"Where Do I Find América?"

A Letter to Narco News Readers from Teo Ballvé

May 27, 2004

Dear Narco News Readers,

As we three dozen incredible, gifted, individuals - if I may - prepare to embark from the far reaches of América to attend the 2004 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Cochabamba and the Chapare region of Bolivia, I take pause to reflect on the possibilities enshrined in those ten days amid this peculiar historical moment.

To make a contribution to support Teo Ballvé's scholarship, use this link.
I never intended to be a journalist, and in many ways I’m not. (Giordano sighs of relief.) My profound passion and respect for people thrust the profession upon me. Specifically, it has been my experiences of living and traveling throughout this Hemisphere that graced my consciousness with the privilege and sensitivity to care. As I am sure all of you know, it’s rarely an easy burden to bear, but one that I usually welcome.

I was born in Buenos Aires, a port-city of immigrants, migrants and, more recently, soon-to-be emigrants. And in seeming lockstep with that tradition I, also, have kept moving. As a three-year-old, I moved with my family from Buenos Aires to the U.S. in 1983. Six years later we went to Mexico City and then to Caracas each for three years. I returned to the States to study, but ever since that first plane trip I have taken every chance I've had to visit another corner of this great landmass.

I now work in the editorial staff of the NACLA Report on the Americas, a progressive magazine founded in 1966 about Latin America and U.S. policy toward the region. NACLA, which stands for the North American Congress on Latin America, like Narco News, struggles to keep afloat financially and we share a deep commitment to justice throughout the Hemisphere and beyond.

As a kid, before I really knew a thing about the world, I realized that everywhere I went - Harlem, Mesoamerican ruins, the sketchy market of Tepito in Mexico City, Brazil’s Northeast, an Argentine campo - something pulled at my innermost being. It was the natural beauty of this place in geography, people, and kindness, as much as it was the misery and desperation evident on the streets and in the countryside. Where do I find América?

In a mother’s wrinkled face as she cradles a crying baby hanging from an empty breast. Little boys in the dead of summer wearing balaclavas - ski masks - so as to not inhale the ten-cent fumes of the polish they use to shine shoes. Or, maybe, in the fierce glare of that dude who stole my bike from between my legs when I was a kid in Mexico - I grudgingly forgive him.

Yes, it’s in all those things, but it’s also in the mischievous look of schoolboys with water balloons behind their backs targeting their compañeras. Or in the hearty laugh of a Porteño handing you a beer as he calls you and your pals “chicos” no matter what your age. It is definitely in the hedonistic exuberance of carnaval, where disorder is the order of the day.

My point is that, above all, this is a continent - indeed a world - of extremes. So what better place to get a taste and put our good skills to use than Bolivia? Not just the poorest country in southern América, but also the one that has lived the most revolutions. A country where ancient - and recent - history bubbles just below the surface. In the last year or so, the country convulsed with heartache, rage and, last October, even a little hope, if just for a moment.

But you see, hope too, lies just below the surface. Bolivia is never defeated. Despite the recurrent popular soccer slogan for the national team: “Jugamos como nunca, y perdimos como siempre” ("We play like never before, and we lose like always"). The struggle always continues.

And that’s why I’m going to Bolivia. To see, listen, experience, help document and help tell the world about Bolivia’s ongoing pachakuti. According to Narco News J-School professor Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, pachakuti “alludes to a space-time upheaval, referring to the great social and natural cataclysms, which mark the long histories of indigenous societies in the Andes.”

But as a guest of this stunning country and hopefully as a soon-to-be “Authentic Journalist,” I consider my upcoming work with the humblest frame of mind I can muster. It’s no coincidence that I come into this never once having taken a journalism class. All I know I learned for better or worse on my own.

Well, that’s actually not true at all. (Would you ever see a “journalist” write that!) Along the way, generous people have taken their time and patience to teach me what they could and I eagerly received what they imparted. And that’s exactly what I hope to - and suspect I will - find in the ten days in Cochabamba: a formation in the kind of journalism I hope to some day practice consistently.

The one thing I know is important to craft a complete and honest story is context. For the ten days of J-School the context will be Cochabamba and the Chapare of Bolivia. I must say this was quite a draw. From what I know of the cocaleros, the coca growers, they seem to be one of the most dynamic social movements in the world.

Their ability to articulate demands and grievances in a way that does not parse the interconnectedness of economic proscriptions, racism, militarization, the “war on drugs/terror” and the forces of power and oppression on national and international levels makes it for me a shining star of the global justice movement. Even more amazing, is that they do this in a way that promotes the well being of their own communities on the most local level.

Just as the forces who would sell our dignity at the tick of a Timex have vast networks stretching the globe to make sure that every grain of sand is bought and paid for, so should we - err… just the networks part. I wish that my ten days in Cochabamba are the first of many more to come in collaborating on building a real continental and worldwide alternate network of Authentic Journalist, who not only tell it like it is, but also help others do the same.

To do this, we need your help. We ask that you lend a hand to the incoming class of hopeful Authentic Journalist scholars. The class is composed of a unique group of people committed to hard-hitting journalism through the print and audio-visual mediums.

Through our work at the J-School, which will be an ongoing learning process, we auténticos will bring forth the truth and the unheard voices from the frontlines of the war on drugs, now indistinguishable from the one on terror. Please help us in this important and necessary mission.

The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which supports the work of Narco News, its journalists and its scholars, is in the middle of a fund drive. It needs to raise another $6,000 dollars by June 21, for the 2004 J-School session to fulfill its utmost potential. I invite you to join me and collaborate with what you can manage in these hard and troubling times.

In today’s context of increasing poverty and ever-expanding wars, it is evermore urgent that people be equipped with alternative views and information to combat against the prevailing injustice in the world.

You can make out a check to “The Fund for Authentic Journalism” and send it to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
P.O. Box 71051
Madison Heights, MI 48071 USA

Or you can make a donation online (see below).

Thanks for your much-appreciated support.

Teo Ballvé
New York City

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Teo Ballvé's scholarship, use this link:

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the J-School, and Narco News, use this link:

 

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