My new story about urban farming and neighborhood gentrification is up today at The New Yorker.com.
Recent Work, News & Updates
After months of hard work and collaboration, we've completed Between Meals--a cookbook that features recipes and stories from a dozen refugee cooks resettled to the Bay area. It's for sale here at Lulu.com.
About the Book: An innovative narrative cookbook, Between Meals shares the expertise, recipes and stories of newly-arrived refugee women in the Bay Area. This book documents traditional recipes from around the world--from Burma to Liberia to Afghanistan--from Refugee Transitions' participants, written down with the help of their Refugee Transitions tutors. Between Meals tells the stories of students' exile from their home countries, their journeys to the United States, and their efforts--literally and metaphorically--to nourish their families in their new California homes.
My article on unaccompanied immigrant farmworker youth in California's Central Valley is out this month in the great Vice Magazine: http://m.vice.com/read/the-lost-boys-of-california-0000258-v21n3
This reporting was funded by the 11th Hour Food & Farming Journalism Fellowship at UC Berkeley, where I had the immense fortune of working with Michael Pollan, Malia Wollan, an inspiring team of fellow fellowesses, and guest editors Jack Hitt and Alan Burdick. It was like winning the lottery.
For all its bounty, there’s something about the landscape of California’s Central Valley that feels diseased. Just a few miles from Ernesto’s house in Mendota, the air is a heavy brown-gray, polluted by the trucks that pass through on Highway 99, carrying produce to be packed and shipped and stocked onto shelves at Safeways and Hannafords across the country. The pollution clouds the rays of light that shine on the fields, smudging the horizon lines and the silhouettes of crops. The fields, too, in towns like Mendota and Huron and Raisin City, feel exquisitely toxic. As productive as they are, and as heavy with bloom and fruit, the plants are subtly listless in their rows and rows, lacking vibrancy. It’s a battered landscape, excavated and plucked and pumped for every last bit it can give.
Photo Credit: Matt Black
My story "Just a Cupful" was just published in the American Literary Review: http://www.americanliteraryreview.com/lauren-markham---just-a-cupful.html
As she pulls into Galisteo this thin, bright morning on the road alone with Manny, she thinks to herself how maybe she is built like a desert: rocks, quills, sand, scales, always feeling thirsty. The spiny chola catch the early light and glow. She used to make mobiles out of them when she was little and get them stuck in her hands. Even then she understood the unlikelihood of all the things that poke out of this dry soil, the conditions we’re all—plants, animals, people—expected to survive.
Here I am interviewing young farm workers in Driscoll strawberry fields as part of my reporting for the 11th Hour Food & Farming Journalism Fellowship. Resulting article forthcoming in a few months.... (Photo Credit: Alejandra Valadez)
VQR post about what the (unlikely) passage of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would mean for this vulnerable population of immigrant children.
My most recent article about the influx of unaccompanied immigrant minors--children who cross the border alone--in Texas' Rio Grande Valley is out in the Virginia Quarterly Review. The article was featured at Byliner and as a Longreads Top 5 of the week.
Tiptoeing through the scrub brush of South Texas, everything sounds like a threat: wind rustling the palm fronds, a lizard skittering through the understory, a hawk’s heavy flapping, one’s own arm against a pantleg.
At the bottom edge of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge slinks that fabled river, the Rio Grande, not two car lengths across. It is both astounding and totally unsurprising that Mexico, on the opposite bank, looks just the same as Texas, just a mirror image of nothing special. The park is a restored desert wetland, home to birds and armadillos and the endangered ocelot, with the occasional crossing of both Border Patrol trucks and those they are hunting. Thanks to uproar from the park staff and local environmentalist groups that had worked to restore and preserve this nearly lost habitat, the infamous border wall—a twelve-foot-high metal fence—stops at the Santa Ana’s perimeter and starts up again on the other side. Next to the river, a sign reads: this corridor will allow animals to safely pass along and across the Rio Grande. Just east of the sign, you can see a narrow scramble path leading from the murky river up into Texas.
The gift shop at the Santa Ana Refuge sells T-shirts and postcards of Texas wildlife. In the corner stand a few tanks showcasing what you might see out there—snakes, mud eels, tortoises. I asked the cashier,who was at the window spying for jays, whether immigrants ever crossed through here. She raised her eyebrows, registering that I was clearly from out of town.
“Every day!” she said. “You can find stashes of water and clothes and all sorts of stuff back there,” she said, motioning to the park. “But you know, they aren’t after us. They aren’t trying to hurt us. They just want a better life. It’s mostly families and kids,” she said.
“Oh, yeah. Just last week they caught twenty of them. There was one full family, but the rest of them were all kids.”
The history of the Rio Grande Valley is one of migration, of shifting borders, of walls and fences, hidings and crossings—this used to be Mexico, after all, and before that indigenous land. Today the two most reliable imports here are people and drugs. In 2012, Border Patrol in the Valley apprehended more than 97,000 undocumented immigrants, up from 59,000 the previous year. Human smuggling and drug smuggling have become a cooperative business. The infamous Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso on the western side of the state, has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico, often related to narco-trafficking. Increasingly, the violence has spread east to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande Valley—Reynosa, Matamoros, cities to be avoided if you can help it. And yet here and at nearly every other stopover point en route to the US, hundreds of children from all over Central America find themselves in a life-threatening state of limbo far away from home, hunkering in safe houses or along the riverbank for a chance to slip across the border. Read More
My new article about climate change and displacement is up at Guernica.
I ask Admassu what he thinks was the cause of this drastic weather change. He shrugs. “We must ask Jesus,” he says. I ask if he’d ever heard of climate change. This term perplexes even Teddy. “It’s the idea,” I say, “that because of pollution in the air, the weather is changing. It’s getting too hot.” As Teddy translates, Admassu shakes his head. “He says,” says Teddy, “That this maybe happens in other places, but not where he is coming from. His town is very beautiful, very clean air. So that cannot be the problem for these people. It must be something else.”
Though humans are confined to borders, climate change knows no boundaries. How could Admassu’s home, with its once-thriving fields and clean air, be responsible for its own demise? The answer, of course, is that it’s not.