Latino USA’s Antonia Cerejido wins Medill’s first Cecilia Vaisman award

By Carolina Gonzalez
Medill Reports

Antonia Cerejido, an award-winning audio journalist for NPR’s Latino USA, received the first Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters Tuesday from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

In a ceremony attended by Cerejido’s family, Vaisman’s husband investigative reporter Gary Marx and Medill faculty and students, Cerejido thanked everyone for the recognition. She talked about her reporting and how Vaisman helped her reach her goals.

Cerejido most renowned stories for Latino USA vary from a profile of the Mexican-American man who became wealthy by building controversial shelters housing migrant children, to a meditation on whether Latinos cry more on average, to the role Dora the Explorer had in portraying Latinos in television.

Antonia Cerejido talked about her career in audio and the role Cecilia Vaisman had in it. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

“A major place that my ideas come from is talking to my friends, and to my family, and people I admire and sort of like talking and seeing like what makes their eyes light up,” Cerejido said. “When I was in college I was between doing film, and doing radio. I think one of the cool things about narrative audio storytelling is that, obviously, it is journalistic, you interview people, you’re observing the world, but also get to create this thing that is like beautiful in its own right that other people can also enjoy.”

Cerejido, 27, grew  up in  San Diego and attended Medill, where she was Vaisman’s student.

“Often when people are like, oh, so LatinX stories, they want to hear immigration stories,” Cerejido explained. “I think, because of the mission of our show, we can’t ignore what’s happening politically or act like the what’s happening with immigration isn’t important and we want to cover those things. But we also want to honor the complexity and richness of life and not let people be defined by their status.”

Several professors, including Medill Professor Jack Doppelt, asked questions during the event. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

Cerejido also added that, after Trump’s election, she became more aware at the necessity of covering this side of immigrants’ stories as a lot of the stories were concentrated on tragedy of immigration and the status of the people.

“I think I had this just like really weird reaction where I just like became incredibly aware of how much and very often you’re making money off of somebody’s tragedy and, especially, I feel like Trump as a candidate was able, so well, to manipulate media,” Cerejido explained. “I became just very aware of how much I felt that people’s personal tragedy was being used for profit and also that like fear-mongering was being used for profit.”

Dean Charles Whitaker presented the award and introduced Gary Marx, who gave a touching speech honoring his wife Cecilia Vaisman during the ceremony. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

The award is a partnership between Medill and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and recognizes Latinx and Hispanic audio and video journalists who bring light to the issues that affect those communities in the U.S. and around the world.

Mei-Ling Hopgood, a Medill professor and one of the committee chairs who took part in judging who would receive the award, explained that were a lot of qualified candidates in the race, but Cerejido’s journalistic accomplishment and dedication made her stand out.

Medill Professor Mei-Ling Hopgood moderated the conversation with Cerejido. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

The award is also named in memory of Vaisman, a Medill associate professor who was a leader in audio journalism and a member of NAHJ. She died in 2015 after a long battle with cancer.

“Ceci was an artist, a musician, a great bass player, and sound was sacred to her, the human voice above all else,” said Marx, who described her with pride in his voice. “She was thoughtful, and deep, and warm, and generous, and very beautiful and exacting. When Ceci peered over her glasses at you, you knew she expected better.”

Gary Marx, Vaisman’s husband and investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, delivered a heartfelt speech at the beginning of the ceremony. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)

For Cerejido, Vaisman quickly became a mentor for her during her years at Medill and developed a strong bond that went beyond the classman. Cerejido graduated in 2014.

“After Ceci passed away, I did a story about how I was really grateful because, I wasn’t a first,” Cerejido explained, with tears in her eyes and cracked voice. “So often we hear about, she was the first LatinX to do this, or the first like black man to do that. And, the fact that she opened the door and gave me, not just my career, but like a community of like other Latino journalists who are my heroes and my friends, like it means the world to me and I can’t believe that. Especially, given the fact that at this point, there’s been a longer time that she’s been passed away than when I knew her, that she continues to aid my career and my path it’s unreal.”

“Antonia, there was no student Ceci loved more than you,” Marx said. “Ceci spoke about you often, about your thoughtfulness, integrity and smart. Antonia, Cecilia would have been so proud of your work, and of you.”

Vaisman’s legacy continues, and can be seen through Cerejido and other journalists.

“When I asked you last week to send me a few of your stories so that I could catch up with your work, the response surprised me. I listened. Each of the three pieces carried the Hallmarks of great journalism, all the hallmarks of Ceci’s journalism,” Marx said.

“Cecilia is still teaching through, you know, the people that she taught and it is so powerful for me to see,” Hopgood said.

Photo at top: Antonia Cerejido speaks with attendees after the ceremony. (Carolina Gonzalez/MEDILL)