"I’m very, very excited with a lot of hope in a better future"
Luis Horacio Nájera winner of CJFE Journalism Fellowship at Massey College.
By Cynthia Vukets
It’s a step in the right direction for Luis Horacio Nájera.
The Mexican journalist who fled to Canada with his wife and children after receiving death threats from drug cartels has won this year’s Scotiabank/CJFE Journalism Fellowship at Massey College in Toronto. The bursary is given each year to a mid-career journalist from Latin America and the Caribbean. Luis said he is the first Mexican to receive it.
“I’m very, very excited with a lot of hope in a better future,” he tells me from Vancouver, where he is currently living with his wife and three kids. They have applied for permanent residency status.
I was disappointed in December when Luis won the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression International Journalism Award and in his acceptance speech mentioned how he has to work as a janitor to support his family because he can’t find a job in the media.
It felt wrong that after being honoured at a swanky dinner at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel in front of hundreds of major players in the Canadian journalism world, Luis would fly home to Vancouver and pick up a broom as if nothing had changed. Couldn’t someone in that vast and well-connected crowd have known of an entry-level opportunity? Or created one?
Hopefully the Massey program will help him hone his written English and get used to Canadian work culture, which seem to be the major barriers to him finding work as a journalist.
“It will be hard because there’s a bunch of Canadian citizens with perfect English,” looking for jobs in journalism, he said. “I hope I can build a strong network of contacts and friends.”
Before running for his life and ending up in Canada, Luis worked for Reforma, a Mexican daily. He covered corruption and the drug trade in and around Ciudad Juarez – one of the most notorious regions for drug violence in Mexico. He began practicing journalism in 1989, working for a few years in the sports department before beginning his coverage of the drug wars. About 20 years later he fled the country, but still has a wealth of knowledge of the region and the ongoing conflict over drugs bound for the States and Canada.
“I have experience, so I hope I can use that experience in Canada,” he said.
I hope so too, and look forward to seeing his byline in a Canadian paper or magazine.
Cynthia Vukets is a journalist in the Star's one-year intern program.