When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
As far as Katie Uhlaender can tell, skeleton—which involves hurtling yourself face-first on a sled down an icy course at top speeds of nearly 90 miles an hour—is the safest sport she has ever tried. "I've had eight surgeries," she says, "but none of them were from skeleton."
Four years ago, preparing for the Vancouver Olympics, Uhlaender twice shattered her left knee—the first time in a backcountry snowmobile accident—requiring four surgeries and keeping her on crutches until 20 weeks before the Games. Add in the emotional pain of the death of her father, former major league outfielder Ted Uhlaender, and it's no wonder that she struggled to an 11th-place finish in Vancouver.
Now, for the second Olympics in a row, Uhlaender is coming off an injury. This time, it's skeleton-related: She suffered a concussion on a training run in Lake Placid a few months ago and was limited throughout the fall. "It was the first time in 10 years that I've had to not take the second run," she says.
With Sochi on the horizon, I chatted with the 2012 world champ about how she got her start on the sled, how to slide without thinking, and how to manage the double-standard between men and women, in sports and beyond:
Mother Jones: So how did you ever get started in skeleton?
Katie Uhlaender: I just happened to get to meet someone completely random and got sucked in before I knew better. [Laughs.] I just met a girl who was a bobsledder, and she talked me into trying it. Three weeks into it I won junior nationals, fourth week I went to junior worlds, eighth week I won senior nationals. I kind of started winning right away, and it was either go to college and get a Ph.D. or become an Olympian. So I basically made a choice.
MJ: Had you played a lot of sports growing up?
KU: My father was a major league baseball player, so if you weren't an athlete, you weren't cool. I just was an athlete and was looking for a sport, and that's what happened. I just took advantage of an opportunity and made a choice.
MJ: What was it like to have so much success so early?
KU: It's all relative, right? First, when I went to junior worlds, I was conflicted because I didn't feel like I deserved it. And then I talked to my dad, and he referenced his first at-bat in the big leagues. He couldn't stop shaking. And then he realized that every legend before him took the same steps he took up to the plate. Once you get to the plate, you have two options: You either quit, or you try to hit the ball.
Audelina Aguilar set off on the six-week journey along the migrant trail at 14, leaving her parents and nine younger siblings behind in the highlands of rural Guatemala. She rode atop Mexican freight trains, from Chiapas in the south to Tamaulipas in the north. She fought off a would-be rapist with the help of the only other woman in the group, who screamed, "She's a baby!" She walked through the South Texas wilderness for four days, trying to steer clear of the assailant, who was still with the group, and of the human remains they encountered along the way.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
They were led by a coyote, and her 16-year-old cousin was with her, but other than that Aguilar was on her own. "When I left my country," she told me, "I said, 'I know God is going to be with me, and everything is going to be okay.'"
Eventually Aguilar made it to San Francisco, where her 16-year-old brother lived. They stayed with an aunt, but soon moved out, not wanting to burden her. Aguilar went to work to pay back another aunt in Alabama who'd handled her smuggling fee, first as a babysitter and later on the crews that clean huge hillside homes with views of the bay. She usually got bathroom duty. Hardly anyone asked why she wasn't in school.
Her journey is not unusual. Over the past five years, the number of undocumented children—mostly teens, but some as young as five—apprehended crossing the border without parents or guardians has tripled, rising from 8,041 in fiscal year 2008 to 24,481 in fiscal 2012, with a 52 percent increase from 2011 to 2012 alone. Countless others, including Aguilar, made the trip without getting caught.
A major factor in the increase, known simply as "the surge" to government officials and child-welfare advocates, appears to be the rise in gang violence in Central America. The number of Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran children crossing alone has skyrocketed in recent years, even as the number of Mexican kids has held steady. "What's alarming is that there's an increasing number saying they're fleeing forcible gang recruitment and gang violence," says Elizabeth Kennedy, a San Diego State University researcher who studies unaccompanied child migrants. "They were being forcibly recruited into the gangs and didn't want to be a part of it, and so they had to flee because threats had been made on them or their family members."
That's exactly what happened to two of Aguilar's younger brothers back in their hometown of La Cumbre; one came to the United States last year, at 17, while the other, 16, crossed the border a couple of months ago. As the authors of a 2012 Women's Refugee Commission report (PDF) on the surge wrote, "Until conditions for children in these countries change substantially, we expect this trend will be the new norm."
Still, unaccompanied children barely register in the national immigration debate, where most of the talk about youth has focused on the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would legalize some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids. (It would require five years of residency and a high school diploma, disqualifying most of these more-recent migrants.) Legal-aid groups have pushed reforms such as government-appointed lawyers for unaccompanied children. Many of them, advocates note, actually qualify for asylum or other legal relief, but will never know it because they don't have legal representation.
