31 December 2015

On Hate

I originally wrote this piece in 2014 for the New York Times, but they didn't pick it up. I tried unsuccessfully to get it printed somewhere else to no avail, so I'm finally putting it up here.

Mark Lane started to get threats a few days after he took in the family. At first, they targeted his San Diego restaurant, writing reviews online, saying his food poisoned them. “Mark Lane needs a serious beating in front of his customers,” declared a Facebook user.

Lane had already stoked the ire of hate groups by starting a Facebook page calling for a boycott of Murrieta, California, a town that rocketed to the international stage in 2014 after protestors turned away immigrant children. He further inflamed it by taking in a family of Guatemalan refugees waiting for an immigration hearing. They uncovered his identity and put photos of his wife and sons on the internet, threatening to show up and kill him.

Mudshark,” a voice on the phone hissed. “Go back to Mexico,” whispered another.

Lane, who is white with an olive-skinned, dark-haired wife from Mexico, was called a race traitor, and worse. “Happy white guy who helps brown people?” read a typical email. “How did a decent Southerner like you get so perverted?” People started to show up at his restaurant to lurk outside and snap photos of customers.

While the groups still threatening Lane come from the fringe, their rhetoric is straight out of the mainstream. The terminology used to separate and marginalize people based on country of origin or skin color is not just the work of a few lone-wolf racists – it is the basis upon which the entire concept of border security has been built.

Southern California is peppered with dozens with gun shops. You can walk in, get a quick lesson on the right guns and ammunition for you, and then find bulletin boards – online or off – with information about your pick of militia groups. Many of those have connections to the Minutemen or other, more fringe groups. All of them talk about patriotism and the necessity of guarding the border. Many are filled with code words and dog-whistle language about illegals, gangbangers, thugs, and disease-carrying foreigners.

This is no accident. "California has historically been a cauldron of racial inequity in the United States,” said Kelly Lytle Hernandez, an author and border historian at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We are much more familiar with the narrative of the South in particular, but California has long been at the center of immigrant exclusion and border security, and those have always circulated around race and exclusion.”

The American Dream did not start out as a melting pot, she said. “Border security” as it is known today has been discussed since the beginning of the United States, but at first, it began as a discussion over who was white. “The general physical political ideal of the 19thcentury saw the United States as a massive body of land that was supposed to be a white settler society,” said Hernandez.

Discussion about border security in the latter half of the 19th century actually began because of Chinese immigrants, who came to California to do agricultural work and who became so populous they were accused of stealing agribusiness jobs. In 1862, the first immigration law, known colloquially as the “Anti-Coolie Act,” prohibited prostitutes, alcoholics, epileptics, criminals, and Asians from entering the United States.

Each new wave of migration was accompanied by fresh xenophobia – more so if the immigrants did not fit that white settler ideal. In the early 1900s, black American families, fed up with the Jim Crow, lynchings, and other legacies of the slave trade, began to move west. By the 1920s, more than a million African-Americans had moved out of the South. European and Russian Jews also arrived en masse at around the same time to escape increasing violence and discrimination in their home countries.

In 1924, at the behest of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the United States passed the National Origins Act, which not only set a hard limit for foreign immigration in an attempt to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity, once again excluding Asians completely, but also created the Border Patrol to enforce it. As these riders were stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, over time their focus narrowed to almost exclusively Mexican immigrants, deepening racial divides and inequalities along the border. During the Great Depression, nearly half a million Mexicans were rounded up and “repatriated,” some voluntarily, most forcibly.

Despite increasing tensions, migration to California continued, following market forces. Many people ended up in Los Angeles, thanks to the economic pull of its industrial centers and ports, which offered a chance at the middle-class dream to people who until then had not been allowed to have that opportunity. A second Great Migration of black Americans began in the 1940s, and Mexican agricultural and industrial workers found themselves in high demand there. The dream of white homogeneity, which never really existed to begin with, was overturned, and people started to leave. White flight had begun.

Whole swaths of counties close to Los Angeles catered to white flight, with realtors enacting “gentlemen's agreements” and “covenants” to not sell to any black families – or Jewish, or Mexican, or any families that threatened the neighborhood's whiteness. Shreds of these covenants still remain, like the hotly contested cross on a La Jolla hilltop, originally erected as a sign that the tony seaside neighborhood was a Christian one. Redlining, or housing discrimination, began in earnest in suburbs all over the region.

