Story Updates

  • Getting closer to El Salvador


    Hi All-

    I hope everyone has gotten a chance to listen to the first Alma y Lucha story that aired on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington, D.C. I am so happy that the ball is rolling and that these voices have the opportunity to be heard.

    I am continuing to fundraise for my trip to El Salvador. There is still time to donate! I am over halfway there and only $334.70 away from my goal. Please let people who may be interested in this topic know. Remember you can take a short survey and earn free credits to donate.  Just click on “free credits” from my story page.

    I am hoping to do at least one more story before I leave. In Maryland, the Senate passed the bill allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. Now they need 71 votes for it to pass in the House.

    I am hoping to use my interview with Jacqueline (see earlier blog post) for a story about this.

    Please listen to the story if you haven’t gotten the chance. Again, thank you to everyone for your support.

    <!--EndFragment--> Posted by Kate Sheehy on 03/21/11
  • 3/3/11
  • Alma Y Lucha on the radio!

    Hello friends,

    My first story for Alma Y Lucha: Soul and Struggle in Women Migrating from El Salvador, is airing this Friday-tomorrow! It will be on the local NPR station here in Washington, D.C. WAMU 88.5 FM, during a program called Metro Connection. This is a perfect place for it. MC is a news magazine program, playing a wide range of feature stories. It airs Fridays 1-2 p.m. EST and Saturdays 7-8 a.m. EST.

    So please tune in to hear what I hope will be the first of a series of stories about women immigrants from El Salvador. There will be a number of other great stories to listen to during the program as well. You can stream WAMU 88.5 FM on iTunes too!

    Or there's a podcast:

    I will also post a link to the story on the MC website after it airs.

    I plan on pitching this story to a number of other news outlets, so I'll keep you posted. Also I welcome any suggestions of good places to pitch this story.

    Be good to each other,


    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 03/03/11
  • 2/15/11
  • Young woman helps lead the struggle for a ‘Dream Act’ in Maryland


    In my last post I told you I would be interviewing a youth leader in the Latino community. Jacqueline, or Jackie, is part of Casa de Maryland’s leadership academy. Right now all efforts are focused on obtaining legislation for in-state tuition for undocumented students in Maryland. 

    Jackie in the library at Casa de Maryland's multi-cultutral center in Hyattsville, MD.

    Last Saturday I went to Casa’s Multi-cultural Center where they were holding an event, preparing people to stir up support in their communities for the legislation. Jackie is a significant part of this effort. She is going to Annapolis with other students to rally state lawmakers and is educating her peers about why this is needed for the future success of immigrants in this country.


    Jackie takes time out for some fun at Saturday's event.

    Jackie says it is not always easy to get other students on board. They are scared, she says, that just the act of showing support for the movement will get them deported or put in jail. She also says that some of them have lost hope. They believe that because the Dream Act failed in Congress, this does not have a chance either.  But Jackie tells me she believes they are going to get what they want, because they are working so hard.


    Jackie talking with other high school students during an exercise about how to inform people in their communities about the rally in March.

    Jackie came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she 14 years old on her own, taking care of her nine-year-old sister on the journey. She says after she started school in the U.S., she was very nervous at first, and then she became involved with afterschool programs and leadership groups. She says when she found out that she could not go to college she almost gave up. She stopped going to school for days. But then her mom reminded her that to be somebody, she has to get an education. Jackie says her involvement with groups such as Casa taught her how to be a leader and that you don’t have to accept defeat. You can fight for what you want.

    Jackie informs another student about the events for the in-state tuition act. 

    Casa organizers are not sure when the vote on this legislation will take place. Casa de Maryland has a march on the Maryland state capital in Annapolis planned for March 7th. 

    <!--EndFragment--> Posted by Kate Sheehy on 02/15/11
  • 2/6/11
  • So many voices

    I have finished all of my interviews but one. Next weekend I will interview a young woman who migrated from El Salvador with her sister, they were 14 and 9. Now she is a youth leader with the organization Casa de Maryland and she is involved with advocating for legislation in Maryland that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at local public colleges and universities. 


    It has been overwhelming listening to all of these stories of struggle and triumph among these women. I am humbled, immensely. In some cases, I am shocked that they have survived and continue putting one foot in front of the other each day. The passion and determination that drives some of these women to fight for their rights and the rights of others is beyond inspirational. It makes me reflect upon what I would fight that desperately for.


