Media Racism + Q&A #5: Arielle Kirven on Performative Activism in BLM

June 2020 is on a new level.

A lot has happened since the last post. Protests have exploded in the US and around the world. Several reporters covering protests and instances of police brutality have been shot at by riot police, one freelancer lost her eye to a projectile, and my friend Gustavo Martinez Contreras live-streamed his own arrest on Twitter.

Recent protests and calls for reform have put large companies that claim to be allies under the microscope… including the media industry. Despite only ever working out of NYC, I have seen very few women and people of color in leadership. There are publications that claim to be left leaning and “progressive” do not hire people of color on staff, some that do oftentimes don’t retain those employees for very long. These are organizations that claim to care about equality but pay women of color significantly less than their white counterparts.

It’s people who say they are not racist because they weren’t screaming a racial slur in someone’s face but deny a qualified candidate of color a raise, or put more pressure on an underrepresented person to avoid mistakes, or don’t give those employees the same career opportunities.

And an abusive former employer (who was particularly nasty to POC) recently posted about supporting Black Lives Matter on social media. So thats fun.

Unless serious culture change happens, or unless serious restructuring of hiring practices change, I don’t think media will diversify. Senior editors of different publications have stepped down in new claims of racism and discrimination against employees of color, but real change needs to be paired with newsrooms looking at who they have excluded. When a newsroom only hires from a very narrow socioeconomic status, and from a very narrow idea of what is “appealing” to audiences, they are not hiring the best person for the job.

Enough ranting, here’s the Q&A:

Freelancer Q&A #5: Arielle Kirven on Performative Activism

For the next few months, I’ll try to conduct Q&As with fellow freelancers. I’ll highlight their journey, what it’s like to navigate a seemingly volatile career during so much uncertainty, and how other jobs have fueled their writing careers. Most of my interviews will be with women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in media.

Arielle Kirven is a rising senior at Amherst College, majoring in English and Art History. She focuses on art, design, and media. I came across an essay she had posted in her own Substack about performative activism it was a great look at how some online activism seems to me more about self promotion than it is about furthering a cause.

When did you decide to create a newsletter? 

In middle and high school, I would always spend twenty minutes scrolling through blog posts on a curated RSS feed before school. I loved the way that those bloggers were able to share aspects of their personal lives, and inspire others along the way. This past year, quite a few people told me that they would watch my content if I had a Youtube channel. That’s when I started to think about creating a platform. The newsletter idea stuck after I saw Haley Nahman launch her newsletter, Maybe Baby. She’s one of my favorite writers. 

How did you decide on a theme? 

I hope to write things that I, myself, would want to read. Currently, those topics include art, fashion, culture, politics, and wellness. Over time, the theme will probably shift to whatever feels the most urgent. 

You recently wrote a great post about performative activism and argued about who it really benefited from certain social posts and actions, how did you plan this post? 

The post came out of a lot of frustration and anxiety about this current moment. Without the ability to protest, I felt like a complacent bystander. I saw this post as an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. In terms of planning, I write everything in the order that it’s seen on the page  so I knew that I wanted to write about media, performance, activism, and highlight how one builds off of another. 

You made connections to black artists that use their race in performance art and how that differed from performative activism you keep seeing on social media during recent protests and actions that are calling attention to anti-blackness and police brutality. Why did you take that angle?

I thought it would be an effective strategy to illustrate the ways in which black people put their (already at risk) bodies on the line. I also admire the work of those artists, and I wanted to expose my readers to their work. Black artists are so often overlooked. It’s important to me that my newsletter brings attention to their work. 

According to your experience, what online actions/post feel like a performance vs a form of activism and what kind of "sustained engagement" would you like to see from allies in the future?  

There’s this quote that I see traveling around that reads: “I don’t understand, but I stand.” I find that quote really frustrating because it seems to excuse people from trying to understand. I think that’s an example of performative allyship. Instead, allies should attempt to educate themselves, engage in these conversations, and amplify black voices. 

There's a lot of amazing, raw, and honest work about race that's being shared online about mental health for black writers and allyship... is there an angle on these topics that you haven't been able to find but would love to see published?   

I’m interested in the impact of ancestral trauma or generational trauma on the mental health of young black people today. I’m also interested in the ways that colonial spaces may hold trauma, and how it can be palpably felt in the environment. I’m thinking specifically of New Orleans, Charleston, and towns in New England. I want to do more research before I write a post on these topics. 

