jessie sheldon

No Snow and Bad Wine

When I found out I was attending the 2018 annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Katowice, Poland, my key goal was to learn as much as possible about Small Island Developing States (SIDS). A 2002 study estimated that over 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change. I found this statistic shocking and felt the need to educate myself further, and learn what role I could play in combating the issue.

The conference itself took place in a space that felt like an airport, white walls and no windows, constructed purely for the purpose of hosting the conference. As I picked up my ID badge and walked through security, I noticed the large letters spelling out “Welcome to Poland,” displayed front and center. The second thing I noticed were the endless piles of paper behind a desk named “Documents Distribution.”

Throughout the two-week-long conference, I began to observe more and more how unsustainable the most important gathering on climate change in the world actually was. Disposable cups. Single use silverware. Plastic water bottles. No composting. Very few vegetarian or vegan options. The list went on and on.

Every evening as I left the conference center to take a tram back to the hostel, the sight of smog and the smell of burning coal would remind me that not only was the event creating a ton of material waste, it was also being powered by coal. The conference would eventually teach me to notice the nuances that exist within the effort to combat climate change—that sometimes we cannot see the problem, even when it’s right in front of us.

At the conference, there were almost 30,000 registered participants from all over the world representing hundreds of different delegations, from countries, to NGOs, to institutions like CC. While the participants are ideally supposed to represent the world population, I felt like I was at a European Union conference rather than a United Nations conference.

Many of the other participants shared these frustrations, as well as those expressed earlier, including CC Junior Paige Shetty (Colorado College junior), who told me, “Leaders at the conference continued to emphasize the urgency of the crisis, yet almost everyone who attended the conference had flown on a plane. These same people likely knew that one air-mile produces, on average, 53.3 lbs of carbon dioxide. Additionally, the venue itself was built specifically for this conference and would be taken down at its conclusion, only for another large venue to be built somewhere else for next year’s conference. How can we expect countries to reduce their emissions when the leading conference for climate change is not a model for sustainability?”

From 10 a.m to 8 p.m every day except Sunday, there would be dozens of events running at once that anyone with a conference badge could attend. Al Gore led an event called, “The Climate Crisis and its Solutions,” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hosted an event titled “Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)— Regional Perspectives on the 1.5º Special Report,” and the government of Fiji and NAP Global Network ran an event called “Launch of Fiji’s First National Adaptation Plan.” There was a lot to learn and definitely not enough time.

One evening I attended an event called “Bordeaux 2050.” Bordeaux 2050 is a wine from the future that gives us the bitter taste of global warming. The premise of the wine event was a warning: the Bordeaux wine region in France is at risk to severe conditions of climate change, and by 2050, Bordeaux grapes may lose their rich and wonderful taste. “Despite the fact that global warming is a reality, many feel that it is a distant, abstract problem. So the French Association of Journalists for the Environment decided to give the French people tangible proof of climate change by hitting them where it hurts the most: wine, of course,” The French Association of Journalists for the Environment wrote. They partnered with researchers, scientists, and wine experts (like Excell Laboratory, France), to study the 30 year projections of current climate data and to create a wine that simulates the taste of a Bordeaux wine grown in 2050.

Each of the wine tasters swirled their glasses, smelled the wine, and took a sip. Reactions ranged from excitement about the idea itself, to shock and disgust. Some called it flat and non-complex, others called it sour, the general consensus amongst everyone, however, was that the wine did not taste nearly as good as the Bordeaux wine people from all over the world know and love today.

On the Bordeaux 2050 website, the homepage reads:

Bordeaux 2050

The Real Taste of Global Warming 

Do you know someone who still believes global warming isn’t real? Your pro-Trump uncle or that weird colleague you avoid at lunch? Fill in their details and we’ll send them a bottle of Bordeaux 2050.

If you choose to send a bottle of Bordeaux 2050 to someone, their suggested message is “Dear Climate Sceptic, here is a bottle of Bordeaux 2050, a wine straight from the future. It will give you a bitter taste of global warming … but please, keep your glass half full. Very warm wishes.” I sent one to Donald Trump … wishful thinking, I know.

After attending this event and doing more research on Bordeaux 2050, I was inspired by the work that the French Association of Journalists for the Environment had done. They took something that many people (especially the French) love and tangibly showed how climate change will affect it. They are making people think, “What would France be without really good wine?” Brilliant.

Given the excitement and chatter in the room after the event, I imagined these people going home to share the story of the wine tasting with their families and friends. I then started thinking about how I could use this method to encourage people to really pay attention to the impacts of climate change in Colorado. Is there something that Coloradans care about as much as the French care about wine? The outdoors, of course! What would Colorado look like without skiing and snowboarding? Recent statistics show that 71% of Colorado residents participate in outdoor recreation each year, and this doesn’t even include visitors that travel to Colorado.

A huge sector of the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado is skiing. In 2015, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) and Vail Resorts, announced the findings of a new economic impact study on Colorado’s ski and snowboarding industry. As the leading ski state in North America, Colorado’s ski industry generates $4.8 billion annually. However, if ambitious climate action is not taken soon enough, skiing in Colorado, as we know it, will be gone.

Several reports and studies have come out over the years projecting the impact of climate change on skiing in Colorado if emissions do not decrease. Here are a few of the many shocking possible outcomes evaluated through different studies:

1.     Summit County can expect late 21st century winters to feel about 10ºF warmer with 25% fewer average annual days at or below 32ºF. This means that the ski season will be shortened by about 1 month by the end of the century.

2.     High greenhouse gas emissions scenarios (continuing to emit at the exponential rate we are currently emitting at) are likely to end skiing in Aspen by 2100, and possibly well before then, while low emission path scenarios (reducing current emissions) preserve skiing at mid-to-upper mountain elevations. In either case, snow conditions will deteriorate in the future.

3.     EPA projections estimate that many Colorado Ski resorts could see winter seasons shortened by up to 80% by 2090. This not only impacts skiing but also impacts the state’s water resources.

 Regardless of which prediction comes true, each outcome proves dim. I hope that these statistics leave a bad taste in your mouth the way that Bourdeaux 2050 did for those who attended the conference.

To get a different perspective on the issue than my own and that of academic literature, I interviewed CC sophomore and avid skier Amy Raymond. Amy grew up in Centennial, CO and has been skiing for around 15 years. Last year (2017-2018), she skied 52 days. For Amy, skiing is a priority.

When I showed Amy the statistics predicticting less snowfall and a shorter ski season, Amy said, “This makes me feel really sad for a few reasons: one is that climate change is negatively impacting and kind of destroying this sport that I love. I dream of being an old retired woman on a chairlift who skis an unreasonable amount and makes friends with young people on the chairlift and this dream is honestly looking kind of impossible … Also, skiing is already so monetarily inaccessible for a lot of people, and a shortened ski season will only make skiing more inaccessible.”

Although Amy is saddened by these statistics, she is not surprised: “Comparing my winters as a kid in Colorado versus now, it’s pretty obvious we’re getting less precipitation and higher temperatures. It makes me feel sort of hopeless and definitely complicit. Skiing is honestly a pretty unsustainable sport that’s bad for surrounding environments and the environment at large, but odds are I’m not going to stop skiing anytime soon, so I’m part of the problem, which is very true but still sucks to acknowledge.” After speaking with Amy I realized how my intuition proved true; these statistics were especially upsetting to Colorado skiers.

What can skiers do in this dismal and contradictory situation? I decided to reach out to the Director of Planning and Sustainability for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Matt Feier, to get his expert opinion on the matter.

Matt explained how Crested Butte was preparing for this predicted decrease in snowfall and expected shortening of the ski season. He said, “There is widespread acknowledgement in the industry that we need to remain nimble and adaptable to change, and that we all may need to consider other business models and revenue streams in order to remain successful.”

Thanks to input from Matt and Amy, I have come up with a list of things that people who ski and ride can do to help combat climate change in Colorado. 

1.     Pressure ski resorts to pursue sustainable practices and only ski and ride at resorts that acknowledge climate change and are actively doing something to combat it.

2.     Vote for those who are passionate about climate action.

3.     Offset your own carbon footprint from traveling to and from the mountains. Check out the Colorado Carbon Fund, a local non profit dedicated to decreasing carbon emissions, to learn more.

4.     Pressure gear companies to pursue sustainable practices and consider only purchasing new gear from companies that have sustainable practices (i.e. Phunkshunwear, Zeal Optics, Picture Organic Clothing, GrassSticks, Meier Skis, and Capita Snowboards).

5.     Donate to organizations that are doing conservation and sustainable activism work. Protect Our Winters (POW) is a great organization specifically focused on climate activism for winter lovers.

While these statistics are jarring, they are only a starting point: we have to start with what we love and grow to make bigger change from there. I wanted something more personal to catch people’s attention and get them to care, like Bordeaux 2050 does. Watching massive flooding and forest fires destroy our nation and the rest of the world on television and on our phones, it’s easy to become distanced. We do not feel the immediate impacts, so how do we know where to take action? The first thing that came to mind was art: visuals are a great way to get people to think and care about something that they otherwise wouldn’t have, like bringing awareness to the bottle of wine that sits on the dinner table every night. We can use our experience with wine and skiing as a means of connecting with the greater issue of climate change, something that can feel distant and thus paralyzing.

The art you saw at the beginning of this article, and might have seen around campus, is meant to get ordinary people like you and me to care about climate change, and most importantly, to start acting. It is easy to become complacent when we hear about climate change all the time, but if I took anything away from the conference in Poland, it is that climate change is the biggest and most urgent problem that humanity is facing. We all need to be doing our part if we want widespread change to happen.

For years, scientists and reporters have been sharing the facts behind climate change, but clearly, statistics are not always enough. Apparently, it is not enough for us to be told that islands are going underwater and millions of people are being displaced, or to hear about people dying due to an extreme weather event. So what is enough? What motivates us to recognize the change that needs to be made? For those at the Bordeaux 2050 event, it was wine. For many Coloradans, it’s skiing. The United Nations Climate Change Conference left me with a strong desire to get people to care and act, by contextualizing climate change into something tangible.

Blue Issue | February 2019

Boys Talk More Than Girls

It’s Friday, and we have one more weekend—three days—until we will officially be middle schoolers. Sam and I are sitting at the counter in her kitchen eating chocolate-covered almonds, trying to tide ourselves over until lunch.

Sam’s kitchen is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s at the back of her house, where there’s one giant window, so light pours in even during winter. Every Christmas we sit at the benches around her kitchen table and make tamales, snow piling up against the glass, steam heating the room, family and friends squished together on the benches. We criss-cross our hands to press masa, scoop filling, tear corn husks, and tie them tight. There’s a counter that wraps around the kitchen, where we sit the rest of the time, stuffing our faces, listening to music, and laughing.

“At least you guys are in homeroom together,” Sam’s sister, Francis, says. She’s making us curry, and the whole kitchen smells like sticky rice and turmeric. “When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t have any friends in my class.”

My eyes get big. “Oh my gosh, I would die,” I say.

“Yeah, what if?” Sam says. She almost looks scared.

“Well, you’d probably have to make new friends,” Francis says. Sam and I laugh, even though it’s not funny.

Sam is my best, and maybe only, friend. We met when we were five years old, on the first day of kindergarten. I don’t really remember that day, but I do remember when I broke my arm in first grade, and she told everyone to stop playing on the monkey bars so that I wouldn’t feel left out. And I remember in fifth grade when she cut her hair, and people made fun of her, saying she looked like a boy, so I threatened to punch them. Even though she knew I wouldn’t, I think it cheered her up. And I remember last year she liked Max, but he liked Lucy, so we went to Sam’s house after school and watched “The Notebook” and ate ice cream like you’re supposed to. I tell her everything, like how my sister talks the whole time at dinner and if I try to say something she glares at me and says, “Lily, you’re interrupting.” Or how my dance teacher yelled at me until I cried and then yelled at me for crying, which only made me cry harder. Sam tells me more than she tells anyone else, like how her sister screams to get her way, and how she wishes she had something she was passionate about like dance. I am nervous about middle school, but at least Sam will be there. Sam, who is never nervous about anything.


seventh grade


I’m in the breezeway, walking to Language Arts class. Through the glass, I see the wind blow and shake burnt orange leaves off of the maple trees, and I hope there are enough leaves in Sam’s yard to make a pile after school. Or are we too old for that? I’ve just decided that I’ll ask her about it during lunch when someone says:

“You should date Jack.”

