Phone-a-friend: Convention Wisdom with Jorge Rivas
Published July 30, 2016.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman, and every other week we bring you a special phone-a-friend episode where either Amina or I call one of our accomplished and impressive besties to talk to them about what they've been up to. And this week I talked to friend of the podcast Jorge Rivas.
Aminatou: Ugh, so exciting. What's Jorge up to?
Ann: Well, Jorge is a reporter for Fusion who is on the justice beat. He writes a lot about immigration. He writes a lot about detention and criminal justice. And one thing I love about his work is he is really good at finding actual human beings who are invested in these Issues -- like capital I -- that we all think of as like big, political flashpoints. He really finds humans and talks to them. A real quick note before we get started.
Aminatou: If you live in Los Angeles or you like visiting Los Angeles, which that's everybody, you should join us for a very special live show at the Ace Theater downtown on Thursday, August 18th. We'll have many, many, many special guests including Steph Beatriz, the genius behind the Instagram account OfficialSeanPenn, and our friends from Who? Weekly. And we'll keep announcing more guests as the show date gets closer. But join us in L.A. August 18th at the Ace Theater downtown. You can find information to buy your tickets at callyourgirlfriend.com.
Ann: Well, Jorge just got back from the RNC and we also talked a little bit about the Democratic Convention which is happening this week. We did not get the chance to talk about Michelle's speech.
Aminatou: Ugh. Full body goosebumps.
Ann: [Laughs] Really, that's kind of how it felt. It was like exhale. We're in good hands. Like when she was speaking I was like oh my god, I don't feel that tension that I felt through the entire RNC with every clip I watched.
Aminatou: Also, can we -- here's one thing I will say about the RNC. The one thing that I was very surprised by. Ivanka's dad just doesn't have the juice with celebrities.
Ann: [Laughs] Yeah.
Aminatou: You know? It was like the first night of the DNC. It's like Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, Demi Lovato. [Laughs] Sarah Silverman. You know, just all these people. And I was like man, this is only night one. What's going to happen?
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: So it's just from a programming note I find this very entertaining. So I don't know, this speech -- Michelle's speech, honestly, all I could think is America doesn't deserve Michelle because on one hand I heard all these people . . . everybody is reassured, it's been a hard week, and it's like the ultimate shade, right, is when you talk about someone and don't name them. Her speech was such an indictment of everything that we had heard the week before.
Ann: Oh, the when they go low, we go high? I died.
Aminatou: And she didn't name . . . yeah. And she didn't name names at all, right? And I was like this is -- they should teach this at Shade Academy. This is amazing. But on the other hand, too, it's like all these people being like "Oh my god, Michelle's so great. She's so well-spoken. Who knew?" And I was like where have you guys been the last two conventions? [Laughs] She always brings down the house.
Ann: I feel like I didn't see a ton of . . . yeah. I didn't see a ton of who knew, but I did see a lot of like "Oh, god, we haven't heard enough from her."
Aminatou: Yeah, because she just doesn't . . . I don't know if you watched whatever that dumb dinner is that the president does comedy at for all the journalists . . .
Ann: Oh, the press thing?
Aminatou: Yeah, that terrible boondock . . .
Ann: Oh, the correspondents dinner.
Aminatou: Yeah, I don't even want to name it. He made this joke the last time about how the Secret Service always has to -- you know, Michelle's always trying to escape the White House.
Aminatou: And I remember he was like "It's only nine more months, baby!" And the thing that is true, you know, it was not her first choice to have this job. She is not psyched about it in the way most people are thirsty for power. So I'm really excited for when she's not in the White House anymore and she just real talks everyone about just how terrible it is. But I don't know. The thing that I love about Michelle is she just gives real talk about patriotism and citizenship and belonging in a way where you can both say here is how terrible our country has been, and here is the promise of it, you know?
Ann: And I think that rhetorically one thing I love about her and the way she chooses to frame everything is I think Obama is really good at high-level, this is how . . . like soaring rhetoric. And she's really good at being like no, literally, this is what's happening. [Laughs] You know, or this is what has happened in the past. And I think that's really a difficult thing to do while also having a moral weight and having, I don't know, being able to command the kind of attention she commands.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's just -- man, Rebecca Traister wrote a really good thing about it for New York Magazine that I think everybody should read because she's so elegant. And I'm like thank you, everything is perfect. Well, you know, one thing that's exciting is by the time everybody hears this episode on Friday the Democratic Party, or really any party, would have nominated a woman for president for the first time in the United States. That's 2016, man.
