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Women Become Marines In San Diego

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY STEVE WALSH

Above: First female recruits wait on top of the Reaper, the highest point in Camp Pendleton, to receive their Eagle Globe and Anchor, the symbol that they are now Marines, April 22, 2021.

The U.S. Marine Corps graduates its first class of female recruits trained in San Diego, the challenge of fighting COVID-19 misinformation in Spanish-language social media, and the Port of Entry podcast dives into the world of cross-border medical tourism.

Speaker 1: 00:01 America's newest Marines are making history as the first group of women to complete training and San Diego earned that title. Do you know someone who was hesitant to get the COVID 19 vaccine misinformation is running rampant, especially in Spanish speaking communities and how the pandemic isn't slowing down the massive cross border medical tourism market. I'm Maya trouble [inaudible] and the KPBS round table starts. Now.

Speaker 2: 00:35 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:39 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Maya [inaudible] joining me on this remote edition of the KPBS round table are Alex wind, North County multimedia producer for KPBS news, reporter and author, Jean Guerrero, and port of entry writer and producer Kenzie Morlin for a century, new Marines have started their service at San Diego's Marine Corps recruit Depot. But until this year, none of them were women on Thursday. History was made as the first female platoon graduated from basic training, a grueling 12 weeks that pushes recruits to their physical and mental limits. KPBS North County multimedia producer Alexander and win is following the group and joins us for an update. Hi Alex. Hi Maya. Nice to be here. Great to have you. So history was made this week. You attended Thursday's graduation event at MCRD, which naturally drew a lot of media attention. What was the atmosphere like and how did it reflect on the significance of the event?

Speaker 3: 01:46 The atmosphere at the graduation is a bit you could tell there was a, there was a poignant and people realize the significance of it, but also at the same time, it's a bit subdued because of COVID. So each graduate only gets to invite two family members or two person to be there. So it wasn't a B Rawkus event. I used to be where you have lots of families, lots of friends and families at the end, near the coven rush to graduate, give them help to just have two family members. So there is that sense where, yeah, this is, this is a milestone, but it's also subdued because of

Speaker 1: 02:23 So 60 recruits were there at the beginning of basic training, how many actually made it to the end

Speaker 3: 02:30 53, made it to the end. And it's about the same attrition rate as the men. So at any time during basic training, the Marines Corps said about 15% of the recruits that dropped from the program. And so 53 women made it through that's exactly about the same amount that the men got dropped. Um, you know, about 15% or so, but as the drill instructors tell me that, you know, these group of women have really motivated. So some of the women got dropped, uh, was due to other circumstances beyond their control. Like one woman was badly injured in a freak accident. And so she's recuperating and she is, you know, she wants to start her training at Parris Island where, uh, the next ground of women recruits will be trained at. So you get a sense that these women, even though they got drafted from, they really, really are motivated to want to become Marines.

Speaker 1: 03:26 Give us an idea of how long and how arduous this process is and what some of the most challenging aspects of the training would be.

Speaker 3: 03:34 Well, the Marine Corps, basic training bootcamp is one of the toughest in of all the military branches. But the most challenging aspect of this training I would say is what's known as the crucible, which is the, you know, the entraining, the combination of the 13 weeks or so that they're trained. So they go through this whole entire event. That's about, you know, 60 hours, uh, three days or so, where they go through drills, they go through marches and they get, they were provided only two meals and about six hours of sleep and they have to make it through. And at the end of that grueling process is they have to climb this Hill. That's called the Reaper on camp Pendleton. That's the highest point in camp Pendleton. And, you know, I was there that day. And when the recruits made it to the top, you can sense that there was that sound of relief. Like I don't have to climb any more Hills. I've made it, I've made it. And the train Splatoon, they trained as one unit. So they got pushed forward by other members of their units to try to make to the top. So I've seen like, you know, recruits, linking arms recruits, just helping each other up that Hill.

Speaker 1: 04:47 And is this the same exact training as the male recruits would be in?

