At the height of the pandemic last summer, we were receiving alarming messages on our WhatsApp hotline every day. These messages came from immigrant New Yorkers seeking urgent help. “I lost my job because of the pandemic and I haven’t been able to pay rent. Can you help me?” one reader said. “My landlord sued me.” We turned those submissions into I Know What Pandemic Means, a film and interactive website.
Go here to check out the site. Watch the film here:
Many of the members of our community of undocumented Latino immigrants asked us where to find free food, legal support, and financial aid as well as questions about how COVID-19 spreads, legal issues and many other subjects. Within these requests, were hints at the many ways the pandemic was altering life in immigrant communities in the City on an individual basis and as a whole.
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Drawing on a project from the Memphis based nonprofit news organization MLK50, we decided to ask our readers to tell us their stories with two requests:
- Tell us an anecdote or story about the challenges that the pandemic caused in your life.
- Tell us about someone who has made you smile, who has given a solution or who has given you a word of encouragement. Within hours, we had dozens of submissions.
Nearly all of those who responded spoke about losing work. One reader told us about getting stranded in Tampa after leaving Brooklyn to find work there. Another told us about the anxiety of being a new mother without work during the pandemic. Another reader spoke of helping to collect money from the neighborhood where she lived money to survive.
“Me and my husband, we shared what little we had to eat with our friends,” she said, “and also for the funerals of our friends.”
We wanted to do these stories justice, by highlighting the individual experiences of our readers while also telling the bigger story of New York City under the pandemic. So, we reached out to Waterwell, a nonprofit that tells civic focused stories through theater and film. We then hired Frisly Soberanis, a filmmaker from Queens, to string all of these stories into one film.
The result is I Know What Pandemic Means or Sé lo que es pandemia, a fifteen minute long film that follows members of our WhatsApp community as well as a website created with primary materials from the reporting process.
On Wednesday May 12th, we premiered the film with Waterwell through a screening and question and answer session, moderated by actress and advocate Morena Baccarin and director Frisly Soberanis.
“I feel like [the film] was a good place to practice some intention and remembering,” he said. “some meditation of what it has felt like personally on the ground.”
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Documented was founded with the goal of making sure the people affected by our stories were also the people reading them. Immigration reporting is often extractive and isn’t produced or published with the main protagonists as the intended audience. Through our reporting and out outreach via WhatsApp, we’ve created award-winning journalism that is created with and for New York’s immigrant communities. This work is not easy and it is not cheap. Consider becoming a member today to help fuel this work. By joining the Documented Community, you can not help only provide us with the financial freedom needed to fulfill our mission but also meet others who are passionate about immigration in the New York area. Become a member today.