Ann: Major two-party system milestone. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know! It's . . . man, it is historical. It's historical and it's great and it's going to be a brutal fight, but I'm sorry, I'm very excited about that.
Ann: Oh yeah. I will never get tired, whether it's like Michelle after a speech or Elizabeth Warren after a speech or Hillary accepting the nomination of a woman in front of a stadium-sized group of people who are cheering for her because of her brain. [Laughs] You know what I mean? And because of her skills. There's something about that where it's like not that I don't love performers and celebrities who get large crowds excited for them, but maybe this is some deep . . . there's something about the women who are at the forefront in Democratic politics right now where I'm like ugh, yes, just the right amount of nerdy. I love it.
Aminatou: I know, it's the right amount of nerdy. And I don't know, for Hillary too, it's been a marathon to get to where she's at. And I think that for this one week at least we can all feel just the enormous amount of lady pride about when somebody makes it to the big job. Like we can all channel that.
Ann: I feel it. It's coursing through me right now.
Aminatou: I know. I am so . . . it's like I know I will cry. I already know I will cry. I remember he concession speech at the Building Museum in the '08 election and how I was just a complete mess and I was like this is going to be that but 10,000 times crazier.
Ann: I'm like okay, well we'll see if any campaigning at all takes place in California -- single tear -- but maybe I will have to travel to see her at a real big event.
Aminatou: Oh my gosh. You know, and also I can't believe that it's 2016 and we're still having lady firsts all the time.
Ann: I know, but better than the alternative which is never having had.
Aminatou: I know. But I'm like this is a big first and hopefully more like this. More like this.
Ann: Big wins. Big firsts. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know. It's going to be a very obnoxious week to be a feminist. It's going to be awesome. Can't wait.
Ann: Ugh, very exciting. Ugh, okay, and so not to completely walk us back to the RNC garbage fire side of things but it was interesting. It was interesting talking to Jorge about his experiences there because he was essentially there to cover all of the crazy protests on protests on protest and counter protests on counter protests that were happening outside the convention center. He's not a politics reporter and definitely at the time I talked to him was still sort of processing everything that he saw there.
Aminatou: Yeah, well I'm excited to listen to it.
Ann: Hi, Jorge.
Ann: Thanks for being the distinctive maybe first-ever male phone-a-friend guest. Second? Something like that. You're one of a very elite group of men whose voices have been heard on this podcast.
Jorge: I feel special.
Jorge: That's a big deal, I know. Bringing a man into the circle, yeah.
Ann: Only the most special men.
Jorge: Latino men.
Ann: I'm just going to set that aside. We don't have quotas! We don't have . . .
Jorge: No, no, no. That's not what -- I was exoticizing myself. I wasn't . . .
Ann: I know. I was like oh my god, the mail we're going to get. Maybe we can start off by having you talk a little bit about your work and your beat as it stands right now?
Jorge: So I am a journalist and for the past at least ten or twelve years I've been writing about the intersection of race, immigration, politics and gender. And I know they sound like very different issues but I think as someone who represents all those issues in one body and one life I think it's totally normal for me. And so I work for Fusion, a fairly progressive daily news website, and we also have a cable network owned by Univision, the Spanish language broadcaster.
Ann: You also have had what I think is a slightly unconventional path to being a hard news reporter. I mean right now a lot of what you do is pretty newsy, right?
Jorge: Yeah. I mean I definitely did not study journalism. I studied ethnic studies. I think that what I'm amazing at is finding good stories and finding people who generally won't talk to reporters to talk to me. But in terms of writing I'm not . . . I'm not the best writer. I'm a slow writer. But I think what I really pride myself in is the storytelling.
I went to San Francisco State. I studied at the time it was called Raza Studies. Today it's called Latino/Latina Studies. And I started working with Color Lines, and at the time it was a print news magazine and I started working with them developing video and other multimedia to accompany their written stories. And somehow Jorge Rivas started writing and people started clicking on those stories.
Jorge: I think the Color Lines stories were pretty dense like race and politics stories and I was bringing . . . that was back in my youth. I was literally like 20 or 21 years old and figuring out how to talk about Beyonc and race. So of course people click on those stories.
Ann: [Laughs] I always click those stories.
Jorge: As you should. I think that that's how we all engage with the world. We need dense content and then stuff that's going to make us happy. And so I just kept on saying yes to jobs. So I've been very lucky, especially in a world where journalism is so white. For me to come in here with no journalism degree and get offers . . .
