It Matters Who Tells The Story

Von Diaz (left) recording a podcast with Thanu Yakupitiyage of the New York Immigration Coalition; photo: John Rudolph

Five years ago I a received a fellowship to report on LGBTQ communities in New York from Feet in 2 Worlds. At the time I was a very green reporter and had never produced a radio story.

The first piece I produced was a challenging profile of LGBTQ homeless immigrant youth. Over the course of three months I spent several evenings in three New York City LGBTQ youth homeless facilities and met dozens of vulnerable young people. Among them was Adrielle Grant, a timid 19-year-old immigrant from Guyana, whose mother had kicked him out when she learned he was gay.

For our 10th anniversary we are featuring essays by former Fi2W editors

I met with Adrielle multiple times — in the community center at Green Chimneys, the service organization that provided his housing; in his bedroom, where he shared painful memories from his childhood; and at a Valentine’s Day party, where I watched him sing karaoke. The radio story I produced for PRI’s The World went on to win an Ippie award. It taught me the value of listening closely and taking the time to get a fuller picture of someone’s life.

Read Von’s favorite Fi2W stories:
“LGBT Immigrant Youth Struggle in New York”
“Immigrants Give Up the Dream of Homeownership in the U.S.”
“What I Carried”

Two years later, when I became the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds, I wanted to cultivate this same investigative spirit. I encouraged the reporters I worked with to dig deep and spend lots of time with the folks they interviewed. In the process, we helped to transform Feet in 2 Worlds from a weekly news blog to a thematic, quarterly magazine.

Adrielle Grant, a 19 year old immigrant from Guyana, is homeless in New York City

Adrielle Grant, a 19 year old immigrant from Guyana, is homeless in New York City

I was part of the team that launched our first-ever magazine, “Redefining the American Dream.” For that issue I worked with reporter Camila Osorio Avendano on a feature about homeownership trends among immigrants, which was both an article, “Immigrants Give Up the Dream of Homeownership in the U.S.,” and an infographic, “Owning a Home is a Dream for Many Immigrants, but Rates of Success Vary.”

I also worked on another Ippie award-winning project. The “What I Carried” series took a close look at the objects immigrants bring with them when they come to the United States. The series was a collaborative, multimedia project that grew out of a workshop where we taught local journalists — many of them immigrants — how to use the Cowbird multimedia storytelling platform. It was an experimental and fun project that inspired participants to reconsider objects we hold dear and the stories those objects tell.

Chicharrones de pollo, one of the dishes featured in Von Diaz’s Cocina Criolla project; photo: Marin Watts)

During my tenure as editor of Feet in 2 Worlds, our mantra was “it matters who tells the story.” It’s a message I still carry with me. Today I am a producer at StoryCorps, a national oral history and public media project that produces weekly broadcasts for NPR. I’m also a frequent contributor to NPR’s Latino USA and am working on a multimedia Puerto Rican food culture project.

My time at Feet in 2 Worlds and my mentors there — especially Sarah Kramer, Jocelyn Gonzales, and John Rudolph — played a huge role in my decision to work in public media. Feet in 2 Worlds continues to be a big part of my life, and I’m grateful for the supportive, eclectic, creative family of immigrant reporters with whom I’ve connected.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation.

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AboutVon Diaz
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.