Category Archives: My book

Free Kindle book: Amor and Exile, 48 hours, Jan 23-24, 2014

Free Kindle Book: Amor and Exile
Amor and Exile, Kindle version on ipad … your choice, at
Congress is back in session and 2014 will be another do-or-die year for immigration reform.

To promote meaningful debate and public awareness about immigration, deportation and exile, we will be giving away copies of the Amor and Exile free Kindle book on Thursday and Friday of this week!

Our Kindle version can be read on almost any computer, tablet or smartphone, not just on Kindles.

Here’s the free Kindle book details:

  • When: Thursday, January 23rd through Friday, January 24th (48 hours!)
  • Where: The Amor and Exile Kindle Page:
  • What: Download the free ebook for yourself or gift to a friend by clicking the “Give as a Gift” button on the Amazon page!

NOTE: We’d like to move thousands of copies of the book next week and need your help! The more books we move, the more the folks over at the Amazon book palace will notice our little work of nonfiction. This is the next phase in self-publishing. We are counting on our readers to rate, review and download our book so that the rest of the world has a chance of seeing it out there!

Please plan to download a free Kindle book of Amor and Exile from the Kindle store on Thursday and Friday, even if you already have a copy of the book! You can use it as a backup copy, gift to a friend or use it to beef up your digital library. If you support immigration reform or human rights, please share this special opportunity with everyone in your circles! And thanks for all of your great reviews of the book as well!

Here’s a short sample message for your Twitter: Get @amorandexile for #free, Th-Fri, Jan. 23-24 from the #Kindle Store: #immigration #goodreads

If you have any questions about the giveaway or how to gift a book to a friend, please ping us. Thanks again for your support!

Crossposted from

10 Steps to Maybe Getting Your Nonfiction Book Published

A generation ago we learned that the medium is the message. We segregated ourselves into media categories: TV people or radio people or print people and we perfected our medium with inverted pyramids and driveway moments and close-up, highly emotional footage.

And then, in the late ’90s, Google or Al Gore invented the internet and the media blew up again, mashing together our disciplines and ruining our attention spans. Some of us took to blogging, learned video and audio editing and survived. I dropped out to write a book during the precise two-year period in which “the book,” as we’ve known it for six centuries, ceased to exist.

If the medium is still the message, then this is the message to journalists who want to write books: you are crazy. You are better off getting a massage, as Marshall McLuhan hinted at in his famous 1967 book. But if you are willing to change the image of “the book” that is embedded in your DNA, if you are a media agnostic and know something about ones and zeroes, there is no limit to maybe getting your nonfiction book published if you follow these 10 ridiculously nerve-wracking steps.

