The fields of the San Joaquin Valley, intertwined with endless rows of crops, are home to immigrant farmers from around the world who have brought with them their traditions and practices.
But for Fresno native Ryan Christopher Jones, the stories of immigrant farmers have remained largely unknown. It was then that he decided to write about the Sikh Punjabi community, whose agricultural roots go back 900 years.
“Growing up in central California, I knew Punjabi Sikhs were farmers and I always wanted to explore the community a little more,” said Jones, a freelance photojournalist who reported a story about an immigrant farmer for the New York Times in 2021. “I wanted to challenge how people perceive farmers, what farmers look like, and what communities actually look like. »
It’s just one of many stories the Heising-Simons Foundation is honoring Thursday by awarding Jones the 2022 Mosaic American Journalism Award, which recognizes independent journalists in print, digital, broadcast or broadcast media who report stories. Deep, in-depth stories about underrepresented communities in the United States.
He is one of two journalists to receive the $100,000 award, established in 2018 to help fund the work of freelance journalists. The finalists were chosen by a panel of ten judges, including reporters from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, NPR and NBC News.
Jones, who is Mexican-American, told The Bee on Wednesday that he felt “humbled” and “very lucky” to be able to use his skills as a photojournalist to tell visual stories about vulnerable and underrepresented communities.
“I’m still in shock,” he said. “Winning an award for covering parts of my own community means everything.”
Jones’ stories shed light on the experiences of often overlooked communities, including the nation’s Latinos and undocumented immigrants. Her work is heavily influenced by her own Latino identity and explores issues of race and the complex relationship between Mexican and American identities. He also reported detailed stories about the COVID-19 pandemic in New York and Boston, the opioid overdose crisis, and Mexican-American economic mobility.
His work has appeared in The New York Times, ProPublica, and The Washington Post, among others.
“My mission has been to blanket these vulnerable communities with a kind of grace and compassion that shows that yes, they may be in pain, they may be in a vulnerable place – but that’s not the whole of their lives,” said he declared. “Even when people are hurting, there are moments of joy and grace and I want to try to find them.”
Jeffrey Furticella is a senior photo editor at The New York Times who has worked with Jones on several projects over the past five years, including a 2021 visual story about a Mexican man living in an underground apartment in Queens. Furticella said he was “delighted” for Jones, whom he considers an “incredibly empathetic” journalist.
“This recognition is a perfect representation of the work he has done, the thoughtful and empathetic approach he has and his curiosity about the world around him,” Furticella said. “He’s really committed to telling stories and highlighting people’s experiences in a thoughtful way.”
The award was created with a mission to recognize and encourage journalists to devote time to long-form, narrative or in-depth reporting focused on generating greater understanding of often underrepresented or misrepresented groups. Journalists are nominated from a pool of more than 150 leading journalists from across the country.
Jones, who currently lives in California and New York, grew up in Fresno. Jones started photography in 2008 and began taking pictures on assignments for The Fresno Bee, his hometown newspaper. The experience changed his life and inspired him to pursue a career in journalism, he said.
“It changed everything for me and opened my eyes to what journalism can do and what it really means to cover your own community,” he said.
Jones said he plans to use some of the money to help pay for a doctorate in anthropology and wants to set aside a few thousand dollars to create a small grant for short-lived journalists of color. silver.
“We do this work because it’s important and because we love it,” he says. “We’re not doing it to make a ton of money. I know exactly what it’s like to have someone to help you. I don’t know when, but I plan to create something to benefit the Mexican-American journalist community.
This story was originally published February 10, 2022 5:00 a.m.