Latino USA producer Antonia Cereijido received the first annual Cecilia Vaisman Award, named after the Homelands Productions co-founder who died in 2015.
Antonia was a student of Cecilia’s at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have a career because of her,” she said at the November 5 ceremony.
The award was created to celebrate audio and video journalists from the Latinx community and was conceived by students from Northwestern’s chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Cecilia’s husband, Gary Marx, was among the speakers at the event. Gary is an award-winning investigative journalist at the Chicago Tribune. Below is the text of his remarks.
I want to thank NAHJ and Medill for establishing this award in Cecilia’s honor. Cecilia’s life and career were dedicated to promoting diversity and nurturing the next generation of journalists. This award carries on her legacy in a very real way and I speak from the heart when I say that our two children – Ana and Andres – and our entire family are grateful.
I’d like to say a few words about Cecilia – or Ceci as I called her – for those of you who didn’t know her. She was born in Argentina and came as a baby to the States with her family. She grew up in New Jersey. Her mother Carmen loved opera, raised four kids and worked in factories before becoming a pattern maker. She made all of the family’s clothes by hand. Her father Adolfo loved Boca Juniors, and held various jobs including working as a furniture store salesman.
“She was thoughtful and deep and warm and generous and very beautiful – and exacting.”Gary Marx, Cecilia’s husband
Ceci earned a scholarship to Barnard, joined the college radio station, and then NPR after graduation. Her dream was to do long-form audio documentaries in Latin America and that’s what she did when she helped found Homelands Productions.
Ceci was an artist, a musician, a great bass player, and sound was sacred to her – the human voice above all else. She was thoughtful and deep and warm and generous and very beautiful – and exacting. When she peered over her glasses at you, you knew she expected better.
Teaching came late to Ceci but she loved it. How much? Even in the last months of her life, she did not want to leave Medill. She did not want to leave her students.
I had to convince her that it was time.
Antonia, there was no student she loved more than you. Ceci spoke about you often – about your thoughtfulness, integrity and smarts – not to mention your shared Argentine background.
When I asked you last week to send me a few of your stories so I could catch up with your work, the response surprised me.
Yes, there was a piece about the plight of the Dream 9 activists – young undocumented immigrants who grew up in the US yet left and tried to reenter the country from Mexico to protest our unjust immigration policies. But there also was a story that tried to answer a ridiculously profound question: Do Latinos and Latinas cry more than the rest of us? And the third story you sent me was about Dora the Explorer, the animated Nickelodeon TV character.
I was intrigued. Then I listened. Each of the three pieces carried the hallmarks of great journalism – all the hallmarks of Ceci’s journalism. The piece on the young immigration activists could have been a simple, triumphant celebration of their efforts. It covered that – but the story also talked about the devastating infighting among immigration reformers, the personal sacrifice and cost of activism among the Dream 9, and most of all – it raised the question – without ever asking the listener directly – what are each of us doing in our own lives to bring more justice to this world.
The story had integrity, power and honesty, just like Ceci would have demanded.
The story about the frequency of Latinos crying made me laugh, until it didn’t. It was done tongue in cheek and it was fun to listen to – the Mexican actor you interviewed, the references to telenovelas, the mythology of tears in Latino culture, the high-pitched yet solemn ranchera music – and of course your own imprecise poll of people of diverse backgrounds and their habits regarding the shedding of tears.
The story was about emotion and cultural norms, but it was also about our shared humanity….and by the end I was thinking about my own relationship to sadness and tears…And how true your conclusion was – not that Latinos cry more, even though I’m positive they do – but that pain brings tears and tears help sooth us.
I know that firsthand, especially since Ceci’s passing. The story was so honest. So universal.
Then there is Dora The Explorer, who frankly I knew little about before listening to the piece. For those of you of my generation, Dora is a 7-year-old, bilingual, backpack-toting Latina who, with her sidekick Boots, goes on adventures solving riddles and overcoming obstacles with the help of her audience. She was the first animated TV character who looked and spoke like her.
The hook for the story was a new Dora movie that was coming out… but Antonia’s piece was really about the show’s significant contribution to helping make inclusivity and diversity one of the most important values in our society. Yet, as the piece ends, the audience is left with a disturbing contradiction: The globalist, open borders vision of the world that Dora represents stands under the greatest threat in a generation. Are people of color today – people like Dora – less safe in America than when she was ruling the Nickelodeon airwaves a decade ago?
The story leaves that question hanging with the listener like a tidal wave about to hit the shoreline.
Antonia… Cecilia would have been so proud of your work… and of you. So am I. Congratulations.