Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Drums to light

The sound of drums takes me back to Argentina — and reminds me of the value of my chosen career path.

As many days as not, the streets below my office window in Buenos Aires would be filled with people marching and pounding drums. Whenever I'd ask someone why, I'd get a vague answer referencing a general discontent that was evident in all the major cities I visited. People were intently and actively dissatisfied with their government and their quality of life.

But I sensed an undertone of strange joy in those protests. The people of Argentina celebrate their ability to make their vexation public. That ability to send a direct message to the government isn't a freedom they've had for long. It was only 30 years ago that a cruel dictatorship inflicted terrifying and heartbreaking wrongs on these same people to keep them from fighting the regime.

For that reason, Argentinians hold a deep respect for independent journalism. My casual acquaintances in Argentina would nod their heads with respect when I told them my study of periodismo — journalism — because Argentinians realize the importance of trustworthy news sources that can make public the concerns of the people. In a country where the government once kidnapped, tortured and killed random people in secret detention centers, the people are grateful for an effective symbol of public communication and government accountability.

I'm always looking for affirmation of my chosen career path, seeking evidence of societal impact to make newswriting meaningful enough to be fulfilling to me. I don't think America will ever fall to the level of the Dirty War in Argentina, but that period of time still serves to remind me of why good journalism is so important. Quality journalism keeps a beam of light on powerful governmental processes that are simultaneously far away and directly relevant to individual citizens' lives. Just one reason of many why I respect this field. Just one reason why I'm proud to sign emails with the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication under my name. And the drums of Argentina beat along in agreement.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nos Vemos

My favorite phrase that I learned in Argentina is "nos vemos" — a standard farewell that basically means the same as the American expression “see ya.”

The American version is short for “I will see you later.” But the Spanish version, translated literally, means “we see each other.”

We see each other. Present tense. Reciprocative. We see each other now. Maybe it extends to, we see each other always. It means that we part on the same level. We part, seeing each other the same way.

I think we all need more of this. America needs "nos vemos."

What do you see when you look at someone? You might see a taxi driver, a businessman or woman, a punk kid, a janitor, a waitress. But how often do you really see a person?

I remember being surprised once, at the beginning of my sophomore year at UNC, when a dining hall employee sat down at my table and told me her story. She was an incredibly strong woman who had left her abusive husband and spent the last three years living in a homeless shelter, fighting for custody of her children.

Thinking about her later, I hated how surprised I had been to hear her story. I had glanced at that woman, and immediately, subconsciously, easily, I wrote her off as insignificant to my life. Whether I judged her for her standard food services uniform or because her skin was darker than mine, I saw that woman as unimportant to me. I had looked through her almost as if she didn't even exist.

I hadn't really seen her at all. But she saw me: she sat down and talked to me personally and openly and honestly. I'm embarrassed that at first glance, there wasn't reciprocity in our brief relationship.

It takes stories for people to truly see each other. I didn't see that woman in the dining hall until she told me her story and reminded me of the vulnerable, beautiful, vibrant humanity that we all share.

We all share it, but when do we take the time to recognize it?

Nos vemos.