Jika Gonzalez’s first paid assignment sent her off to Cambodia to document her politics professor’s trip.
It wasn’t journalism and it wasn’t a chance to explore video production, but it was the start of a globetrotting career behind the camera that would eventually land her at VICE News as an Emmy winning producer and cinematographer.
Gonzalez, together with VICE colleague Belle Cushing, most recently traveled to El Salvador as part of IWMF’s Adelante Reporting Initiative to cover stories that go beyond the known narratives of the Central American nation and provide nuance to pressing issues affecting the region including immigration.
Born to a Mexican father and an American mother and growing up in Mexico City, Gonzalez has always cared about immigration and about understanding why people choose to migrate. Gonzalez hopes her work in El Salvador provides historical context to the ongoing immigration story between the country and the U.S.
“A lot of people don’t know what the U.S.’s history is here and what their involvement is here, not just with gangs but also during the civil war and how money has come into this country and continues to come in through different forms,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s just important to connect those dots.”
While Gonzalez started out in still photography, and believes text to be the most efficient way to get information across, she relies on video to tell stories in a more profound way.
“The thing I like most about video is just capturing real moments,” Gonzalez said.
However, those powerful moments that get across emotion and place the audience into a scene aren’t easy to come by.
“It’s one thing to get somebody to talk to you. It’s one thing to get somebody to let you take a photo. It’s a whole other thing for a person to just let you be there with a camera recording all of the stuff,” she added.
While working on a story on family reunification in El Paso, Tx, Gonzalez was unable to capture the precise moment a father and his 7-year-old son reunited while under processing by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Yet after traveling to El Paso, Arizona and Guatemala for the story, Gonzalez and her team were there to witness father and son join up with the father’s sister.
“Just being able to see all of this crazy work that started with a tip to one of my colleagues come together in this real moment of family coming together after the very very traumatic event in their lives was one of the most challenging things but also one of the most rewarding and special moments in my work,” she said.
Despite the unique challenges video can bring, Gonzalez pushes on in her medium knowing there’s a need for nuanced, profound, watchdog journalism. After all, free speech and the ability to know what’s going on are key to society, she said.