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Meet The Chicago Journalism Professor Helping Dreamers Tell Their Stories Through Podcasting

Edie Rubinowitz had seen it in her office hours for the last two years.

“Dreamers — or undocumented DACA recipients — had a kind of horrible alienation,” Rubinowitz, the Acting Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University told the Forward. “They’d say ‘I shouldn’t be in this country, people don’t want me here’ and yet they’re very close to graduating and trying to keep their own morale up while they finish out their semester.”

Edie Rubinowitz, Acting Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University.

Edie Rubinowitz, Acting Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University. Image by Courtesy of Edie Rubinowitz

As a way to keep her students going, Rubinowitz considered doing a podcast on Dreamer stories after Spanish Public Radio (SPR), an online Spanish-language radio station, approached her to partner on programming with Northeastern, a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution. On the morning of February 19, 2018, Rubinowitz received an email about a $35,000 grant from the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. When she met with SPR CEO Roberto Ramirez and Chief Operating Office Fernando Moreno that same day, she suggested applying as a way of financing their partnership.

Northeastern was one of 10 institutions to receive funding with its proposal for the DACA project. Budget in hand, Rubinowitz collected a group of Northeastern students and alumni — some first generation and some DACA recipients like Monzerrath “Monse” Gaytan, who tells her story of coming to the country at the age of four on the second episode — to launch “DACAmentation: Humanizing Our Stories,” a seven episode podcast series broaching issues faced by Dreamers.

The 30-minute shows were workshopped by Rubinowitz, the student and alumni journalists and Luvia Moreno, Northeastern’s Interim Director of Diversity and Intercultural Affairs and Director the Undocumented Student Resources, and range in subject from mental health, college admissions, stories of family border crossings and navigating LBTQA identity while also being undocumented. The episodes are recorded in Spanish and air the last Friday of every month on SPR’s website, with the last show premiering in April 2019.

Monzerrath “Monse” Gaytan, a Dreamer and journalist for “DACAmentation: Humanizing Our Stories” podcast, at her graduation. Image by Courtesy of Edie Rubinowitz

Rubinowitz, an editor and producer of “DACAmentation” along with her counterpart at SPR Salvador Espanaña, was surprised that many of her reporters had to brush up on their Spanish before their interviews.

“The children of immigrants and DACA recipients, don’t necessarily speak Spanish on a regular basis,” Rubinowitz said. “I think it’s similar to Jews who came to this country in the 1890s when there was a certain pressure to assimilate and leave Yiddish behind.”

Rubinowitz is fluent in Spanish, having reported extensively in Nogales, Arizona in the ‘90s some time before DACA’s passage, when “NAFTA and Ross Perot’s ‘Great Sucking Sound’” were the issues of the day. During her stay in that border town she first made the connection between the Jewish immigrant experience and that of South and Central Americans.

“In Nogales I hooked up with the Jewish community who had been immigrants way back — merchants on the border — and that became part of my experience living as a foreigner within our country because the border is so foreign,” Rubinowitz said. “I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time and I think in part it’s about social justice as a part of the Jewish community.”

A longtime radio reporter, Rubinowitz believes that “DACAmentation” has the power to tap into a larger communal narrative. While previewing the episode on border crossings to a listener, she was amazed to learn her audience-of-one had family that made the passage to the United States in much the same way as described in the podcast. Similarly Rubinowitz was raised hearing stories of her great-great-grandfather’s flight on an oxcart from the Pale of Settlement pogroms.

“Stories of Jewish immigration are about lifting ourselves up,” Rubinowitz said. “We come from persecution — and it’s a little different [with Latino immigrants], some of them come from economic displacement or extreme poverty — but the needing to leave, wanting to make a better life for their children, that piece is universal.”

While Rubinowitz is committed to helping her students and alumni share their work, she’s careful not to filter their experience. That’s not to say she doesn’t recognize a Jewish precept emerging in their work.

“I grew up Reconstructionist with this idea of Tikkun Olam: repair the world,” Rubinowitz said. “I don’t want to say I’m repairing the world I would say they are repairing their small world by telling each other’s stories.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

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