I turn around to see Maddie Adler’s round face and blue eyes staring expectantly at me. Maddie Adler: friends with Maureen and Rose and Elizabeth (who goes by Biz). Friends with Hugh and Freddy and Owen and Gus who come in late and skate down the stairs and TP people’s houses, but not in a mean way. I know who she is, but I have absolutely no idea why she is talking to me.

“What?” I say.

“You should date Jack,” she says again.

“Jack, who?” I ask.

“McCoy,” she says, like it’s obvious.

I try to think. I know him. Jack McCoy. Tall, lanky, hockey player, football player, went to Woodland Heights Elementary, friends with all the Woodland Heights jocks. Jack McCoy.

“Why?” I ask. She and Jack are not friends. She shrugs.

“He’s nice,” she says, biting her cuticles, “and he likes you.”

“He does?” I clench my jaw shut. Stupid, stupid! Did I sound like I wanted him to? Now she’ll think I like him. That I’m desperate for some boy I’ve never even talked to.

“Yes,” she says, without looking up. I don’t know what to say, but she tells me, “Just think about it.” When I look around, the hall is empty and the doors are all closed. I run down the stairs and when I get to my class, I’m breathless.


I have only liked one boy so far. His name is Henry, and he was in my art class last year. He had this funny mushroom-shaped eraser, and we would spend all class stealing it away from each other just so our hands could touch. He’s a hockey player and sometimes says mean things to people, but he was never mean to me. He would tell me that my hair looked nice, and he would watch my soccer games and tell me I played well even when I didn’t. I don’t like Jack, but I think maybe I could. He looks at people anxiously, like he’s afraid they’ll find something out about him that he doesn’t want them to know. But then sometimes he forgets, like when he’s running down the halls with his friends, yelling and tackling each other.

A few days later, Jack walks up to me in the hall. He looks at me strangely, like he wants something from me and he expects me to know what it is. The words that come out of his mouth go in one ear and out the other—but I feel my cheeks burn red as I say, “Okay.”


That Friday night, I’m lying on Sam’s bed while she searches her dresser for the perfect “I-look-cute-but-totally-by-accident” top because a girl named Riley invited us to her party, and Sam says we have to go. We’re talking about how we should start a roller skating club at school.

“I really want to learn how to do tricks,” she says.

“Like jumping?” I ask.

“And going down the stairs,” she says. She finds the perfect shirt—a slim Hanes—and slips it on. It hangs off her frame, and I look down at my shirt: too tight, too short, exposing the pudge spilling over the top of my jeans. I fight the urge to pinch it. Instead I lean back on the bed, putting all my weight on my wrists so that when I look down, my stomach is flat as a board.

When we get to the party, strobe lights are flashing, and “Bedrock” is blasting. Riley and her BFFs—the ones with the jean shorts and tank tops that somehow make them look even skinnier than they already are—are grinding on each other. Butts out, legs wide, hips brushing on inner thighs and small backsides. The boys gather around, watching. I look to Sam. She looks back. Our eyebrows go up at the same time.

“Is it too late to go home?” I ask under my breath.

“Oh, come on,” Sam says, nudging me. She grabs my hand like she’s going to pull me into the crowd, but instead she inches forward so slowly we are basically standing still.

Riley spots us and disentangles herself from the flailing limbs and shaking bodies. She pushes through the outer ring, placing her delicate palm on a boy’s chest. He melts away, letting her through.

“Sam! Lily! I’m glad you guys came!” I want to roll my eyes, but I look at Sam, who is smiling as genuinely as she can, trying not to look at the dance floor. Jack is already here. He saw me when Riley did, but he waits until now to acknowledge me. He comes out of the crowd and approaches us tentatively.

“Lily. Sam,” he says. I smile politely at him, but he is looking at me strangely, like he wants something from me and expects me to know what it is. He takes a step closer and wraps one gangly arm around my shoulder, which is a full foot beneath him. I stand still, fighting the urge to shrug him off.

“Let’s dance!” Riley says. Sam and I follow her back towards the crowd of people, but Jack takes my hand and pulls me away from them.

“Come here,” he says. He takes me to a room in the back of the house. He says, “I’ve been wanting to kiss you,” and he kisses me. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. Mostly, I’m happy when it’s over. We date for two months. On our one-month anniversary, he gives me a card and a stuffed animal.


On our two-month anniversary, he gives me a box of chocolates and roses. I break up with him the next day at recess. I’m not sure why I do it. Maybe it’s because I don’t like him anymore, or because I never liked him to begin with, or because we’ve gone out for two months and flirted, texted, went on dates, held hands, bought each other gifts, and kissed, so what more is there to do? Maybe the reason doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s enough that whenever we were together I always wanted to be with Sam instead of him.

My favorite dates with Jack were when we would go skiing. Sam’s sister would drive us—me, Sam, Jack and one of Jack’s friends, usually Alex or Zach—and we’d stay all day, until the mountain closed and they kicked us out of the lodge. Sometimes Jack and I sat next to each other on the lift, and he’d put his arm around me, and we’d talk about how the run was, and which run we should do next, and when we should go in for fries and hot chocolate. Sometimes I would sit with Sam, and we’d talk about what we would buy if we were rich, and where we would go if we could go anywhere, and she would say something dumb that made us laugh until we cried.

When I break up with him, it’s freezing, and he’s on the basketball court standing on the sidelines talking to his friends.

“Can we talk?” I ask. I try to say it quietly, but his friends stare at me. Some of them go, “Ooh,” and some of them glare. I lead him over to the snow mound at the edge of the playground. I stand on top of it, rolling my feet back and forth as I talk. “I think we should break up,” I say, in a single breath.

“Okay,” he says. I don’t want to look at his face. But I see it anyways, crumpled in a deep frown, color rising, and eyes pinched. He doesn’t say anything. He turns around and walks back to his friends before I can say any more.

“Lily,” I hear someone say, soft and sweet. I turn around and see Sam. “Did you do it?” she asks. She sounds breathless and it makes me want to hug her. But instead I clench my fists and my jaw and try to swallow a tightness in my throat I can’t explain. A weight drops right into my stomach and stays there, all the way until the last bell rings. I feel the same way I did that time I cut the clothes off my sister’s stuffed animal and ruined it. When my parents asked me if I did it, I lied, so they scolded me, and I cried.

“That was terrible,” I say, when I finally find the words. We’re a block from school and a block from her house. The trees are hanging over us with that light green that only comes after the frost has melted into the dirt and bathed the roots in an icy, wake-up shower.

“It seems like he took it well, at least,” she says.


“Are you sad?”


“But you wanted to do it.”

“I know,” I say, “but I’m still sad.”

“Break-ups are hard,” she says somberly. And we both sigh. We pass the house with the black wire fence and the yapping dogs, then the house with the bees and the hand-painted “Honey for Sale” sign, then the house with the yard covered in plastic flamingos and cracked garden gnomes. I check them off in my head as we pass them: dogs, bees, junk. And then we get there, walking through the gap in the bushes that leads us home.

We walk in through the back of her house and go straight to the kitchen, which is perfect because that’s exactly where I want to be. Sam takes out the chocolate-covered almonds and we dig in. I lay on her kitchen floor and she sits on a chair next to me, and we play Led Zeppelin as loud as we can and pile in the almonds until we can’t eat anymore.


The next day in class, Jack’s friend Alex leans over and says, “You’re a witch,” just quietly enough so that the teacher doesn’t hear him. He pauses before the “w” and emphasizes the “itch.” I get the point. I know I should ignore him, but I turn around and look at him, just to see his face. He’s smiling maliciously, anger in his eyes, a grin on his face.

I want to tell him to shut up. Instead, I clamp my lips together, turn back around and try to focus on the teacher.

Boys talk more than girls and soon the whole school knows I broke up with Jack. In my classes, people whisper behind me; in the hallways, people bump into me and say it to my face; in the cafeteria, people walk up to me just to tell me what I am. Witch. Emphasis on the “itch.” Some people slip up and say the real thing; some people say the real thing on purpose.


I’m lying on Sam’s floor again, eating chocolate covered almonds.

“It’ll get better,” Sam says, lying next to me. “It’s only been a few weeks. People will get over it and forget it and everything will go back to normal.”

“I hope so.”

She looks at me and scrunches her lips. “Jack’s dumb,” she says. “And all his friends are dumb too.” She is trying to make me smile, and I try to smile for her, because I want her to feel like she is helping me, but I can’t. My face feels like it is made of stone. My whole body feels like it is made of stone; I am sinking into the floor. We both reach into the almond jar, but our hands get stuck and she laughs, and after a second, I laugh too.


“Spencer likes you,” Biz says.

“What?” I say.

“Spencer likes you.” Spencer Nelson. I don’t have to think this time. I know him. Average height (average everything really), neighborhood boy, family friend, we used to watch “Dumb and Dumber” while our parents played euchre. Spencer Nelson.

“I don’t think so.”

But when we have to make Valentines in Spanish class, he gives me one that says “Te Amo,” and I have to admit that Biz might be right. He invites me over to his house, and I say sure. We watch “Sky High” in his living room. My friend Peter is also in our Spanish class. He doesn’t make me a Valentine, but we talk during class and hang out at recess sometimes. He asks if I want to watch “Star Wars,” and I say sure, because he’s my friend, and we watch it in my living room.

Boys talk more than girls, and soon the whole school thinks I’m dating Spencer and Peter. I’m no longer just a bitch, now I’m a bitch and a slut, but “slut” is worse so they call me that more. I’ve only ever kissed one boy, and his name was Jack, and he was my boyfriend, and now the whole school is calling me a slut. Okay, maybe not the whole school, but enough people that I can’t walk down the hall without hearing it at least once. I spend a lot of time on Sam’s kitchen floor that week, and that week turns into a month, and I start to think of that floor as my home.


The snow melts, and I’m glad because I don’t want to go skiing anymore. It’s Slap-Ass Friday, so I walk down the hall with my hands covering my butt. Sam is trying to tell me about a movie she watched last night but I can’t focus. I see Julie walking in front of me, wearing a skirt. A boy walks past, reaches under her skirt and touches her bare ass. She swats him away like a fly. Fridays are worse for me than most girls because of the whole slut thing, but at least I remember not to wear skirts. I am not sure if they actually think I like it, or if they are just trying to be mean. Either way, after I break up with Jack, I don’t go a single Friday without getting my ass slapped at least once. Sometimes they miss, but Jack never misses. One Friday, I wear sweatpants and Alex pantses me, and the rest of the day different boys come up to me and say they love my pink underwear. I learn to wear shorts under my sweat pants after that. One day, I wear a skirt and Zach comes up to me and tells me he likes the frills on my underwear. I look behind me and see Jack, front and center in a crowd of boys. It isn’t even Friday.

After that, I wear shorts under my skirts, too.

I end up dating Spencer after all. He asks me out for real and I say yes, because I have no reason to say no. He takes me to the movies, and we sit in the theater. He makes out with me until my lips are raw and there is slobber all over my face. I try to see past his head so that I can tell how close Iron Man is to defeating Stane so that I can tell how much time is left in the movie. When my dad comes to pick us up, I wonder if he can tell, if he knows what we were doing. I hope he doesn’t ask about the movie, but he does, so I say that it was good, watching his eyes in the rear view mirror. Spencer is silent beside me, staring out the window and smiling.

On Friday night, when I’ve just finished eating dinner with my family, Spencer texts me, “what’s up?” I type, “nm u?” which means “nothing much, you?” He asks if I want to go to the movies, and I want to say no, but we are dating, so I say yes. My dad drives us to the theater.

We do this every week. During the school day, he hangs out with his friends, and I hang out with my friends, and then the weekend comes, and we go to the movies together and make out until I want to cut my lips off my face and give them to him so we don’t have to go to the movies anymore.

“Break up with him!” Sam says. We are sitting in the TV room. “Skins” is on in the background—Sam’s sister put it on—but we’re not really watching.

“I want to,” I say.

“Then do it!” she says. She is right. But I don’t. He asks me for nude pictures and I say no, but he keeps asking, and I say no again, and I say no again. He asks me for nude pictures until I finally say yes. I don’t know why I say yes. I wait for summer to come, and when it does I stop responding to his texts.