Ann: Yeah. Well I also think that -- that's why I wanted to ask about your path, because I think that in some ways I consider you among the people I know who are a really big success story of blogging, of that first era. Because I know Color Lines was a print publication as well but the video stuff that you were doing and when I first encountered your name as a writer it was definitely in the context of the blog.
Jorge: Yeah, I mean that's . . . I think if I have a job today it's because of LiveJournal.
Jorge: If we just get down to the fundamental . . .
Ann: Oh my god, what was your LiveJournal about?
Jorge: My LiveJournal was about this young, gay Latino in Los Angeles who was going to yoga with his cousin. It was terrible. And it was basically like a to-do list and what I did today. It was literally like a journal.
Ann: Oh my god. Do you have it archived somewhere?
Jorge: I don't want to say. People are going to go Google it.
Ann: No, but I mean I guess what I'm curious about . . .
Jorge: I mean it's totally -- if that's what you're asking, so yes, it's archived in the cloud and available for anyone who wants to look at it.
Ann: So have you gone back to look at it?
Jorge: Absolutely. So my boyfriend I met on LiveJournal ten or twelve years ago. He was living in New Orleans at the time and we made the connection there. At one point we met in person maybe like five years ago at the Vans on Virgil and Sunset in the parking lot.
Ann: I love this local flavor. [Laughs]
Jorge: And now it's come full-circle and I think that we're both in the right place and now we're LiveJournal brothers together.
Ann: Oh my god.
Jorge: Anyways, back to how I get paid.
Jorge: LiveJournal, I think it really is where I developed how to . . . everything from writing headlines that people would like to developing videos to GIFs to -- GIFs, not JIFs.
Jorge: That's really how I became someone who people want to pay for this stuff.
Ann: Yeah, well and it's interesting you saying . . . you said something a while back about being a good person to be on this beat because people talk to you and they don't necessarily always want to talk to a white reporter who's writing about the same thing. And one thing that I always notice is a thing you're so good at is "Meet the person behind X" or "Meet the activist who." You know, a whole strain of the work you're doing right now, at least as I read it and please correct me if you don't see it this way is about taking big movements or big things that are happening that seem kind of high-level and being like "No, no, here's the person affected," or like "Here's the person trying to affect it on the activist side."
Jorge: Yeah. I think I write about immigration stories at least once or twice a week and I don't really . . . there's people in D.C. who cover immigration policy and those immigration stories really well, and that's not really where I see myself thriving. I really want to talk to folks who help illustrate what that policy means to people. And I think as someone who I've done everything from retail to I've been a tutor, I've worked on a living wage campaign, I think all those things have given me the sensibilities to be able to walk up to someone who doesn't want to talk to you and start connecting with them.
Ann: Do you have tactics? Is there an opening line that you use?
Jorge: First I think I always introduce myself, and sometimes I just go . . . I don't know if there's a specific tactic that I rely on.
Jorge: And I still get nervous walking up to people, especially when they don't look like me. So if I'm in Cleveland during the RNC and there's a man with a gun, like I absolutely shake and don't know how I would approach that person. But if it's someone who has a family member in an immigration detention center and they may be deported tomorrow I do have a better sense of how to connect to that person because I'm part of a mixed-status family where I have family members who are undocumented and I know what that fear's like. And I think being able to approach someone and say "This is who I am. This is the story that I think is important. Will you participate? Because I don't have a story without you."
Ann: Okay, we have to go back to you talking to a guy with a gun at the RNC because I am shaking just hearing about that. Walk us through what you were there to do and why you were talking to this guy and who else you were trying to meet.
Jorge: So luckily I wasn't trying to tell stories about people openly carrying guns, but I was surrounded by them. So I was in Cleveland. I was there for almost a full week and Fusion had I think maybe like 40 people in Cleveland because the TV side of things was there too. And I mostly spent my time outside. I think I went into the convention one day when Mike Pence spoke. Mostly I was talking to activists who were there to challenge whatever was going on inside in the RNC.
I definitely saw guns, which I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I went to school in San Francisco. I've never shot a gun. Guns definitely make me nervous. And these people had like bazookas. I don't know what they're called but they're like huge guns.
Ann: [Laughs] Sorry, I shouldn't laugh at that, but bazooka?
Jorge: I mean they were huge.
Ann: Like cartoonishly large guns?
