It was 6 a.m. and the men were staring at me from across the parking lot, wondering who I was and why I was standing on their corner. With my notebook in my back pocket, I walked up to them.
They were day laborers, from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, and in Southwest Florida residents considered them a threat to safety and jobs.
Over the next four months, two or three mornings a week, I’d stand with them on that corner in Bonita Springs, Fla., as they waited for work. They talked about going to bed hungry, contractors who cheated them and deportation raids that tore families apart. They told me why they woke before sunrise six days a week to stand on that corner despite the risks: Their children and their faith.
In May 2006, The News-Press in Fort Myers published my story, “Life Perilous for Local Day Laborers.” It remains the proudest moment of my journalism career and the story that best illustrates my 10 years of writing for newspapers.
I learned in the Chips Quinn Scholars program why diverse newsrooms are crucial to democracy, and I left that amazing week in Arlington, Va., inspired, confident and ready to tell stories. As an immigrant from Nicaragua, I knew I had an additional responsibility to the Latino community.
So I wrote about farmworkers’ rights in Salinas, Calif. I covered health and education outreach efforts in Immokalee, Fla. I reported on gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District. Twice I spoke to students at the University of Nevada, Reno’s journalism department about covering Northern Nevada’s Latino community.
And I stood with day laborers in a 7-Eleven parking lot and listened to their stories as trucks passed them by.
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