Will you continue to write about the culture of activism, performance, and race in the future? If so, what are other themes within those topics that writers can look forward to? 

I want to see where these conversations take us next. I hope to do a deeper dive on how these issues manifest on a college campus. I’m also interested in how white guilt (on social media) has led to rampant consumerism of black products and services. Everywhere I look white influencers are recommending their “new favorite black businesses.” It’s interesting that people believe they can make up for their racist practices with the dollar, and I’m curious to see if that will continue. 

Your post on Substack feels like the start of a larger cultural criticism essay/article, so I'd like to know more about the kind of writing you're interested in doing in the future. What direction do you see your culture writing going in? 

I love cultural criticism. That’s probably the number one thing that I read all of the time. Although, my goal is to get more specific. I’d love to focus on one writer or one album or one exhibition or one neighborhood. I also love writing long-form feature profiles, and I would like to do that in my newsletter too. I think that will come with cultivating an audience that is interested in the specificity of those subjects, and also establishing a routine that allows me to write faster.

Are there other kinds of writing that you'd like to do in the future? If so, what are you most interested in and why? 

I’m actually hoping to experiment with dramatic writing. I’ve always loved television and theatre, but I haven’t had the chance to attempt storytelling in those formats. They are both powerful conduits of empathy and expression. 

Are there any goal publications or projects that you'd like tackle in the future? 

I really like the culture section of The New Yorker, Man Repeller, and The Cut for New York Magazine. I would also like to write for a more art-focused publication like Hyperallergic. 

As a young writer of color, and a student, what can other writers & editors in the industry do to support you and your career? 

Honestly, I would love for people to reach out. I like having meaningful conversations with people, and would appreciate the opportunity to pick anyone’s brain. 

At the end of your post you listed resources so that readers could educate themselves, are there any you omitted or remembered last minute that you'd like to share now? 

Read bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright.

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Learn more about Arielle’s work on Medium, check out her newsletter, follow her on Instagram, and on Twitter.

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Missed last week’s newsletter? Read my pervious Q&A with Chicago based writer Tatiana Walk-Morris on how non-bylined work pays her bills.

 Q&A with food writer Irina Groushevaia on intersection of food, wellness and queerness.

More Obits, A Live TV Debut + Q&A #4:Tatiana Walk-Morris On How Non-Bylined Gigs Pay The Bills

There's a lot going on here.

Happy Saturday! The last two weeks have been hectic. Here’s why.

Things I’ve Done:

I wrote another obituary. This time for The Nation about Omar Portillo, a handyman who worked in Manhattan and passed away this March from the coronavirus. When I was reporting this, I learned that he lived near me. It was difficult to speak to Omar’s family and coworkers, but I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to tell the story of an ordinary person who was so loved and appreciated by the people around him.

And, I was on a segment of Democracy Now! the other week. I spoke about being laid off during the pandemic in a segment that featured award winning journalist Gregory Moore. He discussed how reporters of color are disproportionately affected by layoffs and often have higher barriers to entry when building a career in media. Watch the segment here.

And this coming June, I’ll be on a digital panel about representation and freelancing through hard times. I’ll have more details soon.

Things I’ve Read:

A recent post on Heated, an amazing climate change newsletter, outlined the history of racism in environmentalism. The post discusses how the lack of inclusiveness in environmental movements and outdoor activities leads to incidents like the one in Central Park where a woman threatened to call the police on Christian Cooper, an African-American birdwatcher for asking her to put a leash on her dog.

Freelancer Q&A #4: Tatiana Walk-Morris

For the next few months, I’ll try to conduct Q&As with fellow freelancers. I’ll highlight their journey, what it’s like to navigate a seemingly volatile career during so much uncertainty, and how other jobs have fueled their writing careers. Most of my interviews will be with women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in media.

Tatiana Walk-Morris is a freelance writer based in Chicago with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Self, and more. She also runs the very useful Twitter account The Freelance Beat, which is where I learned about her work.

When did you start writing and when did you start freelancing? 

Personally, I've been writing for as long as I can remember, everything from short stories to poems to diary entries. Writing has always been a refuge for my imagination. Professionally, I started writing for a paycheck in college, where I worked as a writer and eventually an editor for my college newspaper and got my first internship at NBC in the summer of 2014. I started freelancing after I graduated in December of 2014. 

