A View from Another World: My Time in Los Angeles

in The Word is Text by

by Katarina Machmer

Katrina Machmer and Valerie Quiroga in the EL POPO podcast booth CSUN

As an international student from Germany – where my major is North American studies and my minor Spanish – I came to CSUN not only because the University’s classes allowed me to study both Mexican and American culture but also because Los Angeles itself is a place where both cultures intermingle.

In addition to theoretically studying American and Latinx culture in my hometown, I wanted to get to know both outside of the classroom. Reporting for El Popo gave me a special insight into Latinx culture in Los Angeles. It enabled me to discover parts of the city that I would not have seen and get to know the stories of people that I might not have met otherwise.

Having enrolled in different ethnic studies classes at CSUN, I learned something very telling about the American educational system: It is only in American universities that students of color get the possibility to learn about their own communities and their history. But even there, outside of the ethnic studies departments, education is sometimes still dominated by a white perspective and worldview. Realities such as racism and discrimination towards minorities in the United States are often glossed over.

This racial narrative is also perpetuated in journalism, the reason why many mainstream newspapers ignore people of color or do not represent their communities in an adequate way. Since I come from a different cultural background myself, I was afraid that I would not be able to appropriately represent the Chicano community in El Popo either. But I was welcomed to bring my own perspective to our newspaper, and I think this is what journalists should be able to do: instead of excluding people because they belong to a different race or class or don’t fit into America’s white racial narrative, journalists should operate as cultural ambassadors and promote diversity, bridging cultural differences and fighting America’s one-sided way of reporting.

They should present alternative as well as critical perspectives, something I could do by helping to voice the stories of people who are still too often ignored or inappropriately portrayed in American media. Racism and discrimination have unfortunately always been present in American society, and during my stay in the U.S. I noticed how deep the division between white people and people of color, especially African-Americans.

Before my semester at CSUN, I had not consciously been aware of the many privileges a white person enjoys in the United States. Since its roots are so deep, this problem is hard to eliminate – but changing the narrative and helping to voice the underrepresented is a step forward. Alternative journalism has the capacity to bring about social change, and I believe in its power.

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.