This all provided a fertile ground for neo-Nazi ideology to flourish after the end of the Second World War, aided and abetted by real estate agents who understood the wink and the smile they needed to keep their business selling tracts of southern California land as a white paradise. Wesley Swift, a Methodist preacher, started his own church, eventually called the Christian Identity movement or Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, which taught an extreme interpretation of Scripture that concluded that white people were the true children of Adam and Eve.

One of Swift's acolytes eventually created the Aryan Nations separatist group in the 1970s. By then, the framework that had allowed the creation of neo-Nazi groups to begin with was firmly in place in southern California. These new generations, spurred by the focus on immigration and protecting White America, now had God on their side, as well.
In the 1970s, the first militia groups made their way to the border.

The Civil Rights Movement triggered the uptick in white supremacy that began in the early 1970s, and while 9/11 created a surge of xenophobia from the South all the way to the tip of Alaska, it was sustained and fed by the wave of Iraqi immigrants that arrived in the United States soon afterward. During each wave, nativists and white supremacists went out to the US-Mexico border, and each quickly adopted the language of border security and anti-terrorism measures to justify their methods.

In the post-WW2 era, David Duke's 1977 'Klan Border Watch' was the watershed moment linking U.S. white supremacist politics to vigilante border patrols, although it was largely a media stunt,” noted Spencer Sunshine, a fellow at Political Research Associates, a Massachusetts think tank devoted to studying the extreme right wing. “The Ku Klux Klan has a long history of organizing in southern California, going back to at least the 1920s.”

More hate groups, some of which called themselves militias or vigilantes and seemed to see themselves as the nation's protectors, sprang up in California's segregated, yet increasingly diverse environment. Today, the state has nearly 80 organizations that are classified as “hate groups,” far more than any other state, and most of them are along the border. According to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, these follow a specific and trackable pattern.

Hate crimes rise quite dramatically when neighborhoods begin to reach a tipping point racially,” Potok said.
Where that tipping point begins is up for debate. Some scholars say “white flight” begins when a formerly white neighborhood becomes around 25 percent non-white. Others say just one family of color moving in can spark hatred and violence.

What sociologists do agree on, however, is that how much money or education people do or do not have do not create the conditions that breed white flight, hate groups, or hate crimes. The overwhelming reasons are twofold: demographic change that threatens the homogeneity of the dominant group, and the history of a particular area.
Membership in white supremacist groups appears to be dwindling now for the first time since the late 2000s, the end result of different groups settling in and multicultural cities becoming the rule rather than the exception.

But they're still loud – voices of hate groups are amplified and organized by the Internet, Potok said, although he does not believe that the internet aids in recruiting people into white supremacist groups or militias.

I think by and large people are not recruited into hate groups through a computer screen. Real recruitment into groups of any kind happen face to face, even in the age of social media,” Potok said, although there is evidence that existing beliefs are strengthened by the echo-chamber effect of websites such as the very active Stormfront.org.

After Mark Lane was unmasked as the moderator of the Boycott Marrieta Facebook page and nativist groups discovered he was aiding a Central American family, he and his business received threats and poor reviews. But Lane also received a tremendous outpouring of goodwill and new business from people who had not heard about what he was doing until hate groups blasted him, including people who visited his restaurant to shake his hand and tell him that his altruism and tolerance had changed their opposition to allowing refugees into the country.

Hate groups, at least the ones based on physical differences, will continue to dwindle as diversity becomes more mainstream, but until then, crimes based on hatred or fear of “the other” will continue as long as it remains a part of everyday American discourse. 

In order to defuse the language of hate, California, along with every other state in the US, has to acknowledge and distance itself from its history of government-approved white supremacy.

Many have lamented that the language of hate has infiltrated contemporary border politics, but the truth is that it has been there all along.  

31 August 2015

There and Back Again: The Image that Wouldn't Stop Traveling

San Ysidro, California is the last place to turn off before you drive into Mexico from the United States.

