Graduation days are times of celebration and reflection, opportunities to commemorate remarkable accomplishments and ruminate over one’s path to success. And when the graduate is the first in her family to attend college, journalists take notice of a potential feel-good feature story.
For America Arias, though, the subject of the feature is the same person who reports such a story.
Arias’ family no doubt celebrated her May graduation from California State University-
Fullerton. As the oldest of three children, her diploma meant more than the culmination of countless term papers, study sessions and internships. The Arias family had joined the ranks of the college-educated, counted now among many other Latin American immigrants achieving their dreams in the U.S.
But for Arias, a broadcast journalism and political science major, her enrollment in college almost never came to pass. Had she listened to her father, the world may have never met America Arias the journalist.
“My dad wanted me to get a job right out of high school and start contributing to the family income,” she remembered days before her last week of final exams. “But I said I wanted to get educated and then contribute to the family. So I took a big risk.”
The risk is worth the reward. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Use whatever idiom you’d like, but the fact remains that her choice to defy her parents’ wishes has worked out extremely well, for herself and others.
Elected in September 2008 as one of two student representatives to the SPJ board of directors, she has brought an important youth perspective to the organization’s national decision-making. She’s used the experience to broaden the horizons of another important voice in American journalism: the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Unlike the SPJ board, her national NAHJ representative position doesn’t grant her a vote in board policy. That, she says, should change.
“NAHJ doesn’t give the student rep a vote. SPJ has two student reps, and we have votes. I don’t see why we don’t have a vote at NAHJ.”
In addition to sharing board policy, she views her SPJ-NAHJ connection as a learning experience.
“SPJ and NAHJ can trade ideas. We’re all trying to better journalism,” she said.
The journalism profession isn’t the only thing she wants to improve. Though possessing
numerous high credentials — two national board positions; internships with the Los Angeles CNN bureau and WUSA in Washington, D.C.; and one of U-Wire’s Top 100 college journalists — she is passionate about staying locally in the Hispanic communities she knows.
“In my neighborhood, there are so many stories. No one ever goes up to that gang member and asks ‘What’s your story?’ or looks into what deportation does to tear apart families. That’s why I got into journalism: to tell those stories.”
Though she’s looking for jobs in other areas with significant Hispanic audiences — southern Texas, Tucson, Ariz. — she’s quick to recognize, and possibly return to, her roots.
“Eventually I want to come back to my neighborhood in L.A.,” she said, prompted by the inevitable question of what her career holds in 10 years. “Any local stuff I can be involved in would be ideal. I’m willing to do that. Sometimes you have to sacrifice.”
If she stays in the area long enough, she can help tell a story of great familiarity: children of immigrant laborers successfully work their way through college. Her brother, a sophomore at the University of California-Riverside, is studying pre-med. Her sister will enter college in the fall, seeking to study social work.
Officially mark America Arias in the category of proud big sister. And that’s a story that never gets old.