for more Latinos in journalism and the importance of accurate stories about Latinos.”

Her ultimate goal is to write stories that are more accurate about Latinos in the U.S.

“Most media stories deal with Latinos as immigrants but only 15 percent of the American Latino population are undocumented,” she said. “Most Latinos were born here or they are permanent residents. However, the frame the media puts on the issue portrays most Latinos as immigrants.”