A picture Mariano Castillo's father took of him at 6 years old, boarding a flight in Peru, may have more to do with his journalism career today than he ever imagined. He and his family were moving to Houston, Texas, where his dad would take on a new job with what he believed were worthwhile opportunities for his children.
His father also saved page one of the Houston Chronicle as a memento of the day the Mariano family arrived in the U.S. — one that Castillo thinks a lot about today.
This year, Castillo was named one of Carnegie Corporation of New York's Great Immigrants list. The honor recognizes naturalized citizens from all walks of life that have made significant contributions to society. The list includes 42 public figures and celebrities such as Google CEO Sundar Pichai and TV host and comedian Samantha Bee.
It also includes prominent Latinos such as retired baseball great Fernando Valenzuela, Sprint president and CEO Marcelo Claure, American Museum of Natural History Director and biologist Ana Luz Porzecanski and CEO and real estate developer Jorge M. Perez.
Castillo is an Editor at the Associated Press who has also been recognized for his work at CNN en Español and his reporting for the San Antonio Express-News where he covered the U.S.-Mexico border. As Carnegie noted, he has reported major events in the U.S. and Latin America, including the trapped Chilean miners' story, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt and the 2009 coup in Honduras.
Castillo's work, like his life, navigates between two cultures. For him, that also meant juggling the Spanish and English language — a challenge that presented itself to Castillo at a very early age.
"Even if it was playing with blocks, I recall having a frustration about being able to comprehend the instructions to do what I was told," Castillo told NBC News. He took on these challenges and worked to improve himself. By the end of the year, he recalls having read the most books in his class.
Learning how to maneuver between cultures played an important role in Castillo's life as he grew up in the U.S. as a Latino immigrant. He says he encountered people who associated being an immigrant with poor education. People he met also assumed that because he was an immigrant, he was Mexican, and that immigrants took American jobs from non-immigrant Americans.
Castillo quickly realized that he was not the image that others envisioned when they thought of an "immigrant." His family had a good life in Peru, a nice house, a safe neighborhood. Castillo's parents were well-educated.
"To me the biggest thing was for more to learn to define my own immigrant experience," he said. Later he added, "For a lot of my life I've wanted others to understand me — understand where I'm coming from."
Understanding is at the root of a lot of the work he does today. Castillo said he is not on a mission to convince people to think one way or the other. His best work gives his readers a different lens through which to view the world, and helps understand "where people are coming from."
More importantly, Castillo says, it starts a conversation.