916.695.6882; jazmineulloa@gmail.com

Short documentaries produced at home and abroad.

Caravan for Peace


Produced by Jazmine Ulloa
Photos contributed by A.J. Miranda, Natalia Ciolko

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and fellow activists under the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity stop in Austin in an estimated 6,000-mile journey — from the Mexican border city of Tijuana to Washington, D.C. The group’s mission is to draw attention to the bloody struggle in Mexico that has claimed the lives of thousands, including Sicilia’s son and other loved ones.
As released Aug. 29, 2012
See more on tumblr.

To sing and dance: Ensemble for elderly and disabled women is making its joyful mark


Story and video by Jazmine Ulloa
The Boston Globe

Maria Flores came to Villa Victoria eight years ago after a life in Puerto Rico of sewing, plowing, and doing almost anything a single mother in the countryside could to rase and educate her children.

Once her daughter and two sons had begun their careers, she moved from her native Sabana Grande to the South End neighborhood to simply enjoy the last and finest part of her life, she said.But Flores, a 64-year-old woman with a buoyant laugh and a magnetic personality, did much more.

As published July 17, 2009

Eastside Pride


Produced by Jazmine Ulloa and Rita Chapa

Perla Arpero was a junior when Johnston High School was shut down and restructured in 2008 after five years of dismal standardized test scores. The troubled school lost everything from teachers to its name and mascot, and the fight to keep it open had a profound effect on its students. We sought to tell their story through the bright, vivacious girl, as she finished up her senior year at the re-named Eastside Memorial High School.
As released spring 2009

La Botánica


Produced by Caitlin Diaz, Araceli Jaime, Lauren Pruitt, and Jazmine Ulloa

John Cazeras is the owner of the Green and White. In this short film, we tell the story of the East Austin landmark that has changed roles over time. Formerly a neighborhood grocery store, it now offers more esoteric goods, from herbs and incense to lucky candles and arcane artifacts. His clientele is growing. La India or La Mistica is one of his regular customers. She also has her own business in the store. She can break a curse or give you a reading.
As released spring 2009

Czech Tekno


Produced by Jazmine Ulloa

Think Woodstock for electronica music lovers.

Czeck Tek is a massive open-air festival that brings more than 40,000 people from all over Europe to the Czech Republic every July for a weeklong celebration of electronic, house and techno beats. In its early years, the “teknival” location would surface not until a day before the event because the party was truly underground and not even legal. But after a bloody showdown between partygoers and police in the summer of 2005, organizers acquired permits for the following year.

As part of a study abroad program in 2006, a friend and I traveled to Hadriste military fields to cover the fest for a short documentary I was making on the underground music scene in Prague.

Credits at the end: Brian Chamblee for lighting, Josh and Tomas for sharing their tent, Professor Andy Garrison, FAMU, UT Austin
As released summer 2006
Watch more Prague stories here.

Magazine and newspapers published from the mini publishing empire that was my old Macbook. A collection of the best clips from my summers and semesters as an intern. And other good stuff.

Abroadly Speaking

Volume II, Spring 2008

Volume II, Spring 2008

I helped found Abroadly Speaking with three other students our freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin. The student-run magazine was sponsored by the school’s Study Abroad Office with the mission of increasing and diversifying the study abroad student body. Over three years, we received funding to produce 1,500 print copies of the first issue and 3,500 copies of each of the following two issues. As editor in chief from 2006 to 2009, I wrote articles, gathered and edited photos and stories from more than two dozen contributing writers, and designed all three issues and promotional materials.
To read the Spring 2008 issue click here.
To read the Spring 2009 issue click here.

ADELANTE

March 2008 issue

Adelante was created in the Fall of 2006 by the Hispanic Student Journalists Association at the University of Texas at Austin with the goal of covering Latina/o issues often overlooked by traditional media outlets.