  1. Pick a topic now. Find the universal themes in your work: what stories do you like to tell and how are they connected? For me, it was migration. I was fascinated by immigration as a cub reporter in Nampa, through 9/11 and throughout my early career. I eventually found the nugget of my book in a story about an American woman whose Mexican husband got stuck at the border after returning home to visit his sick mother. I wrote the story in 2005, but I knew that I hadn’t done it justice and that I’d come back to it one day. For a few years I knew I’d write an immigration book, then I figured out it would involve bi-national love stories and, boom, I had a topic.
  2. Tell everyone you meet what your book is about. This is counter to our competitive reportorial instincts, but is a key feature of the modern media age. Put it all out on the line. No one is going to steal your book topic and if they do you will do it better. Every conversation you have will increase your number of sources, hone your thesis and establish your expertise and credibility. Watch people’s faces as you tell them about your book. What do your crazy uncle, your best friend, the kid at the cash register, your doctor want to know about your topic? Another benefit of talking about your book all the time is that about 14 months later, all of these people will start asking you when it’s coming out and searching for your name of Amazon and you will be shamed into actually finishing it.
  3. Figure out the social media now. Use your social networks and your blog to connect with people about your book in the same way you are telling everyone around town about it. People are going to be searching for you, so give them something to find. This is your chance to force yourself into the book-writing class by sheer will. You will also need the connections that social media provides because when you write a book, you are utterly alone. You are no longer that guy or gal from the Weekly or the Times. You are not the local media or the national media. You are a lonely intellectual entrepreneur. Own that. Practice putting your name on the cover now by typing it again and again on Facebook and Twitter.
  4. Marry well. I mean this in a few senses. It’s going to cost you to write a book, both emotionally and financially. So it helps if you have a partner—not necessarily a spouse, but someone to support you emotionally and financially through the process and to kick your ass when needed (or at least get all Lysistrata on it). You are going to need to quit your job or take some time off and you are going to need to follow the story wherever it takes you. Get a simple part-time job so you can tell yourself you are helping pay the bills and keep your partner happy.
  5. Forget about grants. If you are good at getting grants, good luck to you. But nobody is going to pay you to write your first book. You may be able to raise some money for specific parts of the project—the Idaho Press Club granted me $500 to travel to Texas on a reporting trip (in exchange for this article). Use crowd-sourced fund raising sites like Kickstarter strategically, but don’t plan on getting paid upfront to write. You are some kind of tenured professor or something. You’re still just a hack.
  6. As soon as you know what the book is about and decide to write it, call all of your friends and their friends who have written books and ask them for advice. There are at dozens of paths to getting a book published and the more people you ask the quicker you will develop your own path. Have your elevator speech ready: what is the book about, why are you qualified to write it and who is going to read it? Don’t take it personally when there are long pauses on the other end of the line but don’t be afraid to ask how they got published and if they can help you in any way?
  7. Ignore all of the advice you get, despite what I wrote in No. 6. Also, ignore all of the laments about the demise of the book, the death of the reader, the end of writing. Those eulogies are not for YOUR book. Don’t join a writing group. You are better off having drinks with your former press colleagues and hearing about their scoops and deadline shenanigans and deep throat sources than hanging out with other people who are trying to write books. You are a journalist, not a novelist. Don’t forget that, even when your crazy uncle asks how your novel is coming along.
  8. Attack publishing from all the angles. Try to get introduced to an agent, preferably through the people you called in No. 6. Put together a non-fiction book proposal because it will force you to organize your ideas, consider your competition and future readership and establish your credentials. Google “self-publishing” once a month or so. Show your draft chapters to people whose opinions you value. But don’t forget to write your book and edit the heck out of it—no one is going to do this for you.
  9. Get organized now. Save your notes and label your notebooks. Archive your own stories so you don’t have to buy them from your old newspaper three years later. Keep track of your sources—that PIO or lawyer or business owner that you call once a week winces every time you write something because he or she knows there is so much more to the story. You are going to tap that when you decide to write the book. When you are on deadline, it’s no big deal to keep the contents of a notebook and 12 scraps of paper in your mind. But it’s going to take you much longer to write this book than you think. You may forget if that interview was from June 8, 2011 or June 8, 2010, so type everything up and keep it organized on your computer and then back it up in multiple places. I use Dropbox to keep all of my notes and drafts, more than 80 separate files at this point, synced between two computers, my iPod and the cloud.
  10. Enjoy the ride. You will bring all of your journalism skills to bear on this project and you will invent new ones. Your relationship with sources, your ideas about writing and deadlines and first-person and objectivity and transparency will all change. The question of what the book of the future looks like is wide open. Really smart, experienced writers and moneyed, old school publishers have no idea what it’s going to be. You will help shape this future with your book. Own it. And don’t get a massage until you are done.

This post originally published in the Summer 2012 Idaho Press Club Communicator.

Tony and Janina’s American Wedding, a Boise screening

“Tony & Janina’s American Wedding” Trailer from Ruth Leitman on Vimeo.

The Exploring Amor and Exile Last Thursday Series, in partnership with Boise City Arts and History Dept. Artists in Residence Program at 8th Street Marketplace, will present Ruth Leitman’s award-winning immigration documentary Tony & Janina’s American Wedding this week.

