October 28th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

Locals say checkpoints along Mexico’s southern border mean endless commutes and shake-downs

Credit: Jennifer Collins Zahit Salazar used to earn a little money selling clothes she bought near the southern border with Mexico. But Mexico’s new checkpoints have made that too difficult. She’s had to fall back on grinding corn to make tamales.


Zahit Salazar rises extra early on the days she goes to market. It used to take the 78-year-old a few hours to get from her house in

Now, it can take all day — because of the checkpoints. She has to pass through at least 10 of them from five different government agencies.

“You waste more time on the freeway,” Salazar says. “More time is lost.”

Over the past few years, Mexico has ramped up its efforts to slow illegal activity — drug trafficking and unauthorized migration — along its 541-mile southern border with Guatemala. With help from the US government, Mexico has set up checkpoints near the border. It has also set up checkpoints on the highway stretching more than 100 miles north of the border, which has given rise to reports of endless commutes and extortion by corrupt officials. Salazar and other locals say Mexican officials use the checkpoints to line their own pockets.

“They are the criminals,” she said. “They say they’re ending corruption but they’re the corrupt ones.”

Salazar has had personal experience with that corruption. About a year ago, she was returning from the market with a bag of clothes to resell to her neighbors. The proceeds would pay her gas and electric bills. Salazar said she never crossed into Guatemala on the trip, but she still had to pass through a customs checkpoint on the way home. She said customs officials saw her bag of merchandise and demanded that she get off the bus.

“They emptied my bag and told me if I didn’t pay $20, they wouldn’t let me keep the merchandise,” she said.

Salazar had a receipt, but it wasn’t official enough.

“They kept saying it was foreign merchandise,” she said.

Salazar had spent every last peso on the purchase and bus fare. Instead of paying the bribe, she had to let the clothing go — but not without shooting off a few choice words at the customs official. Salazar had to beg a passing bus driver to give her a lift home.

Since then, she has joined the Tonaltec Civic Front, a group of other disgruntled residents who, among other activities, are trying to get the government to limit the checkpoints and stop the extortion.

“The people who are just traveling along the freeway, the officers make them get out of their cars,” said Nataniel Hernandez, a local human rights activist, who is helping to organize the residents. “They search them as if they were criminals. It’s a violation of their basic rights.”

Credit: Jennifer Collins A sign for a military checkpoint along the highway in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. This one sits more than a 100 miles north of the border with Guatemala.

No national Mexican officials would go on the record for this story, but Manuel de Jesus Narcia Coutiño, mayor of Tonala, where Hernandez and Salazar live, said he was happy about the checkpoints.

“Because they protect us,” Narcia Coutiño said. “There need to be more [checkpoints]. Every day there are more people, more criminals.”

“I think it’s really clear to us that anything that comes across Mexico’s southern border has a very good chance of someone attempting to bring it across their northern border,” said Annie Pforzheimer, who directs the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in Mexico City. She’s charged with implementing US-Mexico security partnerships.

Over the years, the US has funneled about $2 billion through the Merida Initiative to help Mexico fight drug trafficking and violence within its borders. Some of that money has paid for more equipment and checkpoints on Mexican freeways. According to Pforzheimer, the US government is also supporting efforts to help Mexicans report rights violations that arise at the checkpoints.

“It’s extremely important that there not be an association between a stepped up enforcement and corruption,” she said.

But locals like Zahit Salazar say corruption is a big problem at the checkpoints. Salazar said she was given a stack of papers detailing the clothing that officials confiscated. Some of her family members later tried to get it back, but officials told them it was gone.

“You know that a poor person like me, I’m fighting to survive and here comes this son of a gun and confiscates my stuff,” Salazar said. “They are getting rich off of the poor — because they’re not just confiscating my stuff. How many people are having things taken away?”

After losing everything at the checkpoint that day, Salazar didn’t want to risk it again. These days, to make money, she grinds corn by hand. It’s back-breaking work. She makes tamales and sells them to her neighbors.

It doesn’t really cover the bills, but at least no checkpoints are involved.

This story was produced in association with Round Earth Media. Manuel Ureste contributed to the reporting.

October 28th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

The Latest from our Migration Team

Jennifer Collins reports for PRI’s The World that new immigration check point along the Southern border of Mexico are costing locals their livelihoods. Listen HERE.

Salazar_GrindingCorn1Zahit Salazar rises extra early on the days she goes to market. It used to take the 78-year-old a few hours to get from her house in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas to the market town near the border with Guatemala.


May 28th, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

Event Recap: Mexico Uncovered

Credit: Erin Luhmann  Mary Stucky facilitating the discussion with Mexico Uncovered reporters via Skype.

Credit: Erin Luhmann
Mary Stucky facilitating the discussion with Mexico Uncovered reporters via Skype.

Thanks to all those who attended the Mexico Uncovered event we held at the Minneapolis Central Library on March 31st.

If weren’t able to come, we’ve packaged some audio highlights from the evening. Our team of journalists called in via Skype to share reflections on the radio stories they produced for top-tier media outlets. They embraced the Round Earth Media model – collaborating with a local journalist – and succeeded in capturing stories rich in sound, place and humanity.

