A student's journey from EPCC's Tejano Tribune to the cover of Time Magazine
By STEVE ESCAJEDA - At the tender age of 15, feeling lost and apprehensive, Jasmine Aguilera took the short walk from the EPCC Early College High School portables to the main campus’ student journalism office.
Little did she know that the short trek would end up changing her life.
Not completely sure of what she was getting into, Aguilera took on the role of college newspaper reporter with no experience whatsoever.
Not only did she quickly prove her worth as a writer, by the next semester she was the first, and to this day the only, early college high school student to be hired as editor of the Tejano Tribune.
Those were early signs that Aguilera would have a successful career in journalism, but even she, in her wildest dreams, could never believe she’d make the cover of Time Magazine.
The now 28-year-old Aguilera’s feature about how the pandemic has affected women on the border was prominently displayed on the March 15-22 cover.
“It’s kind of surreal to see my name on the magazine,” said Aguilera with a laugh. “I didn’t really find out that my story was going to make the cover of Time until very late in the process so it was a total shock to me.”
Her story was part of a series on how the pandemic has affected women in different walks of life.
“Taking months to do the immigration story and finally seeing it published was very fulfilling for me,” Aguilera said. “Of course, it took on an added significance with me because I was able to write about what was taking place on the border, including my hometown.”
Though Aguilera’s road to Time Magazine has been lined with many twists and turns, she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people who have been willing to take me under their wing and help me, going all the way back to my days at EPCC,” said Aguilera. “Whether they helped with their wisdom, knowledge or even a place to stay until I could get on my feet, I’ll always be grateful.
“Even when I first went to the EPCC newsroom, when I arrived I was a little intimidated by the older students who were already there, but they quickly accepted me
as an equal and that really helped my progress.”
The most unusual thing of all is that she never had any intentions of becoming a writer.
“I actually got placed at the EPCC newspaper by error. I was supposed to take another Mass Communication course,” she explained. “It was a mistake that I ended up at the newspaper and it turned out to be one of the greatest mistakes in my life.
“My first story for the Tejano Tribune had to do with a college theater production. I was so nervous but the play’s director put me at ease by sitting with me and explaining the entire process. When I turned my story in, all the errors I made were brought to my attention. I wasn’t upset. I not only learned how to write a news article – I was hooked.”
To say she was “hooked” was no understatement.
“I remember wanting to spend all of my time in the newsroom,” she said. “Whether it was my lunch break, or after school, I liked it so much that I wanted to spend all my time there.”
After graduating from EPCC, Aguilera went on to UTEP and eventually became the editor of its student newspaper, The Prospector.
Spending her time writing and editing stories, delegating assignments and meeting deadlines didn’t just feed her professional passion, it also served as an escape from personal problems.
“I had a rocky home life back then. My parents divorced when I was 18. My mom and I scrambled to get away from all the unpleasantness at home. It was a very stressful time in my life but there’s no doubt my work helped me cope with all of it.”
While at UTEP, Aguilera had the privilege of interning in Washington DC in 2013 and served as a political reporter for a semester.
“I got the chance to attend government hearings and interview politicians. This was my first professional experience outside of El Paso so you can imagine how nervous and excited I was.”
She then worked at the Dallas Morning News for a year before returning to UTEP to continue her education.
Another great opportunity arose when Aguilera spent time in Arizona as part of the New York Times’ Student Journalism Institute.
“Through that program I was able to meet many New York Times editors and reporters. They eventually offered me a summer fellowship at the New York Times.”
Though Aguilera has spent the better part of the last decade climbing the professional ladder, it doesn’t mean she hasn’t had any fun.
“I was fortunate to have a chance to go to Europe with my boyfriend in 2018,” she said. “We spent two months in France and one in Italy. I got to spent time in the south of France, Paris, Venice, Rome and many other places I never thought I’d ever have the chance to see. I remember at one point thinking to myself, ‘wow, people like me rarely get to see any of this,’ I was truly fortunate.”
Jasmine Aguilera Time Magazine photo
Though she is currently working remotely for Time Magazine out of California, Aguilera had the chance to spend the last four years living in the city that doesn’t sleep.
“I’ve always wanted to live in New York City and I had a chance when I took a job as a video editor in Manhattan in 2018. I lived in Brooklyn for four years and I consider it my home away from home. I loved the busy lifestyle and all the craziness. Of course, things have been a little different there since the pandemic but before that, I loved the fact that there was always something to do any time of the day or night.”
As for now, Aguilera is enjoying the ups and downs of working at Time.
“I love what I’m doing now. I’ve been given the time to really explore a story and get to know the people who are impacted by whatever subject I’m reporting on,” said Aguilera.
But working at such a high-profile publication can bring with it some high-profile negativity.
“The unfortunate part of the job is the amount of hate mail and even death threats I’ve received when I do stories about the border. It’s a very controversial topic for some people. Fortunately, I’ve received a lot more positive support for this one.”
Though Aguilera is happy with what she’s doing now, she would like to spend more time in the trenches.
“If there’s a dream job out there, I think I would love to be a correspondent. To be on the ground somewhere covering a region of the world rather than sitting at my desk sounds awesome to me.
“That’s something I’d like to make happen in the future.”
In spite of her lofty accomplishments, Aguilera tries not to forget where she came from and who helped her along the way.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that none of this would have happened to me without going to EPCC first,” Aguilera explained. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the school and my instructors who taught me and believed in me, for any success that has come my way.
“Being an editor at a very early age really sharpened my skills. I was very shy when I was young and my time at EPCC helped me get over that. It helped my communication skills and my confidence overall.”
Her achievements might, in some way, serve as an inspiration and example for young people of the area.
“I hope I can play a role in proving to young people around El Paso that if I can make it in this industry, they too, with hard work, dedication and perseverance, can do the same.”