How to help Mexican migrants? Publish news they can use.

Why We Wrote This

When Patricia Mercado Sánchez left an elite job to found a news site for Mexican migrants, she helped build much-needed bridges between Mexicans on both sides of the border, all while rebuilding trust in journalism. 

Ginnette Riquelme/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Patricia Mercado Sánchez poses for a photograph in Mexico City on May 9. Ms. Mercado Sánchez is founder and director of Conexión Migrante, which provides services and information to Mexicans living in the United States and their families in Mexico.

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Patricia Mercado Sánchez walked away from a nearly decadelong position as editor-in-chief of Mexico’s leading financial newspaper to found a startup media company for Mexican migrants. Her unexpected move was prompted by a journalism fellowship in Northern California, an experience that turned her image of Mexican immigrants on its head. 

Conexión Migrante launched on the U.S. Election Day of 2016. Migrants and their families submit specific questions – like how Mexican parents of a migrant in the U.S. can get paperwork to visit their child, or how to get a U.S.-born baby his Mexican citizenship – via Facebook or the organization’s hotline. The questions are answered on Conexión Migrante’s website, which has become a one-stop resource for millions of people with ties in both countries. For migrants who may not be literate, who can’t take time off to visit a consulate, or who might be afraid to go to authorities, fearing deportation, this service is critical. 

“I worked [in financial journalism] for 15 years,” says Ms. Mercado Sánchez. “But I think this kind of journalism is more real. I’m closer to the people and the needs of people.” 

When Patricia Mercado Sánchez was growing up in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, from which many migrants to the United States hail, she was taught not to think much about those leaving for El Norte

“The saying went, if you left Mexico you gave up your seat,” she says, explaining that it was seen as a rejection of home. 

Today, Mexican migrants are what keep Ms. Mercado Sánchez up at night – and fill her days as the founder of a startup “service news” media company called Conexión Migrante

Her home on a quiet block in a lush Mexico City neighborhood is buzzing with activity on a recent Friday afternoon. In the living room, visitors discuss web design and strategy. In the dining room, interns tap away at their laptops. At one point a shirtless 7-year-old wanders through the action, holding up a small plastic truck for all to admire.

This is ground zero for Ms. Mercado Sánchez’s nearly 3-year-old project that publishes stories based on specific inquiries sent by migrants in the U.S. or their families in Mexico, via Facebook or the organization’s hotline. The questions – like how a Mexican parent of a migrant in the U.S. can get paperwork to visit their child, or how to get a U.S.-born baby his Mexican citizenship – are answered on Conexión Migrante’s website, which has become a one-stop resource for millions of people with ties in both Mexico and the U.S.

“We realized Mexican migrants in the U.S. didn’t need general information like any old news site; they needed very, very specific information,” Ms. Mercado Sánchez says. 

She and her team of 10 investigate the questions and write straightforward articles and man a hotline to answer questions. For many, their work is critical: answering practical questions for migrants who may not be literate, who can’t take time off to visit a consulate, or who might be afraid to go to authorities, fearing deportation. 

Ginnette Riquelme/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Patricia Mercado Sánchez, founder and director of Conexión Migrante, talks to her team in Mexico City on May 9.

Unwelcome everywhere 

Ms. Mercado Sánchez’s idea for this project came to her in 2007, during a journalism fellowship in northern California. After almost a decade as the editor-in-chief of Mexico’s leading financial newspaper, El Economista, her experience in the U.S. turned her image of Mexican migrants on its head.

There, she became active with Mexican immigrant communities in San Jose and studied migration to the U.S. at Stanford University. 

One conversation with a group of Mexicans in the U.S. triggered a flashback to her childhood. Her cousin, born in Los Angeles, once visited family in Zacatecas. She and her six siblings made fun of his Spanish, telling him he wasn’t Mexican. He cried while they laughed. Years later, she realized what was behind his tears: His family was telling him he wasn’t Mexican, while his peers in the U.S. told him he wasn’t American. 

Mexican migrants in the U.S. “aren’t accepted by either country,” she says. Flash forward to the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the need for connection and understanding took on new importance.

“I felt like it was now or never,” she says of launching Conexión Migrante, which went live on Election Day. 

Today, Conexión Migrante publishes three to five original stories per day. One article on birth certificates garnered more than 1 million page views within days of being posted, she recalls. 

The team receives between 300 and 500 phone calls a month and nearly double that in Facebook messages.  

“I worked [in financial journalism] for 15 years,” says Ms. Mercado Sánchez. “But I think this kind of journalism is more real. I’m closer to the people and the needs of people.” 

Getting answers 

In 2017, Lucia Any Salazar, based in Ecuador, contacted the group to get answers about her brother who had gone missing after entering the U.S. Ms. Salazar was convinced he was one of the 10 migrants who suffocated in a tractor-trailer found in a Walmart parking lot that summer.   

Ms. Mercado Sánchez wrote about the family’s story. Four months later, she received a call from someone at the Ecuadorian consulate looking for Ms. Salazar; her brother was the last body identified in the truck.

“I didn’t know where to start looking when Flabio went missing. Government offices in Quito said they couldn’t help me,” Ms. Salazar recalls. “[Conexión Migrante] published photos and information and knew how important their help could be to a family like mine,” she says.

But not everyone is happy with the work Ms. Mercado Sánchez is doing. “The [negative] comments on our networks are few, but they tend to come from Mexican Americans in the U.S.,” she says, explaining that migrants who are in the U.S. legally tend not to support undocumented migrants. 

That dynamic has inspired a recent grant-based initiative at Conexión Migrante to create more connections between established legal migrants in the U.S., and more recent Mexican arrivals. 

Rebuilding trust  

Ms. Mercado Sánchez stands in her dining room doorway in front of her young team on a rainy afternoon. These biweekly gatherings are where calls or messages are discussed and assigned. They are also an opportunity to provide professional development to aspiring journalists. 

“There were a lot of typos in our posts yesterday,” she says. “We can’t have a single mistake.”

Her staff, nearly all hired through a new government-paid internship program for people under 30, take furious notes. In addition to informing migrants, Ms. Mercado Sánchez is running a reporter training program, providing her team with mentorship and access to online journalism courses.

She is also constantly looking for ways to make Conexión Migrante sustainable. She’s sold web ads to Mexican states with large migrant populations, and was recently part of the inaugural group of grantees from New York University’s Membership Puzzle Project. Those funds will help research potential membership models for the site as well as establish an official call center. 

“There’s a huge trust issue in journalism right now,” says Ariel Zirulnick, the fund director at Membership Puzzle Project. “Patricia is providing a bit of a playbook on how news organizations can … show up for vulnerable communities and empower them in the day to day.”  

Her staff agrees. “The caravans and Trump have made migrants more visible in the news, but they’re still presented as one-dimensional,” says Abel Domínguez, Conexión Migrante’s web editor. 

“This project gives migrants a voice and helps them realize they have rights. Some journalists do what they do to win awards or get clicks. Pati’s not here for that,” he says.

“She’s dedicated to delivering a basic service. And it’s really helping people.”

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the Membership Puzzle Project’s business model.]

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