Central American News: The diaspora’s media that bridges Central America and abroad

MELISSA VIDA & BREE'YA BROWN  |  23 JUNE 2021  |  ISSUE #15

Art by Xiomara Garay on Instagram. Courtesy of the artist.

In late December 2020, Bree’ya Brown came across the Central American News account while scrolling on Instagram. Even though she grew up in a Panamanian household, finding news about Central America was always rare, especially in US mainstream media. For Bree’ya, Central American News became a digital tool to learn about current events in the region and engage in conversation with her grandmother about Central America, which strengthened their intergenerational bond. She saw the relevance of having a news outlet created by members of the diaspora to build a bridge between our countries of origin and abroad.


Too often, US media reports sensational news of ‘migrant caravans’, migrant ‘surges’, and cut-throat gangs. This approach lacks genuine interest in Central American societies, disregards cultural notions, reveals biases, and oversimplifies phenomena. Simultaneously, mainstream media dismisses the ways in which the US intervened in Central American regions throughout the 20th century and participated in bloodbaths during the Cold War, further destabilizing the social fabric for future generations. The echoes of history still impact our families.

 

More than 3.5 million Central Americans live in the United States and thousands more seek asylum in the UK and in Spain. Decades of civil wars, foreign intervention, economic weakness, and climate disasters have forced our parents, and now our contemporaries, to flee. Today, for example, a quarter of Salvadoran nationals live outside El Salvador. The large, and growing, Central American diaspora seeks consistent and diverse information about their lands of origin, but do not know where to begin or do not speak Spanish.

 

Bree’ya would read aloud the Central American News newsletter to her family, focusing particularly on Panama. It offered her a chance to form her own opinions about culture, society, economy, and politics in Central America without relying on US mainstream media.

 

Central American News provides a fresh perspective on the region by allowing Central Americans themselves, in the region and abroad, to report the news. It is liberating to decide what news to highlight, build news narratives and choose our words carefully. We would have never qualified the recent migratory movements as a ‘surge’, for example, as the word conjures fear of our peoples.

 

Every week, a volunteer team of 14 people invests a couple of hours in Central American News. We condense a week’s worth of news from Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, as well as on migration. By linking a variety of news sources about each country within the region, the readership then has the freedom to navigate into local news media outlets for more information. Arts and culture often give a beautiful counterbalance to news of environmental disasters or corruption. For us, showing a more complete picture of Central America is imperative. 

 

Central American News was born in summer 2018 amidst ‘migrant caravans’, violent state repression of protestors in Nicaragua, and the birth of a digital community of Central Americans in the diaspora, ‘#CentralAmericanTwitter’. Central Americans abroad would often feel isolated from others, so digital platforms played an important role in creating community. 

 

Salvadoran and Belgian journalist Melissa Vida, the founder and now Editor-in-Chief of the newsletter, saw the need to provide regular news from the region to counterbalance the international press’s biases and rapid news cycles in a digestible way: a newsletter. As more and more members of the Central American diaspora subscribed – along with other journalists, scholars, activists and government officials – the growing team created social media and Patreon accounts, and then, a podcast.


José Luis Martínez, a Texan of Salvadoran descent, founded the Central American News Podcast to offer the audience a concise recap of the newsletter, along with co-host Cecilia Rivas. The first episode was launched in February 2020 and continued, week after week, providing Central American news to a listenership rather than a readership. ‘My strengths are digital storytelling and I learn a lot from outside project ideas, which can then be transferred to Central American News’, José, who studies journalism, says. During the pandemic, José also created a Central American COVID-19 interactive map using a data visualization tool along with statistics. Although inadequate public records made the task challenging at times, José dutifully recorded statistics of COVID-19 from governments and NGOs in Central America.

 

Often, we would receive responses from our audience, with messages such as ‘Gracias SO much for existing and sharing the real deal news in Central America <3 much love and positivity going your way!’, or ‘I love the newsletter! You all do a great job. I’m an undergraduate student in New Jersey. I am originally from Honduras and this is the best way I stay informed.’

 

Today, the newsletter has more than 1,000 subscribers, 50% of whom open the newsletter every week. Thousands more follow on social media and listen to the podcast. The number of those who donate to the newsletter through Patreon benefit from additional exclusive talks with experts on the region. Deep-dive conversations on our podcast and a TikTok account are in the wings to reach an even more diverse audience.


In April 2021, Bree’ya joined the Central American News team to curate news from Panama. As an archivist, she wants to understand Central America’s past and present. For her, staying connected with her Panamanian culture and sharing it will help build a sense of belonging among the diaspora, as well as highlight the beauty of her grandmother’s country.

Bree'ya Brown

Bree'ya Brown works as a Project Archivist for the Texas Domestic Slave Trade Project and curates the Panama section for Central American News. She is second-generation Panamanian-American. She holds a Masters of Science in Information Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masters of Arts in History from California State University, Long Beach.

Melissa Vida

Melissa Vida is a Salvadoran and Belgian multimedia freelance journalist with bylines in The New York Times, Foreign Policy and El Faro. She is also the Latin America editor at Global Voices and editor-in-chief of Central American News. In 2019, she made the documentary Resucitaré (‘Reborn’) on Oscar Romero's legacy in El Salvador.

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This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.

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