This summer, I’m working at Fiege Films in Austin, Texas. It’s a small independent film company that I’m really glad to be a part of.
John Fiege, the founder of Fiege Films, is an environmentalist and documentary filmmaker. His past work includes the films Mississippi Chicken, an examination of undocumented workers in the poultry industry in Mississippi, and Above All Else, the story of a last-ditch attempt to stop the Keystone XL pipeline expansion in East Texas.
John has many shorter pieces too. This short film, Torrent on the Blanco, chronicles the devastating flooding that occurred in Wimberley, Texas in 2015:
The environment is a key focus at Fiege Films, and it’s especially important in the current moment, with environmental catastrophes like climate change feeling ever more acute, and a political administration unwilling to do anything to stop it. It’s paramount that people advocate for our habitat.
Currently, I’m helping out with pre-production on In the Air, an experimental, feature-length film about environmental devastation on the Gulf Coast, told from the perspectives of local artists, such as poets and dancers.
We’re focusing particularly on a part of the country called “Cancer Alley,” a stretch of land along the Mississippi host to over 100 petrochemical complexes and a disproportionate amount of illness.
It’s a depressing situation, but also a great opportunity to speak out about this great injustice. I believe that environmental justice is social justice, and that by fighting for better air and water conditions for the residents of this region that have been traditionally mistreated, I’m helping to further the cause of social justice. When we protect our environment, we protect the people living there, too. That’s why telling this story is so important.
Here’s an excerpt from the work sample for In the Air. It was shot in Baytown, Texas, and features a piece of poetry from Baytown native Ebony Stewart:
Right now, there’s a lot of work to be done for the film, and it’s pretty busy here in the office—but also really exciting. Coming off a successful Kickstarter in April, we’ve raised enough funds to start production, and for me that means researching locations, creating shooting schedules, and coordinating with artists, among many other tasks.
My hope for this time is that I can best facilitate the creative vision for the film, to help the story of a very marginalized and exploited part of the country get told. Making a film takes a ton of work, but in this case, with such dire subject matter, it’s self-evident how important it is. I’m very grateful to the WOW program for making it possible for me to work for social justice this summer. It’s awesome that I get to spend my time doing something so meaningful and important.
It is sad when something so special to you comes to an end, although, I knew sooner or later, my time would end in El Paso, Texas. Notwithstanding, I am so grateful for the incredible experience in a place where I never imagined I would ever venture to go to.
I keep remembering everything I did at Cinco Puntos Press (CPP) and I am shocked by all I was able to accomplish during my time there.
I kept organizing the e-books, it really was a big project that CPP had for me. It involved going one by one, making sure that every detail was correct. I had to start a few e-books from scratch, often it involved looking for the old files—sometimes they were nowhere to be found. It also led me to compile a list of the e-books that still needed some retouches from us and another column for missing files altogether.
In addition, I also created a metadata spreadsheet and it took quite some time. I needed to synthesize a lot of information about CPP’s books into this one spreadsheet. Even though, there were slots that I was not able to fill because I lacked the information, I tried my best to complete it as much as possible, since CPP still needed it.
These two big projects took most of my time, as the making of e-books is very time-consuming. None the less, I was more than happy to learn all these new skills as well as hone others. I do not think I ever used Excel as much as I did here at CPP. I got to do things in this internship that I had never done before, among them, I also corrected a catalogue, learn a little of creating newsletters, and met my new Bible aka. The Chicago Manual of Style (which I am still pending on purchasing).
Furthermore, what I most embraced about this internship is that I was included in every single one of their meetings and discussions. My opinion was much valued and that gave me a great sense of importance and belonging. Either if it was a story submitted for their consideration, or the final cover of Rani Patel in Full Effect, etc., they wanted my sincere opinion. I just loved their inclusivity. CPP not only preaches about inclusivity, as their main goal as a publishing company, they practice it—and very well indeed.
Mrs. Lee Byrd, said to me nearly the end of the internship, that they had not been around, as much time as they have wished, to teach me. However, I disagree, they were always there for me, but like the bird when they learn how to fly, you have to let them fall when they are trying, that is how they will learn. I think each and every single one at CPP, taught me something about flying and then I figured out the rest.
My internship did not conclude not without first having a great meal with the entire staff. I feel fortunate to have met them all. They are all colorful characters; people who have experienced a lot and are willing to share their knowledge with the younger generations. And just as the Hiatt Career Center always says, this was also a wonderful opportunity for me to “Network, network, network.”