What kind of beats did you focus on when you first began writing and has that changed since?

When I started freelancing, I covered whatever was needed for various local publications. It ranged from business stories to community issues/events in my current neighborhood.

You've created a very helpful website and newsletter for freelancers (that I subscribed to and really like), what made you decide to create both and how have they evolved as your career has evolved? 

Thank you! I started the blog, because I felt there were so many resources out there for writers, but I wanted something that was specifically for journalists. To me, the mechanics behind writing as an essayist or an author was quite different from writing as a content marketer or a journalist, so I decided to create a space specifically for freelance journalists. I eventually started the newsletter, because someone emailed me to ask me if I had one, so I figured that would be another way to connect with people. 

The blog has evolved as I have evolved. Whenever I learn things, I share them on the site in hopes of helping someone else. You can see the progression of my freelance career from my earliest posts to now. As for the newsletter, I had to make it a paid newsletter to maintain both the blog and the newsletter. I had no idea that I would ever get to the point where I needed to pay for the newsletter, but I'm grateful for the people who subscribed to it.

You've posted online about how non-bylined work has sometimes made you just as much if not more money from freelance work, what made you go in that direction in freelancing? 

Simply put, many publications don't pay freelancers a living wage and I, as well as other journalists, have had to resort to un-bylined freelance writing for companies to make a living. I come from a low-income, single parent household in Detroit. I do not have a spouse or family wealth to buoy me as I grow my freelance business. Therefore, I've had to treat my freelance career as just that—a business. For me, that meant opening myself up to other content marketing opportunities that would support me while pursuing the investigative or feature articles that fulfill my journalistic ambitions. I'll also say that many full-time journalism jobs are woefully underpaid. It is difficult to make ends meet as a freelancer, but I feel more in control of my earnings as a freelancer than I did as a staffer.

How do you balance your bylined work and your client work? What are the boundaries that you set to stay organized and ethical?

I've definitely had to turn down work that I felt was too close to my reporting beats. For example, I have been approached to do personal finance or law-related writing, but have turned those down in order to keep my relationships with my financial services and law publications. I think a very general rule to follow is don't feature your content clients in articles for your journalism clients. I also think it's very important to closely read your contracts to see if they include any conflicts of interest clauses. 

What is a piece of freelancing/writing advice that you'd like to give your younger self, what would that be?

Only listen to the people who've been where you want to go and follow your intuition. There are a lot of well-meaning people who will try to dissuade you, and they will make great points. But the bottom line is, your stories are very necessary. Find a way to tell them.

Is there a publication, or a type of writing project that you'd see as a milestone/writing goal for yourself? 

I would definitely like to pursue long-form investigative reporting projects. To date, I haven't written anything longer than 3,500-ish words.   

To learn more about Tatiana’s work, check out her portfolio/website, follow her on Twitter at @Tati_WM, her blog/newsletter Twitter at @Freelance_Beat. And if you can, support her newsletter as well.

***

Missed last week’s newsletter? Read my pervious Q&A with food writer Irina Groushevaia on intersection of food, wellness and queerness.

Writing About Unemployment + Q&A 3: Irina Groushevaia on the intersection of food, wellness and queerness

Food writing isn't just about "fancy" ingredients and bougie restaurants

Happy Saturday all. It’s been one heck of a week and things might be looking up (somewhat).

What I’ve Been Up To:

I wrote an essay for CNBC’s Make It about my post layoff experience. I outline my health emergency, freelancing, and moving back home. When life hustles me, I hustle it back by having an editor pay me money to complain about it on the internets. In all seriousness, post layoff life has been tough, but unlike so many people in the US I have health insurance and family members to pool some resources with during this difficult time. Other people aren’t as lucky and their ability to survive shouldn’t rely on luck. Those cutesy “we’re all in this together” or “take a break” messages online gloss over people who have no choice but to be productive through a health crisis or a pandemic (or both).

I’m also back as the podcast editor at XOXO Riverdale, a podcast about the teen drama… Riverdale. Shout out to Reaper, the free editing software that has kept me in random podcast freelancing gigs since 2017.

And I will be joining a publication for a few months as a fellow. I won’t say which one yet, but I’m very excited to be working with a team again and I want to look at the intersection of climate and race.

