This week on Storyboard we spotlighted some wonderful journalism (and songwriting) about immigration. I know I might be biased, because I spent the bulk of my career at the Los Angeles Times, but I think it has produced unparalleled literary journalism on the subject. For instance, Rich Marosi’s “Without a Country,” which we revisit below, and the Pulitzer-winning “Enrique’s Journey,” from a decade earlier. I highly recommend digging into the LAT’s trove. I also can’t wait to read Francisco Cantú’s memoir, “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border,” which comes out next week.
Richard Marosi and “Without a Country.” Contributor Olga Kreimer has done a great job with this week’s immigration posts. Before the Q&A with Marosi, she says of his series: “As conversations about undocumented immigrants erode into partisan debates and decisions about many thousands of futures are reduced to bargaining chips, it’s also easy to lose sight of what stories have come before, when readers were perhaps paying less attention. Richard Marosi of the Los Angeles Times has been on the border beat for more than a dozen years; he shared his take on how to get it right. The six stories in the ‘Without a Country’ series, for which Marosi became a Pulitzer finalist, are satisfyingly distinct in a sea of generalizations. Even six years later, they feel as immediate as when they were published.”
The soundtrack: “Man Without a Country,” by Kim Fowley. Wow, I had totally forgotten about Fowley, famous as the Svengali of The Runaways. But this garage-rock song is perfect for the post, with this chorus: “I’m a man without a country/except the stars above my head/If we can’t live together/then the world’s gonna be dead.”
One Great Sentence
“For what are we without hope in our hearts / That someday we’ll drink from God’s blessed waters / And eat the fruit from the vine / I know love and fortune will be mine / Somewhere across the border.”
Bruce Springsteen, “Across the Border.” Read why we think it’s great.
Francisco Cantú and “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border.” In this Why’s This So Good about the memoir that comes out next week, Olga tells us about the beauty entwined with pain that Cantú has conjured from his days with the Border Patrol. I love this passage: “On Cantú’s border, interior landscapes are as tangible as exterior ones, one of many contradictions that emerge from the text. The loveliness of descriptive prose – ‘a once mighty river basin ringed by arid and stony peaks, seething and glimmering’ – crashes into the ugliness of language that dismisses and distances. In story after story, help for stranded migrants also means entrapment; agents’ mercy is at times inseparable from either the cruelty or the mundanity of duty.”
The soundtrack: “Borders,” by MIA. Such a good song. She’s fierce! Love the repetition of the chorus: “Borders (What’s up with that?)/Politics (What’s up with that?)/Police shots (What’s up with that?)/Identities (What’s up with that?)/Your privilege (What’s up with that?)”
What I’m reading online: Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario and Don Bartletti. Reading the interview with Rich Marosi made me go back to look at the Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster from the Los Angeles Times a decade earlier, with stunning photos by Don Bartletti, as in the Marosi series. It’s a tour de force of reporting and storytelling, both in the writing and the photography. Read it (and look at it) and be moved.
Undercover With a Border Militia, by Shane Bauer. The Mother Jones writer specializes in undercover reporting (see Storyboard’s chat with him on infiltrating private prisons as a guard), and this is high impact. But it’s the quieter moments, against the screeds and the hate, that caught me. Like this moment with a militia member called Doc: “That’s a purty sunset,” he says. He suggests we trudge up the hill to get a good view. On the way, he points out a white desert flower, the distant mountains. The bottoms of the scattered clouds become a deep, fiery purple. “Oooooh baby!” Doc says. “Please can I get a shot of that?” He pulls out his flip phone and photographs the sunset.
The Mothers Being Deported by Trump, by Sarah Stillman. This series of vignettes in The New Yorker is powerful because A) it puts a face on the deported; and B) it makes them relatable, as mothers, not others; and C) the short lengths make them easy to read, but the repetition of the stories packs a punch. Here’s Alejandra Ruiz: “I started off in a one-bedroom with my kids and worked my butt off to be where I’m at for them,” she said. Now she worries they may soon face eviction and homelessness. “I don’t have a mansion, but I have something for my kids to call their own.”
What’s on my bedside table: “Winter,” by Ali Smith. I had read the first novel in the planned quartet, “Winter,” and was excited to get the second one. I’ve barely started, but am hooked by her seemingly nonlinear but in fact very linear chains of thought. She starts with a hypnotic repetition of dead things (chivalry, romance, politics, democracy, truth and fiction). Then she writes, “Imagine being haunted by the ghosts of all these dead things. Imagine being haunted by the ghost of a flower. No, imagine being haunted (if there were such a thing as being haunted, rather than just neurosis or psychosis) by the ghost (if there were such things as ghosts, rather than just imagination) of a flower.”
What’s on my turntable: “Stan Getz & Bill Evans.” One of my top priorities on arriving in London was to get a record player. Mission accomplished, and it’s a beauty, an early 1950s lacquered Pye “black box.” The first album I played was the Stone Roses’ debut album, but the second was this one by two greats of jazz. And I shouldn’t have been surprised: This player was born for the intimacy of jazz. Guess it’s time to buy more vinyl…
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.