I dream of newsrooms that hold complexity
A Q&A with El Tímpano’s community organizer, tania quintana
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, and what experiences have shaped your approach to community organizing?
I was born and raised in East Oakland, and lived in the same apartment complex throughout my childhood and young adulthood with Latino immigrant caretakers. My community had mutual aid networks, practiced harm reduction, and incorporated storytelling into our survival long before I held names for our practices. Seeing my family and friends swap clothes their children had grown out of, inform each other of food distribution sites, share news from home and herbal remedies after work helped fill the gaps the newsroom and formal institutions left behind. The limpias, chisme, and stories within our frequent gatherings and celebrations, however limited funds were, lead to my approach of a holistic and joy-centered organizing approach. I learned from my chosen family network to collaborate with others, share what I knew, and listen to the experiences and days of folks in my community in a space that invites a sense of comfort and safety. In my time organizing for the Womxn’s Resources and Research Center at UC Davis, I wanted to continue programming that centered what we learn outside of academia, and how integral that knowledge is to our everyday lives and futurity. As I continue this work and organize in different spaces, from abolitionist organizations to public health departments, I recognize that the names I put to methods and theories are everyday practices held by those in our communities, that our abundant and peaceful futurity is already, always in our collective hands.
Your experience includes a combination of community organizing, community media, health research, and creative writing. What do you see as the throughline that connects these diverse experiences?
Embodiment and engagement are crucial to our relationships with each other and the earth, and to building a sense of community. An important throughline between these experiences is the possibility of exploring the multiplicities we hold within ourselves, as well as the intersections we share when we hold space for diverse experiences. The different paths I have taken have all revealed how much we have to offer each other when we build from a sense of community and abundance in ourselves, rather than a sense of isolation. My writing lens is supported by a community of artists and creatives, who have families with health disparities, stories to tell, and a capacity to expand our idea of what organizing looks like. When we empower ourselves and each other to explore our senses and interests through engagement opportunities such as research, writing, listening and sharing out loud, we expand our collective knowledge and the longevity of our communities.
What role has local media played in your life, and that of your family or community?
The local media we consumed in my upbringing had a sensational nature that we continue to unpack and relearn. I remember my parents picking up Spanish tabloid magazines when we bought groceries, and being flooded with ideas of bodies they needed to have and money they needed to spend. Aside from misinformation, this news gave my community a feeling of scarcity and insecurity in their beings. This limited news coverage led to my future overcompensation by attempting to read as many news sources as possible. I listened to Democracy Now!, NPR, and subscribed to the New York Times in hopes that I would receive news that my family and neighborhood could benefit from, but still, the tangible and sensory aspect of local, neighborhood-born news was missing in what I shared. I have since found solace in community-powered radio stations, though in English. I dream of newsrooms that hold this complexity and way of telling time through diverse news stories and full-bodied programming in a language that holds and sees my family.
How do you see your community reflected in and served by local media? When you close your eyes and envision a different relationship between Latino immigrants and the media, what does that look like?
Local media tends to confine communities into a single story for the sake of producing more news stories, sound bites, and audience members. I envision a slowness, a capacious and embodied media experience that allows Latino communities to expand and continue becoming, feeling seen along the way. When I think about this potential shift in newsrooms and storytelling, I think big, and look towards the potential our stories, our sharing, and our attention can create. Instilling this diversity, community mindedness, and human centered design in our conversations and coverage, intersects and grows into a possibility for less capitalistic, reactive, and oppressive timelines. I invite and strive for more pause, participation, and full lives in our shared world of knowledge and information.
tania quintana joined El Tímpano as a community organizer in the fall of 2021. Working with both El Tímpano and Libraries Without Borders US, their role involves designing and implementing creative and community-centered approaches to address information needs, particularly for Latino and Mayan immigrant communities of Oakland and the wider East Bay. They were interviewed by El Tímpano’s Founding Director, Madeleine Bair. Learn more about El Tímpano at www.eltimpano.org.