I very much hope that I will get to see them next year, perhaps BookExpo in NYC? There are chances—chances for anything, even to keep networking and opening horizons. I learned from this experience that you should not limit yourself. Go out there and explore the world that is meant to be explored.
I finished my summer internship at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center in San Antonio, Texas last Friday, August 19th. It was a (dare I say) fun and educational experience that taught me about San Antonio, myself, and social justice.
I met my learning goals in that I learned more about water justice and environmental issues in San Antonio. I especially learned how communities interact, shape, and benefit (or not) from the many aspects of “environment”—health, schools, safety, neighborhood cohesiveness, and gentrification, along with natural elements such as water and air quality. While I went in with a general context of my home city, I explored causes and effects of various environmental issues by working with people and policies. This meant that I needed to do extra research, and push harder to keep informed about various topics like affordable housing rates, San Antonio’s history of ‘urban renewal’, impact fees, and more.
I’m most proud of my growth in public speaking. I have always dreaded public speaking and I managed to avoid it for part of the summer, despite the encouragement from Esperanza’s director from the get-go. I avoided saying anything at the first few community meetings, including the one that I helped plan. Eventually, I had to start phone banking and reaching out to community members for events. Then, I had to prepare to speak about affordable housing and the SA Tomorrow Plan. I was nervous speaking both times in front of the Housing Commission and even more nervous my first time in front of the San Antonio City Council. I ended with a presentation on impervious cover, something I believed needed to stay in the already weakened SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan. The director of the Esperanza told me that every time we speak to advocate for change, it is a gift to the community. I’d like to think that my voice along with those of other allies helped push for community and environmental justice in San Antonio.
I think my summer internship at the Esperanza Peace & Justice center helped affirm my interest in community organizing and social justice work. I enjoyed working in a collaborative community with other interns and with other staff members. The work reflected communities we were trying to serve (and that people were from). On a personal note, I learned intersections of my identity such as class, being Mexican-American/Tejana, and queerness. I also learned that community members must be included in social justice work and must be empowered to make change in affected communities; otherwise, those trying to advocate for change follow the same pattern of patronismo—saying that they are doing things for people’s “own good” without actually consulting those affected—as the current forces in power. I learned that while I like working well in a collaborative setting, I should structure my own time a little better.
My advice for someone seeking to work at the Esperanza is that flexibility is key. Oftentimes, Esperanza and our team of interns had to work with various people. Sometimes people would side on progressive issues, who usually would not; other times we watched presumably liberal city council representatives vote for more conservative measures. Dealing with community members often required all sorts of flexibility, like speaking Spanish or talking about another event that wasn’t originally on the phone banking script or trying to explain the concept of privilege. Time-wise, we would often have to drop or focus less on certain projects if other events came up, such as votes on an affordable housing bond or even building maintenance. Everyone had their own schedule but we would share what they were working on, either at staff meetings or debriefs with the intern supervisor.
Also, the nature of the Esperanza Peace & Justice (and hopefully other community/social justice organizations) is to acknowledge and fight against oppression from all angles. This means it was difficult to focus on a single issue—I was involved in “Queer Corazones” outreach, a gentrification event called “Take Back Our City, affordable housing meetings, phone banking for different cultural performances, along with my “primary” focus on SA Tomorrow. I went in thinking that I would focus on one issue, but I ended up with a taste of different types of experiences.
Overall, my summer at the Esperanza was an amazing one. I learned different skills that I can take with me on campus and beyond and hopefully I will be able to return next summer and for years to come.
At the Esperanza, I enjoy not just working but living as a part of a community. Everything done here reflects the values of inclusion and community. One of the aspects of working at the Esperanza includes self-reliance. Since our community is predominantly working-class, many folks don’t have the privilege of paying someone for building maintenance. The interns spent a couple of weeks repainting walls after taking down an art exhibit. Everyone takes turn cleaning bathrooms or mopping before a performance, and we invite community members to help fold La Voz before mailing out the magazine.
As far as outside of the workplace, I already knew that San Antonio is extremely economically segregated, but my time at the Esperanza reminded me how true that is. Early on, the director and other staff members took us to different parts of town—Eastside near the Hayes Street Bride and the near Westside—to learn the history and conditions of people living them. Developers have started targeting the Westside, a predominantly Mexican/Mexican-American working-class side of town. Many cities have been hit with gentrification and displacement and San Antonio is no different.