Speaker 3: 04:52 Yeah, it's the same group. So, uh, the, there five platoons, total, one platoon of, uh, female recruits and four, four platoons of male recruits. And they go through the exact same training, you know, and they oftentimes train together on the same elements,

Speaker 1: 05:09 Alex. So we covered the story on all of our platforms, TV, radio, and web, and your primary focus as a multimedia producer is digital. How did you try to tell this story differently for our online audience?

Speaker 3: 05:23 Well, we try to bring the audience through the process. So we cover them from the beginning when they were under quarantine at a hotel in San Diego all the way through graduation. So we brought to the readers, you know, along the way by through photos and through what we in the business called Nat packages, which are, you know, videos without narration to show what the process is like.

Speaker 1: 05:48 The Marines offered rare access to the bootcamp at MCRD and camp Pendleton. Why do you think they were eager to essentially pull the back and show this experience that these women are going through?

Speaker 3: 06:01 So it just to show that women belong here in San Diego, in training with the men, because right now the only place where women can be trained to become a range is at Parris Island in South Carolina. And so this is seen as a test case for training here in San Diego. And, you know, off the record, these Marine officials tell me that this is proven to be a successful case for them. It shows that, you know, women can be trained alongside men here in San Diego. And I think that's part of the reason why the Marines Corps granted unprecedented access, just so that they can say, you know, it's been well-documented that nothing was changed for these women. They did the same thing as the men and they succeeded

Speaker 1: 06:45 Along the way. KPBS interviewed female drill instructors. Was this a new experience for them as well?

Speaker 3: 06:52 Yes. Uh, so they brought over one senior male and sorry, one senior female instructor from Paris Island to oversee the process and they graduated about four or so new drill instructors for this program. So for them, this is the first class of recruits that they trained

Speaker 1: 07:10 Drill instructors say about the microscope. The recruits are under not only because of the training, of course, but because of the media attention, did you get a sense that this was either a distraction or maybe it was more motivating?

Speaker 3: 07:25 Well, I think it's more motivating because one of the drill instructor said that yes, these women understand the under the microscope. And I think it gives them more motivation to prove the world wrong. Especially since there was, um, you know, Fox, Fox news, Tucker Carlson made some disparaging remarks about these women. And, you know, while they're at bootcamp, they don't have access to the outside world, but you know, they do know what's going on. So it actually gives them more motivation, I think, to be better and to do better than they were expected to do. And it shows because these women, they won their final drills, several performance reviews along the way they placed first. So it shows that they were actually more motivated to prove the world wrong

Speaker 1: 08:18 Next for this group. And we'll MCRD welcome another female class anytime soon. What are the plans?

Speaker 3: 08:25 So the plans now for all the graduates is that they go to infantry training at camp Pendleton, and that's true for any graduate, uh, Marine Corps, graduate MCRD. The next step is the infantry school, but usually they have about 10 days of leave, uh, to hang out with their families to catch up with friends. But because of COVID, they're moving straight onto the next step of the training, but another female class is not planned anytime soon for NCRD here in San Diego. And we know when the next class

Speaker 4: 08:56 Will be, but the Marine Corps has until about 20, 28 to fully integrate training here in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 09:04 Thank you for following the story. I've been speaking with Alexander and Wynn North County multimedia producer for KPBS news. Thank you, Alex. Thank you. Maya California's vaccine rollout is among the best in the country when it comes to keeping COVID-19 cases under control, and we're about a month away from the tier system ending entirely. But when looking at the bigger picture, there are some troubling signs ahead. The New York times reported this week, that herd immunity is unlikely to be reached in the U S and that's according to health experts who site lingering hesitancy. Some of that can be found in Spanish speaking audiences where some of the safeguards against misinformation are not quite as strong reporter and author. Jean Guerrero wrote about this in an op-ed for the LA times, and she returns to the round table hygiene. Hey, Maya, gene, your piece starts with your father telling you about a video that he found on YouTube that has since been removed. What was the message? And what was your reaction when you heard about it?