Freelancer Q&A #3: Irina Groushevaia

For the next few months, I’ll try to conduct Q&As with fellow freelancers. I’ll highlight their journey, what it’s like to navigate a seemingly volatile career during so much uncertainty, and how other jobs have fueled their writing careers. Most of my interviews will be with women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in media.

Irina Groushevaia is a food freelancer with bylines in Bon Appetit, Greatist, Bushwick Daily and more. They freelanced a few pieces for me back in 2018 when I was an editor (in the before times).

When did you first start freelancing and why did you take that route in media?

I think my first freelancing experiences were my internships in college and writing for the college paper and website, since it was mostly remote work and writing for outlets I wasn’t attached to as an employee. But I fully took on freelancing after I was laid off my first full-time journalism job (classic). I had to balance it with odd jobs, at first, to make sure I was making enough to cover rent and bills, it was exhausting. Recently leaving a full-time news editing and writing position, I now freelance because that allows me to write the stories I want to pitch and at the price I want, while I have a full-time engagement in another related career track.  

You happen to do a lot of food writing, what made you choose that as a focus for your writing? 

I think people don’t realize how much food forms our cultures and identity and society, so truly I am writing about people’s experiences and their heritage, rather than food.

The simple answer is because that beat encompasses who I am as a person and how the intersection of these three topics formed me as a person. I am endlessly curious how we create relationships with our wellness, both mental and physical, and even spiritual, and how food and our culture forms our identities.

You've written some personal essays in the last year, do you have a favorite byline? 

Definitely, I believe my Bon Appetit story was my best work. I wrote in late winter and it was published this February.  It covers my relationship with my body, queerness, and physical healing, all in relation to my Russian heritage. Writing it was cathartic and a beautiful process. It spoke to many people and connecting through hardship is a wonderful thing. Representation is even more important and being able to write about a specific identity, as a queer Russian, was significant to me as it’s against the law to be LGBTQ+ in Russia but we exist and I want others to see that they are valid.

If you could give your past self advice about freelancing (pitching, money, access), what would it be? 

Ask for more money. Always.

What's one pro and one con when it comes to being a freelance writer? 

My favorite pro is creative freedom and the con is how broken the media empire is.

So many freelancers, myself included have held different side gigs to support their freelance work, what kind of jobs have you done alongside your freelance writing? 

I used to work at an artisanal honey production factory, at a vegan deli & juicery, babysitting, and I’ve held news editing and writing positions as I continued to freelance too.

Is there a goal publication that you'd like to break into sometime in the future?

 “Prestige” is a toxic systematic gatekeeper for writers. I am not less of a writer because of not being published in NYT or anywhere else.

What are other media/writing gigs that you think new freelancers should consider while they gain experience and forge connections with others in the industry? 

Social media is lucrative and a very good skill to have, as well as any digital marketing knowledge. But in general, I would say start small. Write for local outlets to build good clips. As some may get a fancy byline early in their career, it’s rare, so don’t shy away from building a sturdy foundation with smaller outlets.

Irina is currently the Social Media Manager of the Museum of Food and Drink and is freelancing stories on the intersection of LGBTQ+, culture, wellness, and food. You can follow them and their kitten Beluga on Instagram and Twitter. You can read their work about juggling a poly+mono relationshipcoming out as trans and discovering self-care and community through baking, and much more here.

Check out the pervious Q&A with food writer Andrea Aliseda on her Mexican heritage and working in the service industry.

I wrote the first essay for Study Hall's media memoir series

It's about my fintech trade pub experience...

Hello my fellow freelancers.

I’m taking a break from the Q&As this week to shamelessly plug an essay I wrote for Study Hall. If you haven’t heard of Study Hall, it’s a freelancing resource network. For a few dollars a month, freelancers have access to chatting with each other, lists of calls for pitches and other media related opportunities. When I first signed on in 2018, I was worried that I would be paying for money for nothing because I had seen other subscription services for writers that felt very scam-ey.

However, I feel that so much of what I’ve been able to accomplish this past year has been thanks to the resources in Study Hall. It’s been worth paying money for the service and the team behind it actually pays freelancers for their memoirs. I wrote my thoughts about it on Medium last year. If you haven’t signed up for Study Hall, all I can tell you is that I’ve gained so much for the money that I pay them every month.

