La Voz de La Voz: Mariel Fiori Gives Voice, Encouragement to Region's Latinos
by Carrie W. Ross - Mariel Fiori has been dedicating her life to the business of dissemination: stories, information, energy, contacts, ideas, projects, beliefs, education, attitudes and voices.
Her knack is tapping into the live current of the universal information speedway, and processing it to make it accessible for an often-disenfranchised community who otherwise might never access it.
The Kingston resident's method for doing that these days is La Voz, the monthly Spanish-language news, arts and culture magazine she founded five years ago and puts out in collaboration with Bard College.
"There is so much ignorance on both parts of the Hispanic and Anglo communities, so at La Voz we try to break the stereotypes," said Fiori. A typical issue contains notices of art exhibits, politics, fiction, personal accounts of immigration stories, information about supportive local agencies, news, useful regional information (such as last month's publication of rules on recycling), and even a page dedicated to learning English (pronouncing English vowels, helpful phrases, etc). One page is in English, the Suplemento Educativo.
"At La Voz, we try to empower our readers through information on labor and legal rights, personal finance education, healthy living, and learning English in the Hudson Valley, among other topics that may help people live a happier and more productive life so many miles away from what they are used to," said Fiori. The success of the Hudson Valley publication has resulted in Fiori being sent to California to start a similar publication with a Bard College partner.
La Voz started out in 2004 as a quarterly and snowballed into a monthly, with 4,000 copies printed every month (except January) and distributed widely throughout four counties. Oftentimes readers help La Voz share the wealth of information and stories in regions where the Hispanic communities are starving for entertainment and stimulation.
In an interview last week, Fiori talked about some of the issues which she sees as paramount for Hudson Valley Hispanic immigrants, a primary being transportation. "Transportation, or the lack thereof, is one of the most challenging obstacles," she said. "In the Hudson Valley, public transportation is unfortunately very limited, as opposed to New York City where having a car is actually a nuisance. To go to work, many people risk and lose their lives by walking or biking many miles on roads that are designed for motor vehicles. Others may have an option to get a driver's license from another state, or use the license from their home country, and through the help of friends, who would provide insurance and registration, get a car to drive around. This is of course a very risky operation because if the driver gets stopped by the police for any reason, most likely the car will be towed away and never recovered."
Fiori does not appreciate the term "illegal aliens" and prefers to refer to them as "undocumented immigrants" or "unprotected immigrants," arguing that many are working on obtaining resident status. She takes many of the immigrants' issues to heart, and is passionate about providing a forum and a clear voice for those who otherwise might never say anything. "Many are afraid to speak or get involved," she said. "In their countries, there is corruption in the governments, and so they don't believe in government or get involved in politics."
Another challenge Hudson Valley immigrants face, Fiori points out, is obvious - the language barrier, and the resulting lack of information regarding their rights in this country. "Lack of information and the language barrier have many more implications ... Many immigrants, protected by law or otherwise, are especially vulnerable to fraud," she said. "Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who call themselves 'immigration lawyers,' but what they only do is to milk thousands of dollars from the pockets of poor people who want to believe that what they are being told by a Hispanic 'brother' or 'sister' is true. However, not everyone around is a fraud, it is a matter of finding the true [immigration lawyers]."
From Buenos Aires to Tivoli, via Galicia
Fiori is a native of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, where she earned a degree in journalism from its Universidad Cat?lica. Her resume brims with remarkable productivity - the late 1990s and early 2000s found her as the producer and coordinator of weekly radio shows in Argentina on topics such as classic and modern art, literature, drama, music and science, health, society and politics and later as a television producer for a show focused on health, social and political issues. Fiori produced daily radio shows as well, including Sexu?logos, ("Sex-dialogues"), hosted by two doctors. And her name was known for her contributions to weekly and monthly cultural magazines, one with a circulation of 800,000.
"I was in the heart of radio programming," said Fiori, who had to learn to think on her feet early in the game. "I think what you learn in school is important but it's more about the experience what you learn while working. If at the last minute your guest is not coming you have to have plan B and plan C. It goes fast, and it forces you to become very organized."
Organizational skills come in handy when you are as well-traveled as she is. Fiori will tell you that referring to herself as a "citizen of the world" sounds far too pretentious, but her Boeing airline flight engineer father, personal childhood collection of worldwide destination brochures, cluttered passport and fluency in four languages (Spanish, French, German and English) suggest differently.