Interstate 5, a huge multi-lane freeway that runs from one end of the US to the other, is adorned with signs on the southbound side that warn you to turn around if you don't intend to drive into Mexico, that your last chance to turn back is three miles away, then two, then one.  And in the area, for years signs have borne an iconic image cautioning drivers to watch for people running across the freeway:
Photo courtesy: Russel Ray Photos

They're harder to find now, but everyone who grew up around here in the 1990s remembers this image.  It was created in 1990 by a graphic artist at Caltrans named John Hood, a Diné man from New Mexico who ended up in southern California, and it was made in response to an influx of people who had made it across the border and dashed into the freeway beyond.  Hood drew upon his own experiences fighting in Vietnam watching desperate families dash for cover, as well as stories he had heard from his own Navajo family about evading American soldiers, to create the image.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mexico suffered crisis after crisis of destabilization: fraudulent elections gave way to state sponsored violence, lynchings and shooting showed up in the news, the peso, which had been pegged to the US dollar, suddenly collapsed and sparked a long, painful recession that affected every aspect of Mexican society.  Many people, beset on all sides by crushing economic pressures and bloody conflict erupting around them, left everything behind and fled north on foot.

The end result was a massive change in Mexico, creating the largest modern diaspora in the world. Many people got into the United States, at least before it clamped down on border security in response to surges of people seeking asylum, but some got through the border safely, only to be struck by cars on their way across the 5 immediately after crossing the border, dying sudden, violent,and bloody deaths in front of horrified friends and loved ones who had already trekked together across Baja California's badlands.

The signs that went up warned drivers to be wary of people crossing, and its image – a silhouette of a man and woman running, desperately yanking a pigtailed child along in their wake – was instantly recognizable.  It soon worked its way into the public imagination, becoming a local cultural touchstone on all sides of the immigration debate.  The image, which was in the public domain, soon showed up on t-shirts, coffee mugs, billboards.

Its meaning has become fraught with symbolism: for those who disagreed with the increasing militarization of the United States' southern border, it represented unnecessarily draconian immigration policies. For closed-border, anti-immigration proponents, it became a symbol of entire families disregarding border laws. For those who were trying to find a new place to call home, it was a sign of hope.  And for those with no particular leanings, the image was a funky, instantly recognizable picture that represented southern California.

The image's immediate import has faded as border highway deaths have waned.  The signs remain, here and there, although mostly in pop art and within activist circles.  Even Banksy added his own touch to the signs a few years ago.

But now, the images have taken on a new life in Europe, as weary families flee war, brutal violence, and crushing economic conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries - and the European political rhetoric sharpens, and along exactly the same lines, just as the United States' did in the mid-1990s.

I was startled today to see a news photo of people in Germany holding up a banner that said “Refugees Welome” with an outline of that family, John Hood's silhouette family, stenciled on the front. (It's also the slogan of a Berlin-based project that aims to match families seeking shelter with flats and apartments.)

At first I was confused – did news outlets mix up their stock photos? – but when I looked into it further I found that yes, Hood's design has become an instantly recognizable international symbol of families fleeing untenable conditions, not just on the US-Mexico border, but all around the world.

Will this end up reframing the debate that the United States is currently having internally, here on the doorstep of the 2016 presidential election?  Will geopolitical powers in Europe and North America see the connection between their own ongoing destructive policies in other countries and the desperate people from those same countries who are now asking for help and hope? Only time will tell, I guess.

It's just deeply ironic (although “ironic” is probably not the word that families washing up at the shores of the US and Europe are using right now) that the full horrors of a humanitarian crisis - wherever in the world it might be - can evidently only be clearly seen from an entire ocean away.

13 July 2015

The missing and murdered women of the US-Mexico border

My latest piece for the Globe & Mail is up and live today.  It accompanies their work on the missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada and the United States.  These are important stories to tell, but not easy ones.

12 May 2015

San Quintín's farms

“It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.  On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.”  -Douglas Adams

I've been remiss in updating this website.  I've been working a lot on humanitarian stories -- the biggest one that's been catching my attention has been the San Quintín's farm laborers' strike. 

San Quintín, the first time I went there, was a quiet little town. I went with an old boyfriend who wanted to take me deep sea fishing. I remember very little about it except that I had drinks with an old guy at a hotel bar who was the saltiest of dogs, and that I bragged to anybody who would listen that I was immune to seasickness, and then got violently ill from it, for the first time in my life, about ten minutes after I stepped on the fishing boat.

I also remember that they caught a huge tuna fish and clubbed it to death on the deck as I retched feebly over the side.  Barbarians, I thought through the nausea. Disgusting animals.  But I ate it later anyway.

But that was all I really remembered about it: surf, salty dogs, bumpy roads, quiet.  Nice people.  The town didn't really pop up on my radar for years.  I knew it was still around, and that it was surrounded by strawberry fields at the end of a drive so beautiful that it could almost be mistaken for one of Alaska's
highways, but then I started hearing about mistreatment of the jornaleros, the farm laborers, who worked as pickers.