Boys talk more than girls and soon the whole school knows that I sent a boy a nude picture and now I get texts asking for pictures weekly, from friends and non-friends, from Alex, Zach, and Peter; from boys I’ve never met and from Jack. I ignore them, deleting the texts as they come. Sometimes, I send a picture back, but I don’t know why and I delete the texts after.


eighth grade


It’s fall, and Sam, Henry, and I are playing soccer in the street outside Henry’s house. His mom has already put up decorations: a “Happy Halloween” sign on the door and a fake pumpkin on the stoop. The leaves are a deep, rusted orange, the air smells cold, and the wind swirls around us, tapping on our shoulders and brushing our cheeks. Henry kicks the ball to me, and I have to run down to catch it before it rolls down the hill. On Friday nights, we go to the high school football games, and we cuddle under a blanket. When winter comes, we go to see the gingerbread display downtown, and we hold hands and afterwards we go to David’s Chocolate to drink hot cocoa. When I break up with him, I tell everyone that it’s because even though he was never mean to me, he was mean to others. My dad is proud of me for this.

heart box.jpg

Then I date Hugh because all the girls like him. He is a skateboarder and a stoner and a drinker and a prankster, and I am a little scared of him. He puts matches in his mouth and lights them all up at once, and goes into the woods and takes off all his clothes. I date Hugh because I want to be more like him. Friday night I go to Hugh’s house after school. We watch “When Harry Met Sally” in his basement. Ten minutes in, he kisses me, and then we make out. His hands find my back, then my boobs, then they’re moving down my thighs and slipping into my pants. His fingers are cold. They press on my vagina and wiggle their way inside me. All I can think about is if I’m going to have to reach into his pants too. He unbuttons them for me, and I get the hint. When I find his dick, it feels weird, more like skin than most skin. When he finishes, it gets on my pants and leaves a stain.

He is the first boy I sit with during lunch. I look across the cafeteria and see Sam, and I give her a cringe smile that she returns. Maddie and Biz plot how they are going to get alcohol for the weekend, and Owen puts food scraps in Gus’ water and tries to get him to drink it. Will they invite me to drink with them? Hugh reaches his hand under the table. What would we do if they did? Thigh, inner thigh, vagina. Would we sit in someone’s basement and smoke weed? Under the pants, now the underwear. Would we walk through the woods together and go on adventures? As he fingers me, I look at Maddie and Biz, wondering if they can tell.

“Come on,” Hugh says after school one day. “If we’re gonna date, we gotta go on dates.” He goes downtown with friends that Friday, and they all hang out at his house after. I want to go too but instead he waits until they leave to invite me over. We sit in his basement and watch “The Shining.” It starts the same as before, but then he pushes my head down. I put my mouth on it, and before long, my throat hurts and my neck hurts and all I can think about is whether I should spit or swallow, but before I decide, it’s in my mouth and I have nowhere to spit, so I swallow.

A month in, I get invited to go downtown with him and his friends. We’re in Urban Outfitters, just looking. He walks into the fitting room to try on a shirt and tells me to come in with him. As soon as the door shuts, he unbuttons his pants and grabs my hand.

“Here?” I ask, my eyes wide in shock. There are feet shuffling outside—teens giving their parents clothes to buy. But he’s serious.

“It’s fine,” he says. He takes out his dick and I grab it as I stare at the door. Before he can finish there is a knock at the door.

“Only one person in at a time,” a woman says. When I leave the dressing room I try not to look anyone in the eye. We meet up with his friends, and Owen gives Hugh a look and Hugh nods smugly. Later that week, he asks me to hang out, and I say I’m busy until he says, “if we’re not gonna hang out we shouldn’t be dating.” We watch a movie in his basement. We watch another one the next week. It’s always the same, until one Friday after class I’m about to walk home with Sam when Hugh taps me on the shoulder.

“We have to talk,” he says. We step to the side, out of the crowd. Sam stands by the door, watching us.

“I think we should break up.” He says it slowly, two breaths, to make sure I get it. I try to swallow but it catches in my chest. My feet stick to the linoleum tile. My cheeks burn hot like iron. The people who were just at my elbows, bumping into my back and knocking at my hips, are suddenly outside, looking in, speaking in hushed, muted tones. I’m suddenly aware that too much time has passed. I need to say something but no words come. I think to myself, over and over, he’s waiting, everyone’s waiting, I need to say something. I think it until I can think nothing else, so when I go to speak, no words come.

“Lily,” Sam’s voice, soft and tender, right at my ear, just for me.

“Okay.” It’s my first breath out in what feels like minutes. “Okay.” This time, louder. I don’t look at his face when I turn to walk away. When Sam and I get to her house I lie on the kitchen floor and cry. Sam lies next to me, and I rest my head on her chest. She strokes my hair. I don’t know why I’m crying.


Boys talk more than girls, and I assume Hugh told people about the blowjobs, because I stop getting texts about nude pictures and start getting texts asking for handjobs and blowjobs. Cole has curly hair and a little bit of a chipmunk face, but he is cute and funny and good at hockey. He likes me, and I don’t know if I like him back, but I think I could. He texts me late Friday night, the last Friday of the school year. He asks what I’m doing and if I want to go down to the lake to hang out with him and some friends. I feel giddy, and I am not sure whether I want to go. My dad drives me to Michael’s Frozen Custard and we wait until we see the people I’m meeting. The dirty white tables are empty under the flickering lights. We wait in silence. I’m nervous, and I don’t know why. Finally we see them, appearing out of the shadows of the building. I see Cole first, and he smiles, and I smile, glad I came.

“Alright, have fun,” my dad says.

“Okay,” I say. I open the door and walk up to meet Cole and his friends. Cole and Biz and Maddie and Jack. So I guess they are friends.

“Hi,” Cole says. “We were gonna go climb the Center.”

“Sounds fun,” I say. Cole and I hang back, following the rest of them as they walk towards the Community Center, one of the most climbable, and therefore climbed, buildings in the vicinity.

“Are you excited for summer?” he asks. And we talk about boating and how much we love lakes and whether Max will invite Sam to his cabin this summer, even though they’ve only been dating for a month. I ask him if he thinks high school will be different. I follow the others. I can’t reach a ledge, and Cole reaches out a hand and pulls me up.

When we get to the top, we can see a blinking yellow light and the headlights of a car that zooms through it. And flashing lights, blue and red. We freeze and look at each other.

“Run,” Jack says. Everyone starts scrambling to get down. When I jump, I fall forward, landing with my hands on the asphalt. We run back towards Michael’s Frozen Custard. Under the lights, I can see the tiny rocks embedded in my skin. I try to rub them out and little flecks of blood appear.

“What’s wrong with your hands?” Cole asks when we stop running.

“Oh, nothing,” I say. “Just a little skinned.”

“Can I see?” he asks. I nod and he takes one of my hands in his. We decide to go to the lake to go swimming, but I look around and Cole and Maddie and Biz are gone. It’s just me and Jack, standing next to this vast pit of glistening water.

“Where did everyone go?” I ask.

“We should go skinny dipping,” he says. I look at him hard. He has that look in his eye, like he’s trying to read me but at the same time he doesn’t care what he reads; like he’s trying to make me read him.

“I don’t think so,” I say, shaking my head. I’m smiling but I don’t know why.

“Come on,” he says. Our faces are so close.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Come on,” he says. He says it ten times. I count. I keep looking down the beach, hoping Cole or Maddie or Biz will come back just in time. But they’re not here.

“Fine,” I say. Once I’ve decided, it’s easy. I slip out of my shorts, throw off my shirt, unclip my bra, pull down my underwear and run forward, straight for the water. I don’t look back to see if he’s undressing too, to see if he’s watching me. I swim around until I hear a splash. I still don’t look. But a minute later, I feel the water move next to me, and suddenly he’s at my side.

“Hey,” he says.


“Hey,” I say. I’m breathless from the cold, and the nakedness, and the boy looking at me like he wants me. He steps closer. I keep my legs bent, so only my head and shoulders are out of the water. He asks for a blowjob. I look at the beach. Empty except a pile of clothes next to the lifeguard stand. I say no, and he asks again. He asks and asks and pleads and reasons and begs and asks and asks and asks. I say no 100 different ways before I say yes. But I do say yes. I could have left. I could have called my dad and had him pick me up. I could have called Cole and told him to come back. I could have walked home.

Instead, I think, the sooner I do it the sooner it will be over. So we go to where it’s shallow enough for me to blow him, dirty lake water dripping off his dick. Afterwards he thanks me. We go back to the shore and put on our clothes and walk down the path back towards Michael’s. Cole and Maddie and Biz are swinging on the playground.

“Where did you guys go?” Cole asks. Cole looks at me, but I keep my eyes on my ground, watching my feet rub circles into the dirt.

“Swimming,” Jack says.


The next day, I am sitting on my bed, staring at my purple walls and gold soccer trophies and cork board filled with movie stubs. I decide to go to Sam’s and walk out the door.

When I get there, just Sam and her sister are home. They’re sitting in the TV room watching “One Missed Call.” I lay down on the couch. They’re eating curry, and I don’t ask for any, which is strange for me. And I don’t say anything, not even hi or how’s it going.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks. I don’t know if I want to tell her or not. I realize that even if I do, I don’t know what to say.

“I gave Jack a blowjob last night,” I say, finally.

“Lily,” she says, drawing out my name. “Why?”

“I don’t know.” I say. And that, more than anything, makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry. She says nothing for a long while. She just looks at me with these scrunched up eyebrows and pouty lips and sinking face, and I realize something that makes my insides crumble to something like dust, but worsedust. Like thick, mealy vomit chewed up and spat back out.

She feels bad for me. And I truly don’t know why. Because I know who I am. I do these things to myself, so I can come to Sam’s and lay on her kitchen floor and feel sorry for myself. I stay there the whole day, with her sitting next to me, the two of us watching TV in silence. By the time I go home, it’s dark out. I walk the long way, past the school. I check off the houses as I pass them. Dogs, bees, junk. I fight the urge to run back to Sam’s kitchen floor.

Blue Issue | February 2019 

Coming Down With Johnny Cash

“Sunday Morning Coming Down”


When my dad played Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” for me as a kid, I envisioned the singer’s Sunday morning as some sort of fog descending from the sky onto the city. I laughed along with my dad, who was laughing about having a beer for breakfast and another for dessert. I pretended I knew what was so funny about that. There were pictures of Cash on the CD cases we had, but I either didn’t like them or didn’t ever connect them to his music. Instead, Johnny Cash became a man in my head, a figment of my imagination. The image of my Johnny Cash, his foggy morning coming down onto his body as he walked around, stayed in my head for years. I saw it every time I listened to the song, before I got older and realized that maybe the morning wasn’t the one doing the coming down after all. I still envision the morning descending on the earth and the streets, but now I also see the fog of the come-down and the hangover surrounding Cash’s body in the mist as he walked. I see the outside cloud making its way into people’s heads as they “stumble down the stairs / to meet the day.” When I was young, I was the Sunday school kid Cash walked past after his breakfast beer. Here I am now, some 15 years later, head pounding just like his, wishing to the Lord that I was stoned. Johnny Cash isn’t just a musician to me—he formed the world as I see it.

Cash’s work is forever on the line, in his music and in his life. But he hasn’t always fascinated me. For a while, he was just another country music artist: he loved Jesus, America, and his wife. He liked to sing about guns, about freedom, about trains and sinners and grace and the farm. But there’s also something to him that transcends genre. He’s been inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z are featured in one of his later music videos. My friends who didn’t grow up with a soundtrack of people like Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe have still managed to find Cash and love him. I’ve started to realize that these dichotomies might be both the source of his discography’s seemingly eternal relevance, as well as my fixation and fascination with him. His albums don’t fit together to make a cogent whole, and sometimes neither do verses within the same song. But somehow it works, and somehow I still continue to accept the contradictions.  