Jorge: They were . . . like basically it was like muscular men carrying guns because all these guns were heavy.
Jorge: What was really fascinating is they were all very serious and had very hard faces, but the only time you saw them sort of shake that face and become a human person was around older people and they always asked if they were veterans. "Excuse me, sir, are you a veteran?" And they would bend down and shake their hands and just become these beautiful people.
Ann: You mean they would ask the protestors if they were veterans? Or anyone outside?
Jorge: Anyone that was walking by. Another thing that I saw that was really beautiful and just fascinating to me is there were immigrant rights activists who organized this basically human wall around the main entrance to the RNC where all the delegates walk by and they got veterans to sort of become the -- like the liaisons between the trolls, the haters, and even police. You have all these Iraq veterans against the war. Basically they went to veteran groups and asked if they would come join them at this immigration protest to act as liaisons and I thought that was such a beautiful story of people coming together which I think is one good thing that Trump is doing, bringing people together from the other side.
Ann: Totally. Totally like uniting people against a common enemy, which anyone who's ever been in a group housing situation knows is the fastest way to get close to people. It's like uniting against a common everyone hates that roommate, or everyone hates -- yeah.
Jorge: But it took Donald Trump I think to actually do that.
Ann: Oh my god, yeah. So I'm recalling -- when you were telling that story I was recalling a thing I think you posted on your Instagram from a Trump rally that was not related to the RNC but it was like a photo of a Latina woman in a pro-Trump shirt or something like that.
Jorge: No, that was at my voting precinct.
Ann: Oh my gosh, so you were not even reporting. You were just in the wild.
Jorge: In Korea Town. No. Yeah. And there was a Latina woman in the neighborhood where I grew up.
Ann: And so did your reporting instinct kick in where you were like I want to understand how this woman who I can see is Latina wants to support Trump?
Jorge: I mean I didn't ask for . . . I asked for her name and I asked if I could take a picture of her and that's sort of where it ended. I don't know. If someone says racist things, if someone . . . I think the reason why we are where we are today with Donald Trump is because journalists didn't call him out immediately for what he's doing. Like now that he has the nomination, journalists are actually challenging and asking "How will you deport 12 million people? Or why is what you're saying not racist? Or why is it racist?" So no, I didn't ask her. I didn't really want to connect with her.
Ann: See, it's funny that you say that. It's not that I think journalists didn't. I mean I think they could've done a better job saying blatantly this stuff is racist and even if you agree with it there's probably no way to enact the kind of policies he's promising. But I sort of have gotten to this point where he is un-fact checkable. Like, you know, there is no response to the kind of . . .
Jorge: Right, but being able to say that is important also.
Ann: Yeah, sorry. I don't mean to . . . I mean just that we can definitely fact check him, but in terms of it having an effect on the people who currently support him. Not that he cannot be fact checked. Obviously he can, and obviously you can find a lot of support for his blatant racism at various points in his life, you know? Like from open housing discrimination in the '70s to all the stuff he says today. But I don't know, like there's a part of me that I wonder about that when I think about the protestors who showed up at the RNC. In some ways I identify more with the idea that you should protest outside the DNC. Like what is the mind that you could plausibly change here? I don't know if you have thoughts about that.
Jorge: Yeah, no, that's definitely why I didn't talk to that Latina when wearing the Trump shirt because she wasn't on the fence. She was definitely on the other side of the fence.
Ann: Way on the other side of the fence. The wall.
Jorge: Right, the border wall to be . . .
Ann: Yes, to be precise.
Jorge: Yeah, I think I've always written about issues that are controversial and I've just learned to not burn any calories talking to people I know I can't move.
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Ann: You've written a lot of stuff about the Obama administration's immigration policy's actual effects on people, and I know for me when I think about this administration, as much as there's a temptation to feel awesome about it, especially in contrast to what we might have come November, also immigration is one of those points where I'm just like man, you really . . . it wasn't just like I tried and failed but you kind of actively were bad on this front.
Jorge: I think that it's really complicated because I think he's done amazing things and he's changed people's lives, so we have different . . .
Ann: Like what? Give me the pros and cons, yeah.
Jorge: So specifically with immigration, but I think the deferred action that helps young people who came to the U.S. and gives them temporary legal status and a work permit, I think that changes lives. That has transformed the lives of these young people who can now contribute to society. But at the same time we have a president who has deported more people than any other president in the history of the United States, and this is the same guy who promised immigration reform.
