Hispanic Studies Students Meet Pulitzer Center Grantee Journalist
–This collaborative article was authored by the Hispanic Studies 208 students in Cate-Arries’ class.
As part of a class unit on investigative journalism, immigration, and refugees in the Spanish-speaking world, students in Professor Cate-Arries Fall 2017 Hispanic Studies 208 course met with the award-winning freelance long-form journalist Malia Politzer during her October campus visit to William and Mary.
Politzer (b. 1983, San José, California; B.A. Hampshire College; M.S. Columbia University) has made a name for herself by reporting on the international refugee crisis, including Europe’s primary migration corridor from North Africa to Spain, and regularly publishing her articles in The Economist, Wall Street Journal Asia, Foreign Policy Magazine and Institute of Current World Affairs Letters. Currently based in Spain where she is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Granada, Politzer spent the past two years traveling in Niger, Sicily, Turkey, and Germany for her 2016 Huffington Post Highline piece, “The 21st Century Gold Rush: How the Refugee Crisis is Changing the World Economy,” awarded the “2017 Overseas Press Club Award for Best Digital Reporting on International Affairs”. (http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-21st-century-gold-rush-refugees/#/niger)
In her lecture, Politzer opened with the statistic that there are 22.5 million refugees worldwide (“the most refugees we’ve had since WWII”), and her ensuing remarks point to her success in putting a human face on this daunting, growing number of refugees. When asked about her most inspiring, memorable encounter with one of these displaced individuals, Politzer immediately responded with the story of a Syrian refugee in Turkey, Muhammed. She “fell in love” with the incredibly intelligent boy who loved learning, teaching himself computer programing at a young age, who now no longer had access to formal schooling.
Recognizing that at times it is difficult to see how her investigative reporting “makes a difference” given the often staggering scale of hardship that her informants endure, Politzer did recall with satisfaction her coverage of the case of Mexican immigrant Oscar Vasquez, a “Dreamer before the Dream Act.” Vasquez came to the U.S. as a child, was one of four undocumented Phoenix high school students whose 2004 underwater robotics team beat out MIT in a national competition, and completed his mechanical engineering degree as a ROTC student at Arizona State University. However, without documentation Vasquez was unable to accept the engineering job offers he received. Married, with a child, he returned to Mexico in an effort to legalize his status in the U.S., but received a 10-year penalty for his undocumented status in the U.S., and was unable to reenter the country. Politzer’s piece about the Vasquez family’s plight attracted the attention of a senator, who took up the case, and sponsored Vasquez on his path to U.S. citizenship (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/return-to-sender-the-feds-fueled-by-local-anti-immigration-hostility-are-draining-talented-undocumented-youth-into-mexico-6446417). Politzer remarked that often her stories address large issues with abstract resolutions, so this particular outcome was a gratifying moment for her, because of the direct impact that her reporting had on Oscar’s situation.
One of the most compelling facets of Politzer’s coverage of the refugee crisis, and of her and “The 21st c. Gold Rush” photographer Emily Kassie’s efforts to document refugee economies, is their challenge to the conventional narrative about refugees as passive victims and huddled masses, with no agency. Her stories include accounts of refugees’ creative incursions into local economies, sometimes benefiting the quality of life for the larger refugee community. A common thread among these actors on the world stage of the crisis of displaced persons, according to Politzer, is that they are “engaged in making economic decisions about their lives. They aren’t just waiting helplessly to do things, they’re actually actively participating.” On the other hand, Politzer warns, many people have “figured out how to profit from global instability, also known as human suffering,” and as long as this phenomenon continues, it is hard to see an end to the refugee crisis.