“I grew up in-between worlds. So I was never Arab enough, nor was I Puerto Rican. Nor was I American enough. So there were all these kind of different threads there. I felt different living in this country because I wasn’t necessarily what the idea of what America is, or at least what I thought the idea of what an American is, you know?
But America is me. I had to grow up and become an adult to realize that.”
Amir Khafagy is a labor reporter for Documented – journalism created with and for immigrants and how policy affects their lives. He’s of Egyptian and Puerto Rican descent and grew up in a Muslim household as the son of working-class parents.
Amir is passionate about who he is and where he’s from. And he’s also passionate about being a journalist and telling stories that often went untold in the past. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
You can hear the full interview here.
Good stories can be found anywhere
“I live in Jackson Heights, Queens, born and raised, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. In my neighborhood, I don’t know how many languages are spoken, but there’s Nepalese, there’re Bhutanese, there’s Tibetan, there’s Indian, there’s Bangladeshi, there’s Pakistani, there’s Ecuadorian, Mexican, Colombian, you name it, we got it …
I try to make it a point to keep myself out there, build connections with community, community groups. I build a lot of connections with labor groups, worker centers. There’s never a shortage of stories out there, nor is there a shortage of ideas.
I get stories sometimes at the local Starbucks. Sometimes somebody would give me a tip.
People I used to organize with, who are working in labor unions now, give me tips, tell me things that’s going on. Sometimes I just take a walk in the neighborhood and I just look around and I read every sign. I read a lot of local newspapers. See, because oftentimes there’s always like a nugget or, or a gem of a story there waiting to be found …
Surprisingly, I get stories from weird places. Like I watch the People’s Court a lot and surprisingly there’s story ideas because these cases are real and sometimes people sue each other over things that are kind of weird. So there, there’s all these kind of non-traditional ways you can get stories.”
He likes to follow up
“Stories don’t just end when I finish reporting. They’re ongoing and what makes me happy is that I can continue going back to these stories. Six months later, a year later, and see what’s going on.
In that time, I can cultivate long-term relationships with a lot of the people. So the tenants at the Bronx Fire (a recent tragedy he covered), I have a lot of contacts that I can call up, ‘Hey, what’s going on? How you been? We spoke so and so. Now I want to see what’s going on. What’s the update?’
Sometimes they call me. I’ve been developing this story since September, October. And now, it’s coming up on the anniversary.
I believe you have to always follow up. Stories are ongoing. They’re not just one-offs. Continue to follow up, build relationships, and, and oftentimes it prove fruitful.”
We need more working-class journalists
“This is a profession, unfortunately. over time has become too elitist.
And nothing against reporters who graduate from Harvard or Columbia or any place like that, but they overrepresent the journalists. In this profession, gone are the days where the paperboy now becomes the hard-hitting investigative reporter.
Even to try to make money as a freelancer is very difficult, let alone get a job. And jobs are few and far between, full-time jobs with newspapers, cutting staff and, and online outlets closing shop.
So it’s become very hard. In order for this profession to thrive, I think it has to have an emphasis on working class people and, and we have to diversify the racial makeup. We also have to diversify the class makeup because working class people can provide insights to what’s going on in particular communities that maybe people who are not from these communities that grow up in more of an elite background, cannot.
I think my greatest asset is that I’m from the community in which I do most of my reporting from, and I represent that community, so I’m able to have a greater insight on what I report.”