“I Walk the Line”


In high school, I became infatuated—with people in my life, celebrities, pieces of art—very easily. I would indulge myself in my fixations on the walk home from school, my head clouded with moments replaying over and over. Cash, at one point, was one of these fixations. He spoke to the obsessive nature of life and love better than almost anyone. “I Walk the Line” was an integral part of the soundtrack to my walk home, my breath catching with the depth of his voice on the first line. “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.” Cash wrote the song about his then-wife, Vivian Liberto, promising to be true to her while he was touring and she remained at home. He sings, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine / I keep my eyes wide open all the time / I keep the ends out for the tie that binds / Because you’re mine / I walk the line.” The simple phrases are what had such an effect on me. After the song is released, Cash will meet his second wife, his proclaimed love of his life, June Carter, while on tour. Later, Liberto would divorce Cash and raise their children on her own. Even without knowing this, the way Cash sings evokes a sort of resignation to the possessiveness of love, almost a dire warning to both others and the object of his desire.




Johnny Cash’s most popular song on Apple Music is “Hurt.” It’s a cover of the Nine Inch Nails original, and Cash’s version is unexpectedly beautiful. A friend once told me that some people are made for just writing songs and some people are made for just singing them. He suggested that maybe Cash was one of the latter; the last five albums he recorded were, for the most part, covers or renditions of folk songs, and they revitalized his career. Maybe he can cover songs so well because he can be (and is) so many different people. “Hurt” seems like one of the more straightforward examples: one famous musician covers a famous band’s song. The band’s lead singer was skeptical at first but cried when he heard Cash’s “different, but every bit as pure” version of the song. His covers make me wonder about the songs he did write. In both the songs he covers and the songs he writes, he is contradictory: an outlaw and devoted husband, a sinner and a Christian, a lover and a prisoner. He transcends time periods and socioeconomic classes and identity. His music, at first glance, has almost nothing to do with his own life experiences. Whether it’s a song he wrote or not, it’s kind of like he’s singing covers of other people’s lives.


“Greystone Chapel (Live at Folsom Prison)”


At the end of Johnny Cash’s 1968 performance in the Folsom Prison in California, he announced that he was going to perform “Greystone Chapel” by Glen Sherley, a prisoner who was standing in the first row. The song hadn’t been recorded yet, but, unbeknownst to Sherley, a minister who worked in the prison had shown Cash the song. Later, after Sherley was released from prison, he made his own recording, which he begins by saying, “I’d like to try and do one for you now that some of you may have heard already, ‘cause the Man took it and made it his.’” It’s hard to tell whether Sherley is talking about the “Man in Black” (as people called Johnny Cash) or “the Man” as in the authorities with the power to oppress. Maybe Cash singing Sherley’s song about being in prison is exploiting the power he had as a famous musician who never spent more than one night in jail himself, or maybe the song deserved to be listened to and at the time Cash was the only one for the job. It’s difficult to say whether Cash’s use of the song was ultimately good for Sherley; after Sherley’s release, his career as a country music singer was inseparable from Cash’s. Cash eventually stopped allowing him to tour and perform with him because of his violent tendencies and threats. After that, Sherley died in a murder-suicide. Sherley’s song was a contribution to the canon of work (by himself and others) contemplating what it means to be imprisoned in America, what it means to be an outlaw, what it means to be bad, to be a sinner, to be an unfree man.

I’m not going to argue for the beauty of Cash’s version over Sherley’s. Both versions are live, but Cash’s is grand. Maybe it’s because June Carter, his new wife, is singing with him, and you can almost feel the love that exists between them. But there’s a yearning in the way Cash sings that I’m drawn to, and I can’t help but feel deeply.


“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”


 “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a traditional folk song whose original writer is unknown. It’s been covered by artists across genres, but Cash’s rendition stands out. It’s ominous. It’s rhythm follows in the tradition of “Walk the Line” and “Ride This Train.” Cash’s version, however, stands apart from other renditions in its power and strength. Elvis’ cover, in comparison, seems almost juvenile next to Cash’s, whose somber interpretation is only strengthened by his voice, which is old, cracking, and fragile. He doesn’t attempt to hide his age. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is on one of the last albums Cash recorded, and over the course of the song, Cash seems to cross the line from life into death with the shift in narration. The song’s first verse begins in first person, implying that he himself is the narrator of the song. This narrator is testifying as to his own encounters with God, but in the second verse turns to warn others. Cash sings, “Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand / Workin' in the dark against your fellow man / But as sure as God made black and white / What's down in the dark will be brought to the light.” It’s as if he’s denouncing, warning, and judging the man he once so convincingly embodied, the man whose enticing outlaw aura is at the core of so much of his work, the man who he appeared to be just a verse before. But the shift from testimony to warning and judgement—from the one living to the one judging the lives of others—placed on his last album next to songs like “Further On Up the Road” and “I’m Free From the Chain Gang Now.”


“Do Lord”


I had been singing “Do Lord” for as long as I can remember before I heard Cash’s version. For a long time, I believed that there were certain melodies that I was born knowing. I couldn’t conceive of a time in my life in which I did not know certain sequences of notes (some of them not even formal enough for me to consider them songs), and “Do Lord” was one of them. I remember telling this to a friend, maybe in middle school, to her great confusion. I said something along the lines of, “You know how there are those songs that you’ve just always known? Like, you never had to learn the words or the music or anything because they are just ingrained in your brain and memory since you came out of the womb and always will be?” She did not know.

Of course now I know that logically this isn’t true, but parts of me haven’t accepted it yet. The songs, but especially “Do Lord,” seem too close and sacred to me to have ever not been part of my life. The first time I listened to Cash’s version of “My Mother’s Hymn Book,” I was caught off guard when it started to play, when I heard the deeply familiar melody accompanied by Cash’s smooth voice. I was in high school, it was night, I was driving home, and I started to cry. His was the first recorded version that I’d ever registered listening to, and now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure if I’ve even heard another.


“A Cup of Coffee”  


Without including something from Cash’s quasi-comedic albums, he might seem like some dark, sorrowful, and somber figure even in his joyful moments. I can’t decide whether I think his lighter albums (he also recorded children’s music) actually provide a counter to his heavier material, or serve to emphasize the humanity in the sorrow that pervades so much of his work. Probably both; his persona develops over time. The song is also a good example of the spoken word he uses in his concept albums: he’s telling a story, a story that is happening every night in diners around the country. Throughout the song he chuckles drunkenly, and throughout many of his live and comedy albums, he seems to be genuinely laughing at his own jokes; he’s endearing.

The sequence of songs on “Everybody Loves A Nut” makes me laugh. “A Cup of Coffee” is a drunken, half-spoken ode to the beauty of a cup of coffee before a drunken sleep. Following is “Austin Prison,” a song about being sentenced to death, and afterwards the languid “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog,” in which Cash threatens (humorously) to shoot the dog on the farm that bothers the hens. The order, taken as a representation of Cash’s world, leaves me in awe, partly because someone can remain genuine as he moves through topics as varied as he does, and partly because he had the nerve to do so. And maybe this is why Cash can last: he can be everything and anything, and he dares to. And so, as I drink coffee before I go to sleep on a Saturday night, as I wake up on Sunday morning and stumble down the stairs to meet the day, I can see the beauty—and humor and sorrow—in my world because I can see the beauty in Cash’s.

Bad Issue | December 2018

Playing Doubles

On the night of September 8th, 2018, boos created a deafening roar throughout the stadium at the Billie Jean Tennis Center in New York City. Naomi Osaka had just won the U.S. Open over her long-time idol Serena Williams, denying Williams what would have been a historic 24th Grand Slam title. Osaka stood with tears streaming down her face, head in her hands. She had just become the first Japanese person to win a Grand Slam title. In the following weeks, the media focused more on the controversy between Williams and the umpire, Carlos Ramos. Williams had accused Ramos of sexism after he had penalized her for various code violations. However, beyond that dispute lies another controversy: Osaka’s win highlights the complex nature of race and diversity in Japan and how Japanese identity is evolving.

I first read a discussion about Naomi Osaka and the Japanese media’s varied attitudes towards her biracial identity in a New York Times article by Motoko Rich. The issue stood out to me because, while the world was fixated on the controversy between Williams and Ramos, there was another, lesser-known conversation happening.

Japan is often perceived as utopian. The country is ranked the fifth-best country in the world by U.S. News, which bases rankings on a variety of factors such as literacy rate, infant mortality rate, and life expectancy. Japan also boasts a successful universal healthcare system that takes up only 6.6 percent of the national gross domestic product (compared to the 13.4 percent that the U.S. GDP spends). In 2018, the crime rate fell for the ninth consecutive year to the lowest level in the postwar era. The murder rate is 0.3 per 100,000 people, making it among the lowest in the world. However, beneath the surface of this healthy, utopian society is a country rooted in deep xenophobia and racism.

On the outside, Japan seems to embrace its diversity and changing identity. The day after Osaka’s victory, Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, ran the headline: “The First Japanese Achievement.” Many Japanese people woke up at dawn to watch the match live. “I subscribed to satellite TV to see the match, and I got goosebumps when she won,” said one viewer quoted in the Japan Times. In Tokyo, more than 100 employees gathered around to watch the match at the headquarters of Nissin Foods, one of Osaka’s biggest sponsors. After the match, Kei Nishikori, Japan’s most famous tennis player and one of the country’s biggest athletes, congratulated Osaka on Twitter with a series of emojis. Osaka’s 73-year-old grandfather told reporters at his home in Hokkaido that he and his wife were ecstatic after watching their granddaughter’s victory over 23-time Grand Slam Champion Williams on television.


In Japan, Osaka is considered to be “hafu,” the term for any child with one parent who is not fully Japanese. The term is considered controversial because of its negative connotations and association with the term “half-breed.”  Although the word hafu didn’t emerge until the 1970s, discrimination against biracial Japanese people has existed since the 1940s. Despite its negative connotations, however, many mixed-race Japanese people self-identify as hafu. Today, the term hafu projects an image of a person with English ability, foreign cultural experience, and western physical features.

Nevertheless, there are still many traditionalists who cling to a narrow definition of Japanese identity. Stereotyping of and discrimination against mixed-race people occurs based on how their identities, behaviors, and appearances differ from that of a traditional Japanese person. Even certain magazines and news sources carry some level of this traditionalism.

Following Osaka’s win, the Japanese tabloid Nikkan Gendai ran the headline “Harvesting Hafu Athletes.” The opening paragraph remarks, “Is it that we must now rely on the blood of foreigners? … Tennis queen Naomi Osaka has a Japanese mother; her father is Haitian American. She was born in Osaka [Japan] but moved to America when she was three. Now she has dual nationality and can only speak a smattering of Japanese. She is half-black. When [Japanese people] watch her pound out a 200 kilometer per hour serve with her 180-centimeter big-body [and hear her described as] ‘Japan’s first,’ there are probably not too few of us who think that’s weird.” These blatantly racist and offensive characterizations of Osaka illustrate the reluctance of some Japanese people to change their conception of Japanese identity.


Japan is a historically insulated society due to its geographical remoteness and self-imposed seclusion. For 220 years, Japan’s isolationist foreign policy of “Sakoku” essentially cut Japan off from the rest of the world. Foreigners were barred from entering the country, while Japanese people were not allowed to leave. During its post-war economic boom, Japan was able to rely on its own domestic labor force. However, a recession in the ’80s caused the country to revise their isolationist policies. In the ’90s, Japan began exporting labor to foreign countries such as Brazil and Thailand in order to reduce its dependency on imported labor.


Since 1988, Japan’s Ministry of Labor has accepted a small number of foreigners into the country who have “high skills and qualifications.” In response to a growing labor shortage in the 1990s, the country began to encourage the return of people of Japanese descent, under a special visa program.

The only foreign-employment opportunity the government offers is a heavily criticized program in which foreign workers, predominantly from China and Southeast Asia, travel to Japan to work in the agriculture and manufacturing industries. The program, which allows workers to stay for three years, is advertised as providing laborers with new skills they can use when they return home. Many experts say the program is used to exploit workers, giving them menial jobs instead of ones where they actually learn technical skills. A Vice News report from 2015 found that a group of workers from China had been stripped of their freedom and forced to stay in Japan to work for more than three years.

