Albuquerque-based race and ethnicity reporter Russell Contreras excavates pain and patriotism in his family history, in particular his great-uncle’s World War II service, to examine the meaning of Independence Day and come to terms with the holiday at a time of national recokoning.
Contreras opens his first-person story by saying “The July Fourth holiday hurts me every year” – the day echoes with years of racism against his family. But he goes on to tell of his great-uncle, Ciprian Contreras, son of a Mexican-born father, who served the U.S. in World War II and was wounded on Iwo Jima but went back to fight again, even as the Contreras family was subject to Jim Crow in Texas.
That episode in the Contreras family history resonated through the generations, and today family members use it as a cornerstone of their Independence Day celebrations. In the process of telling the tale, Contreras reclaims the holiday for himself and his family and captures many threads of recent American history. His eloquently-told tale – the ideal blend of memoir, subject expertise and an exploration of a larger theme, enhanced with Contreras family photos, was a centerpiece of AP’s Independence Day report.
AP customers showcased the piece and it connected on social media. Most importantly, perhaps, it personalized AP’s coverage of inequality and showed, how an adeptly told first-person story, blended with larger issues, can become a unique and memorable contribution to AP’s coverage of inequality.