Commentary: As an Australian citizen, I was brought to Las Cruces on a high-skilled work visa by New Mexico State University to fill a TV reporting/producing position at KRWG. The borderlands of southern New Mexico proved to be a far more interesting and magical part of the world than I ever fathomed. There is a treasure trove of important, fascinating and untold stories beyond green chile and child poverty.
I spent my first year living in relative boredom and was underwhelmed by what Las Cruces had to offer. But I eventually was welcomed into an authentic music scene and a tangible community of authentic, talented people working to make Las Cruces everything it could be.
I recently disappeared from Las Cruces and the airwaves. Having built a profession on telling other peoples’ stories and immigrant experiences, there is an obligation to share my own. When I went to renew my work visa this year it was denied, officially in line with 214(b), insufficient material confirming ties to my home country. But according to the lawyer, a Mesilla traffic violation that I paid late and some reporting documenting opposition to the current administration were compounding factors in the visa’s ultimate denial.
I leave behind a slew of unfinished stories, good friends, a mentoring program for Las Cruces High School reporters, a charmingly mediocre band, and a status as an appreciated local journalist. In my three years we managed to get KRWG stories on PBS NewsHour, NPR, Marketplace and Public Radio International. Many of the Las Cruces High School students I mentored alongside New Mexico educator Elisa Cundiff have had their work featured on KRWG and California PBS. One student even landed a PBS NewsHour fellowship to report in Washington, D.C.
Since my visa denial, I have been staying in Juárez as I put my things back together and take the opportunity to do some more reporting from this side of the border. It has been largely off the good will of members of a bi-national community — especially Las Crucen Gabriel Vasquez, who opened his Juárez home to me rent-free, and Ricardo Gutiérrez (Anarama), a Juárez producer who is working with me on Juárez stories that are soon to air.
I will miss reporting in a place where my work could make a real impact, the food, those parties in pecan orchards, and the Las Cruces/Mayfield rivalry match (GO DAWGS!).
I am humbled by all those who sent me well wishes, a handful of marriage proposals, and the ton of people who crossed the border to visit me, deliver my things and slip me money — especially Brian Byrd, Elisa Cundiff, Asiah Thomas, Paulina Rodriguez, the Martinos, Anthony Moreno, Hugo Perez and my family.
The nature of immigration systems mean it is complicated for me to return and properly say goodbye. But I will be co-hosting a special binational edition of KRWG’s Dry River Jazz with Trevor Hodkins via remote from Juárez, to say farewell and thanks to all the people who made my experience in southern New Mexico a rich and authentic one.
“Thankfully, technology is able to cross borders we physically can’t, so we decided to push forward and use his current situation as a basis to both tell his story and say his goodbyes to our KRWG listeners, all while playing some incredible music,” said Hodgkins, the Dry River Music Host.
I am headed to Germany to cover the election on a month long fellowship. While this is my next project, Las Cruces was and always will be the place where I cut my teeth as a journalist, got my first national stories and discovered what being part of a real community is all about. Thanks to all everyone that made it magical.
A special edition of Dry River Blues featuring Simon Thompson with host Trevor Hodgkins will be broadcast on KRWG 90.7 FM and streams on KRWG.org between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. Friday.