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MEET OUR STUDENTS: Jesús Armand Chapa Malacara

  • By Amy Dunkin
John Smock

Grand leaps are part of his life and work,
leading to high hopes in bilingual journalism

Jesús Armand Chapa Malacara
Jesús the dancer

Jesús Armand Chapa Malacara took a detour between graduating from Yale in 2004 with a political science degree and entering the bilingual program at the Newmark J-School last fall.

Drawn to dancing as a kid, he took classes in college, then spent six years performing mostly with small, contemporary ballet companies in New York. Asked what his family thought about the career choice, he replied with a smile, “My mother and grandmother were just relieved I didn’t drop out of Yale.”

He said he eventually grew tired of “the politics of the dance world” and threw himself into other work as a professional photographer and software developer. His stunning photos of dancers in motion have won acclaim in the art world; his technical skills allowed him to skip the J-School’s introductory data curriculum to take more advanced, third-semester courses.

Jesús was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and raised in Kansas City, Mo. “I grew up working class with the constant pressure to perform, in hopes it would mean access and scholarships I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. His acceptance into the first Gates Millenium Scholarship class in 2000 paid for college, allowing him “to graduate with no debt and the freedom to be as imaginative as I wanted in pursuing my passions.”

One of those passions led him to journalism school. “In some ways, it was a pandemic discovery,” he said. He was spending a lot of time listening to podcasts and had an “aha moment” during an episode of Radio Ambulante’s El Hilo (The Thread) about misinformation campaigns in Florida during the 2020 presidential election. “I remember thinking this is what I’m supposed to be doing, that I wanted to be engaged in civic education,” he said.

It just so happened that ads for Newmark’s bilingual program were running on the podcast. After hearing them repeatedly, he made a mental note to look the school up. He applied six weeks before the semester began and was accepted in August, just in the nick of time for orientation.

Other than having to adjust to being a student again at age 39, Jesús said he has loved  returning to the classroom. “As an undergrad, I was intimidated by the professors,” he said. “Here, I understand that our professors are, more than anything, concerned about our wellbeing in the profession.”

He is interested in exploring gaming and new technologies in journalism and envisions himself working in a startup. That drew him to Prof. Jeff Jarvis’s new “Designing the Internet” class, as well as an entrepreneurship course at Baruch College.

Through the bilingual program, he aims “to bring Latinx experiences into wider conversations.” This will be on display in his video project about businesses started by undocumented immigrants, focusing on a couple from Mexico working as street vendors in West Harlem. It’s soon to be published on the J-School’s NYCity News Service site.

“The woman in the film reminds me so much of my grandmother, always finding a way forward in the face of impossible circumstances,” he said. “When I showed it to my mom and sister, they both offered the same observation. It turned out to be a pretty emotional process, but also a beautiful affirmation of the decision I made to use my skills and experiences to tell stories that usually remain untold.”