Building a guide for Venezuelan immigrants in the city
I was a health reporter in Caracas, Venezuela, and the newsroom I worked for really allowed me to build relationships with sources. I even went to a particular hospital once a week just to check-in and get updates on how things were going. All of this was around 2016 and 2017. At the time, I didn’t know this had a name — or that it could turn into a systematic approach that would allow me to be a better journalist.
A couple of years later I discovered that what I had been doing had a name (engagement journalism) and that a school in New York had a full year and a half program devoted to it. By that point I had a template answer to everyone who knew about journalism that asked me what I wanted to focus on during my career: I want to think on the best way to present and publish stories so they can reach more people.
I was trying to learn how to do that on my own: creating a Google spreadsheet for everything I could track, taking coding lessons, writing a newsletter about journalism news. But there it was: a whole master’s degree on that! Applying was a no-brainer.
Just some months after I got the news: I got accepted with an almost full-ride scholarship! I got excited and started to think about what I wanted to do. I’ve focused a lot on health issues and food inequality. Maybe something along those lines? Maybe this was my opportunity to focus my work on sustainable fashion, another passion of mine?
And then the pandemic hit.
The plans to move to New York had to be postponed indefinitely. Everyone’s priorities changed. Mine did too. Starting from scratch with a community I didn’t have a clear entry to in a city that I have never set foot on while I myself was stranded away from home wasn’t a real possibility.
I start rethinking what I wanted to do and the things I care about, and it hit me. I always say two things define me: being a woman and being an immigrant who fled Venezuela, a dictatorship. I care deeply about gender and immigrant issues.
So I picked a community where I could make a difference and have a positive and meaningful impact working for the causes I care about. That’s why I decided to go with my home country community and work with Venezuelans in New York City.
More than 6 million people fled Venezuela: is the world’s second-biggest refugee and immigrant crisis. Around half a million of those who fled, live in the US. We don’t have an exact number of Venezuelans living in New York, but it is calculated to be around 20.000.
They face multiple problems: learning how to get an ID in the city, how to get an apartment, how the health system works, loneliness… and, even though I cannot directly solve any of these or overthrow a dictatorship, I can help with information. I decided to create a guide that would put all of that information, that it is now publically available but in many different sites, in just one place.
That’s how my website, Venezolanos en NYC, was born. At first, I thought it would be a basic guide of bureaucratic processes in the city, but as I was getting more and more feedback I realize I was leaving a lot of stuff behind. That’s key when you’re doing engagement journalism: you have to listen. I spent hours lurking on social media, then posting, asking, doing one on one and doing one big poll that got 97 answers and helped me define the future of my project.
With all of that information and the feedback from my community I started working on the development of the project: gathering the information and creating a prototype. My first step was gathering information: during this semester I worked on a document that ended up having around 60 pages. It had information about the bureaucratic process for the immigrants in the city, especially focusing on the Venezuelans. It would later become the content of my website.
While I was organizing that content I realized that there was another way of making this even more accessible: a newsletter.
The idea of this newsletter is to deliver a five steps guide with the most basic information a newly arrived immigrant may need. When the person subscribes they get this email which resumes the spirit of the process and explains how they will receive an email a week during the course of five weeks in five different subjects: ID and immigration services, health services, education, legal aid and cultural and recreational events.
My idea is to deliver useful content that would live in their inbox so they can revisit it easily anytime they want, even without having an internet connection, and, if the reader wants to deepen their knowledge, can visit the website for more in-depth coverage of these topics.
During my time at Craig Newmark, I confirmed what my journalistic heart was telling me since my career started: it is not about reaching millions, it’s about reaching the right people. Going viral doesn’t matter as much as doing and good and impactful job.
Now, as graduation day approaches, I can’t help but think about how would this project look if I had missed just one of these steps that brought me here. I’m confident in what I’m doing. I can explain it in 30 seconds or I could spend a full hour talking about it, but that’s just because I spent months thinking about every aspect of this.
I now also know that, even though I know all this, my project can fail. And maybe the next one too. Journalism is a tough industry, but I know what I wanna do and I went to school to learn the best way to do it. I was right: this is what I wanna do for the rest of my career.