Although Japan was ranked the fourth biggest contributor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2016, it has long been closed to immigration and reluctant to accept refugees. Immigrants make up 1 percent of the population, with most from Korea or China. According to a report by the Guardian, in the entirety of 2017, Japan accepted 20 asylum seekers out of 20,000 applicants—a 0.1 percent acceptance rate. Recently, Japan has been getting even tougher in its immigration policies. In an attempt to reduce the number of “bogus” applications from people who are simply seeking work, the government started limiting the right to work to those regarded as genuine asylum seekers. The Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe controversially stated in 2015 that Japan should improve the lives of its own people—namely women and the elderly—before accepting Syrian refugees (only 12 were accepted into the country last year). Steve Bannon once praised Abe as “Trump before Trump.”

Japan’s resistance to immigration could have serious consequences for its own labor force. According to a projection by the Japanese Health Ministry, by 2060, the country's population is expected to plummet by more than 40 million. This year, Japan faced the largest labor shortage since the ’70s. Instead of opening Japan’s doors, Abe has shifted his focus to increase the number of women in the workforce, but to little avail. Economic growth has remained stagnant and numerous scandals involving sexism and discrimination in the workplace have marred Abe’s effort.


In an article by Chiaki Ogihara for the Asahi Shimbun, the public was asked about their personal opinions on Osaka’s identity as Japanese. Naomi Iwazawa, a 23-year-old university student, said she is unsupportive of the celebratory response many had towards Osaka’s win. Jun Soejima, a 34-year-old entertainer, said that he was not upset by the celebratory reactions, but felt uncomfortable by the racist remarks he heard. After Osaka’s win, Soejima overhead a man at a bar say, “Frankly speaking, a genuine Japanese would have been better, if anybody were to become the first Japanese champion.” Soejima said the man used the term “100 percent Japanese” to explain his reservations about Osaka’s triumph. Soejima is discomforted by the thought that many Japanese people probably feel a similar reluctance. Despite the mainstream media painting a picture that Japan has embraced Osaka with open arms, there are still objections among the public.

Osaka grew up in New York and she considers herself Japanese. Despite her rudimentary knowledge of the language, Osaka feels connected to the culture; a fact well-received by the Japanese media. After winning the U.S. Open, a Japanese reporter asked Osaka what she thought about her racial identity, setting off a heated debate about whether the question was appropriate. Osaka replied: “I’m just me.”

The generally positive reaction to Osaka’s win and the mainstream embrace of her mixed identity shows that Japan is starting to broaden its view on Japanese identity. Although this evolution will likely have a positive impact on Japanese society and economy, there are certainly those opposed to this change. Many conservatives still cling to a very narrow definition of what it means to be Japanese, but Osaka’s win and her exploding popularity in Japan brings hope to the multiracial Japanese community. As a biracial woman in an overwhelmingly homogenous country, Osaka’s success establishes her as a role model to current and future generations. The largely positive reaction to Osaka’s win and the acceptance of her identity as a Japanese woman might indicate that Japan is developing a more inclusive conception of what it means to be Japanese.


Bad Issue | December 2018


As Santiago pulled his car into the lot, he was almost blinded by the low sun. He parked next to a few other cars and rolled down the windows, allowing the salty air to enter. He tuned the radio to his favorite classic rock station, cracking a grin as Jimi Hendrix’s instrumental solo began to build up to the climactic percussive beats, colorful riffs, and vocal melodies he loved. He watched the gentle waves crashing back and forth on the shoreline in front of him as two people tossed a frisbee that cut through the soft breeze. This was exactly what Santiago needed at the end of a tough week of work and school. He felt a sense of relief watching the sunset over the expansive Pacific waters in San Diego. To him, this was home. He took a deep breath and let his shoulders sink into the back of his seat.

But Santiago’s moment of peace was quickly interrupted by an authoritative knock on his window. He looked out and his chest tightened with a deep anxiety—standing outside of his car was a police officer motioning for him to get out. Santiago held his breath as he reached for the handle and cracked open the door. The hinges on the side of the door creaked as he stepped out of the car. The officer looked Santiago up and down before informing him in a stern voice that he was parked on private property; he then demanded identification. Santiago felt a lump form in his throat as he reached into his pocket for the small, flimsy card that he had received a week earlier. He pulled out his new driver’s license, provided under a new California law (AB60, Chapter 524) that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license without proving status as a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. The officer glanced down at the license and then back at Santiago several times. He held the card to his face, examining it so closely that it seemed he could have memorized every word. When he finally looked up from the card, he told Santiago that he was going to check his record. As the officer walked back to his patrol car, Santiago’s mind raced—What was going to happen? Could this go on his record? Why didn’t the cop call out any of the other cars in the area for being on private property? Where was the sign that said it was private property?

Before Santiago could answer any of the questions racing through his mind, three more government cars pulled up to the lot at the beach, one of which flaunted three letters that no one in Santiago’s position would ever wish to see:


As the immigration officials stepped out of the car, a deep fear swelled in Santiago’s heart—what would come of his future in the United States, his home for the past five years? Law AB60, which permits the distribution of licenses like Santiago’s, explicitly prohibits officers from reporting permit or license recipients to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—but Santiago didn’t know that at the time. His eyes widened and his body froze as two men in blue jackets approached him. They asked him for formal immigration documentation, like a visa or a green card. Santiago told them that he didn’t have any identification with him aside from his license. He tried to plead with the officers, saying that he was still studying and working and needed to stay in San Diego. His entire family was there—but nothing he said seemed to matter. He was arrested on the spot.

Before Santiago knew it, he found himself caught in a twisted game of hopscotch, shipped around an intricate network of immigrant detention centers spread across the country. But this game of hopscotch lacked direction. Santiago wasn’t moving toward something; he was free-falling in a state of limbo with no hope of grounding himself. He was one of thousands of bodies lost in a complex and arbitrary sea of centers, cells, officers, and inmates stuck in the same contorted madness. Santiago spent his first two days at a detention facility in Arizona, and was then moved to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia for 20 days before being transferred to Folkston Processing Center in southern Georgia for five and a half months. After that, he landed at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. At the center, he wore an orange jumpsuit, appeared at immigration court hearings, and had extremely restricted contact with his loved ones. In a single moment, everything Santiago had—his classes, his job, and, most importantly his family—was stripped away from him as he entered a system designed to oppress and dehumanize.


Santiago left his home in Guatemala in 2013, a decision he wishes he hadn’t had to make. A 15-year-old at the time, he was in high school when gang members from the Mara Salvatrucha (more commonly known as MS-13) arrived at his school to recruit him. His job would be to help them kidnap, steal from, and kill community members—Santiago’s neighbors, friends, and family. The men in the gang told Santiago that if he chose not to join, he would have to pay $700. If he didn’t pay, they would take his life.

Threats like these are not uncommon in many urban regions of Guatemala. A report from 2013 indicates that close to 40 percent of Guatemalans express fear that they will be victims of crime in their own neighborhood and nearly a third of Guatemalans indicate that their neighborhoods are impacted by gang activity.

When Santiago began to receive threats from the MS-13 members, he knew he had to make a decision. He wanted to continue his studies but quickly realized he didn’t have the money to pay the gang and ensure his safety. With the threat of violence so close, Santiago decided to escape to the only other place he had family—San Diego. He embarked alone on the long, arduous journey through Mexico, staying in locals’ homes and shelters along the way. Although the travel was tough, Santiago fondly remembers the support he received from people throughout Mexico. The people in the towns he passed through were warm to him, helping him and other migrants by providing floors to sleep on and meals to eat.

When Santiago finally arrived in the U.S., he united with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in California. Connecting with his loved ones after the long trek through Mexico filled Santiago with hope for his uncertain future. Despite the language and cultural barriers he faced as an immigrant, he felt unconditionally supported by his family, who helped him find a job and integrate into American culture. Despite the forced circumstances of his migration, Santiago decided to move forward and make a future for himself in the United States. He enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the local community college and began working at his family friend’s contracting company. He found comfort in his network of coworkers and ESL classmates, who were largely Central Americans like Santiago. Santiago’s brothers and father joined him in San Diego soon after he arrived, since they had begun receiving similar threats from MS-13. Now, Santiago’s whole family is in the U.S.


Sitting in his cell in the Irwin County Detention Center, Santiago felt stagnated and isolated from his normal way of life. He struggled to maintain the usual positivity so central to his identity. Here, he had no family, no emotional support, and no outlet for physical activity. He simply lived day-to-day in a body he felt unattached to, wandering through the cold halls of the facility without purpose. He wasn’t allowed to spend much time outside and hadn’t seen a sunset in months. He often wondered how he could be detained for so long when he had never been charged with a crime. Over the course of his seven-month stay, he saw countless other people with extensive criminal histories come and go, while he remained locked up. It seemed his existence was his crime.  

All Santiago wanted was to go home, so he could continue his studies and be with his family. In this time of confusion, frustration, and emptiness, Santiago found one form of support amid the isolating environment of his imprisonment: the legal help of the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI). SIFI, a pro bono initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center that represents immigrants in detention centers across the Deep South, was the only place he could turn to for support during those dark months. The group applies for bond motions which, if granted, conditionally release the detainee if they agree to pay a certain amount of money, attend all their court hearings, and comply with deportation orders. Not only did SIFI’s attorneys and volunteers help him with his legal immigration application, but they also gave him valuable moments of genuine human connection that he rarely found with others in the centers.

Working as a volunteer legal assistant with SIFI this past summer, I connected with Santiago on both a professional and emotional level. As I sat in the attorney visitation room with Santiago, I saw my reflection in the thick glass pane that separated me from Santiago. Santiago’s positivity radiated through the cold glass and contradicted the bleak situation he found himself in. His smile was powerful in the stagnant air that filled the visitation room, and his laugh challenged the narrow white walls that confined us. He filled the space with an intense human energy that contradicted the very design of the room.

In between our logistical conversations about his legal case, we shared our ambitions, favorite activities, and stories from our lives. We were the same age and from the same state. We were both enrolled in higher education programs and were ambitious about the future that lay ahead. We both had families that we deeply cared about, families that would sacrifice everything to protect us. And despite the frustrations we’d encountered in society, we were both optimists. I saw so much of myself in Santiago, and that was the most painful part. What did he do wrong that I didn’t? Why does he deserve to be on that side of the glass as I leave the facility to return home at the end of the day? As I searched for answers to these questions, my mind went numb.

Since November, several private prison corporations have profited from detaining Santiago and those like him, including LaSalle Corrections, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and GEO Group. Today, companies like these operate 62 percent of all immigrant detention centers and run nine out of the 10 largest centers, all to maintain a profit. Daily quotas that require 34,000 beds to be filled in these centers have caused both immigrant detention and corporate profit to skyrocket over the last decade. In the past seven years, CCA’s profits have increased from $133,373,000 to $195,022,000, while GEO’s profits increased 224 percent. These companies use Santiago’s detainment as a tactic to ensure their own continued economic gain.


Santiago dreams of becoming an architect. Before his arrest, he was five classes away from receiving his ESL diploma. He was excited to start taking art and architecture classes the following year. Now, he’s behind on his program and doesn’t know if he’ll even get the chance to pursue his career goals if he doesn’t gain legal status.


My meetings with Santiago were a small part of the larger effort of the SIFI team to fight for the release of detained immigrants from the Irwin County Detention Center. During my time in Ocilla, the small team of lawyers I worked with filed a bond motion for Santiago, hoping to release him from detention within the month so that he could continue fighting his immigration case outside of the detention facility. This bond motion succeeded, and Santiago has since been released from detention. His family worked together to pay the steep bond price, a price eerily similar to the monetary ultimatum he received from MS-13 almost six years ago. He is now fighting his immigration case back home in San Diego, where he can once again enjoy the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.

Many others like Santiago who haven’t been lucky enough to be released on bond from these facilities. As I write this sentence, thousands of people are losing themselves in the directionless hopscotch game that profits from forcefully removing them from their lives, aspirations, and families.  

When I asked what message he wants the world to know, Santiago replied, “They aren’t holding up justice as they should be.” Immigrant detention outlasts the fleeting bursts of national media attention that the issue gets. It has been stripping people of their dignity, their rights, and their lives for years, and will continue to do so until it is stopped. Santiago may be safe now, but if the justice that he so desperately wants to see will come to fruition here in the United States, then we need to recognize that our freedoms are bound together. We will not know justice until the thousands of wrongfully detained immigrants turning profit for large corporations are liberated.