Here’s my essay:

✮✮SH Media Memoir: Working at a Fintech Trade Publication✮✮

After two years of struggling to find full-time employment in mainstream magazine journalism, Angely Mercado decided to take a job at a fintech trade publication and freelance on the side. It seemed like a good compromise — until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

By Angely Mercado

When I finished graduate school in December of 2016, with a masters in urban reporting and a successful internship at DNAinfo (RIP) under my belt, I felt prepared. I had gotten the hang of writing on deadline, finding sources, and editing audio at 2 a.m. I knew it was going to be a challenge to land a job, but I saw openings online and I felt hopeful that I would find a way to cover NYC breaking news.

I was amazingly wrong. The next two years of my life were filled with internships, temp jobs, five-part edit tests that seldom led to jobs, and rare, well-paying freelancing opportunities. Some of the publications I wrote for shuttered, while others have cut their freelancing budgets.

In 2019, after a year of working two to three jobs at a time, I became an editorial intern and fact-checker at The Nation. I told myself that it would be my final internship; I was determined to get a job or sustain myself from freelance work afterwards. Right before the internship ended, I had enough leads to feel cautiously optimistic about my future in media. But less than a month before my internship ended, a publication that was interested in my work shut down. I started my first week of full-time freelancing feeling stranded and very afraid for my future finances.

Throughout that summer, I balanced freelance work, chronic pain, and demanding, fruitless job interviews. By that August, I was worried that I would face another year of being ghosted by editors, constant rejection, and sending “Hi! Just following up on this,” emails every week.

Then an old classmate from J-school reached out to me and said that the financial technology trade publication he worked at was hiring for a reporter and associate editor position. I hesitated: it was a job, but I had never written about fintech before, much less for a business audience. I was worried about adopting the structure and tone of the publication. But I remembered that a professor at my graduate school advised us that some topics like business and science were more likely to bring a steady paycheck, so I figured it would be an interesting challenge to learn a new beat while actually affording a life.

I said yes and sent my classmate a copy of my resume, which he passed on to his boss. Soon after I met the other editors at the publication and was offered a job a few days later, which I accepted. I was thrown into learning about financial technology pretty quickly; I read articles during my commute and tried to digest the information before I made it into the office. It was a bit of a culture shock at first. Timeliness and newsworthiness did guide the workflow, but there were a lot of outside business goals for the company that also shaped my work.

My job entailed writing an article every day; helping send out invites for events and going over scripts for hosting panels; recording, editing and producing podcast episodes; and strategizing social media. And I had to send daily reports of my progress as well. It was a challenging job, but it comes with a collaborative environment and I’ve learned a lot about fintech. I’ve learned about the kind of technology that deals with my money every single day, why AI is so important, and why banks are the way that they are. I’ve had epiphanies when speaking to analysts and fintech creators about AI as a “black box,” a way for companies to understand their own data.

Some days I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing; other days, I wasn’t so sure. But I was constantly learning something new. I figure out how to make do with limited editorial resources, but unlike freelancing, there were other people around me that I could immediately turn to for advice, and my monthly paycheck didn’t depend on how many of my pitches were accepted. My brain was able to settle into a routine for the first time in a while, and I even had some weekends off.

***

Although I was content at my job, it did feel like the people I know who worked in mainstream media or still freelanced were hanging out in a central hub, while I lived in an outer borough and commuted in whenever I could. I worked on my own writing at 5 a.m., or on weekends in between running errands and trying to recover from a busy workweek. While I was a fintech staffer, I’d written about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s first year as a politician for Remezcla and about helping raise my neighbor’s son for The New York Times. I loved each project, but it felt like dipping a toe into mainstream work while spending most of my energy at the trade publication.

Some days, I miss the kind of work I was doing before I got my full-time job. As an intern at The Nation, I spoke to student protestor Alexandria Villaseñor for an article about climate activism; I’ve attended restaurant openings for Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn; I covered the lack of racial representation in specialized schools for Brooklyn Based. But so many small publications can’t pay very much, and it was stressful to be unsure of my monthly income while I was being worn out from long hours and all of the weekends that I worked. While I was an intern, I would write early in the morning or late into the night, interview people during my lunch breaks, and draft emails on my phone while I commuted home. I kept that schedule in order to freelance while I was at my fintech job.