Jorge: And so yeah, I think it's definitely a love and hate relationship. The other interesting thing that's happening for the DNC now, we have two undocumented women who spoke on the first night before Bernie Sanders and before Elizabeth Warren, but Michele Obama . . .
Jorge: Yeah, I think it's a big deal to hear from people who -- for the DNC to invite undocumented immigrants to tell their own stories. But I think it's also really complicated and it's really difficult I think for me to understand because it's the same party that is deporting people by unprecedented numbers.
Ann: Yeah, and do you think that that calculus is there? For someone who has to weigh the platform of saying "I'm going to stand up and be visible for other undocumented people who live in this country" versus "Am I kind of propping up an agenda that has actually deported a lot of undocumented people?"
Jorge: I mean I think those folks definitely get that criticism.
Jorge: And they're well aware of the decisions that they're doing. I think that what's really fascinating also is a lot of times the people that we see at these events with the elected officials are immigrants who have thrived, immigrants who have graduated with 4.0s who have gone on to get two or three degrees because they've had no legal options for work so they end up thriving in school. And so you have these really amazing immigrants.
Ann: I feel like there's like the NPR story about the valedictorian who supports the DREAM act. I feel like that's a standard -- totally. Sorry. Go on.
Jorge: Who was brought here at no fault of their own.
Jorge: And we paint this really amazing person. I think what we're going to start seeing, when and if we get immigration reform, is that people like them are the ones who will benefit. I think that for the high school student who wasn't able to finish high school, for the high school student who couldn't afford a dance and went to Ross Dress for Less and stole a $20 dress that has colored their criminal justice record and immigration reform will leave a lot of people out because of that. I think it'd be nice if we could see a mother or just a gay immigrant who wouldn't qualify under DACA, deferred action, or for childhood arrivals, or deferred action for the parents, but that's not what we're seeing.
Ann: Do you feel like you can sort of make endorsements or pronouncements? Are you like yeah, I want Hillary Clinton to be elected? Or yes, I want this to be a set of policies that whoever is the next president enacts? How explicit can you be?
Jorge: I mean I definitely can't and don't want to make endorsements but I think that when you understand that you're writing for young people who are part of the most diverse generation of the history of this country and who are just young people of color, I think there's just . . . there's a perspective that you can take and understand in making sure their voices are highlighted. So most of my reporting, like very rarely will you hear me say, you know, deporting people is terrible. I think what I really want to do is talk to people who have faced or whose families have been split up and ask them what that means and what that does.
Ann: Do you feel like if everybody could meet those families they would still feel that deportation is great?
Jorge: I think a lot of the people who support deporting immigrants by the masses have not spent time with immigrants. While I was in Cleveland for the RNC which was basically the trolling of trolls where you would see one group hosting a protest then the trolls would show up, and it happened on every side where even if it was like the Westboro Baptist Church, the trolls would come. There was like this hatred in the air and it was going back-and-forth.
Anyways, the people who were trolling the immigrant rights protestors had no idea what they were saying. You had people who were basically saying "Do this the legal way or get in the line. My friend did it so you should be able to do it too." Then when the immigrant activists would ask "How do you do that?" they're like "Well, I'm going to have to give you my friend's number because I don't know." So yeah, I think to a large degree it's ignorance. I don't know. There's also just this disconnect which I think goes back to race and just not identifying with a certain group because I think that to be able to say that yes, you should deport this child's parents, there's got to be some disconnect there that does not allow you to connect with them on an emotional level.
Ann: Or even just humanize them. I don't know.
Ann: That to me is one of those extreme examples where I'm like don't even suburban white Republican people understand that separating parents and kids is really terrible? Like that's one of those things where I actually fail to understand the other side in this really . . . like yeah, I can kind of understand ignorance about the system if you've never known anyone who's had to reckon with it.
Ann: But on a gut level some of that stuff about families, I really struggle to understand the families first party type . . . yeah.
Jorge: Yeah. We know that there are children in foster care because both of their parents have been deported, and why that doesn't make someone's heart skip a beat, and we consider supporting laws that deport people, that's beyond my comprehension.
Ann: Right. So how did you feel when you got home from the RNC?
Jorge: I felt physically and emotionally exhausted. That's been my talking point to everyone who asks how the RNC went. It's like it was physically and emotionally exhausting. There were long days I was reporting outdoors and it was hot. I was not used to that weather. Which is like . . .
