Pablo Calvi, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, explored the relationship between Latin American journalism and the socio-political identities it embodies. Fittingly, the event took place in a room covered with photographs of an exhibit highlighting the Bracero program, a labor exchange agreement between Mexico and the United States from 1942 to 1964.
Calvi’s recently published book, “Latin American Adventures in Literary Journalism,” maps out the progression of Anglo American journalism and how it is juxtaposed with Latin America’s gradual, rising literacy. In addition to a book reading, Calvi touched on the ways the writing process reflected his identity as a journalist who carries his Latin American roots in the field.
“When I came here, first for a masters and later for a Ph.D., one of the things that caused a bit of a cognitive dissonance in my head was how Latin American journalism was perceived from the point of view of Anglo American journalists,” Calvi said.
Colleagues’ preconceived notions about Latin American writing and reporting muddled their understandings of Calvi’s long-form journalism. Latin American journalism has been reduced to a type of news writing that was “riddled with opinion” and drenched in polarizing ideologies, he said.
The non-partisan and neutral style of Anglo American reporting was in stark contrast with Latin American journalism that valued a storytelling approach seen in “crónicas,” narrative writing that uses elements from the novel, interview and essay.
“There was a certain kind of distance that I could recognize,” Calvi said. “And so that, in turn, threw me into a rabbit hole of trying to find out where my roots for this type of writing were from.”
Calvi discussed differences in religion, print capitalism, the realms of journalism, fiction and statesmanship writing to identify when and how Latin America branched away from today’s English-influenced journalism ethics.
North America democratized knowledge by circulating written ideas like the Bible and newspapers, while the literary sphere in Latin America was controlled by the state. The printing press, according to Calvi, brought journalistic freedoms of independence and accountability that were not yet exercised by Latin Americans during the 1800s.
“In order to have a national identity, you need literature,” Calvi said. South America’s low literacy rates hindered not only the production and spread of knowledge but also the ability to create a network between communities that could cultivate the nation’s multifaceted identity.
When print capitalism began to emerge in Latin America in the 20th century, Calvi stressed that the few people who could read and write were “not enough to cover all the administrative positions of the state, be journalists, fiction writers or novelists.”
The production of newspapers and other manifestations of literature served small audiences that, consequently, could not support the progression of literary institutions where the division of labor was poorly divided, he said.
Calvi associated Latin America’s intertwined academies, journalism, fiction writing and statesmanship to an “interruption in the democratic-market continuum.” This arises when national tyrants mold regulations within the market to fit their political agendas while producing a growing uncertainty for journalists.
“The narratives that you find in those moments of interruption of the economic, democratic order usually become heavily moralizing,” Calvi said. “People do not engage in the idea of distance, obstruction, objectivity with the law.”
When legality was blurred, Calvi highlighted that the primary outlet for South American journalists was to adapt to a style of writing that touched people’s emotions through colorful narratives.
“This is an incredibly rich topic yet one about which there is very little written,” Eric Zolov, an associate professor in the department of history, said. “The way in which Professor Calvi historicized his subject, by locating the roots of journalistic difference with the Anglo model of ‘fact-based journalism’ all the way to the colonial period, was especially illuminating.”