Normally, my job is fairly straightforward.
I find a story idea. I call people or meet them in person. Questions are asked. Answers are given. The tale is told of those questions and answers.
A photographer shows up and tells the story his or her way. We mesh those two storytelling styles together, and — Bam! — journalism. Sometimes there's a video. Sometimes there's a chart or graph.
I'm oversimplifying things a bit, but this is the basic formula practiced by everyone from Walter Cronkite down to little old me.
But the details of a great story — and I think I'm onto one here — and how that story comes to be is why I relate my life as a reporter in the first place.
An idea is born
Two years ago, I went to an event in Winona where the good folks at Project FINE celebrated people who'd recently become citizens. After the event was essentially done — once the cake had been served — I sat down with a gentleman who told me the story about how he'd immigrated, how not being a citizen affected his job (he traveled internationally for work, and not having a U.S. passport was becoming a problem), and why he'd decided to become a citizen.
Sitting there that day, I thought, "It'd be neat to follow someone's progress from decision to becoming a citizen." Stories of people who have come to this country looking for a better life are uplifting, I believe. They see something hopeful in becoming an American. And, let's face it, unless you are a full-blooded member of a recognized Native American tribe, somewhere along the line, you had an ancestor who made that same decision.
So, about a month ago, I reached out to Fatima Said, executive director at Project FINE. The organization provides support for immigrants, particularly helping them through the minefield that is our citizenship process.
I asked Fatima if they had someone who was starting the process, and if that someone would mind me following them through it.
Fatima replied that, yes, they had someone who fit the description.
A whole lot of 'Huh?'
This past week, many of you read what will be the first installment of this series. Yong Nhia Lor, a man who fought alongside U.S. soldiers in our "secret" war in Laos in the 1970s, hopes to soon become a citizen. I plan to follow him as he prepares for his citizenship test and eventually takes his oath.
In the meantime, I will probably spend quite a bit of time with Chong Sher Vang, a translator who works for Project FINE, who helps me with my interviews.
At this point, Yong mainly speaks Hmong, a language I know not a word of. Interviewing Yong is a bit of a process. But I think it's worth it, in spite of the fact that I have to sit patiently (something not in my nature) while the two of them have the conversation before it's relayed to me.
Ultimately, I'm hoping we all learn about one man's journey from the war in Laos to the day when he raises his right hand and promises to be the best American that he can.
Regional Reporter Brian Todd covers Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Houston counties along with some cities in Olmsted County. In the After Deadline column every Thursday, he shares behind-the-scenes tales from the newsroom.