When apprehended, kids trying to cross the border are treated differently than adults: Instead of being placed in immigration detention, they are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. While seeking to reunify the kids with US-based family during their deportation proceedings, ORR puts them up in shelters run by nonprofit subcontractors like Catholic Charities. (When I first met Aguilar in September, her brother had just left Guatemala; the second time we spoke, he'd just been caught; the third time, recently, he'd just arrived in San Francisco after his stay in an ORR facility.)
Journalists aren't allowed into the shelters "for safety reasons," an ORR spokeswoman told me. But Susan Terrio, a Georgetown University anthropologist currently writing a book about unaccompanied children, visited 19 of them over a four-year period. She says she was surprised to find an almost hermetically sealed system: "The kids were never left unattended. They went to school inside, they played sports inside, and they only got out for supervised outings in the community or for medical and mental-health appointments."
"You walk by, and you think it's just an old nursing home," says one child-welfare advocate, "and it's actually all these immigrant kids inside."
Maria Woltjen, director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, says that as a result, unaccompanied children are essentially invisible: "Nobody in Chicago knows there are 400 kids detained in our midst. They're just in [former] nursing homes—you walk by, and you think it's just an old nursing home, and it's actually all these immigrant kids inside."
While many child-welfare advocates are hesitant to criticize the ORR facilities for fear of being shut out of them, the shelters did come under scrutiny in 2007, when ORR removed kids from a Texas facility after a female guard was accused of sexually assaulting four minors. (She was later convicted.) In the summer of 2012, lacking enough beds to deal with the influx of Central American children, ORR temporarily housed hundreds in emergency dormitories at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. According to the Women's Refugee Commission report, "the facility looked and felt like an emergency hurricane shelter with cots for beds and portable furniture." (The base no longer houses children.)
In fiscal 2011, ORR had 53 shelters that housed 6,560 kids. In 2012, those numbers increased to 68 and 13,625; in 2013, there were 80 shelters and 24,668 unaccompanied children. The majority are in states along the Mexican border, hours from big cities, which means it's even harder for kids to find legal representation—and stave off being sent back to the dangerous situations they fled.
ProBAR, a pro bono project that specializes in representing unaccompanied children, is based in the South Texas border city of Harlingen, a half hour west of Brownsville. When I visit its office in mid-December, I meet with managing attorney Kimi Jackson, who says the number of beds ProBAR serves jumped from 369 in September 2011 to 1,187 in September 2013.
Jackson says the government has been reunifying unaccompanied kids with family members faster than ever before—the average shelter stay has fallen from 72 days in 2011 to 45 days. That's good for the kids, but it has complicated ProBAR's work: It means less time to tell them about their rights and screen them about their experiences to build a case against deportation. "We are not able to provide the same services that we used to, because there just isn't time," Jackson admits.
So ProBAR's paralegals go in groups to give their presentations and screen hundreds of kids at a time, listening to countless heartrending testimonials. The attorneys scour their notes, trying to decide whom to represent and whom to refer to other nearby pro bono lawyers. "I can only read so many of them in one sitting," Jackson says, "because it's emotionally exhausting."
And even after unaccompanied kids link up with family members, they're still vulnerable—to abuse, to trafficking, to exploitation by employers. After two years of working full time, bringing home as little as $25 a day after transportation costs, Audelina Aguilar ended up in the hospital one day with severe abdominal pain. The nurses told her she had an ovarian inflammation; when they found out that her parents were back in Guatemala, they made the teen swear that she'd stop working and enroll in school.
That's how she landed at SFIHS. Now in its fifth year, it's a public alternative school in the Mission District that serves recently arrived immigrants. Some are fleeing a civil war. Others endured traumatic border crossings or time locked up in immigration detention. The vast majority, says Principal Julie Kessler, are suffering from some form of PTSD.
"They are absolutely the most resilient, wonderful, resourceful, and motivated group of kids that we have," says SFIHS principal Julie Kessler.
She estimates that roughly 20 percent of her students came alone. They live in shelters or group homes, or have figured something out with a relative, or live by themselves. "They are absolutely the most resilient, wonderful, resourceful, and motivated group of kids that we have," Kessler says.
That's Aguilar. After enrolling in school, a lawyer at Legal Services for Children helped her become a legal resident. Her older brother started working, allowing them to move into a studio apartment by themselves. She only spoke Spanish when she started at the school as a ninth-grader; now, at 20, she talks to me almost exclusively in English—about missing the Mayan skirts she left behind in Guatemala, about the stress of being the de facto mother to her three brothers, about balancing schoolwork with her new job at Old Navy.
