Nicole Gonzalez Filos

Q&A with Nicole Gonzalez Filos, The Narwhal’s new practicum student

From the environmental effects of the fashion industry to eco-anxiety and the youth climate action movement, Nicole is plugged into the issues that matter to her generation

During the early stages of the pandemic, Nicole Gonzalez Filos was adjusting to life at home just like the rest of us.

But instead of getting bored, Nicole took the opportunity to hone her video skills and connect with her community. She made a video about a day in the life of a student journalist and posted it to her brand-new YouTube channel. 

In the video, Nicole walks us through her day, starting with breakfast (cereal, two boiled eggs and almond milk, FYI) and then doing phone interviews for a story on tech education. Her pug, Booboo, makes frequent cameos. 

It’s a great snapshot of Nicole, The Narwhal’s new practicum student. In a nutshell: she thrives on finding creative ways to communicate and is determined to have fun in the process. 

Nicole was born in Panama and moved to Canada at age 10. Now she’s in her last year of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s journalism program. 

To get hands-on experience, she became a reporter for Kwantlen’s newspaper, The Runner. Soon, she was going beyond the publication’s expectations, sometimes turning in three or four stories per week. Just because she enjoys it. She’s now an editor at the paper and still writes about two stories a week.

“I noticed that whenever I wrote a story, I got to learn something new,” she said.  

Nicole directs that curiosity toward justice and equity issues, writing about race, disability, the criminal justice system and the environment. She wants her work to provide a platform for marginalized voices. 

As she starts her practicum, we caught up with Nicole to find out where she gets her gusto. 

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What inspired you to become a journalist?

I didn’t plan on becoming a journalist. When I was little, I wanted to be a fashion designer, then when I was in Grade 9, I wanted to be an anaesthesiologist. Later, I wanted to be an architect, then a lawyer — so there were a lot of different things.

In my last year of high school, my teacher assigned us to read a memoir called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I really connected with the main character — we share a number of traits: she liked to write, was very artistic and always wanted to do new things. 

By the end of the book she became a journalist, and I thought, hey, maybe I should become a journalist too! 

So the next year, I started the journalism program at Kwantlen University. I wanted to find out what the work was really like, so I started writing for Kwantlen’s newspaper, The Runner. At first I was very shy and it was nerve-racking, but they welcomed me and I just fell in love with it. I got to work in so many different places and hear views from different people. 

That’s when I decided I really wanted to be a journalist. 

What environment issues are you most interested in covering and why?

I’d like to write about sustainable fashion because I love clothing and going shopping, but I’m also conscious of the environmental impacts of the industry. 

That includes the pollution that comes from manufacturing and washing clothing, and the environmental impacts those clothes have when they make it to the landfill. 

You produced an audio piece about eco-anxiety among youth. What drove you to explore that topic and what did you learn?

Last year, I interviewed a representative from Kwantlen’s Peer Support Resource Centre who talked about how some young people have been anxious about how the climate is changing — they called it “eco-anxiety.” I was surprised because I’d never heard that term before. 

So I decided to do a short audio piece on eco-anxiety for one of my classes and I talked to a 17-year-old organizer from a youth climate group called Climate Clock based out of Surrey.  

She told me how worried her peers were about whether they were going to have clean drinking water and whether the air would be breathable in the coming years. 

I thought, wow, these kids aren’t worried about their careers or getting jobs right now.  They’re worried about the environment. They want to know how they can make the places they live better for themselves and future generations. 

I learned that climate change is impacting youth in ways that I didn’t realize. 

You’re a student journalist entering an industry undergoing major changes. How are you navigating that challenge?

Yeah, I learned this in my first year. My professor told us, ‘Journalism is changing. It’s difficult to get jobs.’ And I was like, ‘Great. Motivation to the fullest!’ 

But when I entered my first year, I understood that there are so many areas that a journalist can go into. There are lots of different ways to engage with news, and I want to tackle them all. 

For example, earlier this year I had to write a story about environment issues, and we also needed to produce an audio and video story to accompany it. I was inspired because I was able to do all three of them successfully. I thought: I can do this! 

Can you describe one of your most memorable stories?

Two come to mind.

Last year, I went to the Surrey Latin Festival. There were lots of people that weren’t from Latin American countries at this festival and they were enjoying the music and having so much fun and appreciating our culture. And I thought: if more people did things like this, we wouldn’t see some of the problems I’ve witnessed in Canada around an overall lack of knowledge about Latin America.

When I first came to Canada from Panama, for example, kids would ask me where I was from. When I would say I’m from Panama, they would ask me, ‘Oh, is that in Mexico?’

So I thought to myself, this is my chance to explain that there are actually different countries in Latin America! So what began as a culture piece became an opinion piece that could address some of the problems that I’d encountered. 

I loved that piece so much because I was able to put my culture into it and I was able to put a bit of educational background into the article. That story also pushed me to put my own personality into the stories I write. 

I wrote another one of my favourites this year. 

At Kwantlen, we pay for a bus pass that gets automatically deducted through our tuition fees. But some students with disabilities don’t need this pass because they need to use other forms of transportation.

The university required those students to opt out of the bus pass every year, and they had to show a doctor’s note. To me that didn’t make any sense because if you have a permanent disability that’s a long-term reality.

I talked to a mature student who had mobility issues and a son with an invisible disability who often ended up paying for the pass because she wasn’t able to get to her doctor in time.

So I wrote a story about this, and it got attention at the university. That same student thanked me for writing it, saying that it helped her feel energized to push for change.

That’s when I truly realized the importance of being a journalist. I was like, ‘This is why I do this job.’

If you could spend a day with anyone in the world, living or not, who would you choose?

I would spend the day with my grandma who lived in Panama and passed away last year. 

She was the person who inspired me to write in the first place. She was a Spanish teacher, a principal, an arts professor and she wrote a children’s book. From the time that I was six or seven, she would sit me down and we would write poems together. She loved writing poems. Other days we would write fiction and short stories. 

Later when I moved to Canada, we would talk on the phone. She would ask me to share what I’d written, but of course it was all in English, so I’d translate my writing for her. And she would still love it. She was always asking, ‘How’s your writing?’

When she learned that I was becoming a journalist, she got so excited. 

If I could be with her for a day I would translate all my writing for her to read. I would be like, ‘Hey, I just wanted to let you know, this is what I’ve written. Let me know if you like it.’ 

Zoë Yunker is a former Narwhal intern and a master's of journalism student at the University of British Columbia. She…

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