Heat Issue | November 2018 

Receding Floodwaters

August heat in New Orleans is a heat felt inside the body. It is the heat of a city 12 feet below sea level, where feet drag on blistering concrete and the breeze carries nothing but the smell of the lake and river. New Orleans always moves slowly, but in August it comes to a halt. The summer is marked by wet air, sticky skin, and an insatiable lethargy. At night, screeching cicadas are the only way to tell that time moves at all.

But water is quiet, and even the cicadas fell silent for the weeks that brackish waves lapped at shotgun house porches in the aftermath of Katrina. Spray-painted X-codes identified which rescue squad had come to survey the house, the time and date that the team arrived, the hazards within the house, and the number of people (or bodies) found. In one house, a gaping hole in a roof cast shadows of a family using an axe to escape.        

As floodwaters finally receded back into Bayou Sauvage and Lake Borgne in late August of 2005, they left only a shell of New Orleans in the crescent of the Mississippi River. This new, post-Katrina New Orleans was bleak. New Orleanian refugees marooned throughout the United States wondered what awaited them in southeast Louisiana. Images of corpses swollen with water and the Superdome crowded with people dominated the news cycle.

But in the Village de l’Est community of New Orleans East, something different was happening. In mid-October of 2005, only a little more than a month after Katrina made landfall and days after the floodwaters receded, a group of Vietnamese-Americans arrived en masse to the East. By early November, the community had even successfully pressured the city to turn on the utilities for home use. While the majority of New Orleanians were still stranded across the country, the residents of Village de l’Est were planning church services, discussing reconstruction plans, and opening their homes to the refugees who had been trapped during the storm.    

The story of Vietnamese resilience post-Katrina was quickly hijacked by anti-black media outlets that transformed the incredible endurance of Village de l’Est to fit their racist narrative which pit southeast Louisiana’s poor black communities against their Vietnamese neighbors. The speedy organization and activism of the Vietnamese community was juxtaposed with the lack of activity in the Lower Ninth Ward in order to exacerbate the pre-existing racial tensions between the two communities, both of whom were disproportionately affected by the storm. The government and media outlets alike underscored Vietnamese self-reliance by framing them against the “government-dependent” black communities of their neighborhoods.

This narrative failed to address the complex history of the Vietnamese in New Orleans, which played a vital role in forging their identity borne out of communal and intergenerational trauma. The first Vietnamese refugees arrived in Louisiana in the wake of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. The U.S. had finally renounced support for the Vietnam War, and North Vietnamese troops had invaded South Vietnam as a result of the withdrawal of American combat troops from the area. Around 2,100 of the estimated 130,000 Vietnamese people that fled that spring settled in New Orleans. By 1985, an estimated 12,000 Vietnamese residents were living in Orleans Parish and Jefferson Parish, with almost 6,000 concentrated in the Versailles neighborhood alone.

The Vietnamese resettlement process was spearheaded by the Associated Catholic Charities, an organization that the New Orleans Archdiocese worked through in order to sponsor the first resettlement of 1,000 Vietnamese families in New Orleans East. Catholicism, which plays an important role in the cultural identity of New Orleanians, worked as the foundation upon which the New Orleanian Vietnamese society was built. In August of 1978, a mere three years after the Vietnamese began immigrating from South Vietnam to New Orleans, a Vietnamese Catholic chapel was opened to fully service the neighborhood. This chapel would expand in the early ‘80s to become Mary Queen of Vietnam Church (MQVC), which was instrumental in the organization of the community after Katrina and today serves as the center of Vietnamese culture in New Orleans East.  

As the only former French colony in the United States, New Orleans was a popular destination for Vietnamese refugees who hoped for an easy transition and re-creation of the lifestyles and culture from their old towns. French cultural influence, as well as the city’s proximity to the coast, also attracted immigrants who did not speak English or wanted to continue their lives as fishermen. Dzuyet Hoang, a Vietnamese immigrant who fled Saigon in 1975, reflected on his resettlement process with the Times-Picayune reporter Gayle Ashton in 1985. He explained, “They ask us where we want to settle … maybe in Washington, what do you want? They say New Orleans is a city on the coast, the climate is warm and have many seafood. And we say, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah.’ And we choose New Orleans. Because of the warm weather, the seafood available, the people who speak French sometimes. But we choose it.”

Despite various cultural and environmental similarities, however, the Vietnamese transition into the city was anything but smooth. The majority of the Vietnamese refugees settled in the Versailles community of the Village de l’Est neighborhood, an area that was approximately 90 percent black at the time. Race relations intensified as the marginalized black communities began to feel as though the Vietnamese presence was negatively impacting the city and the neighborhood. Various black community leaders expressed concerns that the resettlement program worsened the city’s already depressed economy by increasing both taxes and competition among the poor for limited housing and jobs.

Cheryl Wilson Cramer, head of a city task force that studied the effect of the Southeast Asian refugee population on New Orleans, explained in 1985 that resentment towards the Vietnamese spread throughout portions of the black communities as a result of the special programs that assisted in helping the Vietnamese of New Orleans East prosper. The $800,000 spent by the Associated Catholic Charities, in partnership with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, to buy housing for 1,000 Vietnamese families in a low-income black neighborhood was seen as an investment into foreigners instead of the community. Other programs that were exclusive to Vietnamese immigrants were various tax breaks, welfare (even though only 20.4 percent of Vietnamese refugees in New Orleans collected welfare in the 1980s, as compared to the 54 percent nationwide as reported by Gayle Ashton in The Times-Picayune), and even small plots of lands to grow crops to sell at the markets.

The conflicts between New Orleans residents and the Vietnamese immigrant communities, however, were not purely economic. New Orleans, though popular among various immigrant groups, had never before had a substantial Asian population. The appearance of these newcomers shocked white and black locals alike and the cultural differences intensified the strain surrounding the resettlement process. “The Vietnamese would dry fish or shrimp in 90-degree heat on their balcony and their American neighbors would come home and get a whiff,” recounted the Versailles Arms apartment manager Melanie Ottaway in 1985. Farther south, in coastal towns throughout Plaquemines Parish, fishing communities also felt the impacts of resettlement as Louisiana fisherman began to compete with the Vietnamese in overcrowded waters throughout the Louisiana coast. Louisiana shrimpers oftentimes felt that the Vietnamese were not respecting Southern shrimping and fishing customs, which caused strife between the two communities.

Despite the intense racial divide, heightened economic hardships, and their limited ability to speak English and thus communicate with the majority of their neighbors, the Vietnamese refugee communities were painted by the public as communities with a “bootstrap ethic” in the face of their many grievances. The Vietnamese quickly found employment and often began paying their own rent after the first month of resettlement. Michael Haddad, who was head of the Associated Catholic Charities at the time of the resettlement and thus in charge of the $800,000 housing expenses, explained that “I was scared … [but] they took a lot of jobs nobody else wanted, menial low-wage jobs. The advantage they had was a tight family unit. And when all of them were working at minimum-wage jobs, they were basically able to swing the rent.” The “bootstrap” narrative imposed onto the Vietnamese was only strengthened by the fact that the refugees were fleeing a communist country. Rather than attributing the dedication of the Vietnamese to the survival tactics imposed on them as refugees and necessary for survival, Americans instead created the narrative that capitalism empowered the Vietnamese to make a new homeland for themselves.

In 1985, The Times-Picayune even published an article titled “Refugees Showed They Are Survivors” with an entire section titled “A bootstrap ethic.” In this section, the journalist Gayle Ashton reports, “Although some refugees may have escaped Vietnam with jewelry or gold, many—especially those who were attacked by pirates as they escaped by boat—arrived with nothing. What may amaze or confound native-born Americans is a difference in Vietnamese values and lifestyle that is reflected in their quick economic process.” Later in the article, Ashton further supports her claim of Vietnamese “bootstrap ethic” by quoting a personnel director for a major New Orleans hotel. The director explains, “I find they tend to be industrious entrepreneurs. I wish more people had the same work ethic.” The hotel director and Ashton both clearly value the work ethic of the Vietnamese refugees, but hidden in their words is an understanding that the Vietnamese are prosperous in capitalist United States in a way that they would not be in newly communist Vietnam. Though this article, published as part of a four-day series celebrating a decade of Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans, was written in 1985, it exhibits how the early perceptions of the Vietnamese would manifest into the later characterization of Vietnamese resiliency and how this understanding glorifies capitalism as the economic system which empowered these refugees to flourish.

However, Vietnamese New Orleanians themselves also identify in part with this “bootstrap” narrative, especially in how it relates to anti-communism. Cyndi Nguyen, current city councilwoman for District E (the district where Village de l’Est is located and which took the brunt of the Katrina damage), writes in her campaign biography that she was five years old when she and her family left Vietnam in 1975. Nguyen’s website explains that “they escaped from the Communists because her parents wanted their children to have access to opportunities and most importantly to have freedom.” Later, Nguyen cites her immigration to New Orleans as the key motivating factor that fuels her “work ethic, her integrity, and her audacity of hope.” Nguyen believes that capitalism and the United States afforded her the opportunities to be where she is today and to empower her district, comprised of both Vietnamese and black communities. She does not criticize capitalism even though capitalism plays a huge role in the poverty, violence, and destruction in her own district. However, she also governs on a promise of unity: unlike the post-Katrina media focus that sought to polarize the Vietnamese and black communities of New Orleans, Nguyen promised to utilize the strengths of each community so that together post-Katrina New Orleans East could prosper.   

This “bootstrap ethic” narrative played an integral role in the outside perception of post-Katrina Vietnamese organization in New Orleans. Nguyen’s City Council District E was the area most heavily impacted by the storm; when over 50 levees failed on August 29, 2005, Village de l’Est and the Lower Ninth Ward took on over 20 feet of water. This area flooded along with 80 percent of the city as thousands of homes were destroyed and the Vietnamese community was once again displaced.

However, this destruction did not delay the return of the Vietnamese to Village de l’Est. The Vietnamese, emboldened once again by the MQVC and the head priest Father Vien Nguyen, returned to New Orleans East in droves, ready to reclaim and rebuild their new homeland. In mid-October of 2005, less than two weeks after Mayor C. Ray Nagin had declared the city safe for return, the Vietnamese took the first steps towards the re-creation of normal life by creating a petition that successfully persuaded the utility companies to restore power in New Orleans East, which became the first neighborhood to receive power in the city after the storm. By early December of 2005, an estimated 600 Vietnamese individuals had returned and begun cleaning and repairing Vietnamese American homes and businesses in the area. Over 90 percent of the Vietnamese community was once again living in New Orleans East by the spring of 2007, compared to the less than 50 percent of black residents that once resided in the neighborhood.

During the immediate post-Katrina rebuilding effort, the Vietnamese were lauded as the first community to return to the city and begin the restoration process without significant government assistance. Instead of celebrating this astounding example of exemplary community organization and impressive resiliency, the city and state political climate quickly shifted towards anti-black rhetoric. The Vietnamese and black communities of New Orleans East both endured the brunt of the Katrina damage, but the quick Vietnamese return laid the groundwork for victim-blaming against the black communities that was perpetuated both politically and in general by white elites.

This victim-blaming is preserved in a news segment by Al Jazeera English, an English-language news and current affairs TV station headquartered in Doha, Qatar. In the segment, Rob Reynolds follows Father Luke Nguyen through New Orleans East as Nguyen regales the tale of the last year. However, much of Nguyen’s speech is voiced over as Reynolds uses the resiliency of Vietnamese New Orleanians to shame the black communities (though they remain unmentioned). He explains, “After Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnamese community decided not to wait for the government or insurance companies to help. They returned to their neighborhood immediately and started rebuilding.” This kind of reporting dismisses the violence and fear that the black communities experienced at the hands of the police during and immediately after Katrina, stereotypes the black communities as lazy, and dismisses the actual voices of the Vietnamese communities. Reynolds spends a large part of the segment talking over Father Nguyen’s speech, erasing the voice of the community in favor of the voice of white elites.

