Raul Ramirez Internship Offers Lessons about Journalism, Diversity and Life

January 25, 2017
Ericka Cruz Guevara photo

When San Francisco State University student Ericka Cruz Guevarra started her reporting internship at KQED Public Media, she noticed that many of her new colleagues kept signs on their desks that read: “I am Raul.”

With that introduction, Guevarra joined the large network of people whose professional and personal lives have been touched by the visionary Bay Area journalist, Raul Ramirez.

And though she’s never met him—and never will—Guevarra now credits Ramirez for opening the door to the possibility of a future career in public radio and validating her idea to focus on issues of race, ethnicity and culture.

“This was absolutely my way in,” Guevarra said. “I say that over and over and over.”

Ramirez was the longtime news director at KQED and a beloved instructor in the Journalism Department. A Cuban immigrant, Ramirez championed the need for diversity in the news media throughout his journalistic career and in his teaching to hundreds of students at the university. In 2013, at the age of 67, Ramirez passed away of esophageal cancer.

But he left a gift—a $25,000 donation to the university to establish the Raul Ramirez Diversity in Journalism Fund. Friends and colleagues from throughout the country also contributed to the fund, which he said should support journalism students who shared in his vision of diversity.

Two years later, in the fall semester of 2015, Guevarra became the first beneficiary of a KQED internship sponsored by the fund. Guevarra, now 21, is completing her B.A. with a major in international relations and a minor in journalism.

Working under the direction of digital journalists David Wier and Lisa Pickoff-White, Guevarra handled a wide variety of assignments, from feature stories to street protests. The internship was supposed to be a single semester, but she was asked to continue for a second semester that spring.

Her proudest achievement was the completion of a story that she proposed as part of her application, and it symbolized her personal interest in culture and diversity. Guevarra is Filipino American, though some think that her name sounds Spanish and that she looks Chinese. Growing up in Fairfield, a Northern California suburb known mostly for being the home of the Jelly Belly Factory, her parents spoke to her in Tagalog, while she responded in English. In her story pitch, she wondered how a “language barrier” within a family might impact young Filipino and other Asian Americans in terms of their sense of identity, connection to their culture and the costs of assimilation into U.S. society.

Even as she wrote the application letter, however, Guevarra had doubts whether her idea qualified as a valid news story and whether other people would be interested. Her reporting uncovered other Filipino Americans who had similar experiences and questions. The lead of the completed story centered on a 41-year-old Filipino American man who regretted never learning Tagalog. His mother spoke with an accent and feared that her children could not succeed in the U.S. unless they spoke English perfectly.

When the story, “For Some Filipino-Americans, Language Barriers Leave Culture Lost in Translation,” was broadcast by The California Report on Feb. 26, 2016, Guevarra was surprised by the large response she received from listeners. For Guevarra, the positive reception validated the news value of these kinds of stories and her desire to specialize in reporting about race, ethnicity and culture. Guevarra also has built up more experience as an intern with NPR’s Code Switch program and as a “nextgenradio” fellow at NPR affiliate KJZZ in Phoenix.

“I don’t think I’d ever have been able to talk about the importance of reporting on race and culture if it hadn’t been for the Raul Ramirez internship,” she said.

During her time at KQED, Guevarra approached staffers with the “I am Raul” signs, and they told him that Ramirez always kept the door to his cluttered office open.

“He had a profound ability to talk with anyone and find a way to connect with them,” Guevarra said she was told. “(They said) that he was kind and compassionate.”

Weir praised Guevarra for churning out a surprisingly large number of stories during her internship and for taking time to learn about Ramirez’s life, values and ethics.

“She then dedicated herself to fulfill the terms of the internship in accordance with those values and ethics,” said Weir. “As I supervised her work, it felt like I was witnessing the emergence of a new journalistic star. And I'm certain Raul would have felt the same.”

Guevarra continues to benefit from Ramirez’s legacy. She expects to graduate in May 2017, and she continues to work at KQED as an on-call interactive producer. Each year, Ramirez’s husband, Tony Wu, and close friends conduct a hike in Berkeley’s Tilden Park to honor his memory. Guevarra now is invited on those hikes. “It’s very emotional,” she said.

With national elections over, Guevarra now knows that Ramirez’s lessons about diversity and journalism will become even more critical in the future.

“The next four years will be a test of identity for us as Americans, especially for those of us with dual identities and who don’t look ‘American,’” she said.

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Links:

SF State Mourns Death of Long-time Journalism Lecturer
http://goldengatexpress.org/2013/11/19/sf-state-journalism-lecturer/

Final Words From Raul Ramirez
https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2013/11/19/118783/final-speech-raul-ramirez-sp...

For Some Filipino Americans, Language Barriers Leave Culture Lost in Translation
https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/12/08/for-some-filipino-americans-languag...

Ericka Guevarra website
https://erickaguevarra.com