Although it was difficult and I was tired all the time, it was amazing to have a steady paycheck for the first time in my entire life. I was able to buy groceries at a real supermarket and not just at the Dollar Tree or at a 99 cent store, and I slept better knowing that I had a financial buffer. It was nice to buy bougie waffles and two-for-a-dollar platanos (even though it is an insult to me and my people). Freelancing while I was a staffer gave me the time and leverage to negotiate higher rates for my freelance pieces instead of accepting the first offer because I need to be paid right away.

***

Then this March, after the coronavirus began to shut down parts of the economy, I was laid off, along with several others in editorial positions. I was scared and upset that day — I saw how COVID-19 was affecting the economy and worried about how I would find my next job or enough freelance work to sustain me. Still, I don’t regret taking the stable fintech job in the first place. It allowed me to save money, and I was able to continue writing essays on the side. Though freelancing while working at a business trade publication was difficult, that job also brought me to events where I’ve met other trade writers that have been at their jobs for years. Some have gone on to successful communications jobs that they have really liked.

Working at a finance trade publication can be a challenge, but it’s gotten me into exclusive events where I see how the other half lives — think people in vests that look like something straight out of the Midtown Uniform Instagram account, or people wearing shoes that probably cost more than my entire life. Often, I’ve been one of the few Latinx people I see, and there often aren’t very many women. I’d stand around feeling poor, tan, and inadequate, and text friends that there should be some hazard pay involved. That being said, the lack of diversity is not different from many of the newsrooms I’ve been in: different industry, same leadership composition.

Though being laid off — my first real media layoff — was a blow, it has been reassuring that my time at the trade publication is leading to new opportunities. I've had a few calls with recruiters, I’ve since worked on a fact-checking project, and I’m currently speaking to an editor about writing on blockchain technology. It is still hard to be laid off due to something I can’t control, but I feel more prepared to weather the storm of freelancing this time around than I did a year ago. I know that if I can learn how to write about something as niche as a data gateway, I can figure out how to land more freelance assignments during a pandemic.

Q&A 2: Andrea Aliseda on writing, food & heritage

turning service work into a freelance writing ideas

What is happening everyone. It’s May, the best month of the calendar because it’s my birth month, I’m a May Day baby, and I hope that the holiday reminds you all to support workers’ rights.

Stuff I Published:

I wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the power dynamic between my me and my strict Caribbean parents for La Mujerista. Considering that it’s mami y papi’s fault that I’m alive paying bills every month… I may as well write about them.

I was featured in Abigail Koffler’s newsletter, This Need’s Hot Sauce. She was featured in the first Media Mercado freelancer Q&A last week. Learn more about my reporting, Puerto Rican and Dominican comfort food, why pana (breadfruit) is amazing, and immigrants during the pandemic.

Freelancer Q&A #2: Andrea Aliseda

For the next few months, I’ll try to conduct a Q&A with a fellow freelancer. I’ll highlight their journey, what it’s like to navigate a seemingly volatile career during so much uncertainty, and how other jobs have fueled their writing careers. Most of my interviews will be with women, people of color, and others who are underrepresented in media.

Andrea Aliseda is a food freelancer with bylines in Edible Brooklyn and Bklyner. I’ve loved reading her work and so I figured she’d make a great addition to the series.

When did you first start freelancing? 

I began freelancing last spring. 

Why did you decide to go that route in media? 

I have had journalistic inclinations for a majority of my life, participating as a news anchor in school, and joining the newspaper in college. Journalism seeks to find the truth and tell it responsibly, something about that really speaks to me on many levels.  

You happen to do a lot of food writing, what made you choose that as a focus for your writing? 

I've worked in the restaurant industry my whole service-working (is that a thing?) career, with the only exception being my first job where I dressed up as an Easter bunny during spring break for mall photo ops. Food has been, in a way, the bass line of my life, strumming me along. It's something that I have gone back to over and over again, with a growing and evolving curiosity and passion for it. When journalism came into my life, I began by covering arts and culture writing which later morphed into music writing. Food writing wasn't a thing yet, that I remember. At some point, I started to realize food and eating was becoming really special to me. And one day after watching some Anthony Bourdain (bless him) episodes it kind of clicked that I wanted something like that for myself. It opened another door.