Film Premier Details
What: Tony & Janina’s American Wedding
When: 7-9 p.m., Thursday June 30, 2011
Where: The Cole/Marr Photography Workshops, 8th Street Marketplace, Lower Level, 404 S. 8th St, Boise, Idaho
Suggested donations of $7 – $10 will benefit the filmmakers as they take the film across the country and fight to reunite Tony and Janina. Or support the film on its IndieGoGo page.

Tony & Janina’s American Wedding is a feature length documentary that gets to the heart of the broken, red-tape ridden U.S. immigration system. After 18 years in America, Tony and Janina Wasilewski’s family is torn apart when Janina is deported back to Poland, taking their six-year-old son Brian with her. Set on the backdrop of the Chicago political scene, and featuring Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez at the heart of the immigration reform movement, this film follows the Wasilewski’s three-year struggle to be reunited, as their Senator, Barack Obama, rises to the Presidency. With a fresh perspective on the immigration conversation, this film tells the untold, post-9/11 human rights story that every undocumented immigrant in America faces today, with the power to open the conversation for change.

Read an interview with Leitman and Tony Wasilewski at the Baltimore City Paper and a profile in the Chicago Tribune.

(Cross posted at Amor and Exile.)

The trope: A new, basic unit of journalism

About a year ago, I quit a good journalism job to write a book. At the time, I had an idea for a new crucible for nonfiction books: realizing that (a) books still sell (whether e-books or paper books) and (b) many journalists would love the time and space to develop a non-fiction book project, the idea was to launch a journalistic enterprise in which the end product was a steady stream of non-fiction books (and documentary films), the sale of which would fund all of the journalism that went into their production. I called it Retroper and it got an honorable mention at the 2010 Idaho Startup Weekend, (i.e.., no funding, but still, a nice pat on the back for 48 hours of brainstorming).

So if books and films were the ultimate goal of the journalism, what were we to call the smaller works created along the way. The idea forced me to consider what the essential, elemental unit of journalism should be (besides facts), and I concluded that it is something that does not yet exist. So I gave it a name: the trope.

In the last week, since New York Times reporter Brian Stelter blogged about his experience tweeting the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, there has been a flurry of discussion surrounding the units of journalism. Jeff Jarvis posited that the “article” was merely a luxury (the time to read articles certainly is).

Articles are wonderful. But they are no longer necessary for every event. They were a necessary form for newspapers and news shows but not the free flow, the never-starting, never-ending stream of digital. Sometimes, a quick update is sufficient; other times a collection of videos can do the trick. Other times, articles are good. —Jarvis

This led to much semantic back and forth, summarized well at Nieman. But no one has answered the question as to what a post-article journalism will eventually look like.

Last week, at the Knight Digital Media Center, Amy Gahran posted a call for a lego approach to storytelling that contains some really good specs for programmers.

A good modular content management tool would make creating stories more like playing with Legos: journalists and editors could movie pieces around, add context and updates, and otherwise play with the content (perhaps in response to how people are using it), without disturbing the permalinks for each content piece and without having to rework all the navigation manually. — Gahran

The trope, as I thought of it a year ago, is a journalistic process that lives on the web, but challenges the boundaries of both the web browser and the screen. It almost has to be 3D. It’s the entire body of research and reporting that goes into a non-fiction book. It contains text, video, photos and audio and, most importantly it’s collaborative and interactive. I think of it as a mind map of the reporter, marked up by the audience. Also, it grows as the project grows; we played around with Google Wave a bit for this, but alas, that is gone.

So how do you display a constantly shifting cache of information like this?

I originally sketched it out like this:

Original sketch of the trope, the new basic unit of journalism. Starts with a tweet at the top and ends with a full, published book .

Now I am thinking the user interface might work a lot like an iPod Twitter app like Hootsuite or Seesmic works, where short posts and commentary on a single topic are linked to longer “articles” and eventually chapters and full books. I think of those apps starting with a tweet and then taking the reader deeper and deeper into the story with the swipe of a finger. I really don’t know how to describe this graphically at this point. It goes beyond Storify [my first attempt at using the site], which does allow a writer to assemble bits from all over the web into a timeline of sorts.

