At the 2018 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, The Dallas Morning News Mexico Border correspondent Alfredo Corchado shared his own immigration experience and how that allows for the honesty of his storytelling. One statement from his panel that stood out to me was when he said that he could not compare his own immigration story to the stories of children today.
This statement, though simple and almost obvious, profoundly summarizes America’s recent rapid reversal of its years of social progress. The United States set a historical precedent for being a progressive entity founded on the ideals of personal liberty. Until 2016, the nation had almost always worked towards social change, guaranteeing more rights for more of its citizens. Since Trump’s election, the media has brought more attention those in support of inhumane immigration policies, both pre-existing and new.
At the conference, Lindy West, opinion writer for The New York Times, took the stage for the keynote address at the Literary Lights dinner on Saturday night and immediately exposed the underlying sociopolitical themes of modern journalism. She spoke unapologetically about her own abortion and made known the necessity of having such conversations in today’s political climate. Basic human rights are on the line every day, especially with Justice Kennedy’s recent resignation and the possible reversal of Roe v. Wade.
When introducing the topic of abortion in her speech, West acknowledged the stigma surrounding the words she was about to say. The division in the room was physically apparent as journalists squirmed in their seats, but our table of high school girls sat in absolute awe and adoration as she spoke words which seemed unspeakable. She broke the tension with a comment which would encapsulate the importance of honest journalism in America today: “You can’t fight for something you can’t say out loud.”
The sheer bravery and candor with which West spoke represents the best of journalism in America today. Personal stances on the hot-button issue aside, West’s integrity and journalistic strength demanded to be acknowledged. Even without having read her works, anyone in the audience could easily tell she was an authentic writer.
Today, voices like Lindy’s and Alfredo’s are necessary because Americans cannot trust that their constitutional rights will be guaranteed tomorrow; for many, these rights have already been taken away. The United States is standing at a point of uncertainty, and it is our responsibility as a nation to decide how to stop this cycle of dehumanizing human rights.
Honesty is essential to the success of American democracy. Immigrants reporting on immigration, women who have had abortions speaking out about abortion, and the voices of others who have gone through experiences that are now politicized allow the American public to view these issues through a human lens rather than a partisan one.
Movements such as #MeToo and #ShoutYourAbortion create safe environments in the digital age for the specific form of storytelling that creates tangible change. The ripple effect of new stories and perspectives being brought into the world may not end Trump’s tyranny, but it does stifle it.
While the future of America is unknown, the future of journalism was present at the 2018 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. I was one of eight high school journalism students who received the opportunity to attend the conference and spend the past week at UNT putting together multimedia projects to report on the event.
The eight of us are all from different backgrounds and areas in Texas, but we are united by our love of journalism and passion for honest storytelling. A recurring theme amongst our projects is the desire to uncover the truth, and that authenticity will drive the future of American journalism. Honest storytelling will save us.