Ann: It's like 97 degrees in Los Angeles today but humidity is . . . [Laughs]
Jorge: The humidity, I definitely was the sweatiest person around. There was one day where I was wearing a black t-shirt because I figured I can't be wearing button downs in this weather. And that day I was carrying around . . . I only carried around a bulletproof vest and this crazy helmet for a day because they were like 30 pounds. So I was carrying around like 35 pounds of equipment.
Jorge: It was hot. When I finally got back to the newsroom where hundreds of reporters are I sit down and I see a white spot on my t-shirt. I'm thinking oh my god, this is bird shit and I've been walking around with this for hours and I'm the only Latino in this newsroom here, this space, and I have bird shit on my shirt.
Ann: You've literally been shit on.
Jorge: And then I looked at the other side of my shirt and I had a white stain there too. And then I realized that it was sweat. It was like salt on my shirt.
Ann: Oh my god.
Jorge: Because I had just been sweating all day and I had all these white stains on my shirt. So that's how much -- that's how sweaty and disgusting it was, and I was surrounded by people who were just challenging each other all day. They were literally like whatever stance you had on anything there was someone there ready to basically just argue for the sake of arguing. And you saw -- what was really surprising to me is that you would have these individuals, like just one person who shows up at a protest with a sign that says like "All Lives Matter" to a Black Lives Matter protest and it's just like for what? Why would you come? It's just you. That was what I think was really . . . what I really struggle to understand, which is there's people who just want to start, want to antagonize for no reason.
Ann: Man, and I also . . .
Jorge: It's like the Internet in real life.
Ann: [Laughs] I was just going to say.
Jorge: Yeah, so like those comments where all of a sudden someone is saying these really terrible things for the sake of typing and hitting enter, like that was . . . it was happening in real life.
Ann: It sprung to life.
Jorge: Yeah, and it was exhausting.
Jorge: Like it made me tired.
Ann: I wonder whether people who were there to make a specific activist point felt that they had done what they came to do?
Jorge: I mean there were definitely a lot of protests but I think that we're seeing a lot more protests at the DNC, and probably strategically it might be where I would go if I wanted to do something.
Jorge: Yeah, I mean I think people had their actions and wanted their voices to be heard. I would say that people left satisfied. The other thing I saw in Cleveland that I thought was really amazing is I didn't really attend or hear about very many LGBTQ actions or protests but the actions that I was going to, whether it was immigration or fracking or poverty, those events were organized by LGBTQ people. And the other thing I saw was fracking and immigrants coming together to protest against Trump which I thought was really fascinating.
Ann: I mean why do you think that is? Do you think that there is something about LGBTQ people who are natural coalition leaders or is it just . . .
Jorge: Um . . .
Ann: I don't know. Why do you think that is?
Jorge: That is a hard question. I think that as a gay person I've . . . I don't know, we've already had to come out of one door. Why not go into another one and start speaking about another issue? Maybe there might be a sense of that. But I actually don't know. I think, yeah, that's a hard question.
Ann: I mean I don't have an answer to it either.
Jorge: Neither do I. I just made one up to run my mouth.
Ann: Yeah, I know, right. Right. [Laughs]
Jorge: To respond to something.
Ann: That's what this is all about, okay?
Jorge: No, I have no idea. I take it all back. [Laughs]
Ann: I love that you went right into that. That was totally on my list. I want to talk to you, and this is sort of a bigger question, but it's about the things that most of us are not watching very closely. You know, I think about that when there's a big circus-type event like the RNC or the DNC and I think about it when issues that I care about are off news cycle. I think maybe this is like a journalist's way of thinking. But one thing I really admire about the work that you do is you're good at watching those corners when other people aren't watching them, or maybe when they're not in the headlines. And I'm thinking specifically about this story that you did recently about Texas deciding what to do with transgender inmates in its prison system. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that and how you keep an eye on so many things that are not getting the attention they deserve.
Jorge: So I think that the way that I make that happen is whatever is happening in the news cycle I then go look at and think what marginalized group -- basically trolling the news -- what marginalized group is this going to affect? And so the story that you're talking about in Texas is actually Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, so ICE, who I worked on an investigation with my colleague Cristina Cosentini and we found that ICE holds, on average, it holds about 75 transgender detainees every night. So these are -- a lot of times these are transgender immigrants who are taking asylum and they presented themselves at the border, a port of entry, and say "I'm here to seek asylum," and they put them in detention until a judge can hear the case.