In the last month Aguilar has finished up applying for colleges—the University of California-Berkeley is at the top of her list—and received a prestigious scholarship for economically disadvantaged students. Still, there's the thousands of dollars she borrowed to pay for the passage of the brother who just arrived, as well as the money she'll need to get him an attorney. And there are seven more siblings, and her parents, to think about back home in La Cumbre.
"We don't have Dad and Mom to take care of us," she says. "If we need something, we don't have that. We just have to wait until we have what we want."
As more and more people have called for Washington's pro football team to change its name, some folks have argued that the only way to get owner Dan Snyder to listen is to go after his wallet. That's right: Boycott the team or, failing that, target its corporate sponsors.
On its official website, the team displays five of its largest partners: Ticketmaster, FedEx Express, Bud Light, Ameritel Corporation, and Bank of America. Mother Jones reached out to each of these sponsors, as well as a few others, to see if they had any comment on the campaign to push Snyder to drop the R-word—and whether they had considered dropping their sponsorship because of the controversy. Here's what their spokespeople had to say:
Coca-Cola: "As sponsors, we do not play a role in decisions regarding NFL trademarks. Your questions can be better addressed by the team and the NFL."
FedEx: "We understand that there is a difference of opinion on this issue. Nevertheless, we believe that our sponsorship of FedEx Field continues to be in the best interests of FedEx and its stockholders."
New York Life: "The company has received no complaints. The company plans to assess the sponsorship at the conclusion of the season."
Virginia Lottery: "We have not received complaints regarding the Redskins sponsorship and we are not considering dropping it."
Ticketmaster: "We are declining to comment, but perhaps their sponsor StubHub would have something to say about this. StubHub is located right there in San Francisco."
Thanks for the suggestion, Ticketmaster PR! Unfortunately, StubHub—like Ameritel, Anheuser-Busch, and Bank of America—did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In November 2008, seven Long Island teenagers "hunting for beaners" set upon two Ecuadorean immigrants in the quiet village of Patchogue. When Marcelo Lucero fought back, he was fatally stabbed. Former New York Times reporter Mirta Ojito reconstructs the night in painstaking detail, illuminating the anti-Latino sentiment that bubbled up as new-immigrant lifestyles clashed with suburban mores. Though she sometimes gets mired in the minutiae, she aptly captures a town's struggle to reconcile its lily-white past with its increasingly diverse present. Of Lucero, Ojito writes: "Only in death were they forced to see him."
On October 30, representatives from the Oneida Nation met with NFL higher-ups in New York City to discuss the Washington pro football team's offensive name—another in a series of moves to pressure the franchise to change its name and mascot. After the meeting, Oneida representative Ray Halbritter said, "Believe me, we're not going away."
But with everyone from President Obama to Bob Costas weighing in on the [Redacted], it's worth remembering that this issue didn't start when owner Dan Snyder said that'd he'd "never" change the name—and that it's not limited to one team. Here are some key moments in the history of racially insensitive sports mascots:
The word "redskin" first appears in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. Eight years later, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary notes that the term is "often contemptuous."
The first incarnation of baseball's Cleveland Indians forms. "There will be no real Indians on the roster, but the name will recall fine traditions," the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote at the time.
Oorang Dog Kennels owner Walter Lingo founds the Oorang Indians, an NFL team made up entirely of Native Americans and coached by Jim Thorpe. The team's popular halftime shows feature tomahawk-throwing demonstrations and performances from Lingo's prized Airedale terriers.
The Duluth Kelleys pro football team changes its name to the Duluth Eskimos.
The Boston Braves changes its name to the Boston [Redacted]. According to the Boston Herald, "the change was made to avoid confusion with the Braves baseball team and the team that is to be coached by an Indian." (The coach, Lone Star Dietz, might not have been Native American.)
The Zulu Cannibal Giants, an all-black baseball team that played in war paint and grass skirts, barnstorms around the country. Six years later, the Ethiopian Clowns continue the tradition of mixing baseball with comedy to appeal to white audiences.
Stewart Udall, John F. Kennedy's interior secretary, threatens to take away the Washington football team's federally owned home stadium due to owner George Preston Marshall's refusal to sign a black player. Despite support from members of the American Nazi Party, Marshall begrudgingly signs a handful of black players for the 1962 season, making Washington the last team in the NFL to integrate.
The Philadelphia Warriors basketball team moves to San Francisco, changing its Native American caricature logo to a plain headdress. In 1969, the imagery is dropped altogether in favor of a Golden Gate Bridge logo.
