They came, they saw, they drew their own conclusions. Years after their adventures in America, four participants reflect on the World Press Institute and how WPI affected their careers, their lives and their beliefs about America
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Ko Shioya, 1967 WPI Fellow from Japan
Razia Ismael, 1971 WPI Fellow from India
Sergey Merinov, 1988 WPI Fellow from the Soviet Union
Vivian Sequera, 1994 Fellow from Venezuela
by Frank Jossi
In Nashville, Tenn., two African American leaders are addressing a group of foreign journalists about the need for economic development in their community. It’s September 1991 and the journalists are part of the World Press Institute program, based at Macalester. The two speakers talk about human rights and racial progress, about diversity being a strength in America, about how racism still exists and how the black community must rise to overcome it.
Then one of the speakers, Nashville NAACP President Michael Grant, says something so controversial that for weeks it will continue to provoke conversations among the international journalists and surface in their interviews with other Americans. Grant declares that he’s against whites and blacks marrying, especially black men marrying white women. Why? The money the black man earns will be pulled out of the black community and his inheritance will be transferred to children of a mixed race, diminishing the impact it might have on black neighborhoods and black merchants, he argues. “I’m against marrying whites because of the problems in the black community and the need for us to pull together,” Grant says.
Every time they meet other African Americans during the rest of the WPI program, the foreign journalists bring up the question of intermarriage. Harvard scholar and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., tells them he disagrees with Grant, revealing that his wife, in fact, is white. Yet Grant’s remark is instructive. It gives the journalists a glimpse into America’s racial divide, just as they come to learn that African Americans themselves hold a variety of views on this and other issues.
For the past 38 years, the World Press Institute has exposed journalists from 92 countries to the matchless diversity of opinions Americans hold about themselves and given them a memorable journey across the physical, psychological and political landscape of the United States.
The WPI journalists have questioned street gang members in California and enjoyed the neon drenched splendor of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive. They have watched Son Seals deliver a blistering set of blues in a smoky Chicago nightclub and discussed macroeconomic theory with John Kenneth Galbraith in his oak-paneled living room in Cambridge, Mass. They have milked cows while living on farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and covered the Republican and Democratic national conventions. They have interviewed mayors and ministers, historians and Rotarians, artists and prison wardens, corporate leaders and philosophers.
They’ve experienced America like few Americans ever will.
The WPI program begins at Macalester, where the Fellows—usually 10 in number, all proven journalists—spend several weeks being briefed on various topics by Macalester faculty and getting oriented to life in the U.S. Then they hit the road for several months. Their schedule usually includes a week each in a dozen major cities, where they conduct two to three interviews a day. The journalists are free to write about what they wish, to interpret things their own way, to ask whatever questions they want--and they do. A Filipino journalist once asked a Coca-Cola executive what the global behemoth was going to do about the problem of mothers feeding babies Coke in Asia. Dozens of journalists have asked more than a few beleaguered foreign desk editors why they, and Americans in general, do not care about anything in the rest of the world.
The other challenge of the program comes in the mixing bowl of 10 highly individualistic people attempting to live together. Tensions, both personal and cultural, are inevitable. Yet Israelis have become friends with Arab and Muslim journalists, Europeans have gotten along famously with Africans, and WPI has even resulted in a few marriages.
Frank Jossi, a St. Paul journalist, was the program director of the World Press Institute from 1990 to 1992. He also taught journalism on Fulbright scholarships in Pakistan in 1988-89 and in Albania in 1993.
(Reprinted with permission of Macalester Today)