Claudia Silva said criticism of journalists angered and emboldened her enough to grab her camera and head out to tell the stories that needed telling in her hometown of El Paso, Texas last year.
She captured images of inmates carrying bodies – victims of COVID-19 – out of the El Paso Medical Examiner’s Office.
One inmate noticed her, signed a heart with his hands, and continued his work. The images were published in New Mexico In Depth along with a column Silva penned about the experience.
“These were guys who made a mistake. They were doing the work nobody wanted to do. They were just doing it because they wanted a chance to get out of their cells,” she said of the inmates.
“I felt like I connected with them as a person who’s been through some struggles. It made me feel like I have to keep doing good things.”
On Tuesday, Silva joined the Carlsbad Current-Argus staff as a Journalism Fellow, part of a program developed through a partnership between the University of New Mexico Department of Communication and Journalism and the New Mexico Local News Fund.
The program places three recent graduates in newsrooms statewide for eight months of professional training.
“We are excited to have Claudia join our staff,” said News Director for the Carlsbad Current-Argus Jessica Onsurez.
“As a member of our staff, she’ll be sharpening her journalism skills while helping keep our community informed on one of the most critical issues – education.”
Silva was tasked with covering the education beat, attending school board meetings, and reporting on how the children of Carlsbad and Eddy County are educated.
Silva got her start at El Paso Community College, serving as editor of student newspaper the Tejano Tribune after a persistent series of submitted columns.
Before that, Silva graduated from America’s High School in 2012 and attended EPCC for two years before dropping out temporarily and graduating in 2019.
She said she was attracted to journalism for the diversity of experiences and topics she could explore through her work.
“When I came back to school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I landed in journalism because I realized I could not have to stick to one topic,” Silva said. “That really interested me. I got my passion for writing back.”
As a student at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Silva worked as editor of the journalism department’s publication the Kokopelli, spotlighting the work and projects of her class peers.
She said the publication “went dead” as COVID-19 took hold of New Mexico, and she was hired to bring it back to life.
That experience was instrumental to Silva, she said, as it taught her to work hard in the face of adversity.
“That was basically my role to get it up and running. I’m already used to getting things thrown at me,” Silva said. “They threw a bunch of difficult things at me, but I found that I loved the job.”
Her work history is peppered with learning moments. Silva worked at a call center for a cable company in the billing department. She heard from often angry customers but found the ability to deal with people in tough situations.
That would prove helpful in journalism, she said, as reporters are often dropped into challenging environments to coexist with the public.
“That job definitely help me deal with difficult people,” she said of the call center. “I’m more of an introvert but I like that journalism makes me go and talk to people.”
Silva said she hoped her career path would eventually lead to a journalism job in Mexico, where her grandmother and cousins still live.
She’s passionate about border issues and health issues of migrant women.
Journalism is her way of working through traumas like the WalMart shooting in El Paso in 2019 or the constant national anxiety brought on by COVID-19, but she said it’s also a path to uplift communities and give back to the world.
“It’s how you help the world. I might as well do it while I’m young and still can and have the drive for it,” Silva said. “At a certain age you just get burned out by the fight for the greater good and being the watchdog. I still have the drive for it.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.