Diving into the unfamiliar

by Serena Valdez

If I’ve learned one thing since becoming a Chips Quinn Scholar it is that you must be able to adapt to change, and quickly. Having been born and raised in Tucson, Ariz., I didn’t realize the advantages I had over my out-of-state classmates while at the University of Arizona and during internships. I had things to do over the weekends with childhood friends and family, and I knew my city. I was comfortable.

When I drove up the coast of California to make a temporary home in the Bay Area in February 2013, I knew that every advantage I had in Tucson had disappeared. I had never been anywhere north of Van Nuys and knew absolutely nobody in the area. I was alone for this journey.

Discomfort became my new perspective, and although I was anxious about what that might mean once I stepped into The Oakland Tribune newsroom, I was up for the challenge. This was where I’d see once and for all that I could be a journalist, even without the reporting advantages that come with knowing a place.

The first few weeks were a bit rough. I got lost in downtown Oakland amid the insane traffic; tried to play catch up on who is who in the community; and found that I could travel six miles in either direction and have passed two or three cities.

As I acclimated to the faster California lifestyle and did double the research on almost everything before starting a story, I was happy to find that my skills as a writer still shone. In fact, they improved. I had a wonderful editor who sympathized with my lack of a smartphone and sense of where north was when I went out to report, but who also gave a gentle but firm push to help me write better and see how just a little more work or one more source could add depth and context to my stories.

As each week passed, my preconceived idea of a scary and dangerous Oakland melted away. I grew to love the city and will always cherish it. Oakland was fun and exciting. There was always something to do, whether it was to jog around Lake Merritt, enjoy the food trucks and art shows during “First Fridays” or indulge in dance classes after work. The vibe and content of the city was different from my Arizona home — a good different.

Most of my stories taught me something new that furthered my appreciation for the city. In a public park that separates downtown from uptown is the “Remember Them: Champions for Humanity” monument. The bronze sculpture, which comprises four sections and stands 21 feet tall, depicts 25 people who local artist Mario Chiodo believed had a hand in changing the world’s history. They include Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. As the fourth piece was unveiled, I discovered that there was beauty, true artistry and homage to our past right in the bustling streets of Oakland.

Another story, and my all-time favorite to report, was my biggest and most researched project: an anniversary profile of the Paramount Theatre, which sits across the street from the Tribune newsroom. It had been 40 years since the theater’s restoration and re-entrance to the spotlight of downtown attractions. Learning about the Paramount and its history, from the architecture to the numerous events and screenings held within its beautifully decorated walls, gave me the best idea of what defines the city. I am most proud of the opportunity to have written that story, especially in light of the challenge to condense weeks of research and several interviews into fewer than 900 words.

I am grateful to have had an internship with The Oakland Tribune and am humbled by the experience. As a journalist, I learned much and improved my writing and reporting skills tremendously. As a person, I gained a new perspective on life and a true fearlessness for the unfamiliar.

Serena Valdez is a freelance writer for MidWeek, a weekly periodical published in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was a Spring 2013 Chips Quinn Scholar for the Bay Area News Group. A journalism graduate of the University of Arizona, Valdez worked on the features desk as an apprentice for the Arizona Daily Star, a local newspaper in Tucson; was an intern for the Tucson Weekly; and an opinions writer for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the student newspaper on campus.


1 Comment

  1. Veronica

    Wow Nena!! and to think, I knew you when…..Love you!

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