The Asian Reporter, V29, #21 (November 4, 2019), page 8.
High school student’s newsletter helps connect
By Danae King
The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With her feet planted in two worlds —
that of a local immigrant community and of the journalism realm
she has joined — Saideepika Rayala was able to see a problem in
the way immigrants get their news.
And she was uniquely positioned to solve the problem.
The 17-year-old wanted immigrant communities in central Ohio
to be able to get local news that they could understand, in
their native languages, so she created an e-mail newsletter
called The Columbus Civic.
Each month, Rayala, a senior at Olentangy Liberty High School
near Powell, gathers news that she thinks would be of interest
or relevant to immigrants living in central Ohio, and she works
with a team of translators and editors to tell the stories in
three languages: Telugu, Tamil, and French.
"I hope because of this newsletter, immigrant and refugee
people can say they feel more connected to a city," she said. "I
hope they feel they have more of a voice and they’re included."
Rayala first noticed that her parents, who emigrated from
India and speak Telugu, a south Indian language, were getting
their news only from Indian news sources.
"I thought it might be because of the cultural and language
barrier," she said. "I really wanted to break down that
She also teaches citizenship classes as a volunteer at US
Together, a local refugee-resettlement agency, and noticed that
some of the immigrants and refugees she worked with lacked
access to news of any kind.
"My freshman year of journalism (class), I remember talking
about the importance of local news to democracy," said Rayala,
who is also the editor of her high school’s student publication.
"There were these gaps where pockets of the community weren’t
engaged in civic issues here.
"I thought those kind of gaps were harming how our community
Access to local news is important for immigrants and refugees
because it can help people understand how they can get involved
and how what’s going on in the community might affect their
families, communities, and them, said Nadia Kasvin, co-founder
and director of US Together.
"It allows people to break through some of their initial
cocoon they might build around themselves and ... become part of
the bigger community," Kasvin said.
In May 2018, Rayala found people she knew in the community
who could translate what she wrote into Telugu. Her first issue
came out in August 2018; it was a special edition about the
November 2018 midterm elections, Rayala said.
Satish Batchu, 39, of Dublin, reads and appreciates the
newsletter, which he heard about from friends. Originally from
India, Batchu speaks English and Hindi but appreciates getting
news in his native language, Telugu, he said.
"This is helping us to be in touch and in the know," Batchu
He added that he appreciates how Rayala goes into detail in
her stories and includes national news, such as the impeachment
inquiry into President Donald Trump and what that means, and the
history of impeachment in the country.
"She’s made it simpler for people who do speak my mother
tongue," Batchu said.
Since launching the newsletter, Rayala has added versions in
Tamil, another Indian language, and French. She’s also doing a
radio show at 4:30pm each Friday on WCRM (102.1 FM) as part of
The Columbus Civic and is working to expand into video.
The teenager supervises about a dozen volunteer editors and
translators while gathering the news herself. She also often
adds context for her audience because newcomers to this country
might not understand some things about how life works here.
She hopes that someone else at her high school might continue
the publication after she graduates in May, and she thinks it
might be cool to start another version in the city where she
ends up attending college.
The newsletter has about 300 subscribers, and Rayala is
working to expand it to other languages, including Spanish,
Somali, and Nepali.
"Before, journalism and my immigrant community, they would
seem like two different worlds," Rayala said. "They’ve come