You have bylines that outline your Mexican heritage, how did you begin to work that into your writing? 

Moving to New York completely reframed my ideas of what nourishment is. I had no idea just how important my culture and it's cuisine was to me until I didn't have easy access to it anymore, especially being vegan, and how important it was for me to practice my culture with my palate to soothe my soul. It sounds silly to say but, not having things like burritos or tacos or even hearing people speak Spanish on the street made me feel a sadness I didn't expect. Seeking it out helped me find some solace in the fact that my culture is alive in little corners of the city, and it became very energizing for me. In addition to that, I have to say, I was growing tired of the white narrative of my culture's cuisine. I wanted to see people like me recording my people's food from our perspective and our contexts (and I came to find that there are so many incredible writers doing this along the way!), it's so powerful when something is told from experience, you kind of just get it because you've been around it your whole life –– but I think it should be said this goes for any culture. All this to say: Ownership of my culture's narrative became really important in my work. 

Do you have a favorite byline? 

The Magic of the Vegan Caesar Salad at Scarr's Pizza is one of my favorites for sure. Chef Gerardo Gonzalez, who created the vegan caesar salad for Scarr's is originally from San Diego, where I'm from too, and he had so much context to build on the Caesar salad with –– which was created in Tijuana, B.C., where I was born. It was a really cool connection that gave that story a lot of life for me on a personal level. But also, the way in which the history of that Caesar salad from Tijuana from the 1920s tied into a modern-day Lower East Side pizza shop, an unlikely place for it to exist, was electrifying, it gave me a sense of what I wanted to focus my work on from there. 

Another favorite piece, one which has nothing to do with Mexican food, was my first for Edible BK, I cooked and covered the same event and it was really playful. I think that came through in the writing. I felt like a double agent and that was pretty bad ass, I'd definitely love to do more of that.

If you could give your past self advice about freelancing, what would it be? 

To just DO IT! I have to tell myself this all the time any way, but it took me a really long time to actually start pursuing freelancing from being paralyzed in anxiety and just generally thinking I wasn't good enough. It literally took me almost six years to even build up the guts to ask for help on how to pitch –– I probably still suck at it, but at least I'm still trying and that makes all the difference! I would also add: create or find a freelancing community. Freelancing can be so isolating, and not having people around to ask questions to about etiquette or rates etc can make it even more of a challenge, so, make media friends! 

(Fuck anxiety!)

What's one pro and one con when it comes to being a freelance writer? 

Pro: All day every day with my dog-daughter Blue! (And fleshing out what you like to write about, what calls to you!)

Con: Money is tight! (Also, creating a work space and time frame can be really challenging working from home)

So many freelancers, myself included have held different side gigs to support their freelance work, what kind of jobs have you done alongside your freelance writing? 

Before COVID-19 hit I had just started a barista gig to help transition myself into a more sustainable freelancing groove. I'm re-imagining what that will look like now! 

Is there a goal publication that you'd like to break into?

My Moby Dicks are probably: Bon Appetite, Vogue, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Mostly, though, because it's what I grew up reading and admiring, they're media giants and their influence has been felt for decades, so of course that'd feel special for me. Especially being an immigrant, to see my byline in a publication like The New York Times would be full circle.

Now though, as my style and understanding of storytelling and the publishing world has evolved, my eyes are set on different types of publications ––– smaller and with more attention to things I care about and center in my own life, a few on my radar are: Broccoli Mag, Eaten, Civil Eats, Tenderly and Whetstone Magazine. (And I won't lie, I'm still sad I'll never get to pitch to Lucky Peach.)

I'm really lucky though to have been able to write for two dream pubs early in my career, Edible and L.A. Taco –– thank you Alicia and Javier! That has been really encouraging.

This year I'm also delving more into poetry and exploring publishing that, so I'm excited to figure that one out. 

What are other media/writing gigs that you think new freelancers should consider while they gain experience and forge connections with others in the industry? 

Alex Zaragoza, senior culture writer from Vice, who I met while interning for Dave Maass at the late and great, San Diego CityBeat years ago sat with me over pizza last year and gave me this piece of advice: keep writing –– get writing work even if it isn't journalism just to keep working on your craft. I thought that was a good piece of advice, I'm still taking it and adapting it in ways that make sense for me. Thank you Alex!

To see more check out Andrea’s InstagramTwitter and her website.

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