Shockingly, however, for the first time in city history, the Vietnamese and the black communities forged a united front. In solidarity, they organized to hold government officials accountable and prevent the continued marginalization of their communities. The strongest display of unity was presented in the form of a coalition between the black and Vietnamese communities when, in February of 2006, Mayor C. Ray Nagin announced that a toxic waste landfill would be opened less than two miles from the Versailles Arms Apartments in Village de l’Est. MQVC once again stepped in by developing the MQVC Community Development Corporation, whose mission is “to preserve and promote our unique diversity and improving the quality of life of residents in the Greater New Orleans area, beginning in New Orleans East.” The MQVC Community Development Corporation united the two communities under the same goal: to prevent the opening of the Katrina landfill, which would in essence serve as a dumping ground for all of the toxic waste that was left in the city by the receded floodwaters and result in the further marginalization of the communities in the area.

On the anniversary of Katrina, Vietnamese and black citizens alike from all over the Greater New Orleans Area stood at the gates of the proposed landfill as they awaited the arrival of dump trucks. With the eyes of the nation watching, the two united communities understood that the landfill was bigger than themselves. They were fighting for all of New Orleans and for everyone that would come after them. The demonstration was successful, for the dump trucks never arrived and the proposed landfill was never opened. The Vietnamese and black communities, who had been so segregated and divided for the past three decades, had come together to rise up against the powers that had oppressed them.

“We are a suffering people,” Father Luke Nguyen remarked to Reynolds in the 2007 interview. “We endure a lot of pains in the history of our development as a culture. And the war—the war in our land—kills a lot of people. And so Katrina here … is only a twist to us. It’s only a twist.” Father Nguyen’s words, which came less than two years after the storm, epitomize the Vietnamese outlook on disaster and destruction. He considers his people to be a people born of pain; people who must endure deep anguish in order to persevere. South Vietnam and the capitalist haven that it could have been must live on within Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans. His words resonate with those of Jane Foley, who was the resettlement director for the Associated Catholic Charities. “Survivors, that’s what they are. They don’t give up. They do what they have to do.” The Vietnamese response to Katrina and their rebuilding of a post-Katrina society is contingent on their identities as war refugees. The suffering and trauma that they endured in their home country at the hands of their own government gave them the strength to endure anything.

“The war changed the face of the Earth,” Trancong, former magazine director and Vietnamese immigrant to New Orleans, remarked to Ashton in 1985. “The war changed the values of Americans. The war changed a lot of things.” Trancong’s words here haunt the post-Katrina Vietnamese population of New Orleans, a population that has already once been traumatized by the loss of a homeland. Determined not to lose their “second homeland,” the Vietnamese returned, rebuilt, and made sure to lift up their neighbors to do the same. There was no more racial divide or jealousy or pain between the two groups because the Vietnamese saw in the black communities where they themselves had been 30 years prior. Even store owner Mike Tran, who returned to his looted grocery store in Mid-City New Orleans a mere six weeks after Katrina, showed no animosity towards those who robbed him. Proudly, he explained that his store, which was built on an elevated slab, must have served as a safe haven for those who had stayed behind to weather Katrina. He pointed out the large pieces of cardboard that were scattered throughout his store and remarked that they probably served as temporary sleeping mats for those stranded there. “Cash, liquor, and cigarettes—yeah, they stole everything. But, you know, not everyone was there to steal. Some people were just finding a way to survive.”

November is a time of of celebration. The sweltering August heat is a hazy memory as the sun starts to dip below the Mississippi River and ushers in a cool breeze. We remember that we have survived another hurricane season. We remember that, somehow, we always survive—though not all of us. But the Natchez in the port will play her dirge, and the people in the streets will sing of the cypress trees, and we will remember that our communities—born of floodwaters, of X-codes, and of war—will fight for one another. People fall in love with New Orleans not for the oppressive heat, but for the people that come out of it. And my people will always, always come out of it.

Heat Issue | November 2018

Open Source Sovereignty

Do you know why this is called La Casa Azul?” My classmate Nate and I shared a hesitant look.  “Well, aren’t all the walls blue?” I asked in reply.

Oliver Fröhling laughed. He knew that we were used to overanalyzing questions that professors asked, so he always had fun messing around with us. 

“Yeah!” he responded, grinning and moving right on to another joke. “We Germans have a special sense of humor. You do know how many Germans it takes to change a light bulb, right?” Nate and I looked at each other again, perplexed. “One!” he said, “we’re all really efficient and have no sense of humor!”

 We worked with Oliver over the next two weeks, and the jokes never stopped. Nate and I were in Oaxaca, Mexico for the field component of a class called “Development and Grassroots Resistance in Latin America.” Oliver looked like a hipster Indiana Jones in his weathered leather jacket, T-shirt with the logo of his organization, and felt fedora. After spending just a couple hours with Oliver, we realized that behind his lighthearted charm was an acute understanding of modern Mexican politics. He walked us through the crowded streets of Oaxaca, past markets selling huitlacoches, tortillas moradas, sopes, chapulines, and Oaxacan moles, and into the office of Servicios Universitarios y Redes de Conocimiento en Oaxaca (roughly translated as University Student Services and Meeting Networks in Oaxaca), also known as SURCO. 

SURCO is Oliver’s brainchild. He founded the organization after writing his PhD on indigenous political movements in southern Mexico. The small organization, which he runs with just a few other people, serves to educate and facilitate communication between different social movements in Mexico. SURCO provides information to both nongovernmental organizations and to municipios, local administrative entities in Mexico. In Oaxaca, the vast majority of municipios are run by indigenous people with their own governmental structures. SURCO’s research has created significant awareness around social issues and helped numerous up-and-coming movements overcome barriers to education, information, and infrastructure.


After the debt crisis in Mexico in the ‘80s, new neoliberal policies resulted in the removal of social services formerly provided by the state. Organizations like SURCO stepped in to provide assistance (and even education) in the state’s absence. While some organizations see the end goal as the filling the need created by the lack of a Mexican social safety net, Oliver says that the real goal is to topple capitalism, which, he thinks, is the power structure that created the lack of services in the first place.

One of SURCO’s ongoing projects works to preserve the indigenous Zapotec language. To encourage Zapotec speakers to engage with the language in a modern way, SURCO is developing open-source software in Zapotec. This would enable indigenous communities to use Geographical Information System (GIS) software, allowing them to impose demographic, resource, and cultural information onto maps. GIS can be used to prevent and monitor the spread of diseases, analyze the risk of an oncoming natural disaster, and help address the endless list of other problems. SURCO wants to use the software to aid indigenous groups in maintaining sovereignty over their lands.

Mapping software in Latin America has historically been used in ways that curtail political liberty and reinforce existing power structures. The first significant use of GIS mapping in Latin America was during the drug war in Colombia. According to Geoffrey Demorest, the U.S. military researcher in charge of this project, GIS was used “in both counter-narcotic [efforts] as well as the suppression of lawlessness.” He called the tool “an indispensible starting point” for the state as a tool of power, and this pattern of GIS usage has continued ever since. 

In 2006, geographers from the University of Kansas went to Oaxaca and completed a mapping project financed by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO). This was part of a larger effort to predict areas of potential unrest and perceived drug flow in southern Mexico. The mapped areas were home to social movements that the state saw as hostile. Oliver pointed out that the FMSO-funded expeditions were met with immense criticism from indigenous communities. These communities argued that the expeditions were potential threats to their liberty and sovereignty, due to the involvement of the U.S. military and the historically antagonistic relationship between the Zapotec people and the Mexican state. “Mapping has always been very close to [the] state and military, and basically just reflects state and power relations,” Oliver told me.

Military involvement was bad enough, but the issue has gotten more muddled as the private use of GIS has increased. (Think of Google Earth, for instance.) The private sector places yet another variable into the equation, one which makes the cultivation of data even more potentially detrimental to liberty. Mining companies, for example, will often use different geographical information systems in order locate the resources found within land granted to them by the federal government. Because around 80 percent of land in Oaxaca is held communally, government land grants tend to foment unrest. SURCO has been using another form of open-source GIS called Quantum GIS (QGIS) to inform communities how much of their communal land will be surveyed or potentially taken from them and offered to private companies. These are mostly Canadian-based mining companies that practice open-pit mining, a particularly destructive form of mineral extraction.

Aside from the outright infringement of destructive mining on indigenous lands, the use of GIS by private companies also creates what Oliver calls an “increased surveillance mechanism.” He explained, “If you’re growing organic coffee or you’re part of these kind of environmental carbon trading programs, then your land will be placed in these GIS programs in order to surveil or estimate the amount of carbon that is captured.” It is this combination of government surveillance and private investment that raises problems within communities. Open-source software allows SURCO and those who use it to analyze and manage their own resources, thus subverting the existing power structures—which, after all, was Oliver’s original goal. 

If the main point is basically “who gets to do the analysis and who gets to generate the data,” as Oliver put it, then QGIS is important because it allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to democratize and improve data. “The reason why we use open-source is because it is free,” Oliver said. “But we also very much support [a] philosophy of [the] open-source movement because knowledge is not something that should be proprietary. It should be something that is created collectively; it should [be] out there in order to be improved.” Democratized data has given these marginalized communities a way to fight back.


mpowered by SURCO’s assistance, various Oaxacan communities are now using geographical mapping systems for resource management. In Capulalpam de Méndez, a forest community, people have warmly embraced QGIS and open-source technology, and other Oaxacan communities are now following suit. In fact, Oliver said that “forestry communities are using it [not only] for resource management [but also] to create community-protected areas.” QGIS has even been used to map out the effects of a hydroelectric dam and see what areas are now susceptible to flooding. These projects are what Oliver calls “capacity building,” meaning that they help develop a community’s capacity to resist exploitation, by giving them technologies that they need to generate and analyze their own data.

Here, Oliver claims that one way in which modern government exercises power is through big data and “dataism,” which is the idea that data is supremely valuable. Oliver takes his concept of big data from the prominent Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, one of the first to express concerns about the rise of dataism. Han writes, “Every click we make is registered, each word we introduce into search engines … Our digital footprint reveals an incredibly exact representation of our self, of our soul, perhaps even more precise or complete than the image we make of ourselves.” The internet has allowed for a complete registration of life into data. This becomes a huge problem when you factor in microtargeting, or the strategic use of data in order to manipulate potential clients (and in the case of the U.S. election, voters). Because our digital footprints are such complete and precise representations of our selves, companies are now capable of reaching, influencing, and predicting our psychological processes.

This field of study, called digital psychopolitics, poses a significant question to human liberty because it supplies governing bodies with more direct access to our “selves” than was ever previously possible. Han warns us that digital psychopolitics will usher in “the end of liberty.” 

Big data in Oaxaca, when viewed from Han’s perspective, is an attack on community liberty, privacy, and democratic procedures—and that’s before considering the potential for exploitation at the hands of private interests. “The big issue is security,” Oliver said, “but that’s not all of it. Oaxaca is … part of this extractive economy, so there are mining interests, energy interest[s], and then the whole flip side of the green economy [the forced expropriation of land so that companies can install windmills or solar panels].” Big data provides access to information that incentivizes private investment.

 Nonetheless, Oliver made it clear that “technology is certainly not always bad,” and that technology and mapping are only tools. “I like my cell phone,” he said, “but [I am] also not on the other side—that technology will free us all. It can only free us if our social and political structures are set up for technology to make us more free.” Oliver reiterates that “technologies are never neutral”—they are created for certain purposes. He also thinks they can “be appropriated by people for certain new and maybe positive ventures.”

 He added that there “are all kinds of barriers, the first one being language … you are talking about indigenous communities that might not even be that proficient in Spanish, and most of these software programs tend to work in English.” Additionally, access to decent computers and high speed internet can be quite costly. Data is not transparent—certain groups are barred from accessing and understanding it. SURCO’s aim is to provide and translate that data so that people can create a collective consciousness about projects that may be detrimental to communities. Open-source software is key to social movements because it democratizes data. Because, as Oliver notes, the questions that surround the use and cultivation of data are fundamentally questions of power.

Despite their promise to support community movements, QGIS and other forms of open-source software are only a means—a crutch for democracy—in what Oliver calls “the war.”  It’s the war against private and state use of GIS for exploitation, but it’s also a broader war against inequality. “Wealth is distributed in an uneven way so that, a lot of the time, communities have to accept projects that they don’t really want just because they don’t see any other option to survive.” He paused, gave a wry smile, and said, “So, I’m getting at this thing called capitalism.” 

The Endless Death of Prog Rock


This is a story about one of the most difficult love affairs of my life. 