    So I am now in the middle of going back and pulling soundbites from all of these interviews. I had a technical glitch or two along the way, but I suppose I need to learn to let those things go and keep pushing forward. They will always happen. Working on this project completely independently has taught me a lot. I have no one to answer to but myself as far as a deadline. But I am committed to get this story out so that these women can be heard. I have a lot of editing in front of me, and the deadline about a month away. Wish me luck and thank you for your interest and support!


    One of my interviewees, Flora, helps her daughter eat breakfast at the Barbara Chambers Children Center in Washington, D.C. The center provides low-cost childcare and pre-school for many Hispanic families in the area. 



     Sonia Umanzor is the coordinator for the D.C. chapter of the FMLN, the political party of current Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes. Women are slowly making gains in politics; the biggest accomplishment is the Vice Minister of Health in El Salvador, Violeta Menjivar. Here Umanzor is showing another one of my interviewees, who prefers not to use her name, posters of immigrant rights and political campaigns that line her hallway at home.

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 02/06/11
  • 1/18/11
  • 19 years after the peace accords...Salvadoran women in the United States reflect on lack of rights in El Salvador

    Casa de Maryland, an organization focused on immigrant rights in the D.C. metro area, hosted an event where people were reflecting upon the state of El Salvador and, Salvadorans in the U.S., since the Peace Accords 19 years ago. I spoke with a few women who have come to the United States to seek out opportunities that were not available to them in El Salvador: an education, a decent job to support their families, civic involvement, among other reasons. 

    Although the chance to obtain these dreams is becoming more of a reality in Salvadoran society, it is still a great struggle for both women and men. 

    One young, passionate woman I spoke with described herself as a feminist. Since coming to the U.S. she has gotten involved in advocating for women's rights in El Salvador. 

    I also spoke with the president of MUSA, Mujeres Salvadorenas en Accíon. Aida Konomo says that if women band together they can create the change needed both in their personal and professional lives. Konomo wants to help women who wish to come to the U.S. to do so legally, so that they are less vulnerable. However, she knows this is a difficult task.

    Members of MUSA; left to right (Maribele Juarez, President: Aida Konomo, Rina Aranda)

    No matter what the varying sentiments may be about the rate of progress for Salvadorans since the peace accords, at last night's event people were there to support one another, share memories and take pride in their culture. 

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 01/18/11
  • 1/17/11
  • Salvadoran woman dedicates 30 years to working with other female migrants; helps organize local celebration of Salvadoran peace accords in Washington, D.C.


    Yesterday evening, a group gathered in the basement of St. Stephens Episcopal church to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the Peace Accords in El Salvador. After 12 years of civil war, leftist guerilla group FMLN came to the table with the Salvadoran government to sign the accords in 1992.


    After 20 years with conservative party ARENA in power, Mauricio Funes, an FMLN member, became president of El Salvador in 2009.  Mr. Funes is FMLN's first candidate who was not a former guerilla commander. Funes was a journalist. 

    Sonia Umanzor came to the United States in the 1980's and she says she has been working with women migrants ever since. She is a patient advocate at the Mary Center in Washington, D.C. The center is a non-profit clinic focused on maternal and childcare for immigrant women from Central America. 

    Umanzor spoke to the crowd at last night's celebration about the importance of being involved in immigrant advocacy in their local communities.

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 01/17/11
  • 1/14/11
  • 19 years after the peace accords in El Salvador


    This Sunday, January 16th, marks the 19th anniversary of the peace accords in El Salvador. They were signed in Chapultepec, México between the government of El Salvador and the FMLN. The FMLN is a former guerrilla group who is now a valid political power. Current President Mauricio Funes was a member of the party. For 17 years the conservative party ARENA controlled the government. Funes' presidency marks the first turnover in power.

    Read more about El Salvador's long civil war, the peace accords and politics here:

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 01/14/11
  • 1/10/11
  • Women immigrants embrace greater access to public sphere

    Hello there-

    I wanted to share this abstract from an article I found entitled "Immigration and Women's Empowerment: Salvadorans in Los Angeles." 

    This article addresses the subject I am hoping to shed more light on through my reporting; the way in which Salvadoran women have stepped into the workplace both in El Salvador and here in the U.S. These women are grateful for the opportunity to work and to have more influence in their communities.

    Unfortunately you can only read the abstract through this link. You can buy the article or access through a public library or university through the academic database JSTOR.

    I hope that my reporting, along with articles such as this, inspires people to reflect upon the contributions immigrants make in communities.

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 01/10/11
  • 1/4/11
  • Meet the journalist who is still hoping to make it happen!