And these people face a lot of abuse. A lot of times they're detained where they experience the same type of abuse they were escaping in their own home countries or they're put into solitary confinement in the name of protection. And so what ICE has done is they have one facility in Santa Anna, California, so near Anaheim, near Disney Land of all places, where they place what they call GBT detainees, gay, bisexual, and transgender detainees. And so they've been trying to open another one of these facilities and they haven't been able to find a place but they did find this small rural town in Texas to open up one of these GBT pods.
Ann: Also, P.S., I love that ICE made up its own acronym. It's like we have an acronym that is commonly used and they're like "No, we're going to have a new one."
Jorge: Yeah, GBT.
Ann: Okay. So middle of Texas, middle of nowhere, like not close to anything?
Jorge: Yeah. The other -- they were going to open one in Adelanto which is also I don't want to say the middle of nowhere because we're probably going to get emails about that but relatively rural.
Ann: Sure, sure. Everywhere is somewhere but we can say super rural, yeah. [Laughs]
Jorge: Super rural. Turbo rural.
Ann: Turbo rural.
Jorge: Where it's maybe not the most LGBT friendly of prison guards. That's where the US government wants to send transgendered detainees who are seeking asylum. Not only do they have to worry about these prison guards who oftentimes this is the first time they're learning about transgender people, but also their advocates, their lawyers and just advocates who are pursuing their cases, like if you want to go to Adelanto it's two hours away from L.A. And you have to come back so it's like a three or four hour trip. And the same thing in Texas, it's a hard place to get to.
Ann: And the justification is it's for their own safety or something like that? Is there a justification made?
Jorge: LGBT people in detention I think across the board, regardless of it it's an immigration detention center or a prison, they do face higher rates of physical and sexual assaults. And it's a tough question because some people want to go to those facilities because they are safer. I think I would probably want to go to one of those facilities. But other people say no, I need to be close to my family; I need to be close to my lawyer. And they want to stay where they are. Other people, the conditions are so bad that they ask to be deported from the same place, to the places that they were escaping from in the first place.
Ann: And do you . . . I mean it's interesting. Do you feel like highlighting . . . I feel like I see . . . well, I see a lot of sides to the work that you do, but I definitely see two big strains being just illuminating things that are problems, but then also highlighting people who are working to solve them or movements that are working to solve them. And on the more activist side of things or advocate side of things, has there been something that you've written about lately or maybe even read about that has surprised you or made you sit up and be like "Oh, that is a really interesting approach to a deep, entrenched kind of like . . ." The kind of problems you were talking about before.
Jorge: I mean I think that I was in Orlando after the shooting at the Pulse night club and I was reporting on undocumented immigrants who were at that bar and we know there was at least one person that died -- I've heard of at least five people who were undocumented -- and a lot of these people haven't come forward. I've been in touch with these folks and not one of them has been willing to be on the record and share their story.
Ann: Someone who was injured in the shooting and survived?
Jorge: Someone who was injured and survived, yeah. So a lot of these people have no way to work because they're still in recovery. They are in Florida which has a Republican governor who provides emergency care for immigrants but when it comes to long-term care there's very little resources unless you find an advocate that will help you navigate that system.
But I think what surprised me there is the group that was fundraising for these victims, who raised I think millions of dollars or over a million dollars pretty immediately, came out early on and said "Hate has no color or no status. We will help whoever needs the help."
And so I am surprised sometimes when people are just -- before I ask the question they're telling me that they're being inclusive and thoughtful and welcoming. Oftentimes it's harder to remember the bad news. No, wait, it's harder to remember the good news than the bad news.
Jorge: But yeah, I can't think of another example where I've been pleasantly surprised while I've been reporting.
Ann: So who was the person you couldn't bring yourself to talk to?
Jorge: So before I went to Orlando I was reporting on a hate crime in San Bernardino and there was a woman there, she was a Muslim woman who was at a car wash and there was a man who came up to her with a knife and said "I don't trust you," and followed her for a while. And of course it was a busy day at the car wash and she had to be there for 30 minutes and all this time this man is following her. And finally the police come and this man basically threatened her with a knife at one point.
Ann: And were people around her supporting her or protecting her? Or was she just . . .
Jorge: But I also don't know that people saw what was happening because there was a man who was following her. Although finally she did go to an attendant at the car wash and the attendant called the police. But this woman was wearing a hijab, and one of the things that she said to me is that Muslim women are some of the most visible people in our society because they go out into the streets and everyone knows exactly who they are.
