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Recent Work, News & Updates

Thursday
Jun182015

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. 

Friday
May222015

Riding Water Slides in a Drought

California water parks and attempts at conservation, up in the New Yorker.com's Currency pages. 

Opening Day at a California water park. Can you spot the goose?

 There was undoubtedly something discordant about seeing so much water dedicated to recreation, particularly with a backdrop of parched hills in the distance. Raging Waters sits on thirty-six acres of land adjacent to Lake Cunningham, a man-made body on the east side of San Jose. When pumped to full capacity, as it is during the summer months, the park uses approximately a million gallons of water, which cycle through its lazy river and slides in an endless, filtered churn. Even the park’s name seems to almost mock the drought. As I sat down in a lawn chair, two geese flew overhead, then alighted on a patch of concrete adjacent to the interweaving White Lightning and Blue Thunder slides. One bent down and drank from the chlorinated pool, then plopped in, followed quickly by the other goose. They paddled around for a while amid the crescendoing shouts of nearby children. Full Article

Thursday
May142015

French American Fellowship for Reporting in El Salvador & Mexico

So pleased to be awarded a 2015 Immigration Journalism Fellowship from the French American Foundation. I'll be focusing on mounting Salvadoran violence and U.S. funded attempts to intervene. Thank you, French American Foundation!

Monday
May112015

"Reinvent the City" 

VICE Magazine recently published a forum called "Writers, Scientists and Climate Experts Discuss How to Save the World from Climate Change," in which I write about the possibilities of a radically redesigned city. I'm honored to have a short piece published among the words of these brilliant thinkers, who discuss, among other things, the need to embrace geoengineering, free the energy market, and encourage smart farming (Michael Pollan writes, "There are ways we can organize our agriculture so that it will heal the planet and feed us and help roll back climate change."). From my story on the Future Cities Lab in San Francisco, CA: 

Reversing the harm we've done will first require acknowledging it—and seeing that our way of life is too much for the world. As humans and creatures of both habit and comfort, we seemingly need to get as close to demise as possible to be able to see things clearly. But maybe the approaching environmental apocalypse is an opportunity to both accommodate the changing environment and create more symbiotic living environments, the sort that might have staved off some of this collapse in the first place. 

Their designs are compelling and smart, but what drew me to the Future Cities Lab was their vision of a new world of environmental cooperation that is also beautiful—a place where I'd actually like to live. Often, Gattegno and Kelly Johnson explained, environmental design is purely utilitarian. Take solar panels or wind turbines: all function, no form. But why does ecological design have to be an aesthetic compromise? Why can't our cityscapes be both environmental and beautiful? Why can't our cities be more like Teslas—sexy and mindful, the smartest, most efficient of their kind? Full Article

Hydramax, image from the Future Cities Lab  

Wednesday
May062015

"Scorched: For Central American migrants, the promise of work in the fields of California has dried up"

Last summer brought a massive influx of migrants from Central America to California's Central Valley. They came in tandem with a wicked drought--which meant more workers, less work. Here's my profile of a lionhearted Honduran woman--shackled with debt, an immigration tracking bracelet, and lack of work--living in the Cantaloupe Capital of the World, out now in Pacific Standard Magazine. (This article was written in partnership with the tremendous Food & Environmental Reporting Network.) 

Migrants, of course, need to make a living, and pay off their smuggling debts, which these days ring up at more than $7,000 a person. The agricultural industry has long offered one of our country’s greatest loopholes for the undocumented, but being under the scrutiny of immigration agents complicates the once easy act of buying a Social Security number and heading to the fields. Many others in Clara’s situation—including several of her neighbors—were taking the risk and working a harvest now and again. But even if there was work, Clara said, she’d be terrified to leave the house. “What if they suddenly changed my day and I wasn’t here? What if they raided the field and found me with my bracelet? I’d go back to jail.” Full Article

Photo Credit: Matt Black

Tuesday
May052015

"The Untapped Potential of Wasted Food" - New article up at the New Yorker.com

I got to write an article for the New Yorker.com's Currency pages about an optimistic new fast food chain and the economic, environmental and culinary potential of addressing food waste. The elusive 99 cent burger...