    Hi All-

    Although I have been having difficulty raising money for this story, I am going to persevere! I hope hearing me talk about the topic in my own words, on camera, will allow people to connect to the story.

    Please give me your feedback whether you decide to contribute or not. Oh, and I apologize for the sound quality, but I do hope you enjoy the background music ;-)

    Thank you,


    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 01/04/11
  • 11/12/10
  • The goal has changed, but remains...

    Because I will not be able to reach my fundraising goal by January, I have decided to complete a shorter, localized piece by January. I have already started interviewing Salvadoran women in the D.C. area about their experiences migrating to the U.S. and their lives now.

    I appreciate your interest and support as I continue towards my goal to eventually take my work to El Salvador.


    I wanted to share my first feature story that I did regarding issues in the Latino community in the D.C. area. My experience putting together this story and all of the people I met, sparked my interest in learning more about the Salvadoran community. 


    My Spanish has improved significantly since then and the challenge of trying to piece together sentences to communicate provided an excellent opportunity to progress as a journalist. I also had the help of people who translated for me. I realized though, how crucial it is for me to become fluent in Spanish if I want to cover stories that affect immigrants. My desire to become fluent is a major reason behind my wanting to go to El Salvador. I know that immersing myself in the culture is the only way that will happen. 


    Seeing the struggles and successes of Salvadoran immigrants here in the D.C. area makes me all the more interested in wanting to see where these people come from. I want to learn more about the factors, both economic and social, that influence their decision to migrant to the U.S. I have chosen to focus on women because I am especially drawn to the changes in the social structure in the country that have allowed and/or pushed women to expand their roles in society. Increasingly, women are providing the foundation for business and economic stability in the country. I have also met some amazing women from El Salvador, like the women from the Barbara Chamber's Children Center, featured in my radio story and photo slideshow. 


    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 11/12/10
  • 10/7/10
  • Karla "Karlisima" Rodas; Immigrant From El Salvador Local D.C. Artist


    Karla "Karlisima" Rodas is a local artist of Salvadoran heritage. When she was 14, her family moved to the D.C. area from El Salvador. After finishing art school in St. Louis, Missouri and spending some time in New York City, Rodas returned to D.C. She has been working as a professional artist in the region since 1992. She has completed multiple murals and local art projects like the one here at the Potter's House, an outreach ministry, called "Light of the World."




    The other project she is working on, and has almost completed, is a mural called "Keep Driving On." It is a mural of 11 U.S. presidents starting with President Eisenhower. Also in the mural is Mama Ayesha, the founder of a local Palestinian/Middle Eastern restaurant in Northwest D.C. She has since passed away. Mama Ayesha was close friends with a well-known journalist named Helen Thomas. Thomas interviewed all the presidents pictured, but wanted her dear friend Mama Ayesha to be in the mural. Here is Karla talking about the mural:



    Rodas also works as an interpreter at George Washington Hospital. 

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 10/07/10
  • 9/13/10
  • La Próxima Generación

    My friend Alex had a baby a few weeks ago. During the time I spent in the hospital waiting for the baby, I had a conversation with Alex’s mom Lilia, about her own memories surrounding Alex’s birth in El Salvador.

    Lilia came here from El Salvador about 20 years ago. Before that, she had a baby. Lilia told me she was at home with a family member when her water broke. She then walked an hour and half to her cousin’s house so that she could get a ride to the hospital. Once at the hospital, she said she had to wait in a long line of people. Unless it was a serious emergency, you had to wait. There were too many people and not nearly enough doctors. Lilia recalls being put in a crowded room with many other women in labor. She said they all had to shower together in an open area.

    After having Alex, Lilia was living with Alex’s father. She worried about whether they would have enough food to eat on a daily basis. Alex’s father would forget to bring home diapers and food. Lilia told me she thought, “How can I live like this?” At this point she made the same decision that many other Salvadoran women have made since. When Alex was a year old, Lilia decided she was going to join her sister in the United States, so that she could make money to give her daughter a better life.

    Tears were falling as Lilia recounted this painful part of her life. She didn’t see her baby girl again until she was 4-years-old. When she felt it was time to bring Alex, Lilia and her sister saved enough money to pay for Alex to come over on a plane with some coyotes from El Salvador. This is a common practice among migrants. They will pay strangers who are in the business of bringing migrants into the U.S. This doesn’t always have the intended ending. Sometimes migrants are sold over to corrupt police or gangs or the coyotes flee when they run into immigration police. The migrants in their care are then deported back on their own.