Speaker 4: 10:10 This was at the beginning of the pandemic when the gravity of everything was sort of sinking in for everybody in this video that my dad sent with from this chiropractor who has an office in Huntington beach and an office in Tijuana named John Bergman, who is claiming that media coverage about the pandemic was quote, designed to take away your rights. And he encouraged his viewers not to listen to any of it and to use a hot water and vitamin C to kill the virus. He said that that both drinking hot water and taking vitamin C would kill it. And so obviously when I watched this video, I was, I was really worried about my dad and, and I, I called him and told him, you know, I hope you're taking social distancing seriously. I hope you're wearing a mask and he just became upset. And he said that I, I was brainwashed. He eats sort of made up his mind already about the pandemic and it just, it just made me really frightened for him. Um, as someone who has, you know, some preexisting health issues, but also just in general, like the fact that this misinformation has been spreading and, and preying on vulnerable people like my dad. And it just, just made me, um, angry at these, these people, these swindlers who prey on people like, like my dad,

Speaker 1: 11:29 Well, that particular video was removed off of YouTube, but not before it had eight, more than 8 million hits, but this isn't just about your father in your op-ed. There are several examples of family members coming across misinformation on social media. Are you as surprised by how widespread this has taken root in the community? You know,

Speaker 4: 11:49 More than surprised I was disturbed. Like, I mean, my, my grandmother who's, who's also an immigrant from Mexico. She, she also shared this Spanish language video saying that the, that the virus had been invented by big pharma for profit. And she was worried about getting the vaccine because she thought that people were experimenting on us. Um, but I wasn't entirely surprised because of the historical context. Um, you know, between the 1930s and 1970s, a full third of, uh, Puerto Rico's female population was sterilized and thousands of Mexicans and Latinos living in the, in California were also sterilized. So there's this history of experimentation and inhumane medical policies and medical practices on the Latino community, in the United States, which has made Latinos very skeptical. So I, wasn't very surprised to see that my family was, um, you know, falling prey to this misinformation and fearing about being used as quote unquote, Guinea pigs, or coded code being experimented on because of the historical context.

Speaker 4: 13:00 But then, you know, I did some digging and I found, you know, that, that th they're the same people who have been targeting Latinos with misinformation leading up to the election, uh, to try to depress Latino voter turnout are some of the same people who are disseminating this vaccine, this information, the idea that the vaccine has a microchip, that's going to track you the idea that it alters your DNA or that it causes stillbirths. These, these conspiracies that are spreading on social media and then through word of mouth, uh, largely in the Latino community. And it's just incredibly dangerous because of the fact that Latinos are already more than two times more likely to die from the coronavirus then than white people, they have among the worst outcomes of all of the ethnic groups.

Speaker 1: 13:46 Where are some other places this content is circulating through

Speaker 4: 13:51 Is the primary, uh, social media platform where these algorithms are targeting Latino communities, but it's also happening on YouTube and it's happening largely on WhatsApp, but because of the fact that so many Latinos use WhatsApp to text back and forth with one another, but also with family members back in Mexico and South America and other parts of Latin America, uh, which allows these conspiracy theories that are incredibly dangerous to spread internationally. So some of the research groups that have been looking into this have found that, that there are both domestic actors who are spreading this misinformation, and there's also foreign actors. And because of the use of the prevalent use of WhatsApp in Latin, Latin X communities, it creates a unique vulnerability.

Speaker 1: 14:39 What are some of the safe cards when it comes to moderating online content in other languages, such as Spanish, and how does it fall short compared to English content? For example? So Facebook has increasingly

Speaker 4: 14:53 Cracking down on misinformation in English, but there's still this sort of content moderation gap for Spanish language. One analysis found that after the 2020 election Facebook put warnings on half of English language, misinformation posts, but only on 10% of Spanish language misinformation. So they don't have enough content moderators who are making sure that Spanish language misinformation is not going out to vulnerable Latino communities. And that is reflected in the fact that now, you know, more than half of Latinos who have not yet been vaccinated, either don't plan to, or are hesitant to get vaccinated in part because of this misinformation and for Spanish dominant speakers, it's even bigger. It's at 67%, uh, that don't want to get vaccinated.