Jorge: And think that they know what they believe also. And so when I was in Orlando I went to this vigil and there were hundreds of people there and there were two Muslim women who had attended that vigil and there was a little circle around them because no one was approaching them.
Ann: Oh wow.
Jorge: And I remembered this quote that this woman from San Bernardino had shared with me about how Muslim women are the most visible women in our society, and I really wanted to ask them what brought to this . . . like ask them the same questions I would ask anyone else, like "What brought you here today?" And I couldn't because I was afraid that I would've broken down. And part of that I also think is how I was dealing with just being a gay Latino reporting on a story about gay Latinos being targeted and killed, but yeah, I tried my breathing exercises and they didn't work. I couldn't walk up to these two women.
Ann: You didn't think about approaching them and just letting yourself cry while you talked to them?
Jorge: [Sighs] I mean I have no problem crying but in this case I just didn't want to bring my crying to their space.
Jorge: No, I mean I could've hugged them and not said any words but I didn't do that either. Yeah.
Ann: Hmm. Maybe the natural follow-up is how do you take care of yourself? [Laughs] If it's so easy to remember all this negativity.
Jorge: I think I'm trying to figure that out. I think one of the things I'm trying to do is sleep more. I'm not being successful.
Ann: If it's good enough for Ariana Huffington it's good enough for you, right? [Laughs]
Jorge: No, I mean . . . yes, but . . .
Ann: That was sarcastic but yes.
Jorge: I know, I know, I know.
Ann: I support you sleeping well.
Jorge: I want one of those sleeping pods that she sleeps in. My entire team on the editorial side is in New York or Florida which means oftentimes I'm in meetings at 6 or 7 a.m. every day.
Jorge: I think you sort of just have to be a positive person also when you're reporting around these issues and I think I've gone through a lot of things in my life that have given me coping mechanisms and just like sensibilities that allow me to breathe things out. And I really believe in the power of just faking it until you make it. I also like -- sometimes I just want to approach people who . . . I mean this has only happened once where I knew I couldn't approach someone or I would start crying.
Ann: Oh, wow.
Jorge: And that was in Orlando of all places. But I don't know. I haven't given you an answer because I don't have one other than doing it little-by-little.
Jorge: Ice cream is also one thing that helps.
Ann: I was just going to say are we going to talk about dessert now? [Laughs]
Jorge: No, I honestly do like ice cream if anything but that sounds like a problem I think if you're trying to solve issue with ice cream.
Ann: No. No, I don't actually think . . . I think that it's totally fair to be like "I take pleasure in things like ice cream," and I actually would like you . . .
Jorge: Right, but when we're talking about a coping mechanism it's not . . .
Jorge: Like I do appreciate expensive ice cream especially but it's not how . . .
Ann: It's not sufficient.
Jorge: I can live. [Laughs]
Ann: I know. I know. Fair enough. And I would never suggest you could get over the weight of all of these interlocking injustices with a pint of expensive ice cream.
Ann: [Laughs] But . . .
Jorge: I mean it definitely helps I think.
Ann: Where can people find all of your work or find you and read all of this stuff?
Jorge: I think that you -- if someone wanted to find Jorge Rivas, that they could look for ThisIsJorge. So that's my username on Twitter and on Instagram, and you spell Jorge J-O-R-G-E and you pronounce that Jorge, not George, because oftentimes I spell out my name for people and they're like "Oh yeah, George."
Ann: George! And you're like no. [Laughs]
Ann: Not at all.
Jorge: No, no. And then also on fusion.net. I don't have a short URL.
Ann: I trust people to Google.
Jorge: Yeah. And also the Google. Oh my god, but there is a gay porn photographer with the same name.
Jorge: And for the past several years my search rankings -- this is the person who I've been competing with.
Ann: Oh my god.
Jorge: He also owns jorgerivas.com which is the domain name I would like to have instead of . . . I have thisisjorge.com but it would be nice to have jorgerivas.com except it's gay porno on that.
Ann: Wow. No one will be like "Oh, this is Jorge's side gig." Everyone will know.
Jorge: No. Wrong Latino.
Ann: Wrong Jorge. [Laughs]
Ann: Jorge, thanks for being on the podcast.
Jorge: It's an absolute pleasure and I will do it again over ice cream.
Ann: And now we can eat snacks.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download Call Your Girlfriend anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on Facebook -- ugh, look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Thank you to our friends at Argot Studio and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Aminatou: See you in L.A., babies!
Ann: Yeah, see you IRL in Los Angeles.