Sandra Baltazar Martínez has been a reporter with The Santa Fe New Mexican for nearly three years. She is a general assignment reporter with a focus on Latino and immigration issues. She is also a section editor for La Voz de Nuevo México, The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Spanish weekly section that publishes Mondays. In 2008, Sandra completed a master’s in community journalism from the University of Alabama through a Knight Foundation fellowship that worked in conjunction with The Anniston Star. For five years, Sandra worked in Southern California for both Spanish and English newspapers; she was a general assignment reporter for The Press-Enterprise in southern California where she covered the migrant communities in the Coachella Valley.
Faces of Immigration
Susana Martinez has been scaling walls since she was a kid. At 11 and of a mind to ignore her mother’s warning, she couldn’t stop herself from trying to conquer the garden wall. “I fell and cut my thigh,” Martinez said. “I didn’t cry. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh no!’ I was more afraid of my mom.” It was a moment of truth that has lasted a lifetime in ways big and small. Read full story.
After Ruth Aguilar lost her job eight years ago, she locked herself in her house for two straight years. She spent days and nights writing down recipes, cooking them and perfecting the amount of the ingredients. Read full story.
Javier Iturbe never planned to make the United States his home. He was in medical school at the Universidad Autónoma de México and needed to complete a residency program. So he went to the University of Texas in Houston in 1980 to practice pediatrics. Read full story.
The Rev. Kang Kook Ro has been all over the United States. The mission of his Christian work has always been the same: Give Koreans a sense of place. Read full story.
The sisters still remember the grueling seven-hour walk through the desert alongside their two brothers, six other undocumented immigrants and a smuggler. Their faces turn serious when they recall refilling their empty water bottles from a slimy stock tank they found along the way. Read full story.
At one point, Carlos Garcia owned a flour tortilla and tamale business and an auto salvage yard. He’s been a shoe designer, a landlord and a real-estate developer. Starting in 1983, he owned Don Juan’s Auto, a paint and body shop off Rufina Street, and operated it until he sold the shop three weeks ago. He’s also a philanthropist. Read full story.
Story Behind The Story
Oklahoma State Sen. Ralph Shortey said he knew how to identify an undocumented immigrant: “If they are here… and speak Spanish, it’s a pretty good indication that they’re illegal.”
Shortey made the comment at the IJJ’s Immigration in the Heartland conference last March at the University of Oklahoma. Some of the other fellowship participants and I looked at each other in disbelief, but we kept nailing him with questions.
We learned that he wanted to “build a wall around Oklahoma” in order to prevent “illegals” from entering the state. His proposed law, SB908, was dubbed “Arizona Plus.” Immigrants, specifically Latino immigrants, are associated with the Mexican drug cartels, Shortey said, and they prefer to call the cartels for help instead of the police.
When his constituents were “communicating this with me, what am I supposed to do, especially if I believe in it?” Shortey asked.
Funny thing is, he acknowledged, he had never met or spoken to an immigrant himself.
Too bad he didn’t join us on the trip to a local high school where a Latina teen wept as she told a group of us that her parents had returned to Mexico and had left her behind with the hopes that she would live the “American Dream,” even if it meant being separated from them.
Shortey could have benefitted from hearing the story of a young woman who spoke to us at a local Catholic Church. She had been the only female with a group of about a dozen men, including her elderly father, who crossed the border through the desert without authorization. She didn’t urinate for three to four days, she told us, because she was embarrassed to pull her pants down behind a bush.
Neither the abdominal pain she suffered from not urinating, nor the blistered, bloody feet she developed from trekking across the desert, nor the many days she slept on the floor once she arrived in Oklahoma, were enough to dissuade her from remaining in this country to work. Either she endured the suffering, she told us, or her mother and siblings starved.
In Oklahoma, an anti-immigrant sentiment has been sweeping across the state in recent years, and it reaches beyond the Latino community. We visited with men and women at a Muslim school outside Oklahoma City and heard that legislators were proposing bills to ban Muslim women from wearing a hijab on their driver license photo. And they recalled the tragic 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma politicians and police had been quick to ascribe a Muslim footprint to the bombing. Later, of course, they found out that the attack, which killed 168 people, was carried out by a non-Muslim U.S. citizen, Timothy James McVeigh.
After the weeklong conference, conducted by the Institute for Justice and Journalism, I knew that I had to return to Santa Fe to cover our local immigration issues differently –and smarter.
So I started with a profile of the nation’s first Latina governor, Susana Martinez. I wanted our readers to know who this woman, who is tough as nails, really is. She was nice enough to grant me a 2½ hour interview; I rode in her “work mobile” from Albuquerque to Las Cruces and had a conversation on everything from her childhood memories in El Paso to her political beliefs, which include trying to kill a measure that currently allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver licenses. She campaigned on this promise and has brought it up twice to the Legislature, but both attempts have failed. The governor has promised to re-introduce the proposal to deny licenses to undocumented immigrants in the upcoming Legislature. New Mexico is one of three states that give licenses to foreign nationals without authorized immigration status.
I found that she’s approachable, smart, determined and a hard worker. Her family’s past, which includes a Mexican revolutionary, and undocumented paternal grandparents from Mexico, don’t shake her stance on immigration, she said. To her, the law is the law.
Her persona though, parallels that of the five different immigrants – a Korean pastor, a Mexican doctor, a Salvadoran businesswoman, a Mexican philanthropist and an undocumented Mexican family – who live and work in Santa Fe and who were part of the Faces of Immigration package I produced.
The stories, in particular Gov. Martinez’s profile, made national news. In New Mexico, reader reactions toward my work ranged from, “thank you for the bold package” to harassing emails that asked me to self-deport my “blank-blank back to Mexico.”
With the excellent coaching, editing and guidance of my project editor, Rob Dean, the New Mexican’s managing editor, I worked, reworked and worked again on making the project strong. Rob is an excellent researcher, so his skills were key to this package. I learned just as much from Rob as I did from the attorneys, demographers and even the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers with whom we met during the IJJ conference.
I also learned a lot about myself. I, too, like Gov. Martinez and the immigrants I profiled, have determination. How can I not? My mother was a 28-year-old widow when she left Mexico, crossed the border illegally and for years worked two jobs in Southern California sweatshops, literally making pennies sewing princess dresses for a local theme park. She learned a little English and became a U.S. citizen. She’s been responsible for two mortgages and for raising four children all on her own. Now, nearing 60, my mom’s arthritic hands still clean floors and toilets for a national retailer.
For those who will read this Story Behind the Story piece, you should know that my intention behind covering immigration stories is never to change a reader’s mind or his/her stance on immigration issues. My intention, as someone who knows first-hand what the life of many immigrants is like, will always be to provide stories with facts and trustworthy sources that will inform the reader. Nothing else.