I went again and suddenly I saw what had been there all along behind the filter of my own ignorance: maltreatment, exploitation, backbreaking physical labor cheapened by an absolute lack of oversight.  The valley is a huge producer of tomatoes and strawberries in particular, an enormously profitable industry, yet the people who pick them are paid less than $10 a day, with no paid days off.

The mobilization of San Quintín's workers has now ballooned into a major issue, a rare opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see the real, human costs of fruits and vegetables.  When I went to San Quintín again, I didn't see it as peaceful or sleepy, I saw it as quietly roiling and getting ready to explode with long-deferred anger and frustration.

"It's slavery," one of the striking workers told me over a tire they were burning for warmth, "and it's been going on for generations."  A crowd gathered and they nodded, adding things here and there.  Child labor is
rampant, as is sexual abuse of women and children.  Most of them had been working since they were 11 or 12.  They wanted to go to school, to make better lives for themselves and their children, to have some hope and a way out, but they couldn't afford to.

"We want to go pick in the US," one man said to me. "We heard you can make a good living there - eight, nine hundred dollars a month."  He makes less than $300 a month right now.

Most of these workers are Triqui, indigenous people from south Mexico.One of the things the strike has helped reveal is Mexico's deplorable treatment of its indigenous communities, not that the rest of North America is any better, and how ugly organic produce can look when seen through the lens of human rights.

At any rate, here's my latest for Al Jazeera, with photos from the excellent José Pedro Martínez.

23 December 2014

Mexico fights back against violence, disappearances

Here is my story for Al Jazeera on the #YaMeCanse movement and what people in Mexico's state of Baja California are doing to fight back against enforced disappearances, military torture, and violence.

I am very proud of this story, because I feel the story of what Mexico is doing - and what should be done by the international community - needs to be spread as widely as possible.

30 November 2014

Life in The Bunker

I recently spent a day at The Bunker, a place in Tijuana that functions as a hangout, and sometimes a shelter, for deported veterans of the United States military.

Conventional wisdom statesthat serving in the military confers automatic citizenship. This is untrue. However, it can speed up the citizenship process, as long as applicants pursue it while they are still in the military.  Otherwise, they wait in line along with everyone else.

There are many people in Tijuana who were deported after spending their lives and careers in the United States. Some were convicted of felonies. Others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All are trying to find their place in a country that for most of them is strange and new.

Photo essay on Exposure.co.

24 November 2014


The disappearance and probable deaths of 43 normalista students from Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero, has taken Mexico by storm.  The country's anger and grief went from a murmur to a shout overnight, and now people are in the streets from its northern border to the southern tip - and beyond, since Mexico's diaspora is enormous - demanding immediate and comprehensive reform.

The protests have been spurred by the disappearance of the student teachers at the hands of Iguala's government, but they have been inflamed by the government's mishandling of the situation.  First, there is the misdirection.  Whose bodies have they found?  Search parties have found more than a dozen mass graves in the area, but none appear to contain the bodies of the students from Ayotzinapa.  So whose bodies are these?  No one seems to know. With each new discovery, Mexico's outrage grows.

"Ya me canse," said Mexico's attorney general at a press conference about the students, and Mexico's fury grew.  He's fed up? Mexicans have been asking.  He's tired?  That spawned "#YaMeCanse," and on and off Twitter, people have been sharing what they're fed up with.

I'm fed up with life in Mexico being safer as a narco than a student.
I'm fed up with the culture of impunity. 
I'm fed up with the disappearances, the deaths, the mass graves, the mysterious people following the most outspoken activists, the implicit and explicit threats, and most of all the fear.

In Baja California, citizens stymied by the government's inaction on missing people and unsolved murders have been taking matters into their own hands for years, forming action groups and pressuring law enforcement to investigate suspected killers and mass graves.  Now they, too, are speaking out.

It's uncertain whether Mexico will actually reform as a result of this movement, but for the first time in a long time, the international press has its eye on the country and its military and government. What happens next remains to be seen and depends just as much on pressure from outside Mexico as it does on pressure from within.

01 November 2014

Dia de los Muertos

Today is Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that is a fusion of the Aztec celebration of Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Dead, and the Catholic All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day. 