Speaker 1: 15:46 Junior story was a personal one, but there are many people who can relate to it. And we know that hesitancy crosses all cultures to some degree, what are some of the resources that are out there for people in the same situation of trying to talk to their family members who also fall for misinformation online?

Speaker 4: 16:05 So the good news is there are a lot of resources that are very helpful. Uh, I've, I've found Penn America's media literacy guide, which is in both Spanish and English, very helpful it's for teaching yourself and for teaching others, how to identify fake news and to have a better understanding of separating trustworthy news from, from non trustworthy news. Um, they also have a guide that you can find online for speaking to family members who've been targeted. It's it's you, you can Google how to talk to friends and family who share misinformation and Penn America, and they have that guide in Spanish and English. But you know, the number one thing that they advise is to approach family members with empathy. You know, we panic, we, we, we, we really want our family members to be safe and to take care of themselves. And so we, we might not approach with, with empathy and with calm and with understanding. And, and we really need to understand the historical context, the reason that Latinos hesitate and that many Latinos are skeptical, and the fact that they are prey that they're being preyed on by misinformation, peddlers, it's also important to identify basic barriers to people getting vaccinated. One thing that has been effective is if you, if you offer your loved one, a ride to there, and if you make an appointment to get the vaccine for them often, that will sway people who are on the fence to go out and protect themselves.

Speaker 1: 17:34 That's some great information I've been speaking with Jean Guerrero, investigative reporter, and author of crux across border memoir. Thank you, Jean. Thanks, Maya. The sane is you DRO border crossing is one of the busiest in the world. And a big of that is due to the high cost of healthcare in the United States. The pandemic is doing little to slow, the demand for prescription drugs, cancer treatments, dental work, and cosmetic surgery, all of which are cheaper and more accessible in Tijuana. Every person making the trip has a story to tell. And that is the focus of port of entries, latest podcast series on the blooming medical tourism market. Our guest is Kenzie Morlan, producer and writer for port of entry. Hi Kinsey. Hey Maya, thanks so much for having me today, producing a series of podcasts, focusing on one subject, obviously allows you incredible breadth in the directions that you want to explore. Why did your team decide this was an important subject to focus on so deeply on a series of shows? Well,

Speaker 5: 18:39 So focuses on cross border people and cross border lives. And medical tourism is just such a huge, huge and visible part of that. So right now, if you go to the border, um, and people who are familiar with sitting in that line, right, crossing back from Tijuana to San Diego, you see billboards everywhere for cosmetic surgery, for dental work for all kinds of medical procedures. And of course, when you're crossing in from San Diego to Tijuana, some of the first things you'll see are the Farmasi as the pharmacies. So it's just such a huge, huge part of our cross border. It's a subculture of the cross-border community here. So we wanted to zero in and really focus on the personal stories of these people who are behind this incredible boom, because the industry is just, just,

Speaker 1: 19:31 And of course there are so many personal stories to explore. The first episode focuses on a woman named Maria, and she's from Otay Mesa, she's dealing with a second breast cancer diagnosis. What did you find so compelling about her story? Well,

Speaker 5: 19:45 Well, first of all, she is brave and she's bold and she's interesting. And she was willing to share her story with us. And I think what interested me personally about the story was that she crosses the border for alternative cancer treatment in Tijuana. And that just saying that makes me nervous, like, Oh my gosh, that like, you're playing with your life here. But what she did for us was sort of lift the curtain into why she made that decision. So, because this is her second, go with cancer. She did do all the traditional stuff the first time around and this time she just didn't want to do the chemo and the radiation. She did some of the other traditional treatments, but she invited us to her cancer group. And we just wanted to know more about her as a person and why she made this kind of incredible decision to cross the border, to get, you know, kind of some unproven treatments in Tijuana. So I think she did a really good job of, uh, opening up her heart and her mind and really sharing her personal story with us.

Speaker 1: 20:43 And it's not just lifesaving medical care. That's drawing to Mexico. Vanity also has a market there, especially in the era of zoom meetings where we're all our faces are on full display. So what is the demand for things like dental and cosmetic work during these times?

