Monday, July 27

The Star-Tribune Could Do Better Publishing Hmong Farmers Speak For Themselves (especially considering their importance)

Hmong Farmers Talked About, But Mostly White Farmers Get To Talk, In Star-Tribune Article On Farmers' Markets

All right, I figured out what's wrong with the way this article on Minnesota farmer's markets (note: multiple pages) is written.

Click here to jump to the end of this post and see what made me figure it out.

Actually, I'll start with some "right" things: Ms. Blake's and Mr. Giles's article starts strong, by having the first quote, and a good amount of quote, come from a Hmong farmer.

Why is that so right? Well, as quoted and elaborated upon in the article (the other "right" things):
Hmong growers represent about 70 percent of sellers in suburban markets and more than half of all growers in Minneapolis and St. Paul markets, said Jack Gerten, manager of St. Paul Farmers Markets. "If you didn't have the Hmong you couldn't have these markets," he said.

However, the article is 3 pages long, and most of the farmers interviewed are white farmers. Despite them making up only 30-50% of the farmer population at the markets.

Challenges of Talking Business w/ Hmong Farmers

This weekend and last week, I finally met children of Hmong market vendors who both:
  1. were raised so much in America that I had no language barriers talking with them at all, and
  2. were super-duper interested in "shop talk" and the business of, well, the family business.
I'd met plenty of farmers and family members who fell into one category but not the other over the past 3 years. These are people who I feel like my grocery store might actually sustain conversations with if I connect them.

If it took me 3 years to find 2, then yes, I get how "on assignment," Ms. Blake & Mr. Giles might have had a tough time getting interview quotes they like for their article from Hmong farmers and their families.

But you know what?

I'm not a reporter.

Surely my search was slow because it related to a spark of an idea in the back of my mind (getting Hmong produce distributed in cooperative grocery stores, too) as I went about my chores (shopping for food).

Now, I understand that even for a journalist, whom I'm going to hold to the standards laid out by blackamazon below, it might be a challenge to find these people to talk to in a single 2-hour interview-gathering trip to a market.

Why? Because children of farmers who are 100% fluent in American English and who are interested in the business probably spend a lot of time talking to non-Hmong customers, pushing the family's produce, explaining things, giving impromptu cooking lessons, etc. If you're actively hunting for them (which I wasn't over these 3 years), you can probably find them (now that I'm getting a sense of what to look for--start with the twentysomethings, not the teens or the people whose names are on the signs), but you might not be able to interview them.


But after reading blackamazon's writings below, I now believe that the right thing for a journalist assigned to this story to do, as soon as he/she finds out the markets are 50-70% Hmong, would be to actively hunt for lots of such people and schedule interview appointments outside of peak market hours.

How I Came To Be Able To See This In That Star-Tribune Article

From blackamazon:
Immigration is a great topic, centering immigrants making safe spaces for them to talk to be credited and set the tone for their work

Not so much

Talking about black women/people , issuing dictums and easily digestible pieces for non black audiences, or even having to prioritize non black audiences over black ones.

Can make you famous.

Being one often makes the act of reading news something to be accompanied by a finely tuned bullshit meter and someone to hide the sharp objects so you don't go to jail.
Let's speak about events as snippets that we can skim or miss, let's write more and more about populations we are not a part of, or frame the populations we are apart of as voiceless by not actually hearing from them.
And from make/shift magazine, "Listen: Voices the World Needs to Hear" (Oh. Hey! Also from blackamazon!) issue 5 p. 7:
The all-too-common idea that underrepresented communities need spokespeople in the media because they are not...speaking for themselves justifies their erasure from the media. ... "Some of Us Are Brave" exists to amplify," [Thandisizwe] Chimurenga says. "Black women are already speaking."

What I Plan To Do About It

I think I'll write Ms. Blake & Mr. Giles and give them tips, based on my experience, on how to find Hmong farmers w/ no language barriers but w/ enough of an interest in the business to say "quotable" things.

I think I'll also include my suggestion about scheduling interviews because of such people's importance to their vending tables (if they step away for an interview, there might not be anyone else w/ no language barriers and a strong interest to pitch veggies to potential customers like there would be at a booth of farmers who've lived in an English-speaking country for generations).

I think I might include (with full citations) those quotes or some others from blackamazon, if she'll allow me to, to express why I feel that my suggestions are important.

And I'll ask that they pass these tips around the staff writers so that next time someone has to do a similar article (or an article that, on the interviews, they discover is similar), they will be armed with those tips. (And, if I include the quotes from blackamazon, armed with a sense of importance about trying them out.)


MInneapolis Farmers Market said...

Good points. We are trying to do just this.

Katie said...

Woah wow! Not who I expected to see a comment from--hee. :-) Thanks!

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