Typically, it is a time to honor and celebrate the lives of those who have died.  People build altars for their loved ones, strewn with photos, sweets, and, traditionally, marigolds to help the dead see their way to the next phase.  Sometimes, they build altars for those they have never known.

On the north side of the border, activists have altars for the unknown migrants who lose their lives trying to cross from Mexico to the United States, an arduous trek across deserts and rivers, complicated by crooked coyotes and traffickers.

Often they die alone, unidentified and thus mostly unmourned. Sometimes they just disappear, only to reappear as a small heap of anonymous dry bones, gnawed by animals and bleached white by the sun. 

In Tijuana, shelters for those who have been deported contain no altars. “We don't have the money to put up art like that,” says a worker there.

He is young, rail thin, with sharp cheekbones. He speaks both English and Spanish with an American accent. “We need it for food.”

These places for the deported are run on a tiny budget, with little to no help from the Mexican government, relying almost completely on donations. They are mostly in raucous and rundown Zona Norte, just meters from the high wall that runs all along Baja's northern border.

When people with no social networks are deported, their choices are limited. Many end up digging holes to sleep in along a dry riverbed at the international border, using runoff to wash themselves and their clothes.

Shelters work as alternatives and become waystations, where people with no other resources can shower and do laundry.

They all have stories about their lives in the United States, stories of loss and love, jobs they had and opportunities they wanted, but always ending the same way, when they are dropped off alone in Tijuana.

Many are injured. “I lost my eye when a cop beat me up,” Miguel says. He looks up from his mattress with his one good eye; his other eye is white with scar tissue in its socket.

“They took all my clothes, so I have been wearing these filthy things for weeks.” He doesn't say which country the cop was in, or why they took his clothes. “I'm going back soon,” he says. “Back to the other side.”
Arturo is on a mattress next to Miguel's. He says he came from Mexico City to look for work, and kept going north when he hit the border.  He doesn't say when or how he was deported.  

Arturo can't talk for long. His eyes are glassy and feverish. His belly is swollen. There are livid bruises on his abdomen where a bloody bandage covers a deep incision, and he pants when he tries to sit up. "Liver surgery,” says a third man. “He drank too much.” 

“I didn't drink too much,” protests Arturo weakly. “Those bottles were full of water, I told you.” The other man shakes his head. Arturo seems to stop caring and rolls over on his side.  "Please give me something for the pain," he says. "I hurt." But nobody has anything to give him.

One man comes in with a single marigold, which they put on the countertop: their one concession to Day of the Dead. There are few decorations in this building. It's not intended to be a place that feels like home.

All of them will be gone from here soon, one way or another.

11 October 2014

A Day at the Fair

“Oh, so you're having an existential crisis over death, eh?”

There is a woman sitting across from me at a little fold-out table, peering at me over the top of her reading glasses while shuffling a deck of tarot cards. “I've died twice,” she says, shrugging. “It's no big deal.”

The Mississauga Psychic Fair, now in its fourth year, is organized by First Star, a project by Stan Mallow and his business partner, Ray Fulcher. Mallow, a host of a television series out of Niagara called “The Paranormal Show,” is affable, friendly to skepticism, and even leaves me tickets at the front counter so that I can go explore.

The event looks much like I thought it would. The conference room, not far from Toronto's main airport, is carpeted in booths and draped with signs, silks, crystal balls, angel figurines, gems, and other tchotchkes. The crowd – surprisingly diverse to my eyes – is in constant motion, although here and there I can see people talking earnestly and animatedly to various psychics. As I watch, a woman starts to sniffle; the man who is reading her tarot cards quickly brings out a box of tissues from under his table in a practiced motion.

I sit down at a table with a placard that reads “Tarot Anne” and smile at the woman there, presumably Tarot Anne herself. She smiles back. I like the way she looks: henna-red hair, half-lens glasses that she looks at me over, and simply dressed. She could be somebody's friendly mom, not a moony spiritualist.

“Pick some stuff from my box of junk,” she says, dumping trinkets onto the table. “We'll figure out where to go from there.” I'm supposed to pick out four objects, so I do, and she reads them with the help of tarot cards. I'm going to write, she tells me. I'm going to do well communicating ideas to others. Every single psychic or card reader I've ever talked to has told me this, and I figured it out long ago: I always have ink on my hands.

But then she stops at one of the trinkets I picked out: a deep blue brooch with no discernible pattern, just a shimmer. “Oh,” she says, “the unknown. And the cards say you have some kind of fear?”

