Course brings together students from ASU, Mexico to find the untold stories of the U.S.-Mexico border
With its rich blend of cultures and economies, the U.S.-Mexico border is a shared region with shared stories.
A class at Arizona State University is teaching students to find and tell those stories, along with the broader story of the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
“The gap between reality and how information is presented regarding Arizona and Mexico’s border has been distorted,” said Andrés Martinez, special advisor to ASU President Michael Crow and a professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “There’s an incredibly rich, diverse relationship between our two countries and those stories need to be told.”
Martinez is touting that relationship in a class titled Advanced Bilingual Reporting, a binational collaborative online international learning course that includes students from Mexico City’s Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). The class, which is supported with a U.S. State Department grantThe core funding support is through 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund and its partners, the Mary Jenkins Foundation along with the Coca-Cola Mexico Foundation and Sempra Energy, as part of a public-private sector collaboration between the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and Partners of the Americas that provide access to new models of exchange and training programs in the Americas. , is one of several offerings in Cronkite School that is part of the ASU in Mexico initiative.
“This class was born out of a broader desire at ASU and Cronkite to become more connected to Mexico and deepen the school’s engagement with our neighboring country,” Armstrong-López said. “A lot of students in this class will be reporting about things related to this relationship, and this experience will help contextualize the relationship for them.”
For the past semester, students worked in groups to report, write, produce and publish multimedia stories on economic development, culture, environmental sustainability, cross-border health and technology.
They also explored and compared landscapes of the U.S. and Mexican media and audiences, and how they interact with each other. Students were also able to talk to guests from such outlets as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, NPR's "Radio Ambulante" and Mexico’s Reforma newspaper about their own reporting on the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, an investigative journalist and ITAM professor, co-taught the class with Martinez.
“I wanted to teach this class to show students they could cover both countries as an extended region with shared problems, shared interests, shared culture and shared communities,” said Ibarra Chaoul, who runs Defensores de la Democracia, a nonprofit organization that documents violence against Mexicans journalists. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how to think about the two countries from a different perspective and to cover it from a different perspective.”
Ibarra Chaoul said the class is helping her students, international relations and political science majors, understand and gain knowledge regarding journalism.
“I think brings out in them their preconceived notions of journalism while at the same time expands their options when they graduate,” she said.
A new perspective
On April 3, Ibarra Chaoul and eightThe eight ITAM students who flew to Arizona are Emiliano Carvajal González, Brenda Chávez Bracamontes, Miguel Vicente Santamaría Alcaraz, Paulina Gómez Baranda Díaz, Ana Paula Juárez Alonzo, Alexa López Sánchez Mendoza, Mariana Cabello Torres and María José Ponce Gudiño. ITAM students boarded a flight bound for Phoenix to complete a cultural confluence with their Cronkite School counterparts.
Their itinerary included tours of ASU's Tempe campus and athletics facilities, the Desert Botanical Garden and the Maricopa County Superior Court. They met with U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton and held meetings with The Arizona Republic, the Consulate of Mexico in Phoenix and AlientoAn education organization serving undocumented and immigrant families. representatives to discuss the binational relationship of their individual reporting activities.
The highlight of the visit was a daylong field trip to Nogales, Arizona, to gain a firsthand understanding of the challenges and opportunities that shape the border region — and the prosperity of both countries.
The first stop was the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, Arizona, where students were treated to a tour of the facility and conversation with Michael Dionne, a biological science technician with the International Boundary and Water Commission. He explained how water comes into the plant, how it’s treated and filtered, and where it ends up — and why that’s important for both countries.
“Because we have drought conditions in the Southwest, both the U.S. and Mexico face challenges of having enough water, so we have to come up with ways to treat water and benefit both sides,” Dionne said. “The key is to conserve as much water as possible so that our agriculture industry can have it to use for crops … and some of that has to go to replenish the aquifer.”
Dionne added the facility was built in 1972 and 10 plant employees treat approximately 15 million gallons a day. That information was especially helpful to Ryan Tisminezky, a Cronkite student who is reporting on water in the binational relationship.
“This tour is valuable because I am getting a little taste of what is being done right now and potentially what could be done in the future,” said Tisminezky, who expects to graduate in May with a master’s degree in mass communication. “In terms of the class, it’s like a mini-study abroad course because we’re able to immerse ourselves with people from a different country. I’m getting a new perspective.”
A noon luncheon doubled as an information session at Zula’s, a Mexican food restaurant in the heart of downtown Nogales. Guest speakers included Nogales Mayor Jorge Maldonado; Jaime Chamberlain, president and owner of Chamberlain Distributing Inc.; and Arizona Republic reporter José-Ignacio Castañeda.
“I’m very grateful you guys are here because you’re going to take back what you know and report on the reality of the border situation, and then go spread the word,” said Maldonado, a former city councilmember who successful ran for mayor in 2022. “For a long time, nobody was really telling our story — that we have $3 billion worth of fruits and vegetables and $26 billion in manufactured goods coming through our ports. That’s a good story to tell.”
Chamberlain said 57% of our nation’s fruits and vegetables comes through Nogales, which is vital to feeding Americans. He added that Nogales has a specific focus.
“I have visited many border towns and I have to tell you that we’re not all the same,” said Chamberlain, whose business represents 13 different farmers in Mexico and distributes their products throughout the country. “We are very different here in Nogales. We have specific economic benefits living here, which our state and federal partners have been a tremendous supporter of. When people ask me what we do, I say plainly, ‘We feed North America.’”
Castañeda, a Cronkite School graduate who reports on the border for The Arizona Republic, said his beat is interesting, diverse and rarely boring. He covers everything from commerce, crime and immigration to government agencies and the occasional ribbon cutting. He said his beat is “very personal.”
“My family’s history is tied to the border. Both of my grandparents crossed the border to work near Yuma,” Castañeda said. “I gravitate to stories about immigrants and the immigrant experience.”
The day ended with a stop at the Arizona Department of Transportation, which straddles the border. The function of this facility is to help freight move more efficiently while ensuring that commercial vehicles can operate safely on state highways, said Joseph Dopadre.
“We get about 380,000 to 390,000 trucks coming through here per year,” said Dopadre, a lieutenant with the Nogales Port of Entry. “Our job is to enforce the safety of these trucks through inspection, permitting, weight and making sure all of the paperwork is correct.”
Dopadre said his department is equipped with the latest technology – weight motion scales, facial recognition software, license plate readers, cameras, scanners and devices to keep things orderly and safe.
“We try to do the best we can do to get you in and out, but if we find out you skipped a step or have a flat tire, brake issues, or if we see a visual problem, we’ll send you back for an inspection,” Dopadre said. “Technology is helping us do our jobs safer and more efficiently.”