I also really like the idea proposed by Gerry Marzorati, a former New York Times Magazine editor, of cultivating a “hive” of long-form, nonfiction writers. This is what I envisioned for Retroper as well: a hive of reporters working on big stories and shepherding the efforts of citizen journalists, sources and readers as they work toward nailing the story.

You will have to at least start by building the brand around a handful of these writers, and then, how I would go about it, would be just: Surround, immerse each of these writers in social media tools. The writers would sort of be the hive, and the experience people would be coming for would be not only to read and encounter the writer, but also the community that this writer had created. —Marzorati, via Lois Beckett at Nieman

I’ve tried to do some this in a very small way with my own book, but frankly, it’s really hard to write a book and to do journalism without any institutional backing, and my blogging about the project took a backseat to research, writing and seeking an outlet for the finished project. So I still think a lab of sorts—complete with editors, designers and access to printing presses—for reporters working on books would be a worthy experiment. Perhaps when Amor and Exile is published I’ll take up the idea again, but I’d also be happy to have someone else do this and then hire me to write my second book. Any takers?

First 8th Street Event

Ben "Chupacabras" Reed and Deyanira Escalona
Last Thursdays Series: Exploring Amor and Exile
April 28, 7-8:30 pm
Cole/Marr Coffee House in the Lower Level of the 8th Street Marketplace (next to Café Olé – 404 S. 8th Street)

Exploring Amor and Exile #1

Question: What would you do if your fiancée was detained at LAX and deported?

Come meet Idahoan Benjamin Reed and his wife, Deyanira Escalona, one of the couples featured in the upcoming book Amor and Exile, by 8th Street Artist in Residence Nathaniel Hoffman. The book is co-authored by Nicole Salgado, an American citizen living in Mexico.

Participate in a live Skype video interview with Ben and Deyanira from their new home on the Yucatán Peninsula. Bring a mobile device so that you can help Hoffman crowdsource the interview and share your reactions live, providing valuable input as the book is drafted.

Hear all about American love exiles, experience participatory journalism, have a hot beverage and overcome the national immigration stalemate all in one evening.

Find Amor and Exile @amorandexile on Twitter or, soon, on Facebook.

Man takes own life after forced separation from family

A 24- or 25-year-old Mexican man shot himself in the head on Sunday at his family home in the city of San Juan del Rio in Querétaro, Mexico. According to two different newspaper accounts, he had been distraught at being separated from his American wife and two sons. The man, Cruz González Chávez, was deported from the United States about five months ago, according to a friend of his, who spoke with Diario Rotativo, a local paper. González had spoken of taking his own life, the friend said.

González had been talking to his family and apparently drinking on Sunday afternoon when he got up and left without a word. The next thing the family heard was a single gunshot, according to the news accounts.

The news comes via Burro Hall, a Querétaro-based blog.

I’m working on finding out more details about the case, but this is the first such deportation-related suicide I’ve read about, though I’m sure there are more instances. It’s another potent reminder that people’s lives are at stake in this immigration game. Real people’s lives.

The right way and the wrong wrong way

U.S. Consulate waiting area in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Two stories caught my attention this morning in the feed reader (I’m still catching up with my feeds after the Mexico trip). has the story (and petition) of a couple caught unawares by the ten-year bar when he self-deported to Mexico a year ago with hopes of returning with a marriage visa in short order.

Miguel Moreno was not aware that he was subject to a ten-year ban from the United States based on his illegal presence here, and he is not alone. Many people assume that once they marry a citizen (like Moreno did) or permanent resident, it is a simple process to immigrate legally. It’s not. When I was in Mexico last month I visited two couples who are living in “exile” because they cannot right their partners’ statuses, one gentleman living apart from his American wife since he was deported two years ago and a man who spent three months away from home, in Mexico, and was recently granted an I-601 waiver from the Consulate in Juarez. He is now home near Minneapolis planning for the rest of his life.

Moreno has four kids to take care of in California and had a good job. Now he is in limbo in Mexico, unsure if or when he might return to his family.