As editor in chief, I wrote, edited, shot photos and designed pages. By Spring 2008, I organized a team of four to cover the U.S.-Mexico Border Fence in Brownsville, Texas. At the time, increased border security since 9/11, the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the simmering demand for immigration reform had shifted the nation’s focus to its southern border. The negative debates were affecting all Latinos – regardless of their legal status – and often dehumanized the “in-between” place many call home. We set out to produce a print and web issue to counter the prevailing narrative.
Check out our work here.

Lurch and a lifeline 37 floors up

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Boston Globe

A pair of window washers at the peak of a Financial District skyscraper yesterday morning were jolted from their perch when their platform abruptly pitched downward, leaving them dangling 37 floors above the street and banging the windows for help.
Full story.

Bus drivers, company caught in labor battle

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Boston Globe

A controversy that has captured the attention of the Chinese community is pitting a group of bus drivers against a well-known Hong Kong-born businesswoman.

The 10 drivers say they were forced to work longer hours than the government allows for Sunshine Travel Services and then let go after protesting pay cuts. But Lorraine Tse, owner and founder of the Chinatown company, has denied the allegations, with the labor feud escalating in recent months to dueling news conferences and a lawsuit – all played out in Chinese-language newspapers.
Full story.

Rings among few clues in woman’s death

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Boston Globe

One ring marks the promise to marry, another the honor of that promise held true. And the last, a 10-karat band with heart-shape settings and three birthstones, is the keepsake of a mother. What once symbolized three joyous stages in a woman’s life have become some of the only pieces law enforcement officials have to put together the story of her death.
Full story.

Women play major roles in the drug trade

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Brownsville Herald

At the lowest level of the illegal drug trade are cases like that of Laura Trevino, her mother and two sisters.

The four women arrested in June allegedly stashed approximately 37 pounds of cocaine packages inside “girdles” three of them wore underneath their clothes. Authorities said they attempted to smuggle the narcotics through the B&M International Bridge.Court testimony later revealed Trevino had admitted to organizing the operation and would be paid $2,000 after they had crossed into the United States, a small percentage of the nearly $1 million estimated street value of the drugs.

The case was the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley. But among the roles women play in the illegal drug business, a majority of them, like Trevino and her family, still take a huge risk for a small cut of their load’s worth.
Full story.

Restaurants taking no risks with salmonella outbreak

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Brownsville Herald

When customers ask Fidela Montelongo whether she serves tomatoes, she points to a large eraser board hanging on a wall of her restaurant. In red letters, it reads in Spanish:

“If you wish for tomato to be served with your food, please ask for it…for your health.”

Montelongo, owner of Refresqueria and Taqueria Montelongo on Southmost Boulevard, isn’t the only restaurateur in Brownsville to take the red fruit off the menu after a multi-state salmonella outbreak was linked to raw Roma, red plum and round red tomatoes.
Full story.

Shrimpers head to Mexico to fuel boats

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Brownsville Herald
 
Fuel prices have more than doubled since 2001, when Pedro Purata bought a 16,000-gallon shrimp boat he dubbed the “Alma Marie.”

The wooden boat, coated in layers of peeling black and white paint, now rocks gently on the bayou waters – moored to the dock along with more than half of the Port of Brownsville’s shrimp boats. Although some need repairs, most simply lack the fuel to head to Louisiana, where shrimping season has begun.

But before the Texas coast kicks off its shrimp season July 15, Purata and many other shrimpers along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline say they are sailing south.
Full story.

The Kings and Queens of Brownsville

By Jazmine Ulloa

Texas Co-op Power Magazine

When it comes to chess, students in Texas’ southernmost border town make all the right moves

With foldable chessboards in small, oblong bags slung over their shoulders, armies of excited children squeeze through the halls of Filemon B. Vela Middle School on a winter Saturday morning. Everywhere, coaches, teachers and volunteers shuffle groups back and forth from one corridor to the next to gaming areas set up throughout the small campus in Brownsville. Alongside follow mothers and fathers, cousins and grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else the competitors’ families have invited to the annual Chess of Champions, one of 10 major chess tournaments held for students in kindergarten through high school in this border city.