Fiori moved to the province of Galicia in northern Spain in 2001 to get married and be with her husband, leaving behind Argentina's tailspin into an economic meltdown. She got a job writing for Sunday editions of local newspapers who eagerly hired her by name recognition, resume and sample. "So much of this [industry] is the contacts and knowing who to call. I didn't really know anyone in Spain, so I wrote about something I knew."
She wrote about the immigration stories of six Argentine families living in Galicia - a topic that would later become a recurring theme in her career. Ever the restless body and constant student, Fiori took acting lessons to build a community of friends, to hone her fluency in the challenging language of Galician and find greater ease with public-speaking.
Within two years, Fiori and spouse were gilding their passports yet again for their move to Tivoli, New York, U.S.A., so her husband could study for his master's at Bard College on full scholarship. With no working visa, Fiori found herself yet again unsure of what to do with her boundless steam, growing skill-set and voracious work appetite. She enrolled in classes at Bard to earn her bachelor's degree in Literature and Latin American and Iberian studies. She wrote Spanish-language columns for the now-defunct Hudson Valley arts and culture magazine The Citizen.
Mediation Center of Dutchess County community program coordinator, Bill Valente, worked with Fiori at The Citizen. "I worked at a daily paper where we just did the news, whereas Fiori wants to inform, entertain and uplift the people," he said. "The magazine [La Voz] is written for the local Hispanic population and that population works really hard to get by, and appreciates encouragement. They are struggling. She is about motivating and uplifting the people with positive encouragement."
Raising The Voice
Fiori soon lent her heart and soul to help organize Bard's school-funded, student community service projects, TLS (Trustee Leader Scholarship Program). One such project was the creation of a quarterly newsletter designed to "bridge the gap" between the Latino and American communities called La Voz: Cultura y Noticias Hispanas de Valle de Hudson (The Voice: Hudson Valley's Hispanic Culture and News), in which students and community members shared stories, ideas, culture, arts, support and experiences.
Fiori is mindful that the Hudson Valley's Hispanic population is comprised of many different cultures, and that her readers vary. "My experience is different from other immigrants because each one of us arrived to this country with different backgrounds; socio-economic, educative, urban versus rural, etc, and different perspectives about what life is like here," explained Fiori.
Fiori participates in two advocacy groups: Somos la Llave del Futuro ("We Are the Key to the Future"), which deals with immigration issues locally, and the Ulster County Hispanic Outreach Advisory Board. "I am involved in SLF because I believe in its mission: for all Latinos to fare better in this country, we need more Latinos in leadership positions," explained Fiori. "SLF is grass-roots and its members have varied backgrounds, which hopefully helps to enrich its scope. As I said before, La Voz tries to empower through information, SLF empowers through action, like educational programs."
Evelyn Torres of Ulster County Hispanic Outreach board has been working with Fiori for one year. "She has been offering her services as editor, which has been very helpful and insightful in helping to spread the news of all our services," said Torres. "She has given us direction and insight from her point of view as journalist about how to reach out, and not to mention she has published all sort of our announcements in her paper. ... She is a wonderful person to have on board. She has given us some great support and advice, and direction, she is a great asset for our outreach group."
Fiori revels in the progress made by the American women's liberation movement, and appreciates a key personal liberty many women may take for granted today. "Back in Buenos Aires, most people consider themselves not 'machistas', chauvinists," she said. "The generalized idea is that women and men are equal ... and so on and so forth ... I most often believed this as well. I had to move to upstate New York, and particularly, to the Bard College community, to start thinking in another way. To put it shortly: In Buenos Aires, I was first a woman, and then a journalist. In New York, I am first a journalist, and then a woman. I shared this thought with Mexican women friends who are also journalists, and they told me they experienced the same, but only if not dealing with other Hispanics."
Discharging and recharging for Fiori involves a several-pronged approach: cooking, dance lessons, drawing, meditating in a weekly Buddhist meditation group, and capoeira (Brazilian martial arts). And love - while she ended up getting a divorce from the guy she left Argentina with to marry in the first place, she is now enjoying her status in a very fulfilling relationship.
Somos la Llave del Futuro (We Are the Key to the Future) is a Hudson Valley-based nonprofit organization assisting Latino immigrants in their assimilation into American society. Through advocacy and social services, we provide needed resources in such essential areas as health care, work-life issues, and language support. We are guided by our belief that education and leadership are the best tools for creating a new generation of socially involved Latin-American youth who, while preserving their cultural heritage, contribute productively to the betterment of the larger community.