Photo: Rubén Vives Wins The Pulitzer Prize
Growing up, Rubén Vives never knew that at any moment, he could have be deported.
Today, the 31-year-old is a Pulitzer winner reporter for the Los Angeles Times,
He was a kindergartner in Guatemala when the person he always thought was his mom, packed him in a van for a what he thought was a spontaneous road trip to Southern California to be raised by a couple he had never seen—his parents!
Former Times journalist Shawn Hubler, wrote an article in Orange Coast Magazine detailing how she first became acquainted with her nanny’s son:
He was about six months shy of his 18th birthday when she told us the real story: Her son had been born in Guatemala and brought into the country as a little boy. She had left him with his grandma, had saved every spare cent to pay the coyote. For the first six years of his life, she’d scarcely seen him; when she had swept him into her arms, he barely recognized her. She’d never told him that his papers had expired, that he was here illegally. She had assumed they were all going back to Guatemala. Now, though, she was reading that her citizenship wasn’t enough, that at 18, he could be deported. Her boy, she said, desperately wanted to go to college.
Hubler contacted an immigration attorney, who eventually straightened out Vives’ legal status, enabling him to attend college and work a clerical job at the newspaper, where after learning the ropes, got the assignment to cover the city of Bell in Los Angeles County.
The team of reporters and editors led by Vives and writer Jeff Gottlieb uncovered that Bell officials secretly raised taxes on the city’s residents—among the poorest in Los Angeles County, to treat themselves to $700K salaries and benefits.
“I said to Rizzo, ‘So how much money do you make?’ said Gottlieb about former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo. “And he coughed out, ‘$700,000.’ And I wasn’t sure I heard him right, and I said, ‘How much?’ And he said, ‘$700,000.’ And Ruben goes, ‘Jesus Christ!’ ”
Their work exposing the crooked politicians of Bell, got them the Pulitzer Prize, Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the American Society of News Editors’ distinguished writing award for local accountability reporting, the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ top honor, and the George Polk Award for local reporting.
“At a time when people say that newspapers are dying, ” said Vives, “This is a day that I think we can say, no not really. I mean, we gave a small town … the opportunity to speak out. And that’s what newspapers do.”