The post cites some older stats for I-601 waivers—a hardship waiver that erases the three- and ten- year bars for some immigrants if their U.S. partner can prove extreme hardship.

USCIS says that between 2005 and 2008, the number of these waivers, called I-601 forms, submitted in Juarez rose by 570%. To help eliminate the backlog, the agency hired two additional adjudicators and enlisted additional offices to review applications. But as of 2009, USCIS reported that only half of the I-601 forms submitted in Juarez were approved within a few days. The rest required further review and took 12 to 15 months to process. For families like the Morenos, that wait has dire consequences.

I have some newer stats to add: According to USCIS public affairs officer Tim Counts, there were 22,000 I-601s filed in FY 2010, 75 percent of them filed in Ciudad Juarez (the largest U.S. Consulate in the world). Fifty percent of the 601s filed in Juarez were approved within two weeks (although the total wait time for a visa is closer to three months; applicants must wait for an appointment at the Consulate first). At the end of FY 2010 (September 30), there were 3,900 pending 601s in the hopper, Counts told me via e-mail last month.

Not all of these applications are for spouses, but a large percentage definitely are; there are a ton of people in Badillo’s shoes.

Then there is the wrong way. L.A. Weekly has the juicy story (and juicy photos) of Fernanda Romero, who pleaded guilty to a marriage of convenience last week in L.A. last week.

It could earn them some pity in front of the judge; still, at worst, their consequences could be up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fees.

According to City News Service, “prosecutors claim the pair were living in separate homes and dating other people when they tied the knot.”

The question is, who is worse off? The guy who did it the right way has been separated from his family for a year, causing a major loss of income, stress and suffering for his wife and kids (and other friends and family). The woman who tried to sneak it lives in Westwood and stars in movies. I’ll bet she will not serve much time either, if any.

Trip to a “real” bookstore

One of my assignments this month is to put together a formal nonfiction book proposal, which—aside from a few chapters of the book, of course—includes several elements that are a bit outside my normal journalism purview. The rules for this proposal game are still a bit vague to me, but I’m going off a no-nonsense two-page outline a friend sent me, Elizabeth Lyon’s Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, which annoys me because it is so formulaic and strips all of the art out of publishing a book, and Nathan Bransford’s blog which is sarcastic and cocky enough to provide a good antidote to Lyon.

For this proposal, I need to consider the market for my book, draft a basic marketing plan and assess the competition. I’ve been monitoring immigration-related books for a while now, trying to read as much as I can, but I finally got over to Barnes and Noble in Boise last weekend and had a surprisingly good time. First of all, the place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. The coffee shop was full of people going through stacks of books, there was a steady line at the cash register and I came across some interesting reads.

So did my almost 6-year-old daughter. She spent an hour with a picture book of U.S. presidents (so far she only knows George Washington and Barack Obama, but I made her look up Lincoln and Roosevelt (Teddy) and she told me the relative era of each based on the clothing styles and modern conveniences depicted). My first experiment was to ask a clerk where the immigration books were. He sent me to “Current Affairs” where I immediately spied several books by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Current Affairs is a dumping ground for books by politicians and pundits, which probably sell pretty well, but I’m not sure if that’s where my book will belong. [Strangely enough there is no Current Affairs section online at … perhaps it only has relevance in a dead tree context, whereas everything online is current?]

In Current Affairs I found a wave of new books on human trafficking (The Slave Next Door and Disposable People, both with Kevin Bales of the NGO Free the Slaves and Not for Sale by David Batstone). These books all argue strongly against human trafficking—not a very difficult position to take, and perhaps it’s their strong point of view that lands them beside Beck and Palin.

My book—called Amor and Exile for now, a working title—will have several strong points of view. My own, of course, those of the couples I’m profiling and the strong, first-person views of one heretofore source with whom I’m discussing a potential collaboration (more on that soon, when the proposal is done). After mulling it over, I do like the idea of appearing as a counter to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (my wife points out it will be closer to Sean Hannity because of that pesky alphabetical order thing)—offering a mountain of truth, personal experiences and facts to counter their emotional ideologizing.