“I do. It's about my dog," I say, "he died,” and to my embarrassed horror my voice breaks and I tear up. She brings out a box of tissues from under her table in a practiced motion.

“He was fine before he was born and he's fine now,” she says in a no-nonsense brisk librarian sort of way, “and anyway, being dead is really no big deal. I've been dead twice. It's great. But what I have to ask you is, why the hell are you worrying about that shit? Life's too short.”

This is better than a therapist, I think, sniffling and wiping my nose.  As I look around, I realize nearly everyone around me is crying. We're all here grieving lost loved ones and searching for some kind of assurance, beyond the heartache and the pain and the final awful goodbyes, the universe might really, finally, be all right.

For a moment, I am cheered. But then I go to the hair reader.

“Your hair carries memories of the past and the future,” he leers at me, licking his lips. “Is that a natural wave or a perm?” His helper, who as it turns out is also his girlfriend, tosses her long hair over one shoulder and waves me into a seat.

“Can I touch your hair?” he asks, leaning directly into my face. He has the strangest eyebrows I have ever seen, like a moustache over each eye, but brushed straight up toward his scalp.  

“Oh, sure,” I tell him. I mean, that's why I'm here, right? So he puts out a huge paw and strokes my head. “Oh,” he says, rocking back and forth. “Oh. Yes. Yes! Yes!”

I sit, frozen by the absurdity of it all and the effort of trying not to laugh as he twines his fingers in my hair. “I'm feeling that you're having a lot of, well, menstrual problems,” he says, winking. “Your woman stuff has been a little haywire.  Am I right?”

He is not right, but I shrug noncommittally anyway. I want to see where this goes. He grunts and rolls a lock of hair between his fingers. “Are you sure this is your natural wave?” I nod as well as I can with my hair in his fist. That part, at least, is true. He leans in even closer.

“And,” he whispers, straight into my face, “you're on your period.”

As he pronounces the p in period, a little blob of saliva sails out of his mouth and directly into my eye. I try not to think of ocular lesions and bacterial infections. Mercifully, the reading is now over, so I rush away. For the rest of the day, I hurry past his booth and avoid eye contact.

“I see spirits,” announces the third medium. “They're all around me, all the time.”

Allison Boswell's story is particularly interesting. She was just a normal person, if a little bit dreamy, working in a normal business, she says. She was never particularly skeptical, but she was never particularly superstitious, either. She just hung out with her husband and worked at her job until a month after her 29th birthday, just a few months ago. Then, one day, she started seeing ghosts everywhere.

“I had to talk to people. I had to tell them what the spirits were telling me. Sometimes they were sick, or sad, or had lost something and they needed guidance. It was getting so bad that I would go up to complete strangers and tell them.”

“With all due respect,” I begin to ask her, and don't know how to finish.

“How do I know I'm not crazy? Because I can back it up. What they're telling me is stuff that I can verify, things I couldn't possibly know otherwise. And I'm never alone now – they're around, saying hello, crowding around me and whispering in my ear, sitting on rafters and chairs and on people's heads. By the way, are you ever going to finish that book you started writing?”

I involuntarily take a step back, then clear my throat and remember the ink on my hands. But then I look at my hands, and there isn't any ink on them.

I end up spending six hours at the Mississauga Psychic Fair, mostly enjoying the people-watching and the massage chairs.  But my favorite part comes as I'm leaving, when I pass by the hair-reader's booth to see him trying to make a sales pitch to a large, unimpressed-looking man, who is completely, neatly bald.

26 September 2014

Mariachi in The Last Frontier

I'm currently in Toronto, in the middle of a journalism fellowship through the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, and with all the excitement about packing and forgetting things and leaving and planning and plotting, I nearly forgot to put up this story that I did last month for The Atlantic about Mariachi Agave Azul, Alaska's only mariachi band.

They're such a fun group, and it's such a cool story.  Alaska is one of the most diverse states in the US, a product of oil and fishing jobs, the military, and Alaska itself.  That means although the population is small (about 750,000 all told) it's an incredible melting pot.

The state has exactly one mariachi band, made up of young people who either wanted to learn more about their family's home country or were just excited to learn an unfamiliar style of music.  Not coincidentally, this is part of my master's thesis, should I ever finish it.  (I'll finish it.)

 A companion radio piece will air nationwide on NPR's Latino USA in November.