    After waiting out the anxious hours while Alex was on the plane, Lilia found out she was safe with family in California. By this time Lilia was in Washington, D.C. She then waited for another couple days for family friends to drive Alex from California. Finally, she had her little girl. It had been many years though, since Alex had seen her mother and she did not take warmly to her right away. These years away she had been raised by Lilia’s mother and other family members.

    Now nearly 17 years from that day, Lilia is in a hospital room with Alex as she prepares to give birth to her own little girl. Alex is not in a crowded room filled with screaming women, she has safe transportation to and from the hospital and she has the financial support of her family to help her. But still, Lilia cannot hide some of her sadness. Alex is young. She tells me she does not want Alex to be in the same situation she was in 20 years ago in El Salvador, stuck relying on a man that didn’t support her. She wants more for Alex.

    During Alex’s labor, with me on one side of the bed and Lilia on the other, she whispers words of encouragement to Alex. “Tranquila. Calma,” she repeats. The room is filled with emotion emanating from many places.

    Amari Alexandra Landaverde arrives. As she lets out her first cries in this world, Lilia looks at her granddaughter under the bright hospital room lights. Lilia knows in some way this baby is here, in this country, because of her. She can only wonder what her future holds.   


    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 09/13/10
  • 8/20/10
  • What is a Pupusa?



    My familiarity and interest in the Salvadoran culture, and Central America started in my work, not as a journalist, but as a waitress. I moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship with the local NPR station. When I decided to stay on in D.C., I knew I needed to pay the bills, and with a job in journalism not at immediately within my reach, I started at an Italian restaurant.

    Coming from California, I was exposed to the Mexican culture, but knew nothing about El Salvador. D.C. has one of the largest Salvadoran populations outside El Salvador. Not only was everyone working in the kitchen mostly from El Salvador, but so were many of the servers.  I became friends with many of my co-workers and they have taught me so much about Salvadoran history and culture.

    Lesson #1: What is a pupusa? I grew up eating tacos, burritos, tostados and tamales, but pupusas? I had never eaten one, in fact, I couldn’t recall even having ever heard of one. 

    The first pupusa I had was at El Tamarindo on Florida Avenue in Northwest D.C. A good friend of mine began taking me there after we got off work at the restaurant. He is from El Salvador and told me these were the best in D.C.  A pupusa is kind of like a quesadilla, but not. It is much thicker, made with cornmeal. Salvadoran tortillas are also much thicker then the Mexican tortillas I was used to.

    My favorite pupusas are revueltas. A mix of chicharron (fried pork skin), frijoles and queso. I also discovered the glorious condiment that is cortido: a vinegar based coleslaw- like mixture with cabbage, carrots, cilantro and spices, that goes on top of the pupusa. You always eat a pupusa with your hands, unless you want to look like an amateur.

    Pupusas, at El Tamarindo quickly became a habit, a love affair of sorts, going there frequently with co-workers after work around 2 a.m. to unwind.  

    Later, I would interview El Tamarindo’s owner, Jose Reyes, for a feature story I did on the effect of the economic downturn on the Salvadoran community. Now when I walk into El Tamarindo I am often greeted with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek.

    Lesson #2: Where exactly is El Salvador?

    My knowledge of Latin America was basically Mexico, and even that was limited mostly to my fond memories of traveling there as a 7 year old in an R.V. with my dad, uncle and brother.  I knew even less about Central America. Suddenly I was meeting all of these interesting people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. I started asking a lot of questions. This event in my life started as I also began thinking about going to Latin America to work as journalist and become fluent in Spanish.

    Somehow over the years I have kept up what little high school Spanish I acquired. Because I have held many jobs since college, working in restaurants and a hotel, I spent time speaking Spanish with co-workers. That is how I am learning more right now.

    Lesson #3: Migration

    I have always been interested in immigration issues. Right before I left California I covered the massive immigration protests in 2006. Now I am learning about the Salvadoran and Honduran immigration experience. I talk with friends and colleagues about making the dangerous journey to the states on the trains through Mexico , about the Civil War and the earthquakes, about the thousands of people sending money home to their families every month.  I met people who came to the U.S. as students and as refugees.  I met a young woman from Spain who has been working in El Salvador for a few years as a journalist. She told me about politics, violence, music and the people. People have been so generous in sharing their experiences. Now El Salvador feels like a familiar place I have not been to. And I want to go.

    Posted by Kate Sheehy on 08/20/10
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