Immigration has become one of the most important issues of our time, and Truthdig is committed to humanizing the story. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Press Club honored Truthdig’s work in that area, and others, at the 10th annual National Arts and Entertainment Awards.

The news and opinion website won a first-place prize in the Books/Arts/Design category for Paul Von Blum’s criticism.

In “Living in the Shadows,” Von Blum reviews “In the Fields of the North / En Los Campos Del Norte,” a bilingual book by David Bacon that documents the plight of migrant workers through writing and photography.

Another essay by Von Blum ponders where’s the next Arnold Mesches, a radical artist whose death closed a chapter on socially conscious art in American history. Von Blum sees an urgent need for socially engaged art in the new Donald Trump era of potential abuses of civil liberties, rollbacks of civil rights, environmental degradation, military adventurism and neglect of women, people of color, sexual minorities and others.

The judges said Von Blum’s work offered “excellent critical analysis, including incisive commentary.”

For “Living in the Shadows,” Von Blum wrote:

We live in a despicable era of racism and xenophobia, fueled by the anti-immigrant fervor of the Trump regime and abetted by right-wing media forces. Mexican immigrants have borne the brunt of much of this public animus, including countless verbal assaults and some egregious examples of physical violence. Few perpetrators of this hostility recognize the long historical origins of their nativist outpourings. Even fewer realize the deep humanity and the powerful suffering of the Latino farmworkers who have come north to the United States to escape grinding poverty and hunger and try to eke out marginal livings for themselves and their families.

A new bilingual book by David Bacon offers both a dramatic antidote to the deplorable reality of racism and a majestic life-affirming view of these hidden women, men and children. “In the Fields of the North” is a landmark fusion of journalism and documentary photography. Bacon is an accomplished writer and photographer, with a long record of union organizing for the United Farm Workers, the United Electrical Workers, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and others. He has effectively documented the impact of globalization, the degrading conditions of workplaces for many immigrants, the human consequences of migration, the political struggles for workers’ and human rights, and many related topics in his books and commentary.

But above all, Bacon is a documentary photographer of extraordinary power, insight and skill. In his introductory comments to the book, he is modest—too modest—about contributing to the long history of socially conscious photography: “I hope my work contributes to this tradition today.” I have had the privilege and pleasure of teaching and writing for many years about some of the giant American figures of this tradition, including Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks.

I have followed Bacon’s work for decades and it is entirely reasonable to view him as the legitimate heir of these iconic photographic artists. Like these men and women, Bacon professes his deep commitment to the people whose images he celebrates with his camera. He refuses to stand apart from the human beings he photographs and repudiates the absurd notion, which is still popular in some academic and critical circles, that photographers must be objective and neutral. He takes his stand strongly and without ambiguity: “We are not objective but partisan.”

Von Blum is a senior lecturer in African American Studies and Communication Studies at UCLA. He has taught at the University of California since 1968, serving 11 years at UC Berkeley before arriving at UCLA in 1980. He is the author of six books and numerous articles on art, culture, education and politics. To read more of Von Blum’s work on Truthdig, click here.

In the Fields of the North/ En los Campos del Norte Purchase in the Truthdig Bazaar


The announcement of Von Blum’s honor was made at a gala dinner at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Truthdig writers also earned a second-place and a third-place prize.

The second-place prize in the Commentary Analysis/Trend category went to Chris Hedges for “James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness.”

Entry description: At this frightening moment in American history—with a racist in the White House and amid rising levels of racial hatred—there is no more important writer than James Baldwin.

The third-place prize in the Theater Critic category went to Jordan Riefe, for “ ‘The Designated Mourner’: A Play on Authoritarianism, Restaged for the Trump Era” and “ ‘Building the Wall’: Staging America’s Worst Immigration Nightmare.”

Entry description for “The Designated Mourner”: Twenty years after its debut, playwright Wallace Shawn’s drama has taken on new meaning for American theatergoers.

Entry description for “Building the Wall”: Playwright Robert Schenkkan sounds the alarm about a scenario he says “absolutely” could come to pass in the United States.

To see all of the NAEJ award winners, click here.

Posted by Eric Ortiz

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