Brownsville, with a population exceeding 175,000, sprawls along the southernmost tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. The lush city with tropical temperatures and palm-fringed, artificial lakes, known locally as resacas, attracts avid bird-watchers from around the world and serves as a winter home for thousands of retirees—typically from the Midwest and the North—dubbed Winter Texans or “snowbirds.”
But the city lies in an impoverished area, where the median household income is roughly $30,000, about 95 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged and 34 percent have limited proficiency in English. When Brownsville and other cities in the Valley make national headlines, it is usually in connection with the politics of immigration or the atrocities of the drug war only a stone’s throw away in Mexico.

Yet, over the past two decades, a different story has attracted the attention of major media outlets, including Texas Monthly, The New York Times, CBS and HBO, as they chronicle the legacy of chess as a phenomenon in the region and the burgeoning of some of the world’s newest young talent.

At national championships, schools from the Brownsville Independent School District have placed among the top five in team competition since 2005. At the state level, they have dominated the Texas Scholastic Championships chess competition, winning about a dozen first-place slots at the elementary, middle and high school levels since 1993.
Tournaments like the one at Vela Middle School are family affairs. Parents, relatives and community members pitch in to raise money, contribute team snacks and meals—be it breakfast tacos or lasagna—and pack schools during competitions, so much so that in some instances, police have even been called out to unsnarl traffic jams.

At Vela, the parking lot is filled to the brink, and cars spill onto the side streets, parked brazenly under “No Parking” signs. Inside the gym, the commotion amplifies. Players search for their places among rosters taped to the walls and press their way through rows and rows of numbered, brown cafeteria tables. Hundreds of chessboards, checkered forest green and white, deck their surfaces, pieces at the ready: rooks biding time to topple kings, queens waiting to capture knights.

Gertrude Sharp Elementary School second-grader Eduardo Campella Rodriguez, or “Campy” as his friends call him, climbs onto his assigned metal chair. He sits on his knees to get a full view of the chessboard in front of him. The pint-sized 8-year-old with bright, chestnut eyes and a quick wit isn’t nervous, he says. Not yet. So far, he has always won his first round. “Maybe by the fourth or fifth I will be, but I get more confident when I win,” he later says with a sheepish smile.

He is good at winning, too. He beams when his teachers list his victories. He placed second in his division at his first national chess tournament. He was 5 then, and in kindergarten. But Campy’s triumph for such a young child does not surprise most Valley educators or chess coaches. There is no mystery—and more to it than luck—behind what has led to the rise of young chess stars like Campy.
It’s due to hard, hard work. It’s due to community effort. “To me, it comes down to expectations,” says Juliet V. Garcia, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville. Children from the Valley, predominantly Hispanic, are often clumped into stereotypes and assigned government labels, such as at-risk or low-income. But when it comes to the game of chess, educators and parents impel them to succeed—and they thrive.
“It’s a pretty powerful change of a paradigm,” she says.

Chess: What the Cool Kids Play

J.J. Guajardo has told this story at least 600 times to friends, family members and dozens of reporters, he estimates, chuckling. But he does not mind sharing it again. It is inspirational, he says, one of the few positive tales told about Brownsville, where the good is often overlooked or forgotten.
School officials and parents consider Guajardo the father of the city’s chess movement. He’s a figure they revere along the lines of Jaime Escalante, a Los Angeles high school teacher whose mentoring of at-risk students turned a failing calculus program into one of the nation’s best. The true story played out in the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver.”
But Guajardo, a soft-spoken, large man with kind eyes, is more modest. On a warm November night, sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a brown, tweed flat cap, he sits with his wife at a small pub in McAllen, a large Valley city about an hour from Brownsville. He is honored by the Hollywood comparisons, he says, but prefers the focus stay on the students. “I don’t think I picked chess,” Guajardo says. “Chess picked me.”