There are some great looking immigration books in Current Affairs as well, including The Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea (Humingbird’s Daughter) a border crossing tale that I have yet to read. (I read two books in this genre a while ago: The Death of Josseline, a worthwhile investigation by a fellow reporter into the death of a young migrant in the Arizona desert and Border Crosser, a mendacious—he claims to have crossed illegally, but never actually does so—and self-absorbed book by a guy calling himself Johnny Rico.)

[Notice in the right hand sidebar appears growing list of books that I need to read and that you are most welcome to buy for me if you are ever in the mood.]

Another book in Current Affairs is Charles Bowden’s Murder City, which is top of my reading list since my return from Juarez. Bowden and I have some mutual friends there and I readily admit he has much larger cojones [scary read, behind a paywall] than I.

There are a ton of immigration/latino studies books in “Cultural Studies,” another section that at first blush does not appeal to me because of it’s overly academic tone. The book Hispanic Nation by Geoffrey Fox is 15 years old, but still appears on the shelves here … it looks a bit outdated, and has one of those über-academic subtitles: Culture, Politics and the Constructing of Identity. Mexican Enough by Stephanie Griest, a memoir by a bi-cultural journalist who covers immigration and Latino Affairs looks good as does Mexican Lives by Judith Hellman, another 15-year-old book that is still on the shelves (the publisher intrigued me as well, a nonprofit publishing house called The New Press).

Jesus this is a long post … I hope it’s helpful to someone out there. It’s definitely helping me out …

There is a fat book in the “History” section called Imperial, about the generations of migrants in California’s Imperial County. I should probably read it, but probably will save it for my graduate school backup plan. I picked up two books in “Journalism,” which might be a good fit (it’s right next to Current Affairs): Samantha Powers Chasing the Flame because I like her writing and her point of view, and Our Patchwork Nation, a demographic study that got a lot of press when it came out.

That’s what I found at Barnes and Noble. I did not find books about immigration outside the Mexican context, an unfortunate gap. I did not find books about mixed-immigration status families, though I’m sure some of the above do mention the phenomenon. Again, this is just what was available on a given day at a chain bookstore in Boise, Idaho. There are plenty of other good reads out there (any suggestions?), but it did make me want to buy a book (I bought one for my kid—Barbie related—ugh).

Frankly, I was not sure if people were still buying paper books in chain bookstores. I have not done that for many, many years, preferring local used bookstores or the convenience of (usually to find used books).

I’m curious how many blog readers regularly browse for titles at their local chain bookstore (or any brick and mortar bookstore) and come home with an actual book?

John Ross in Mexico

While I was traveling in Mexico these last few weeks, an icon of Mexican foreign correspondency passed away. John Ross, 72, died of cancer around Lake Patzcuaro, the same weekend I passed by that absolutely stunning place on a bus through Michoacan State.

I met John once, in 2006, when I was in Mexico City on assignment for the former Knight Ridder newspaper chain. I was covering the Mexican presidential race for about a month and had read, most likely on Narco News, that Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of the Zapatista rebellion, was running an alternative presidential campaign, traveling around the indigenous heart of Mexico and making an argument that progress in Mexico would not be found in the mainstream electoral process (or the mainstream media). He had changed his name to Delegate Zero and was calling his effort La Otra Campaña – The Other Campaign.

I have been trying to reconstruct my meeting with Ross, an expert on the Zapatistas, and the story on La Otra that I eventually wrote, but I have not been able to find my notes from the time. I remembered meeting him at a restaurant near the Zócalo in Mexico City and after reading Tim Johnson’s post on Ross’s death, I recalled that it was Cafe La Blanca, pictured below. (Johnson is now working the job I was trying out for, as Mexico City correspondent—KR became McClatchy, the Mexico Bureau was left open for a few years, I moved back to Boise, etc.)

Café La Blanca
An empty Cafe La Blanca in Mexico City where John Ross ate almost every night. Photo from juliette_y_cristian_en_méxico on Flickr.

