MEXICO CITY—Mi Valedor might be mistaken for any other glossy magazine, with its eye-grabbing covers and catchy headlines. Inside, you’ll find photographs, drawings, short stories, articles, and poetry that describe the realities of Mexico City. But it isn’t Vice. Nor is it the notoriously hip local magazine Chilango. Mi Valedor is a magazine created to help homeless people in Mexico City.
The magazine is sold by 30 people, none of whom have a permanent home, and this summer will produce an issue edited by its homeless staff.
“We care about promoting literacy and we love literature, so we started developing the magazine,” says María Portilla, the editor and director of Mi Valedor.
Portilla, an artist, and four other female friends—a designer, filmmaker, and two political strategists—got together in 2014 to create the quarterly magazine, whose twelfth issue was released this month.
None of them had worked in journalism before, nor did they have any experience working with the homeless population, but they were all inspired by the street paper model that Portilla grew familiar with while she studied in England.
The magazine receives additional support from an editorial board that helps them select the best content from the valedores (a Mexico City term that means a good friend, like “homie” in English) and other more established non-homeless contributors. The magazine focuses on the professional development of the homeless workers that sell the magazine, and provides workshops that teach them how to write, research, interview, and take photographs. The project itself helps the homeless workers learn how to express themselves and find their voices through journalism, art, and literature.
“We want the valedores to feel proud of the magazine, and that they are selling a high quality product that they made themselves,” says Portilla.
Portilla and her team recruit new members in homeless shelters and community kitchens throughout Mexico City. They then train them to sell the magazine for 20 pesos (about $1 USD) each, at a profit of 15 pesos each, which the valedores get to pocket.
“The way these women approached me with respect and without any judgements helped me trust them,” says Hadasha Fragoso, a 57-year-old valedora who has been homeless since 2002. He says he can make up to 120 pesos a day selling Mi Valedor.
The magazine adapted the model developed by The Big Issue, a British street paper that has helped homeless people earn money by selling editions since 1991. Mi Valedor is now a part of the International Network of Street Papers, a nonprofit that includes publications in 24 languages and that are sold in 35 countries. Mi Valedor has sold out all 3,000 copies of every issue, and plans on boosting its production to 4,000 copies per issue this year due to its high demand.
In order to get the job, candidates must fill out an initial questionnaire. The valedores are later trained and accompanied on their first sales shifts. The workers can’t be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while they’re at the magazine’s office or while selling the magazine.
“We are a bridge between formal and informal labor. Here they can develop the necessary tools to take the next step toward another way of life,” says Portilla.
The magazine also holds financial literacy, yoga, and self-care workshops for the valedores.
“The mental health workshops have helped me a lot. I’m not as nervous anymore, and I really respect the other valedores,” says Camaxtli, a valedor who has been with the magazine for two years. Camaxtli, who declined to give his first name, has been living in a shelter for about four years now. He currently holds the record for the most sales in one day, with 27 magazines sold in two hours.
“I used to treat the people on the streets like the rest of society does, but this has helped us create relationships to help each other out,” says Camaxtli, who used to work for the government’s nutritional agency before he became homeless. “We are friends and want the best for one another.”
The magazine is still developing and transforming in many ways. They even have a podcast called “The Voice of the Streets.”
The editorial team gives the valedores a lot of creative freedom in developing the magazine. The editorial workshops have been so productive that the board has given the valedores power to design and select all of the content for the thirteenth issue of the magazine, which will be published at the end of the summer.
“It’d be ideal if one of the valedores becomes the editor of the magazine,” says Regina Rivero Borrell, the HR administrator for Mi Valedor.
This magazine goes to show that the best art or literature is made with care. There is no doubt that these valedores have accomplished more than other publications with many more resources.
This article was originally published by Fusion en Español.