Recent Work, News & Updates


Profile on the Mayor of San Salvador

My profile of San Salvador's young, beloved mayor, out in the most recent issue of VQR

"At first glance, Bukele’s efforts—a Pop-Up Museum in the city center, launching a skateboard revolution, reorganizing the central market to offer walking paths and artists’ studios—seem like the unstudied pet projects of a rich kid whose internal logic reveals a starry-eyed worldview: Change the structural inequities, and peace and prosperity will follow. To do this requires not just money (Haiti, he points out, is still languishing in poverty despite several billion dollars in aid). More important is what he calls his “hidden project of inspiration,” the degree to which he can convince Salvadorans that their country has the potential for greatness. In Bukele’s estimation, projects like the city-center revitalization don’t just alter the physical reality of the city, but the relationship between citizens and the place they call home—and, by extension, their relationship with one another." 

Photo by Juan Carlos


Mesa Refuge

Thank you to the Mesa Refuge, where I was named the 2016 Michael Pollan Journalism Fellow, for two weeks of quiet, of "writing on the edge." Nothing quite like space and time and sunlight and birds and watching the tide slip across the mudflats to get some good work done. The book is finally taking shape, and I owe this to the Mesa Refuge. 


City of Dreams, in ORION

From my new short essay, "City of Dreams," published in Orion Magazine, and with gratitude to the French American Foundation's Immigration Journalism Fellowship:

 The dump is a massive pit about one football field in diameter where trucks of private and municipal origin come to jettison the detritus of human existence. Dozens of workers — so-called “illegal migrants” from Guatemala — rifle through the castaways in hopes of finding something to salvage and sell. The workers dip into the crater of garbage using ladders made of found wood lashed with rope, then plunge their boots and gloved hands deep into the mess in search of valuables like tin cans, glass bottles, electronics. Each day they hew away at the crater, cramming anything of value into tall burlap bags, and every so often trucks come to tip more garbage in. Linda Vista is a never-ending churn. 



VQR has just launched a very cool project using Instagram to render short, beautiful stories in words and images. My essay series "Northbound" features this summer's reporting from southern Mexico and El Salvador (generously funded by the French American Foundation's Immigration Journalism Fellowship). Follow @vqreview on Instagram to see more (including last week's breathtaking dispatches from rural India by Meera Subramanian.) 



Death of a Valley

A few years ago, my mom and I came across a book of old photographs that documented the life of a small California town in the year preceding its drowning under a dammed lake. I've been haunted by these photographs ever since, and, as California heats up, dries out and searches for more water, the story of this old town feels all the more relevant. Here's my essay up in Guernica (one that's been kicking around in my brain for about eight years) about these photographs and California's long, tense and grasping relationship with water. 

Pirkle Jones, House Being Moved from the series Death of a Valley, 1956, printed 1960. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 in x 14 in, 24.13 cm x 35.56 cm. Collection SFMOMA. Gift of an anonymous donor in memory of Merrily Page. © The Pirkle Jones Foundation.


Alaska Bound

I'm honored to receive a 2015 Fund for Environmental Journalism Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists to report on indigenous education in rural Alaska. I spend most days immersed in education issues for young people relegated to the margins of urban life, and I'm so looking forward to learning more about the challenges and heroic work being done in the schools on the cold, glorious rim of our continent.


"The gangs do bad things so that other people can see how powerful they are."

My article for VICE News about the forced bus strike in El Salvador last week. Though it seemed to have wound to a close, three more people were assasinated today for not heeding the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios orders to halt all busses in El Salvador. 

Nine drivers on commuter bus routes in El Salvador have now been killed in a bus "strike" enforced by a faction of the powerful 18th Street gang and which has resulted in an estimated $60 million in losses for the country's economy.

Salvadoran buses were finally returning to normal after the start of last week's crippling strike, which left tens of thousands of commuters stranded for days and exposed the major weaknesses of the government of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren against the country's gangs.

Wednesday's fresh attack heightened tensions for terrified Salvadoran commuters. Read more


Totalitarian Inheritance: Essay on Slovene Military Prison Turned Hostel

My story about the Slovene Military prison turned youth hostel and living memorial was published be the lovely The Intentional magazine, and featured today on LitHub. Here's an excerpt: 


You can walk around Ljubljana and trace the marks that history’s tigers have left behind. The city, like all cities, is like an epic poem—a city built upon a city built upon another city, a stony entanglement of Roman ruins, feudal walls, Renaissance cathedrals, Baroque churches, Napoleonic archways, communist-era block housing, Ljubljana layered like a hunk of sedimentary rock, each stripe a man-hewn line of time. In Slovenia, that rounded crossroads on the nape of Europe’s east-west divide, history is everywhere. Even on the unassuming sidewalk behind the national gymnasium, where a small monument marks the exact spot in which Italian occupying forces executed a young father named Peter Romavh during World War II.

Read more


"They're not being deterred from coming, they're just not making it." 

Pacific Standard Magazine reports on the recent ruling that deemed family immigration detention to be a violation of the longstanding court settlement on the treatment of detained minors. The article mentions my May Pacific Standard story, "Scorched," that profiled a would-be migrant farmworker held in family detention before being released to her husband in Mendota, CA with a tracking device strapped to her ankle.


I am writing a book

I am so very happy to announce that my book about child migrants from El Salvador will be published by Crown. It's a narrative nonfiction book about family, roots, migration, survival and the lasting legacy of violence. 

Time to get to work.