Working in the real world back at home feels like more of a relief than working in college. Although I have to drive nearly everywhere I go (welcome to Texas), I know where I am and can often navigate without the assistance of GPS. My internship feels like a full time job, considering I spend more than forty hours a week at the Esperanza. More importantly, I feel like the work I do affects people other than those that live in a campus bubble.
One significant change is my outlook on meetings. This summer, I’ve observed city council, comprehensive planning, and housing bond committees.
Many meetings I’ve attended in college revolve around planning events or discussing long-term organizing strategies. The meetings I’ve sat at (or spoken at in some cases) affect the lives of the over one million people living in San Antonio. It amazes me that policy can be decided in a simple conference room. For example, I recently attended two meetings surrounding San Antonio’s affordable housing bond. This bond had the potential to provide affordable housing and emergency repairs to families. At the meeting—in which the committee had to make draft recommendations for affordable housing—members were surprised to learn that they could not pass most of the policies for legal reasons.
Much of the work for SA Tomorrow involved reading, research, and coming up with creative solutions. One of the other interns majored in urban planning and environmental policy, so while she already had background education around sustainability, I have to read extra to understand some proposals in the works. Hopefully this extra work will pay off when studying for my environmental studies minor. I’m also learning to take the initiative on certain projects. One of the interns and I are spearheading a social media campaign talking about water in San Antonio. This will build my social media skills, which I can transfer to campus organizing.
The alarm clock wakes me up around 7:30 a.m. The sun is already trying to sneak into my room. I do not think that El Paso has a much time living in the darkness. The scintillating sun does not leave until 9 p.m. and comes back sooner than it is expected.
After a shower, I put on some sunscreen, have a little snack, and grab my belongings, ready to go to work. I can walk daily from where I am staying to Cinco Puntos Press (CPP). Obviously, a routine has formed, however, it is a routine I very much enjoy. My supervisors, they described themselves as “hippies”—although, according to them, they were not the sort of hippies who would do drugs or used to go insane when they were young, back in the 60s. They usually order me that the first thing that I must do when I get to work is to grab a cup of coffee, so that I am wide awake, and I am happy to follow their orders.
They have all appreciated my work and I have come to appreciate their hospitality and selfless guidance. As the days go by swiftly. I have done a little bit of everything. I have had the opportunity to proofread a Spanish translation of a successful sequel to a series of books that CPP has published for quite some time already, known as Maximilian. The third installment is titled, Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club: A Bilingual Lucha Libre by Xavier Garza. It is a gleeful story about a young boy who happens to have an interesting, comic, yet dangerous family. They are all involved in the business of lucha libre (a term used in Mexico for a form of professional wrestling). The boy begins to train to become the next big thing, just like his uncle the Ángel Guardian (Guardian Angel). Although Max has still a long way to go, after all he is just a boy. However, he has two professional, expert trainers along him: his uncles. They are on the verge of retiring and Max’s family has commenced to seek and train the next big successor. It seems that lucha libre is intrinsically pumping through Max’s blood because he seems to be their man.
Furthermore, the truth is that I have enjoyed every book that I have read from CPP. I have given the privilege to attend the pitch meetings, in which the three editors (Mrs. Lee, Mr. John, and Mr. Bobby Byrd) choose the books they will like to publish the upcoming spring of 2017. They select a few options from the hundreds of submissions that CPP receives for consideration.
In fact, I had the chance of reading two stories that would, eventually, if chosen, become picture books. One I liked ; the other one I did not. I had to write a report, about 350 to 400 words on what I thought it works and what does not for each of the submissions that I read. Both stories were, of course, centered around diverse characters. An excerpt of my report from the submission I liked, “Lois Dreamed” by Kara Stewart:
[…] I think the metaphor of Lois’s yearning to become an acrobat has an element of universality. Any child that reads this story may replace Lois’s personal longings of becoming an acrobat with his/er own goals (i.e. becoming a doctor, astronaut, president, etc.). They will for sure understand that the color of their skin or gender or any other intersectionality, will not dictate what they ought to become. […] [D]espite the story being about an Indian, it undoubtedly has universal elements that would make of this book: a book for everyone.
Not only does CPP need my opinion on the book they publish, but I have also been collaborating on getting their books out there. One of such books, it is a book, titled, Photographs of My Father by Paul Spike. It is a great book, which I happen to have read as well—one of the perks of this job is that I get to read as many books as I want for free. The story about Rev. Robert Spike, who later became a civil rights activist and was mysteriously killed after finding out that the funding that was supposed to go to a federal Mississippi education program was in lieu going somewhere else–to fund the Vietnam War.
