What I learned from telling the story of a woman from El Salvador

Weeks prior to the workshop I had been anticipating the first day. I made sure I had no other plans during the week because I knew we were going to be having long and busy days.

Being able to interview my subject, Gabriela Linares on Monday allowed me to start on things right away. Our interview location wasn’t ideal to record because of all the background noise, but as a team, were able to find a wall that blocked the wind off.

The audio in itself wasn’t hard to understand since Linares had given complete sentences. When writing the story, I knew what information I wanted to include, but wasn’t sure in what order. I had written the story one way but after getting edits from my mentor and editor, I was able to get clear feedback and advice. They showed me how little tweaks and rearranging your sentences can help you share your story.

Before coming into the workshop, I knew the basics of audio editing. After the workshop I can confidently say I’ve learned more tools that help make the editing process easier. I also learned how and why we have to adjust certain things on our audio file. The engineers taught me how small edits can make your piece sound better and always made sure they explained what they were doing.

I am very thankful to have been able to be part of a group with such talented individuals. Everyone was always supportive, kind and always available to help out. I found both presentations on solutions journalism and with Brenda Salinsa via Skype very interesting. They talked about things I had never heard of and cleared up some questions I had about being in the work space. I also learned how to get feedback on work by asking certain questions like, “Tell me when you wandered off.” Overall, I am very proud of all the work that was done this week. I can now take what I learned here, to what I do in school and in the workplace.


From one way streets to four-lane freeways

Gabriela Linares talks about traveling to a new country with only memories of her homeland of El Salvador.

A baby blanket, pillow case, and photo album are the only items Gabriela Linares brought with her to the United States. She’s a long way from home but can depend on these treasured pieces to bring back memories of her early life in El Salvador.

Linares is a 24-year-old student at California State University, Northridge. She moved to Sylmar, just outside Los Angeles, when she was 14; the same age her parents were when they had her. While living in El Salvador she was raised by her grandmother, who she calls Mama Sonia. 

Gabriela Linares holds the baby blanket, pillowcase, and photograph she brought with her to the U.S. (Photo by Sofia Gutierrez)

One of the most shocking things she remembers of her early days in the U.S. is seeing a four-lane freeway for the first time.

“In El Salvador we don’t have anything that’s similar to a freeway. We have a fast lane, but nothing like that.”

Gabriela Linares

The fast roads of California meant she no longer had to take buses or drive for 40 minutes to the nearest Burger King, like she did back in El Salvador.

American food was distinctly different from back home, especially the portion sizes. Linares remembers her first trip to a Japanese restaurant with her mother.

“They bought this big boat of food [with] sushi and meats and stuff like that. And I was like, ‘Wow! We should have this in El Salvador. People will go crazy about it.’ That was the very first shock … just being able to finish the whole boat, the four of us it was … crazy to me.”

But life in a new country wasn’t easy. Since coming to the U.S. at the age of 14, she’s had to adjust to traffic and American culture  — and deal with the language barrier.

When Linares started high school in California she was immediately placed into a class for English language learners. She was able to recognize people who spoke Spanish — like her — by overhearing conversations. Linares recalls trying to make friends with some girls in the school yard, but not everyone was friendly. 

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m gonna be friends with them.’ So I walked up to them and [said] ‘Hola, ¿cómo están?’ And I just remember this because … that was the most, I don’t know how to explain it, a cultural shock, in a sense. The girl turned around to me and she goes, ‘We don’t speak Spanish here. We’re in America.’ But then she turned around and she kept talking in Spanish with her friends.”

Although she felt rejected, Linares was able to use the experience  as motivation to keep learning English. She even spoke the language with her family at home.

Gabriela Linares’ baby picture laying over her blanket. (Photo by Sofia Gutierrez)

Another cultural shock Linares faced upon her arrival was how open the LGBTQ community was in the U.S. In El Salvador her grandmother, who is a psychologist, repeatedly denied her sexuality and told her she was “going through a phase.” Now, her grandmother has accepted her orientation as a queer woman. Her parents, on the other hand, weren’t shocked at all. They said:

“ ‘[We] already knew it. We were just waiting on you. It was really obvious. Why didn’t you feel more comfortable with telling us?’ ”

Although the adjustments to life in the U.S. were inevitable, Linares believes the process was easier for her than others. Going to school allowed her to fully submerge herself into the customs of America. She has now adapted to the changes, but still carries her home country’s memories with her.