Claudia, we were delighted to have you join us for the Media coverage of Immigration conference in Paris in 2009, and we are glad to be able to catch up and hear about some of your new projects. Several years later, what memories do you keep of your experience in Paris with the French-American Foundation at the Media Coverage of Imigration conference?
As journalists, we always seek to have first-hand experience. I was aware of the immigration phenomenon that was occurring in Europe, particularly in France. Thanks to the Foundation’s fellowship, I was able to experience it in person. Those memories have not only been ingrained in my mind, they have shaped my future and how I cover immigration.
In what way do you think this gathering impacted you? Are you still in touch with participants?
I believe the conference feeds my soul and allows me to see that I am part of a global community that sometimes faces the same struggles, joys, and challenges – no matter what country they work in. Many of the participants (now my friends) have helped shape my career, and even today, we remain in contact. To me, they have been like a family. We share the same code, and that has allowed us to surpass time and distance. We are fortunate to have experienced the unique opportunity to see immigration as a group and away from our own borders.
Can you explain how you came to create Migrahack, a non-profit project connected with the Institute for Justice and Journalism?
Migrahack was born out of the necessity to connect the subject of immigration with technology. In other words, the idea was to go beyond the narrative and understand immigration’s hidden numbers, how to communicate the data, and not only write stories that touch the soul but also develop projects that generate accountability. On the other hand, Migrahack is also a project for immigrants and for journalists who come from ethnic media who, many times, do not have the necessary data analysis and visualization training. These types of courses are typically very expensive or are taught by mainstream media journalists who are completely unfamiliar with what we journalists from ethnic or small media outlets face. With Migrahack, the dream is to provide data journalism a face based in diversity.
Can you give us a few examples of the type of topics and stories that have been covered as part of Migrahacks?
With Migrahack, the goal is to form teams consisting of journalists, data analysts, programmers, and designers. Together, they have generated interactive maps that show the displacement of immigrants in detention centers, immigrants who are treated as if they were pieces of merchandise moved from place to place. We have also visualized on maps the educational levels of those school districts that serve migrant communities that can be easily accessed by the community to understand the situation that their children are living in. Other projects include interactive visualizations that show the waiting periods for immigrants to obtain their immigration permits, segregated by country of origin. There are so many and varied projects that we even have a geographic game where we have to guess the location of the border.
How do you pick the locations for Migrahacks? Where have you organized them so far, and where would you like to organize them in the future?
What we look for at the moment of selecting a site is diversity. During my time at Stanford and even in Los Angeles, I attended many hackathons, and I was always impacted by the lack of diversity. There were very few women and even fewer women of color. The majority of the men were young, Caucasian. I felt that there was a shortage of Indian, Hispanic, or Russian at these events. With Migrahack, we are all immigrants and, as immigrants, we know more than anyone else the topics that affect us, and we look for solutions. To-date, we have held events in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose, and now Mexico City. In the future, we would like to hold events in New York or Miami.
Do you think a transatlantic Migrahack, with American and European participants, would be relevant? Why?
The European Union and the United States are struggling to define the complex attitudes and policies toward immigrants in the 21st Century. It is a topic rich in data and indicators, and we, as journalists, have to be prepared to see these connections and discover the stories that are hidden in the numbers. Some of us journalists do not know the power of merged data sets, of probabilities, and more so, the incredible strength of communication by means of data visualization. I believe that the major force of a transatlantic Migrahack is that the stories that we will create have the power to overcome language and country barriers. Our minds respond to color and geography. Data journalism will give us that ability to share the immigration stories to all ethnic groups in their respective countries.
What is next for you in your work / career?
My goal is to prepare myself with the use of technology to continue the struggle for places that allow the democratization of knowledge. We journalists that serve ethnic-media outlets fight for the right of an education in our communities, but we also form part of those ethnic communities, and we should use our creativity to seek opportunities that allow us to bridge the educational gap between mainstream media and our media that serve a large portion of the population. Becoming better-prepared journalists will result in better-informed and empowered communities.