An intro from Mary Stucky

Daniel Hernandez, host of the Mexico Uncovered radio documentary, is shifting the focus on Mexico from the war on drugs and immigration to its vibrant, evolving food culture. His reports unearth the cosmopolitan side of Mexico City. By the end of the night, he had the audience craving street food.

More from Hernandez here: 

Marlon Bishop, a contributing American reporter, shared how he immersed himself in Mexico’s automobile industry in 2013 for his PRI story, High-Tech Manufacturing Driving Mexican Economy. He highlighted that fact that despite economic growth in Mexico – a trend that has inspired a wave of reverse migration – more than half of the population remains below the poverty line, working in low-end jobs at maquiladoras, factories located in free trade zones in Mexico.

More from Bishop here: 

Mary Stucky also recognized Bishop’s first place National Headliner Award for his story published on PRI’s Studio 360, An Orchestra of Guns. He captured one artist’s vision to repurpose retired guns as instruments, to pay tribute the victims of gun violence in Mexico. Stucky explained that putting a new spin on an old narrative like gun violence is “exactly what Round Earth looks for.”

More from Bishop here: 

Monica Oritz Uribe, a contributing Mexican-American reporter, gave an update on Mexicans Returning from U.S. Find Challenges at Home, the story she published with Marketplace in January 2013. For the first time in 40 years, there are as many Mexicans going back to Mexico as there are coming to the U.S. She explored what assimilation looks like for youth born in the U.S who move south of the border.

Uribe also revealed a surprise encounter that happened through her reporting. In pursuit of a gang member to interview for a story she recently published with NPR’s ‘Borderland’ series, she discovered they were former classmates.

More from Uribe here: 


April 1st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

WOW! Look what’s happening at Round Earth!

Round Earth’s Documentary

Willing to Break

A Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival Official Selection 

Monday, April 14, 7:00 pm 


Willing to Break


Willing to Break explores the life of the only veiled break-dancer in Morocco and her perseverance in a counterculture dominated by men.
This film was produced and directed by a trio of impressive young journalists — Americans Sutton Raphael and JP Keenan in partnership with their Moroccan colleague Loubna Fouzar.   All were mentored by Round Earth’s veteran film-makers and journalists.
Raphael and Keenan will be in the Twin Cities for the premier of this powerful film.  Please come support them and see a short film you’ll never forget!

 Details HERE


Photo Sutton RaphelSutton Raphael is majoring in journalism at the University of Oregon and minoring in Arabic. He is an aspiring documentary filmmaker and plans to live in the Middle East after graduating.

Photo JP Keenan

JP Kennan is a documentary filmmaker and photographer studying at Ithaca College.  He is passionate about using the documentary medium to bring awareness to social issues.

Loubna Fouzar is a Moroccan journalism student who studies at Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication (ISIC) in Rabat.  

Wednesday, April 9th at 7:10 p.m. also at the MSP Intl Film Fest:  Who is Dayani Cristal?

Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 10.46.17 AM

Who is Dayani Cristal?


Round Earth is interested in your comments about this documentary film focused on migration from Central America to the United States.  The film starts beneath a cicada tree as Arizona border police discover a decomposing male body. Lifting a tattered T-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal.” Who is this person? What brought him here? How did he die? And who—or what—is Dayani Cristal?   As the forensic investigation unfolds, Mexican actor and Gael Garcia Bernal retraces this man’s steps along the migrant trail in Central America.

Details HERE

Please stay after the film for a discussion and lend us your insight into the subject of one of our next reporting projects: migration from Mexico and Central America.

First Place National Headliner Award for Mexico Uncovered Story


Photo: Electric Guitar by Pedro Reyes (Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard)

We are very pleased to announce that Marlon Bishop’s amazing story, An Orchestra of Guns, produced as part of our project, Mexico Uncovered, received a first place National Headliner Award this week.  This award recognizes outstanding print and broadcast work and is one of the oldest and largest annual contests recognizing journalistic excellence. Congratulations, Marlon!

Marlon’s story focused on Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes, who converted thousands of  weapons seized by the government into musical instruments. The project, titled Imagine, has so far produced 50 working instruments ranging from pistol-flutes to shotgun-zithers, with more being churned out all the time.

Reyes and a team of machinists and musicians have been working long hours in his Mexico City workshop to build the instruments.  In Spring 2013,  he put on a major concert with music commissioned for the instruments in the UK. Proceeds from the event went to support gun control legislation in the US – the source of almost all of Mexico’s illegal weapons. We visit Reyes and his workshop and look at the symbolism of what he’s creating.  More on Marlon’s story and our project, Mexico Uncovered, here:


March 1st, 2014  |  By Serenity Bolt

You’re Invited on Monday, March 31!


Hear from some of the very best young journalists covering Mexico today!

Monday, March 31 | 5:30 p.m. Registration |

6 – 7:30 p.m. Program

Pohlad Hall | Minneapolis Central Library | 

300 Nicollet Mall

FREE and open to the public. 

You can register in advance by sending an email to

We look forward to seeing you on the 31st!