This book was published in 1973 and when it came out, it was reviewed by a lot of newspapers and publications, including The New York Times. Nevertheless, the book stopped printing, and what CPP decided was to re-print it again. The bad news is that not everyone is interested in reviewing a book that has already come out and reviewed. Therefore, my job has been reaching out to different outlets that could potentially be interested in selling, endorsing, or reviewing the book, and I have been successful at it. This task has allowed me to develop my marketing skills, which I did not really think I had.
I have also come to realize that close-reading skills are indeed transferable. In the current week, I have been compiling a spreadsheet list of all the contracts of rights that CCP has signed with different publishing and film companies over the world. Some contracts are one-time deal, while others are renewable, others have expired, and others are about to. I need to follow up on each and every single one of them. I need to make sure that CPP has received the payments from the companies on which the agreement has been settled. Also, I need to add the contracts’ expiration dates on Google calendar. In addition, I ought to reach out to the companies whose contract with CPP has expired, inquiring whether they would like to renew their contract or not.
Mr. John Byrd has also been introducing me to how to convert books into e-books, using InDesign. InDesign skills were skills that I used to possess, but throughout time, I have forgotten half of it. But, thankfully it is coming back, thanks to Mr. Byrd’s guidance. This is still a work in progress, notwithstanding, I look forward to telling you more about it as I keep trying.
My time at Cinco Puntos has allowed me to think about my future. I can definitely see myself doing this.
This is almost my third week at the American Red Cross Puerto Rico Chapter. Every day here is different because the organization’s work is heavily influenced by what happens in the world. Right now, we have been sending volunteers to Orlando to help at the Mental Health Department of the Red Cross. Since 23 of the victims were Puerto Ricans, we are also establishing support services in the island. The fact that I’m working with such an active organization is a privilege. We have also been sending volunteers to Texas, where there are heavy floods and people have been moved to refuges. Although I don’t go on these trips, I have the opportunity to see how these activities are planned and interact with the volunteers that are sent.
I mostly work under Disaster Relief Department but some days I help out with other departments such as the Volunteer Services. In the disaster department, I am in charge of managing a Home Fire Preparedness Campaign, which means that I am in charge of planning and implementing the program. Through this, I have also begun training to become a “Pillowcase Presenter”. The Pillowcase Project is a “preparedness education program for children in grades 3 – 5, which teaches students about personal and family preparedness, local hazards, and basic coping skills” (Red Cross website). I have had the opportunity to attend these talks and I’m excited to be given the opportunity of presenting a talk soon.
The first day of my internship, I had the opportunity to attend a symposium on volunteering in Puerto Rico. They talked about making volunteers feel useful and important. I think this applies to internships as well, and I have felt very useful and important at the Red Cross so far. Moreover, I have gained a new perspective on running an organization like the Red Cross. They are an amazing and well-respected organization, but this is because of the work and dedication of the employees. The employees get here at 8 am and try to leave by 4:30pm, although most of them stay way past that. The “work environment” is also very friendly, from people constantly offering me coffee in the mornings to everyone knowing my name since my first day, and every day we all have lunch together.
Needless to say, I’m learning a lot from a business perspective, but also gaining tons of administrative and logistical skills that I didn’t have before. I’m also learning a lot about disaster management, which is very unique but important. I’m excited to see how the following weeks unfold, and I’m excited to have such an unpredictable but amazing internship opportunity thanks to the WOW fellowship.
Minutes before the airplane landed, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore… I am just kidding with all of you. I happen to come from New York. But, I have come to a land that I never thought of coming: El Paso, Texas.
I bet a lot of people would instantly assume that I have come here to do some work with immigrants because I am coming to a place very close to the border between Mexico and US. I don’t know, I get the sense people would just think something completely opposite to what I have really come here to do. To answer your questions, I found an internship in Cinco Puntos Press, which is a publishing company that exists since 1985. Their main aim when the founders, Bobby Byrd and Lee Byrd, created Cinco Puntos was to publish stories that would represent different diverse groups of people in literature. What I have been able to discover, in the little time that I have been here, is that they publish literary work that focuses beyond the Chicano (Mexican-American) experience. I mean right now I am proofreading a book, called Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel, which is coming out in October. The story is about an Indian-American girl, specifically Gujarati, who deals with her parents’ divorce and a dreadful sexual abuse experience through hip-hop in the early 90s. The book takes place in Moloka’i, Hawaii, and what makes it interesting and compelling is this clash of cultures in this remote place we do not hear about too often. Mrs. Byrd told me that the great thing about publishing books, such as Rani Patel, is that the book is a vehicle to another world; a portal that yearns for other people to glance at a completely different world from ours.