He was a teacher at Brownsville’s Russell Elementary School in 1989 when several children in his rambunctious group of sixth-graders were believed to have broken the gym coach’s vinyl square dance records as part of a prank. No outright accusations were made, Guajardo recalls, but the episode brought the principal marching into his classroom.
The principal urged him to create an extracurricular program that could keep the group of high-energy students busy in the mornings and stop them from causing trouble. She suggested chess.

Chess. The art form—or sport (it is often debated which)—is known as the “royal game,” in which the pieces, kings and queens, bishops and pawns, are moved across a checkered board to attack and capture. Its history spans centuries, a pastime popular among the echelons of the elite who have mastered the skills of strategy and analytical thought.
And Guajardo was charged with introducing all of this to a group of children who could barely keep still. But his students showed an interest, and he taught them how to play, even though he only knew the basics. All of the children built upon the foundations Guajardo taught them, and later, they could win in a match against their instructor.
The students raised about $500 (Guajardo paid most of it out of his own pocket) to attend their first state championship in Austin in the spring of 1990, he recalls with a proud smile. They did not win that year. But they did win two school years later—and every time after that for the next seven consecutive years.

Like the students, Guajardo improved with practice and started organizing competitions at the school. “I started learning the nuances of the game and how to run a tournament, how to read a wall chart, how to make sure the pairings were correct, and we began to become more sophisticated as we participated,” he remembers.
The chess team at Russell Elementary also gained participants, growing from a dozen students to more than 50 after the team won its first school title. Soon the school’s competitions were drawing hundreds. Students from across the country wanted to travel to Brownsville for a chance to compete against Russell players, and newspapers throughout the region began featuring its hometown heroes, Guajardo says. Chess became what the cool kids did.

Kings and Queens on Campus

Guajardo resigned as Russell Elementary’s chess coach in 1999, but the movement he spurred continued forward. More schools in the Brownsville school district and private schools across the area developed chess programs.

In 1999, Morningside Elementary School gripped media attention when a group of second- and third-graders placed second in the national championships. It was the first time a school from Brownsville had made it that far.

“And it really just took off. We started with six kids, and by the time we left Morningside, we had well over 100 kids playing chess,” says Rusty Harwood, one of three second-grade teachers at the time who, inspired by Guajardo’s success, started the chess team. Harwood, who now serves as the director for the chess program at The University of Texas at Brownsville, went on to teach at Americo Paredes Elementary in 2001. There, he helped start another chess team that advanced to win seven national titles through the years, including six under his direction.

The community rallied behind the students’ successes, and the chess movement grew into a citywide effort, with students and faculty working with families and local businesses to raise funds for tournaments and trips. For many children who had never left Brownsville, traveling to state and national competitions allowed them to explore other parts of the country for the first time. Parents later banded together to gain financial support from Brownsville ISD. Now, the program operates on an annual budget of $400,000.

As the program soared, UTB President Garcia was among its major proponents. While on a visit to Washington, D.C., to serve as chair of the Advisory Committee to Congress on Financial Aid, she told then-U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley about Morningside Elementary’s 1999 feat. It became the first example of success cited by Riley in his speech titled “State of the Union Address for Hispanic Education.”

And when a former college student approached her with the idea of launching a chess program at UTB, Garcia says she did not have to think about it twice. “It felt absolutely natural,” she says of drawing upon an existing pool of students who were quickly surpassing the levels of their instructors and seeking a higher platform to which to advance.

When the UTB chess team formed, one of its loftiest ambitions was beating The University of Texas at Dallas, known for its success at the national level. Now the college students are going head-to-head with Ivy League students from Harvard and Yale: UTB teams have advanced three times to Final Four competition—the country’s topmost collegiate tournament sanctioned by the United States Chess Federation—and have placed in the top five four times at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships, the foremost intercollegiate team chess competition in the Americas.