The Washington [Redacted] registers its name and logo for trademarks.
St. Bonaventure University drops the name Brown Squaws for its women's teams when, as one former player put it, "a Seneca chief and clan mothers came over from the reservation and asked us to stop using the name, because it meant vagina." Seventeen years later, men's and women's team names are officially changed from the Brown Indians to the Bonnies.
Washington [Redacted] fan Zema Williams, who is African American, begins appearing at home games in a replica headdress. "Chief Zee" becomes an unofficial mascot. "The older people been watching me so long, they don't even say 'Indian,'" Williams told the Washington Post. "They say, 'Injun. There's my Injun.'" He still goes to games in his regalia.
Syracuse University drops its Saltine Warrior mascot—a costumed undergrad—and iconography after Native American students call the character racist and degrading.
The Atlanta Braves retire "Chief Noc-A-Homa," a man in Native American dress who would emerge from a tepee in the left field bleachers to dance after a home run. Levi Walker, a member of the Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the last man to play Noc-A-Homa, said the Braves were "overly sensitive about being politically correct."
Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser writes that "it's only a matter of time until 'Redskins' is gone." He suggests the team change its name to the Pigskins. (In 2012, a Washington City Paperpoll asks readers to vote for a new team name; "Pigskins" wins with 50 percent of the vote.)
Marquette University and St. John's University both change their Native American mascots. Marquette's Warriors become the Golden Eagles; St. John's Redmen become the Red Storm.
The Redskins unveil a special mascot for the 1995 Pro Bowl. It is quickly retired.
The Miami (Ohio) University Redskins become the RedHawks.
The National Congress of American Indians commissions a poster featuring a Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo baseball cap alongside those from the (imaginary) New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen. The ad goes viral in 2013 when the [Redacted] controversy heats up again.
The University of Northern Colorado's satirically named Fighting Whites intramural basketball team uses $100,000 from merchandise sales to create a scholarship fund for minority students.
The NCAA grants Florida State University a waiver to continue using its Seminoles nickname and iconography largely due to support from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which maintains a friendly relationship with the university.
A leaked Atlanta Braves batting-practice cap features the decades-old "Screaming Savage" logo. After a public outcry, it never makes it to stores.
[Redacted] owner Dan Snyder tells USA Today that he'll never change his team's name: "NEVER—you can use caps." Ten members of Congress, including Native American Tom Cole (R-Okla.), sign a letter urging Snyder to drop the R-word: "Native Americans throughout the country consider the term 'redskin' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word.'" NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responds that the team's name is "a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect."
A resolution by the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes states that "the use of the term 'Redskins' as the name of a franchise is derogatory and racist" and that "the term perpetuates harmful stereotypes, even if it is not intentional, and continues the damaging practice of relegating Native people to the past and as a caricature."
Appearing on a DC sports radio program, Goodell says of the [Redacted] name, "If one person is offended, we have to listen."
Obama tells the Associated Press, "If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it." In a letter to season ticket holders, Snyder insists that the name "was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor." And, at the end of the month, the Oneida ask to meet with all 32 NFL owners during Super Bowl week:
ThinkProgress publishes an exhaustive account of the fight to rebrand the slur, revealing that the Washington team consulted with Republican advisers—including GOP messaging consultant Frank Luntz, former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer , and former Virginia governor and US Sen. George Allen—on how to handle criticism of the team's name. Then, during a pre-Super Bowl press conference, Goodell is asked if he would ever call a Native American the name of Washington's team. Goodell hedges, saying the name has been "presented in a way that honors Native Americans."
Meanwhile, the National Congress of American Indians releases this video the week of the big game:
In a letter to "Everyone in Our Redskins Nation," Snyder claims that, after visiting 26 tribal reservations in 20 states, "it's plain to see they need action, not words." So a change to the team's name is finally in order? Nope. Instead, Snyder announces the creation of Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose mission is "to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities." The letter touts a number of projects already completed, including distributing 3,000 cold-weather jackets to tribes during the bitter winter and purchasing a new backhoe for the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska. The team's name, however, will remain the same.
Read the full letter here:
The US Patent and Trademark Office canceled six Redskins trademarks, ruling that the name is "disparaging to Native Americans." (Federal law prohibits the protection of offensive and/or disparaging language.) The decision marked the second time that the team lost its trademark protections, though the first ruling, made in 1999, was overturned in federal court in 2003. The Redskins will certainly appeal the Patent Office's decision; during that time—which could last years—the team will retain its trademark protection.
Read the full ruling here, and be sure to check out some of the images presented as evidence by the plaintiffs, including this one: