Interview with Kari Lydersen


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes. I wrote plays and poems in high school. Then in college I started doing student journalism.

Can you tell me about your educational background?

I went to high school in San Diego then I went to Northwestern, I studied journalism as an undergraduate and I wrote for the Daley Northwestern.

What kind of stuff did you write for them?

A wide range of different types of articles.

Can you tell me about the Urban Youth International Journalism?

That's a program run by We the People media in conjunction with "The Residents Journal," which is a newspaper which publishes stories on public housing. It started out working with youth in public housing, and it taught them about journalism. Now it branched out and I work with kids in different high schools and public schools and I teach them journalism.

How do they get their funding?

It's a non profit, so they rely on foundation grants.

Your old texts have your name written as  Lyderson and the newer texts use Lydersen. Did you change your name?

No. It was just a mistake.

How did "Out of the Sea and Into the Fire" come about?

I had been writing a lot about immigration for and other places. The Common Courage publisher had seen some of my stories, and he had been looking for someone to do something on immigration. He asked me to make a proposal and that was it

The Marcos Raya mural is very beautiful. How did you meet him, and how did he become involved in the book? Also, why did you choose that particular art piece?

He lives in Pilsen where I live, and I became friends with him. He wasn't really involved in the book beyond that, but he supportive and he allowed me to use the piece.

How did you set up and conduct the interviews?

Most of them were set up with the help of MGOs or community organizations working with particular groups such as the Zapatistas, Enchappas, or women in the aquillas. They were the middle men that helped me set up the interviews.

Which interview stood out the most or affected you the most emotionally?

There were a lot. I'll highlight just a few. Mary Gonzales is an ecologist who lives in Pilsen. She survived the Civil War in El Salvador . She founded an organization here. Also the women in the Aquillas and the borders. Some of the women I spent time with were dying of cancer and other illnesses so that was emotional. My time spent in Bolivia was the most uplifting.

I read about the privatization of the Bolivian water in the Most Censored News Stories book. You did a most censored news stories article last year, are you working on next year's yet?

Not yet. I don't even know when it comes out.

What are some of the stories that are being suppressed right now?

That's a great question. I think many of the stories about the popular revolution in Venezuela are being suppressed. There are a million different censored Iraq stories. I think here, the effects of public housing have been covered somewhat in the "Chicago Tribune," but not on a national level. The failure of redevelopment of public housing has been neglected.

You say that many Latin Americans have a love/hate relationship with the USA . Can you expand on this a bit?

The youth are very immersed in American popular culture. Even middle aged and older people also are fond of music, fashion, American soap operas. But they're not necessarily emulating white American culture: many emulate Chicano-American culture. There's so much back and forth between the two regions that it's impossible for anyone to not be exposed to it. But at the same time, on a political level, there's huge resentment of the NAFTA, other free trade policies, and the United States . They see us as an aggressive 900 pound gorilla. The majority of Latin Americans oppose the war in Iraq , and they actually know more about the situation than many Americans.

At this point isn't it inevitable for corporate farms to wipe out family farms? If not what can people do to resist the trend.

I don't think it's inevitable, but it's definitely heading that way. Probably the big thing that prevents it in some countries is the land reform laws which are still on the books in many Latin American countries. The people in these countries like Venezuela have to pressure the government to actually uphold those laws. People all over Latin America are reclaiming land and farming it. In most cases they are within the law. The governments need to respect that.

What can United States citizens do to discourage sweat shop labor?

Activists have been doing a really good job at pressuring colleges not to buy sweat shop made products at gift stores or exposing sweat shop practices to people like Kathy Lee Gifford. That's been pretty successful. As far as the US government could do, at this point it's hard to imagine them doing anything for the public good or workers rights abroad. All of the US free trade agreements have certainly made it easier more for sweat shop labor to exist.

Have there any positive effects of globalization?

In individual cases perhaps but not on a large scale level. Only if you look at it on a broad level and consider the Internet part of globalization. Any exchange between cultures is great. Is there any way that labor can globalize and win some concessions?

  Are there any differences between how Democrats and Republicans approach globalization?

That's tricky. There are definitely differences but it's not like one's good and one's bad. It was Clinton that sheparded us through NAFTA and other free trade agreements. Some Republicans are isolationists and they might be actually be more resistant to the idea. It's complicated.

  The Alexy Lanza (he's from Honduras ) section talks about the difficulty of keeping a dual cultural identity in America . Is it possible to be both American and another group?

You can have dual citizenship or even four way citizenships. More and more this country is made up of people with loyalties to several countries.

I read your article on how insurance companies overcharge the uninsured? Would we have had more chance of real health car reform if John Carrey had won ?

If Carey won, I'm sure he might not have been perfect, but I'm sure he would have been a lot better than Bush.

In the last 12 months, there have been lot's of high profile political documentaries such as "The Corporation," "Fahrenheit 911," "The Hunting of the President," and Naomi Klein's "The Take." Do you think film or art is a good way of disseminating political ideas ?

Sure. A lot of those projects are more "art" than my book which is straight forward reporting. I think that the more art gets those ideas out there the better.

I see very little pro labor or reporting or stories that are critical of corporations in the media, so where does this idea of a liberal media come from?

That's just the propaganda of the far right. Of course by their standards, most of us are liberal. I hope most people don't believe the liberal media myth. If they do then they are just falling for

What new projects are you currently working on?

I've been thinking of a topic on another book. Any of the people in Out of the Fire and Into the Sea would be interesting enough for a whole book. I might also write a book about Pilsen, and I'm investigating the Great Lakes and water rights on a global sense.



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Photography by Richard Wilson