Speaker 5: 21:01 Right? So, uh, there's this fun term in the media, they're calling it the zoom boom. So there's a lot of people, you know, and in real meetings in real life, we're not staring at ourselves, right? There's no mirror, but in zoom meetings, we are looking at ourselves. And so, um, that has caused some people to say, Oh, wow, look at that. That was the button. I really got to get that fixed. Um, but even more so than that, I actually talked to a recovery house in Tijuana. That's a place where people, mostly women go after cosmetic surgery to recover before they cross back to the U S and she said, what she's hearing from clients is that they have time, right? They're staying at home. So you get these cosmetic surgeries and you get really, uh, bruised and you have stitches and you re I mean, you can look really, really in bad shape for those first few weeks. So the fact that a lot of people are now working from home and not seeing their coworkers, or could hide, you know, the below the face stuff that they, the work that they got done. She said that has been behind this just incredible drive for demands, particularly for cosmetic surgery, but dentist services really never slowed down either

Speaker 1: 22:12 So much of the coverage surrounding the border has to do with politics and with immigration. So how important is it for podcasts like port of entry to show the larger picture of cross border life?

Speaker 5: 22:24 Right. So obviously politics and immigration are front and center. When people think about the U S Mexico border, and we don't shy away from those stories. We certainly have past episodes where we talk about immigration, where we talk specifically about politics, but it was important to us as people who live by border lives. You know, our host has, uh, lives in Tijuana and San Diego. He's in a band. Um, he has members on both sides of the border. So, you know, we know specifically that there is so much more to the border, and yes, there's a lot of pain and there's a lot of struggle, particularly when it comes to, you know, family separation and immigration and refugees and asylum seekers. But there's also a lot of vibrancy and a lot of artists who, you know, draw their inspiration from both sides of the border. There's a lot of these various subcultures and worlds that involve both sides of the border. And we work hard to short sort of shine, a light on all of the different subcultures that exist in the border region.

Speaker 1: 23:25 And the first episode of this latest port of entry series is available now. And I invite everyone to listen to it. When can we expect episode two in the series? And what can we look forward to in that episode?

Speaker 5: 23:37 So two drops on Wednesday and we are following two women on their cross-border journeys to find more affordable insulin. The pandemic has sort of added an extra set of challenges, particularly for people with diabetes. So, you know, we have, we kind of juxtapose two stories, right? A woman who is privileged enough to be able to afford the expensive insulin if she wanted to, but she sort of refuses to because it feels unjust. It feels not right to pay big pharma, lots of money for us, a drug that her son needs to live. So we follow her journey. And then we talk to a grandma from Chula Vista who didn't have insurance couldn't afford has rationed. Yeah. It's just an interesting dynamic look at people who cross the border for lifesaving drugs

Speaker 1: 24:25 And Kinsey. You have a special line for people to call who can share their stories about medical tourism. And I imagine you must be getting some very interesting feedback on this specific topic as well. Can you share some, some of those with us?

Speaker 5: 24:37 Yeah, of course. So it's a (619) 452-0228. And you can either call or you can text so far the feedback we've been getting, I've heard from a lot of cancer survivors who some are, are very skeptical and, uh, say, Oh man, I wish you wouldn't have spent so much money on all that stuff. But also, uh, one in particular I'm thinking he knows it said that, but then said, but I also share this episode with all of my cancer survivor friends, because again, I think this just like opens the curtain to what it's like to go through this process of struggling with cancer and that diagnosis and making decisions about how you're going to treat it. So I think that's been an interesting discussion

Speaker 1: 25:18 And port of entry is available on all major podcast platforms. You can also stream it on the KPBS YouTube page and@kpbs.org. Kenzie Moreland is the show's writer and producer Kinsey. Thank you so much for joining me, Maya. You're the best. Thank you. That wraps up this week's edition of the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Alexander and Wynn from KPBS news, reporter and author, Jean Guerrero, and Kenzie Moreland from port of entry. If you missed any part of our show, you can listen anytime on the KPBS round table podcast. I'm Maya [inaudible]. Thanks for listening. Join us next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

A lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join KPBS to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region. New episodes every Friday.