Better training at the university level also has since trickled down to younger students, school officials say. The area had no grandmasters, the highest title a player can attain in chess, back in the 1990s when Guajardo’s students first started taking state titles. Now, the UTB chess team, including its coach, boasts four of roughly 1,250 grandmasters in the world.

Future Moves

School officials say they do not see enthusiasm for the game ever fizzling out in Brownsville. With university players now serving as coaches, and with former Brownsville ISD students returning to teach, younger students are developing increasingly higher skills.

Chess competitors in the Valley now span the ages. Most train in free, afterschool lessons held three to four times a week. Before violence escalated in Mexico, some families crossed over into Matamoros, only a few minutes’ trip across one of the city’s three international bridges, where they could pay less for coaching than on the U.S. side. There are still some brave enough to try, like the family of 12-year-old Edgar Santoyo, who was featured on HBO’s Real Sports. But most stick to private tutors and computer programs designed to increase proficiency, school officials say.

Many outsiders are amazed upon learning that Brownsville students are so good at chess. Back in the day, Guajardo remembers, intimidated opponents would spread rumors that students practiced instead of going to class—of course, that was not true, he assures. School leaders have more realistic theories; bilingual students, for instance, could have an edge when learning chess because it is a lot like learning another language.

To Garcia, the most important piece, she says, is that educators need to do a better job of tapping into students’ potential. “The discussion is not really about chess, is it?” she asks. “It’s about how the brain really works and how expectations work and how then, why aren’t we able to translate the success children are having in chess into other disciplines?”

Yet some educators have seen chess help students in other areas. It boosts self-confidence and develops high critical-thinking and memory skills, school officials say, requiring players to recognize and memorize elaborate patterns of attack. Teachers and coaches attest to students’ improvements in academics as well, noting higher state standardized testing scores.

And chess also teaches students life lessons, Guajardo says. “One of the basic rules of the game is ‘touch move,’” he explains. “That means that if you touch a piece, you have to move that piece. You can’t take it back.”

You can’t say, “Never mind.” So the children sit on their hands, until they absolutely know what their next move will be and can commit to it. They learn the virtue of patience and to calculate, to predict outcomes, to be self-sufficient. “They learn how to succeed using their own wit, without anyone’s help,” Guajardo says. “Because in chess, you are all alone out there.”

Across the street from Vela Middle School sits Cameron Park, a colonia, or humble neighborhood, considered one of the most impoverished areas in the nation.
But the disparities and struggles of the outside world seem far removed from the classroom where several children have their chessboards laid out on the floor, enthralled in last-minute practice sessions before their next match.

As published June 2012

Abroadly Speaking

Volume II, Spring 2008

I helped found Abroadly Speaking with three other students our freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin. The student-run magazine was sponsored by the school’s Study Abroad Office with the mission of increasing and diversifying the study abroad student body. Over three years, we received funding to produce 1,500 print copies of the first issue and 3,500 copies of each of the following two issues. As editor in chief from 2006 to 2009, I wrote articles, gathered and edited photos and stories from more than two dozen contributing writers, and designed all three issues and promotional materials.

To read the Spring 2008 issue click here.
To read the Spring 2009 issue click here.

Adelante

Adelante was created in the Fall of 2006 by the Hispanic Student Journalists Association at the University of Texas at Austin with the goal of covering Latina/o issues often overlooked by traditional media outlets. A new and unique voice on campus, the small staff of eight operated out of a single laptop.

As editor in chief, I wrote, edited, shot photos and designed pages. By Spring 2008, I organized a team of four to cover the U.S.-Mexico Border Fence in Brownsville, Texas. At the time, increased border security since 9/11, the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the simmering demand for immigration reform had shifted the nation’s focus to its southern border. The negative debates were affecting all Latinos – regardless of their legal status – and often dehumanized the “in-between” place many call home. We set out to produce a print and web issue to counter the prevailing narrative.

Check out our work here.