Mexican Isabella Cota and American Annie Murphy reporting together in Mexico.  Their stories appeared on NPR in the U.S. and El Universal Domingo.

Mexican Isabella Cota and American Annie Murphy reporting together in Mexico. Their stories appeared on NPR in the U.S. and El Universal Domingo.

You may think you know Mexico because:

a.) you’ve been there on vacation

b.) we’re neighbors

c.) you have family there.

But in spite of our proximity, our understanding of Mexico is often limited by what we typically see in the media, a laundry list of stereotypes and generalizations.

Join Round Earth Media’s crack public radio team to hear about the Mexico you may not know — stories rich in sound, place and humanity.

In a groundbreaking collaboration with Mexican reporters, national programs on public radio and top-tier media outlets in Mexico, Round Earth’s acclaimed documentary, Mexico Uncovered, has been heard on public radio stations nationwide.  Now you have the opportunity to actively engage in a lively conversation with Round Earth’s talented young journalists who cover Mexico and to hear about their experiences reporting these stories.

danielDaniel Hernandez, the host of Mexico Uncovered also joins us live from Mexico City.  The New Yorker calls Hernandez “both anthropologist and explorer, finding the unexpected, original and mysterious.”

Please Join Us on March 31st!  This program is sponsored by Round Earth, the Minnesota International Center and the Friends of the Minneapolis Central Library.








February 12th, 2014  |  By Round Earth Media

Meet Latin America’s Teenage Korean Pop Fanatics

The room of Samantha Alejandra, 18, in Mexico City, doubles as a shrine to her favorite K-Pop boy band, Super Junior.

The room of Samantha Alejandra, 18, in Mexico City, doubles as a shrine to her favorite K-Pop boy band, Super Junior.

If you want to get a sense of what Mexican teenagers are up to these days, here’s an unexpected place to start: A Korean bakery in downtown Mexico City.

Every Sunday, dozens of teens — mostly female — convene here to eat Korean snacks and geek out about their favorite boy bands. They’re known as los k-popers – a growing subculture of Mexican kids who are crazy for Korean pop music.

Read and listen to this story on NPR.

Our untold stories, published and broadcast in top-tier media, reach huge audiences in the U.S. and in the countries where we are reporting.


September 17th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Mexico Uncovered: Untold Stories from the Mexico You Don’t Know

danielHosted by Mexican-American journalist Daniel Hernandez, a regular on Latino USA and the author of Down and Delirious in Mexico City, which chronicles his move from San Diego to Mexico City.

The New Yorker says Daniel finds the unexpected , original,  and mysterious.

Now that’s Mexico Uncovered.  Listen here for a sample!

March 19th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

An Orchestra of Guns

Electric Guitar by Pedro Reyes Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London; Photograph © Ken Adlard

The United States and Mexico share deep personal, economic, geographic and cultural connections, but understanding — on both sides of the border — is often limited by stereotype and media exaggeration.  Round Earth Media is out to change that.

We launched in 2005, with a bounty of stories from Mexico, supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Now, in a groundbreaking new collaboration and with generous support from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, Round Earth Media is pairing young American and Mexican journalists, to produce powerful, untold stories from Mexico.  These stories are broadcast and published in top-tier media, reaching huge audiences in both countries. 

Here’s our latest, broadcast on NPR. Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes is in the process of converting thousands of narco gang weapons seized by the government into musical instruments. Click HERE to listen.

February 19th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

Transforming Guns into Musical Instruments

Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes is in the process of converting thousands of narco gang weapons seized by the government into musical instruments.  Mexican reporter Omar Sanchez de Tagle, paired with American reporter Marlon Bishop, produced this story as part of Round Earth’s Mexico Reporting Project.  Omar’s story appears in Animal Politico, a major Mexican investigative news website.

To read this powerful story in Spanish, view photos and a video, click HERE.

Our untold stories, published and broadcast in top-tier media, reach huge audiences in the U.S. and in the countries where we are reporting.

February 7th, 2013  |  By Mary Stucky

High-Tech Manufacturing Driving Economy in Mexico: The latest from Round Earth’s Mexico Project

Mexico City's ubiquitous VW bug } Photo: Marlon Bishop

Mexico was once known for cheap manufacturing. But as that sort of business has fled to Asia, Mexico has concentrated on auto manufacturing and other higher-tech industries.  From Marlon Bishop and Javier Risco, on PRI’s The World.

If you’ve ever been to Mexico City, chances are you’ve sat in an old Volkswagen Bug taxi, stuck in Mexico City’s notorious traffic. Volkswagen first came to Mexico in 1967, when it opened a plant in Puebla, a few hours drive from Mexico City. For decades, the Bug was the biggest-selling car in the country.  Today, the Puebla plant has expanded to become the largest auto factory in North America, employing 18,000 people. It’s a state-of-the-art facility full of industrial robots and blinking computer equipment. The plant has the capacity to produce 2,500 cars a day, in popular models such as the Jetta and Golf.  Many Mexicans are benefiting from this new high tech economy while many others are being left behind.  Click HERE for the story.

Support more stories about Mexico from Round Earth Media!

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