2016 — student award of excellence
Growing up in rural Minnesota in a town with less than 1,700 people, there was not much going on for news other than the occasional brush fire. So whenever news presented itself, Nick Wagner would do all that was within his power to make images with the hope of getting column space in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He was 16 years old when his first byline was inked in the tri-state paper for his coverage of an arsonist's crimes. Fast forward 5 years and find his byline is running on SI.com, espn.go.com, USAtoday.com, APimages.com, The Huffington Post and publications around the world.
The photojournalism and Spanish double-major at Western Kentucky calls Ada, Minnesota, home when he's not working, traveling or attending university. Recently, Nick was awarded several awards for the work he completed as the intern photojournalist with The Forum. In addition to receiving recognition for his work this past summer, many of his portfolio images and photo stories made as a freelance photographer have received high honors, from several different committees, like the Hearst Journalism Awards program, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the Kentucky News Photographer's Association, the Kentucky Press Association and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Most recently, The Alexia Foundation recognized Nick's project titled "A Migrant's Mission," with an Award of Excellence student grant.
Nick is moved by current events and civil rights and finds meaning and is passionate about conveying stories about people and their experiences when both of these topics merge together. Currently, Nick is documenting a Mexican migrant worker's dichotomous life between a Kentucky tobacco farm and his home in Oaxaca. Apart from his photojournalistic duties, Nick also upkeeps his photography business, screams about hockey, enjoys bike-rides and cherishes time spent with family and friends.
You can stay-up-to-date with Nick's journeys as a photojournalist by following his Instagram feed, @wagsphoto.
It’s become an all-too-familiar sort of ritual for Rosalino Santiago Garcia; the 33-year-old father grabs his two sons and baby daughter for one last squeeze before he pulls close his wife, Sabina, to share one last peck on the cheek, and then, like he has done nine times before, Santiago Garcia departs the plot of land he has called home for his entire life with his seam-stretched suitcase and sweat-caked hat in hand. There wasn’t a going away party. No mementos. No tears. For Santiago Garcia and his family, it’s become an accepted part of life.
Santiago Garcia’s family has grown accustom to being torn apart by over 2,500 miles of land for nine months out of a year. The migrant farm worker from Santa Ana, Oaxaca, Mexico, labors in tobacco fields outside of Fountain Run, Kentucky, from May through February to support his family. Last year was number 13 away from home. He’s one of some 20 migrant workers on the farm legally admitted to the United States via an H-2A agriculture permit, which many of the one million foreign-born field workers currently in the United States use to find work.
Without the expansive number of workers that make sacrifices just like Santiago Garcia, the American economy would suffer tremendously. According to the Department of Agriculture, more than 140,000 workers were permitted to the United States via the H-2A form in 2015, double the amount of permits issued just four years ago. The number of permitted workers last year comprised about 10% of the agricultural workforce. If not for the migrant workforce, the American public could not enjoy high quality, low-cost, agricultural products all year round.
The current political season has once again fixed a set of crosshairs on undocumented immigrants through comments made by none other than Donald Trump. His promise to deport more than 11 million undocumented immigrants would decimate the American economy. Not only would it shrink an ever-aging labor force by 11 million people, but it would also cost the federal government anywhere from $400 to $600 billion. The nation’s GDP would take a $1.6 trillion hit, impacting the United States’ role as a major competitor in the global market.
The industry that would take the biggest hit, should Trump or any other politician be allowed to enforce such immigration policies, would be the agricultural sector, where Santiago Garcia makes the money to feed and shelter his family – the same sector he worked in as an undocumented migrant for first three years he was in the United States. According to John McLaren, a professor of economics at the University of Virginia, there would be an abrupt drop in farm income and a sharp rise in food prices. In addition to the agricultural sector being impacted, every industry across the board would be affected, as immigrants, whether legal or not, will always put a portion of their salary back into the economy, as Santiago Garcia does when he shops for work wear at Wal-Mart or when he patronizes the Fountain Run general store when he buys several bottles of Gatorade to quench his thirst after working a 12-hour day.
With the financial help of this grant, I intend to complete documenting Santiago Garcia both at home and in between rows of tobacco plants to furnish a meaningful story by giving the perspective of what it is like for Santiago Garcia in both sides of his dichotomous life. This is crucial to turn the project into a more cohesive piece, as his family is the driving force behind his pursuit to be employed in the United States. While Americans hear Republican presidential candidates shouting for the need to build a wall almost daily, never do these tirades connect audiences to actual migrants - people trying to support themselves and their loved ones. My goal is to help two communities understand one another. By making Santiago Garcia a character of a narrative that goes beyond the statistics and news chatter, I’m confident that the support from the Alexia grant will allow Americans to better understand the motivations of migrants and add to this important, timely topic in an impactful way.