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Flint, MI— Flint Beat welcomes its newest reporter Santiago Ochoa, who will be working to fill an important news coverage gap in Flint: the Latinx community.
The Latinx community is the third largest population, making up about 4% of Flint residents—and it’s growing, Ochoa said.
“I think that’s something the city hasn’t acknowledged,” he said.
Ochoa was born in Bucaramanga, Colombia where he spent the first seven years of his life. After splitting from Ochoa’s father, his mother, a chief financial officer for a Colombian newspaper at the time, remarried and his family moved to Waterford, Mich. in 2005.
“My parents were divorced. And [my mom] worked six days a week. And so, I never saw her. I went to private school. I was away all the time. So, she was scared that she wasn’t raising me. And when it came time to [marry my stepdad], they decided that we would move up here and she would be a stay-at-home mom,” Ochoa said.
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But he didn’t feel connected to his heritage until he started college at the University of Michigan- Flint.
“Even though my mom did a good job and we visited Colombia often, my heritage, my pride, my history in where I’m from wasn’t really a thing for me. I knew it was important to my mom, so I made sure to be conscious of it, but I didn’t think about it a whole lot besides that,” he said.
That changed after he became a founding member of Latinos United for Advancement U of M-Flint, an advocacy club for Latinx students.
“For the longest time, I thought, ‘Oh, there’s not a whole lot of Colombians in Michigan, so I can’t really do that.’ But it’s not so much about meeting other Colombians or being with other Colombians. It’s about being with people that share the same native language as you and have a lot of the same experiences and come from the same places,” Ochoa said.
After a few semesters at the University of Michigan-Flint, photojournalism caught his eye.
“I saw photojournalism as a cool way to get my pictures published. So, I didn’t really care about the journalism aspect of it,” he said.
But after joining The Michigan Times news staff, a student-run newspaper and website at UM-Flint, he learned that he liked writing, too. Eventually, he left his Latinx advocacy group to focus on the paper, in time becoming its editor-in-chief.
Over the years, he has freelanced for local publications like Flintside as well as Flint Beat and has written several articles concerning Latinx people in Flint.
In his new role, he said he hopes to bring a solutions angle to his reporting.
“There’s a lot of suffering, there’s a lot of injustice in the community. And it’s extremely important to highlight all that especially because no one else is. But that being said, it can’t all just be doom and gloom. They are part of a greater community, of the Flint community. They do a lot of great things, and I want to highlight that, too.”
In addition to covering the Latinx community, Ochoa will also be translating articles in Spanish, so they are more accessible to non-English speakers.
But because of work he’s already been doing, he said he doesn’t consider himself part of Flint’s Latinx community, though he is a Latinx individual.
“I don’t really attend events…I only come to them when I need something from them for a story. I would like to be an active part of the community… I want to be doing that. I want to become, not a reporter on the Latinx community, but a part of the Latinx community,” he said.
Ochoa said he’s looking forward to the journey ahead.
“I really love Flint. And I just want to know as much as I can about the city and its people,” he said.