Recent Work, News & Updates


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.

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"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. 


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


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!


"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  


"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


"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


"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


"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

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