Sometime later this year, the chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson plan to open the first restaurant of a new fast-food chain, Loco’l, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. One of the foundations of their menu, Choi told me when we talked in February, will be a burger that is locally sourced, sustainable, and delicious. It will cost just ninety-nine cents. Choi has long aspired to bring quality food into the urban mainstream; he is best known as the godfather of the food-truck movement and as the owner of Kogi, a fleet of Korean–Mexican taco trucks. The goal of competing with fast-food giants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and Shake Shack is ambitious, to say the least, but he and Patterson are convinced that it can work. “We can change fast food because we are chefs,” Choi said. Full Article

Thursday
Apr022015

"The Meringue War"

My essay on chefs, culinary creations, intellectual property and Instagram is featured in the current issue ofVQR.
Photo by James Hall

To many chefs, the idea of trademarking is a bit crass, and they don’t really see the point. You don’t make money on the trademark, after all—you  just prevent others from earning off of the name you coined. Copyrighting is intended to protect creative expression, and many chefs do think of themselves as artists. But since it’s so difficult to copyright a food creation, as Straus explains, and in the absence of other intellectual property protection, some chefs use the trademark as a proxy. Ultimately, copyright law doesn’t recognize food as a form of expression that needs protection. And until chefs find a way to have their work legally recognized as a form of creative expression, Instagram can act as a type of informal, visual copyright.

Read more: http://www.vqronline.org/essays-articles/2015/04/meringue-war

Saturday
Mar212015

"The New Farmers" reprinted in The Utne Reader

Happy to report that my Orion story, "The New Farmers," was recently reprinted in the Utne Reader. I'm currently working on another essay about the California drought, so it's nice for me to revisit this more hopeful tale. 

These new farms look very different from the large-scale agriculture that defines much of rural America. California’s Central Valley, for example, is a landscape that feeds millions of people in part by forsaking its own. Although Fresno County gleans more agricultural profit than any other county in the United States, it has some of the most atrocious air quality rankings, highest pesticide poisoning rates, and worst labor exploitation statistics (largely of undocumented Latino workers) in the country. Spend enough time in these pummeled places and one can feel the ecological and spiritual burn of industrial-scale food production. Some also hear a quiet call to arms, the urge to start a venture of one’s own—to do something more than just spend dollars at the farmers market. Read More

Monday
Nov242014

My work with Unaccompanied Minors Featured in NY Times & PBS Newshour

I began covering issues of child migration to the U.S. exactly two years ago, in the Fall of 2012, for VQR. (My resulting piece, First the Fence, Then the System, was published in the Spring of 2013.) In addition to my work as a journalist, I work at Oakland International High School, a school for immigrant youth in Oakland, California. As I wrote in a followup piece for VQR last June, "Though we’ve had a few unaccompanied minors at our school over the years, there were never all that many—that is, until last year, when kids from ages fourteen to barely eighteen, hailing from Central America via shelters in Harlingen and Phoenix and San Antonio, began enrolling by the dozens. With the unaccompanied minor population nearly doubling each year since 2011, these kids were bound to show up at our door."

OIHS is a school made up of impassioned educators and remarkable students--and I'm very proud to work among them. And we were thrilled when the incomparable Jennifer Medina of the NY Times published an article profiling the experiences of unaccompanied minors at our school, during a time when other schools across the country were turning these students away. I'm quoted in this article and in its accompanying video.

Most recently our school was featured on the PBS Newshour, in which I'm also quoted alongside several of our inspiring students (like Carlos, who wrote this opinion piece about Obama's Executive Action on immigration).  I was asked to write a piece about OIHS' work supporting unaccompanied minors for the PBS Newshour's Education Blog. Here it is

Thursday
Oct232014

"The New Farmers" in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion

My article on an emerging generation of farmers--new farmers by choice rather than by heritage--and why they've chosen this vocation, is out in Orion Magazine 

Miller looks out onto her farm. The diminishing daylight suffuses everything with a saffron glow: young apple trees not yet bearing fruit, her husband running the tractor, a shaggy llama, like a gangly guardian, standing attention at the fence. “Here I’m building something,” she says. “And I like that. I like that we’re stewards of this land, that we’re building the soil and taking care of the pollinators, the bees, the birds—it’s just so positive.”

She thinks for a moment. “What’s hard is when you’re so tired, and your body hurts so much, and you’re so poor. We finally figured out we make less than five dollars an hour. How much do you sacrifice for this vision?

“But when I get down, I think about a conversation with my mom that really helped me,” she reflects. “She asked, ‘If everyone was doing what you’re doing, would the world be a better place?’ And the answer is, of course, yes. Yes, it would. And that’s why I do it.” Read more