To help tell the story of refugees fleeing Venezuela on foot, Andrea Castillo walked with them.
It took five days to trek from Cúcuta, just over the border in Colombia, to the sprawling city of Bucaramanga, which sits on a plateau in the widest branch of the Colombian Andes. Castillo (’12 Comm.) hiked more than half of the 120-mile route earlier this year, stopping for just one meal a day—and losing seven pounds in the process.
Making that journey, she says, was one of the most important things she’s ever done.
Since graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, Castillo has also investigated substandard housing, covered the aftermath of an earthquake, and written about stateless children born to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia. Her reporting has taken her from Pullman to Portland, Oregon, and Fresno, California, as well as Mexico City, and beyond.
But, she says, “I didn’t grow up reading newspapers or really paying attention to the news. I always knew I liked to write, but I didn’t see it as an option. I don’t know if I saw my community in the paper.”
Castillo was raised by a single mother in Seattle and the northern suburb of Edmonds. Her mother came to the United States from Venezuela, and Castillo grew up speaking both English and Spanish at home. Today, her fluency in both languages helps her cover stories on the immigration beat at the Los Angeles Times, balancing breaking news with long-term reporting projects.
At WSU, she worked for The Daily Evergreen and studied abroad twice, writing for The Times of India during a six-month stay in 2011 and managing social media accounts and translating blog posts for a human rights nonprofit in Ecuador the year before that. In spring 2012, just before graduation, she also participated in a “backpack journalism” project in Nicaragua.
These experiences helped her realize “I wanted to write about social issues and the experiences of immigrants and people of color in the U.S. I wanted to represent people like my mom, who I never saw reflected in the pages of the newspaper, and to write about communities I myself am part of.”
Castillo credits Clinical Associate Professor Ben Shors with encouraging her to pursue those goals. “He’s such an advocate for students,” she says, noting Shors also helped her see the value of networking, importance of making your own opportunities, and “finding somebody who supports you. You really only need one mentor. I had one. It was Ben.”
Shors says, “Andrea was a fearless student, willing to tackle topics and dig into issues both on campus and abroad. Her work is a gold standard for Murrow students, combining brilliant journalism with social conscience and deft analysis.”
Castillo landed an internship right out of college at The Oregonian, where she covered immigration and Latino issues as well as education and several small cities. She stayed on for several months as a full-time staffer before moving to The Fresno Bee, where she specialized in immigration and LGBTQ issues. A special project on substandard housing caught the attention of a Los Angeles Times editor, who recruited her for the newspaper’s metro desk.
Seven months later, the Puebla earthquake struck, injuring more than 6,000 people and killing 370, including 228 in Mexico City. Castillo landed there the morning after the quake. “I think I worked twenty hours that day,” she says. “It was really, really emotional.”
Also emotional: covering the story of a father detained by federal immigration authorities while dropping his daughters off at school. His arrest was filmed by his then- 13-year-old daughter; the video went viral. Castillo followed the family’s story for a year.
When we met at a coffee shop in Inglewood, northeast of the newspaper’s new offices in El Segundo, she was—among other things—looking into sexual abuse in detention centers in California.
Stories like these, she says, give her a chance to grow her investigative and narrative skills as well as work on what hooked her on journalism in the first place: documenting history as it happens and speaking truth to power.w
While it’s still early in her career and she’s happy where she is—“I love LA. I love the West Coast”—someday, she says, “I would love to be a foreign correspondent.”
Andrea Castillo joined the newsroom of The Los Angeles Times not quite five years after graduating from WSU Pullman. Find some of her work below:
Special report on substandard housing in Fresno (Fresno Bee)
Drought coverage in Fresno (Fresno Bee)