I lived next door to a music student while living abroad last year, which meant that music was often the subject of our conversations. “I’ve been listening to a bit of prog rock recently,” I said one day, as casually as I could manage. At this point I was deeply immersed in the bands Yes, Jethro Tull, and Gentle Giant, and consequently also immersed in the feeling of being exiled from my own generation. I would have loved to have found a fellow progressive sympathizer under the age of forty. Instead, my neighbor laughed in my face. The chat came to a swift close. (Later that night, I heard him alone in his room, playing “Beauty and the Beast” on the piano while singing operatically.)

My isolation only grew. Earlier this year, I decided to email nearly every professor in Colorado College’s music department to ask if they could give their insights on the “progressive rock” genre. Only two replied, each in their own way admitting that progressive rock was the one genre that they never bothered with. On a separate occasion, I showed my piano teacher Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise,” and he sat there shaking his head, chuckling. I’ll never forget (or forgive) that he skipped ahead in the YouTube video when the beginning got too tedious for him.

Progressive rock is one of the most ridiculed music genres of all time. It began in the late ‘60s in England, where its biggest monsters were born: Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, are just a few. Although each band had their own sound and style, they were united by their 20-minute songs, top-tier virtuosity, complex time signatures, and concept albums whose concepts were often unclear. 

I wasn’t insulted when people cringed at my enthusiasm for the genre. I myself cringed for years. Ever since about the age of one—when I came to the conclusion that life was a sham, adults could not be trusted, and most people knew nothing—I have shielded myself with a sarcastic approach to the world. Not taking anything entirely seriously was a reliable way to avoid getting pummeled daily by letdowns. That is why, when I first found prog rock, much of which really does fall deep into the realm of pointless virtuosic excess, I thought I’d found the perfect joke.

The term “progressive” itself was where I’d thought the joke began. By the late ‘60s, rock had growing pains, phasing out its peppy and danceable three-minute songs and instead experimenting with as many musical influences as rock artists did drugs. “Progressive” was an especially strange term because musicians were turning to long-dead classical composers for guidance. Classical music’s technical structures allowed for intricate compositions in more drawn-out pieces. More importantly, it also allowed these musicians, most of whom were as English as mince pie, to borrow from their home tradition rather than emulate American rock styles. 

Accordingly, many of prog’s greatest hits were composed and performed with the kind of sober seriousness required to write a symphony. But it was also the ‘70s, so there was a predilection for sci-fi, cerebral fantasies, spiritual journeys, and other elements so new and random that they barely held up well enough to be categorized. Past meshed with future to make for a weird present. Often the prog sound wasn’t just a challenge to play, but also to listen to, with the goofy whines of a then-new Moog synthesizer and Mellotron, melodramatic flute and/or chime interludes, seemingly endless keyboard solos consisting of an explosion of arbitrary notes, and time signatures that could cause seizures. (I discovered that in Genesis’ “Firth of Fifth,” certain bars are in the rare time signatures of 13/16 and 15/16, alternating with bars of 2/4). Typical prog songs were about alien invasions, the perpetual rebirth of life, or an astronaut getting sucked into a black hole (all real examples). If all of those were to be in one song, that would be fine, too.

Everything was a hoot—random and colorful and free. During live shows, Peter Gabriel of Genesis wore outlandish costumes of his own creation to accompany the stories of the songs. His most famous costume was the “Slipperman,” which covered his entire body with mustard-yellow gourd-shaped lumps. It looked like an artistic glob of phlegm, or perhaps a diseased penis. 

What other genre—or for that matter, what other anything—was as silly, and all the sillier for not realizing how silly it was? Prog, to me, had soon become an object of both humor and fascination. The most ostentatious bits of prog rock sound like a group of music academy boys trying to outplay each other, all of them reading from a Bach concerto written backwards. The better part of me hated this. It would have been easy, and maybe wise, to actively limit my knowledge of prog. After all, legendary radio DJ John Peel once called it “a waste of electricity.” I myself once called it, “that one genre that dads would get protective about via YouTube comments.” (In the comment feed of a Gentle Giant youtube video, one “Ezra Nixon” remarked: “I live in a world of madness, All i listen to is ‘70s prog, And no one else can hear what it is im hearing, they’re too busy listening to wank like artic [sic] monkeys and all shite like that.”) Alas, instead of ignoring prog, I chose to test the waters. Little did I know, prog is not just music—it is another dimension entirely, and I was about to get lost in it.

Confusion began to settle in, now not toward the music so much as toward the question of how much of a joke I was taking prog to be. I began to mistrust my own cynicism, feeling that it wasn’t me, really, but rather some flimsy inheritance of my generation. To help me with my quandary, I tracked down several middle-aged folks who had witnessed prog’s great rise and fall. One of them was Peter Economy, a friend of my friend’s dad. He attended Stanford in the ‘70s—the right time and place for him to fall into drugged nerd-rock. “Concerts were theatrical experiences,” he said. “At the time it seemed normal to us to have a spectacle.” Peter Gabriel’s especially abnormal costumes were no exception. “You wouldn’t laugh, just like you wouldn’t laugh about going to a play where people are wearing weird costumes...Gabriel was telling stories through the words, and the costumes he wore reflected the meaning behind them.”

It was refreshing to hear such earnest respect for a band with Phil Collins in it. In all seriousness, Economy’s description affirmed what I was beginning to get out of the music: it was a portal into absurd musical optimism and elaborate imagination. Another middle-aged interviewee, this one a friend I made in Manchester, England, said something similar: “The color and fantasy art were a big part of the attraction. Those were the days when so much was put into it. It got slagged off as being over-the-top and unnecessary, but it made the whole thing more of a spectacle and helped you get lost in the other world. Music for reality-escapers, I guess.”

Intrigued, I gave special focus to the band Yes, as I found that nearly everything that could be said of prog in general could be said of them in particular. White English men, well-educated, classically trained, late ‘60s. The king of prog may well be Yes’ lead singer Jon Anderson, who was also essentially its conductor and spiritual mastermind. Even today, Anderson’s ambition radiates from his 5’5” frame. He has a pure, high-pitched voice and the demeanor of a gentle woodland creature. What he sings is often incredibly cryptic riddle-gibberish, but it’s sung with such persuasion that you don’t even think to question whether he knows exactly what it’s all about. 

In fact, “knowing exactly what it’s all about” was exactly what Yes was all about. Their songs were meticulously composed and played. Minute technical effects changed constantly (the changes even became the cause of rising tensions within the band). In a YouTube video of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant talking about prog, Plant recalled that, instead of celebrating after a gig, Yes would go back to their hotel and listen to the hours-long set they had just performed, taking note of nuances and discussing possible improvements. Understandably baffled, Robert Plant then asked, “What the fuck’s the point of that?” 

Yes was as big and bold in their mistakes as they were in their ambition. “Spinal Tap,” perhaps the best parody of bands like Yes, was brilliantly accurate because of Yes’ determination for grandeur in both their music and their stage sets. In 1973, Yes entered their most far-gone chapter, recording their double-album, “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” The concept was inspired by a single footnote from the famous Autobiography of a Yogi. The album consisted of only four songs and was nearly one and a half hours long. And that was just from a footnote.

Anderson adamantly believed that creating the album in a pastoral environment would help musical creativity flow. Recording logistics, however, posed a challenge. They had to stay in London, so Anderson ended up redecorating their recording studio into an elaborate barnyard scene: potted flowers perched on equipment and bales of hay scattered throughout. Some loose hay littered the floor and got into technical equipment. Yes’ keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, recalls having to navigate a maze of electrically powered cut-out cows just to get to his keyboard. If you had to guess which of Yes’ albums was recorded among fake cows, you’d likely guess “Tales.” It’s by far the most tedious album of the lot. 

“Tales” appeared to mark the beginning of the end for Yes. As if sensing this, they didn’t want to go with a whimper, but with a bang. In live performances of the album, drummer Alan White sat with his kit in a giant seashell, which opened electronically upon his entrance. One night the shell failed to open, leaving him desperate for air. The stage crew hacked away at it with axes while feeding White oxygen tubes. He eventually got out, staggering and gasping for breath. Much of the audience saw what happened but didn’t realize until later that it was not a highly profound physical interpretation of the music, but in fact a near-fatal mishap.

When I imagine this scene, the words of CC English Professor Steve Hayward, another interviewee, echo in my head: “We made fun of prog in the day...there wasn’t a moment when you didn’t wonder, is this just a little too much?” Not even seashell mishaps and surreal stage sets were enough to hold the attention of Rick Wakeman himself. Wakeman was always known as being the lone lumbering carnivore and beer guzzler among the group of intensely skinny and spiritual vegetarians. But by the time the band was working on “Tales,” his patience had truly expired, this time onstage. During a long keyboardless section of a song, Wakeman had Indian takeout delivered and ate it onstage while the others played. He was visible to thousands. 

A few musicians didn’t take the hint, and instead took their music further. Their ambition was manic. The music became miserable. The tragedy was that many of these bands just couldn’t bring themselves to see their own decline. It was as if the music was getting botox operation after botox operation to fight against the natural flow of the universe, thinking it appeared okay, when really it looked uglier than if it had just let time pass. Meanwhile, younger people tried to hasten prog’s death with their ridicule and their support of punk, an explicitly anti-prog genre. It was a sad time for all of us prog lovers (except me because I hadn’t been born yet).

The band blunders and near-sighted idiocy are more than comedy gold; they’re also windows into a kind of ambitious optimism that doesn’t appear often in the music world. While most music surrenders to the samples, trends, and guaranteed-hit formulas, the best of progressive rock abandoned security for total devotion to craft and to the possibly-childish belief that there were completely untouched musical frontiers to be met. It was unabashed freedom. They were determined to get this freedom by any means necessary, even if it meant looking like idiots.

The sound of Yes, and Genesis, and Rush is the sound of a dreamer getting so lost in a fantastic new dimension that they forget they even have an audience. It is music free of cynicism, apathy, and coolness, whatever that entails, and that’s what makes it not just music to listen to, but also music to inhabit, and even take as a friend. (Sorry, Rush reference: “Take a Friend.”)

That prog is largely dismissed today is an indication—albeit an unfortunate one—that it remained loyal to its early intentions. It was to be a “an ever-extending idea,” as Anderson once put it, which is a difficult one for most to digest. It was music to be “music created with honest and open attitudes.” And despite legal battles and numerous band member changes, Yes’ members were so dedicated that there are now two Yes bands, for confusing reasons concerning rights to the band name and logo. One is “Yes,” clean and simple, and the other is “Yes: featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman.” Goes to show that they’re as dorky as ever, and thank goodness for it.

Under a shell-pink sky in early September, I found myself at a “Yes: featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman” concert, bobbing in a sea of grey hair and beer.

“Look a little young to be here,” one man told me (a variation on a theme I was to hear throughout the evening). He looked doubtful, as if he took me for a yellow journalist from some hotshot hipster dubstep magazine. His doubt melted immediately when we both said we were hoping the band would play “Heart of the Sunrise.” Later on, our wish came true. We watched with our hands in our pockets. He, like me, must have been in awe that these raisins of men sounded nearly as polished as they did in the 1971 official recorded version.  After decades of criticism, band conflicts, round-the-clock recording sessions, and deafening Moog synthesizer, the band was still in Neverland; Wakeman still wore his trademark sequin cape, and Anderson swayed with those entranced, perfectly blissed out movements, holding his tambourine atop his personal foot-high platform. What once was so ‘70s suddenly felt timeless. 

I took in the rest of the audience. Most were reclining in their lawn chairs, with some fans standing up and triumphantly punching the air in time with the scattered percussion. I must have been the only one under 40. I thought of Anderson’s words in one interview: “Music is forever, not just for the radio, not just for the business. I think that’s what younger people are getting into and appreciating Yes for.” The fact that there was at least one 21-year old in the audience proved that his optimism wasn’t delusional after all.

Put Down Your Phone

Put Down Your Phone

Article by Rachel Frizell; art by Jessie Sheldon

When I was 14, a couple of friends and I entered a subway station in lower Manhattan and were greeted by a half-naked man holding a rubber chicken. A crowd had already surrounded him on the platform, taking pictures of his tattered cardboard sign, which read, “Matthew Silver: The Great Performer.” The man extended his arm to me, squawked, and invited the three of us to “chicken dance” with him.