The book won the BEA (BookExpo America) Book Buzz Award in the YA (Young Adult) section and it is getting ready to come out this upcoming October. But first I am going through the text, proofreading it, before the press prints the all copies that will be distributed all over the country’s bookstores. In addition, as a way to promote the book, I have also been sending ARCs (Advance Readers Copy) to different critics and reviewers all over the nation, including at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others.
What I love about the working environment at Cinco Puntos is that it is quite calm and informal. The staff is incredibly amicable and they all want me to learn and glean as much as possible about the publishing industry through their internship. For instance, John Byrd (the vice-president and son of the founders), told me to read The Chicago Manual of Style. He said that every editor needs to know this manual by heart. The book sort of introduces you to a new world. It explains you the dos and don’ts of being an editor reviewing a writer’s work or a writer submitting work to an editor. If you are an editor reviewing a writer’s work, there are even several different marks that you need to learn when proofreading—always, of course, with a red pen, which John Byrd emphasized very well.
I think the world of work is different to my academic life, in the sense that it focuses on two aspects: quality but also making business. Selling a book is not easy, especially these days with a lot of self-publishing books, meaning way more competition. A book must sell, that is the primary concern that an editor questions when reviewing a manuscript. In my academic life, I do not worry so much about whether what I am reading is publishable or not. Or whether the work has been read by a lot of people or by very few. At school, we concern more about interpreting what we read and understanding it. However, this internship has allowed me to do both, hone my skills interpreting and close-reading texts, but in addition to learn more about the business wise aspect of it.
I am quite content working this summer at Cinco Puntos. My bosses are nurturing and caring. They care about me as a human being and my learning—they bring this human quality that is unforgettable, and that I bet it is hard to obtain if I were interning, perhaps, in New York. I mean, they even bothered to pick me up at the airport and have invited me twice to their house for dinner and it has only been a week.
The skills that I am learning here will obviously transfer to the way I will interpret texts in the future and it has also opened a door for me to conduct more research on the different efforts that have been made to diversify the book industry. Mrs. Byrd and Mr. Byrd have their own take on the subject and it is refreshing and nuanced. I think, whether I decide to work in the publishing industry in the future, my time at Cinco Puntos Press will definitely prepare me for me to plunge into it.
This summer, I am working at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, located a bit north of downtown San Antonio. The Esperanza Center serves primarily the Westside of San Antonio, but also reaches out to other underrepresented and marginalized folks—women, people of color, queer people, the working class and those with low income. The most condensed way to explain what Esperanza actually does is arts programming and community organizing, but that includes a broad spectrum of activities. The Esperanza Center will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2017.
Since there are only five full-time staff, interns take on various responsibilities. I am more involved in Esperanza’s environmental work, which consists primarily of reading and analyzing the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan and writing about the proposed Vista Ridge Pipeline. SA Tomorrow is a three-part future plan for the city. This week, my job has been to read and critique the Sustainability portion. Often, “sustainability” or “green” measures detrimentally affect low-income and marginalized people by raising prices and forcing people from their neighborhoods. Much of the critique I am doing revolves around implementation of the plan and gentrification. Representatives from Esperanza and the greater community will meet city officials to address these concerns while the draft undergoes finalization this summer.
I will also keep track of the Vista Ridge pipeline. The proposed pipeline will transfer water from Burleson County south to San Antonio. The pipeline poses different issues pertaining to privatizing water. The financial instability of the project, only recently addressed, and steep water rate hikes are the top of these concerns. The Esperanza Center and other organizations like Mi Agua Mi Vida Coalition have demonstrated against the pipeline’s construction.
With all of the other events going on at the Center, information about this deal has fallen to the wayside, so part of my job is keeping folks updated about this through La Voz, the Esperanza Center’s monthly publication.
I’m excited to be back home and interacting with the issues that first led me towards environmental justice. I have already seen firsthand how climate change affects my home, and I appreciate the opportunity to approach these issues from an intersectional perspective. Environmental destruction affects people on different axes, and the Esperanza Center takes this into account. I find it more productive to work in a place where I grew up and where have context. I also appreciate the opportunity to work off of a college campus. I hope pursue a career in grassroots activism and social justice work, and this would internship would grant me the opportunity to see how it works in the real world and not just a campus bubble. This internship will guide me in exploring parts of the city I’ve never seen before and hopefully inform me more about my Chicana culture as well.