At our meeting, Ross and I talked about San Francisco’s Mission District, where I was living at the time, and a place where Ross wants his ashes scattered. We talked about Mexican politics and journalism a bit. I think he was testing me out a bit before giving me any info on Marcos, which I respected. I think that Ross then put me in touch with Al Giordano, a founder of Narco News, who sent me the schedule for The Other Campaign in rural Mexico State, with a harried note saying he didn’t really know where San Antonio Pueblo Nuevo was and that it’s near Atlacomulco, but that there were four San Antonios in the vicinity. I told him I’d see him there.

So on April 22, a Saturday, I hired a cab for the day and took my wife and one year-old daughter to find the Zapatistas. I think the map below shows where we went, but I’m not sure. The cabbie had no idea where Pueblo Nuevo might be and we drove west of Mexico City, onto dirt roads. We were trying to get there at 9 and I think we finally found it closer to 11, or later, as it was just about lunch time, which is late in Mexico.

View Larger Map

I thought of myself then—and think of myself now—as a journalist of John Ross’ ilk: rugged, independent, more interested in the people than the politicians, willing to go places at personal sacrifice for a story. But I was also in Mexico on an expense account with a major U.S. newspaper chain where I could do things like hire a cab for a day (oh to be on an expense account again)! Part of the Other Campaign was a fierce commitment to the alternative press and indeed, there was a caravan of lefty journalists from all over the world following Marcos across Mexico. We saw their ragtag caravan in the parking area and then walked through some brush to reveal a large tent, mostly full of Indians and campesinos, listening to speaches. In front, on a raised platform, sat a masked Marcos and several other Zapatistas. It was a surreal scene.

La Otra Campaña in rural Mexico State, April 2006

I asked for an interview with Marcos and was told he does not speak to the mainstream media, which was a bit of a bummer. I think I’d be more aggressive about it today … I’ll admit now that I really had no idea what was going on at that meeting, who was speaking, what the purpose was. Perhaps that came through in the article I eventually filed. I believe it was more of a listening tour, where the Zapatistas were building capacity in rural areas by listening to the complaints of the indigenous populace.

We stayed for a communal lunch (chicken, beans, sweet local mushrooms), I interviewed a few campesinos and snapped a few pics and then we loaded into the cab for the long ride back to La Zona Rosa, stopping for pulque along the way, real homebrewed pulque, which also made it into the article.

My family, eating lunch at Zapatista political rally, Mexico State, April, 2006

This is where the problems started. As I stated in the article I wrote, the mainstream press did not really care about Marcos anymore, but I was trying to get the mainstream press to run a story on his Otra Campaña anyway because I thought it was interesting, I thought he was a significant historical figure since the outset of the Zapatista rebellion on the eve of NAFTA’s inception and frankly, I sympathized with many of the values and ideas of the movement.

Unfortunately, none of that would come across in the final version of the story. The Zapatista sympathizers hated the story (the only archived version I can find online comes from a Chiapas web archive and is headlined: “Knight Ridder Trashes Marcos.” I’m pretty sure Giordano sent me an e-mail saying he regretted helping me get to the rally (he never found it), but I can’t find the e-mail anymore. And I fully admit the headlines sucked, and I won’t even use the excuse that I didn’t write the headlines. I wanted to emphasize the marginalization of Marcos in the Mexican and international press and the co-opting of indigenous issues by the other candidates and by Vicente Fox. But the final draft of the story does read like a marginalization of Marcos and indigenous issues, and for that I have felt badly for four years.

I never saw Ross again, but I’ve always been inspired by his willingness to write what he wanted, when he wanted and how he wanted, outlets for his work be damned. His vision of Mexico is part of mine. And whether he likes it or not, the mainstream media, in the guise of Knight Ridder and it’s wannabe foreign correspondent of the moment, bought John Ross dinner at La Blanca that night.

John Ross poetry

PS I did find an early draft of my story and it was much better and more balanced than the version that was eventually published. Too bad.