Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton has no shame in asking our server about the tattoo peeking out from under her right armpit. We're at Magnolia Brewery, a pub in San Francisco with a soft glow and a hint of an edgy past. The petite, bespectacled waitress explains that the hen and chicks inked on her inner bicep come from a kid's book her grandma used to read to her at the childhood farm. After the server disappears to retrieve our fries, MacNaughton says: "If someone is choosing to permanently mark their body, there is a story behind it."
She should know. MacNaughton has spent much of the last two years on a new oral-history book, Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them, out October 7. The testimonies accompanying her expressive drawings serve as glimpses into the subjects' earlier selves—"my sister and I would race after bees in the lavender bushes and try to pet them without getting stung"—or mantras to live by—"a gray-blue stripe down my spine…symbolizes 'balance.'" Some insignias represent disturbing moments: incarceration or chemo or lost family members. Others are just goofy: A male comedian sports a cursive "Whoops" on his arm, and one woman inked a T. rex on her ribcage as a reminder "not to take myself too seriously."
The project was the brainchild of Isaac Fitzgerald, co-owner of literary website The Rumpus and the books editor at BuzzFeed. Past bartending gigs had taught Fitzgerald that quizzing fellow mixologists about their tattoos was an easy ice-breaker. As his interest in publishing took hold, he noticed that most books about tattoos merely relied on photographs, which, in terms of capturing the essence of a great tattoo, "leave a lot to be desired."
One day, Fitzgerald was having a drink with MacNaughton, whose playful renderings have adorned the pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, PRINT, and several books. "I said, 'Here's this really dumb idea!'" Fitzgerald recalls. "And I think she was like, 'That's not that dumb.'" So, in 2012, they launched a Tumblr called Pen and Ink, which pairs MacNaughton's tattoo portraits with the subjects' personal stories. Before long, their project had attracted 80,000 followers, including rock star fans such as Neko Case and Colin Meloy.
"Andrea de Francisco, Cafe Owner"
Drawing hadn't always come so easy for MacNaughton. After graduating from Pasadena's City Art Center College of Design in 1999, and making, in her words, "the worst conceptual art ever," she abandoned her pen in exasperation. Instead, she went to grad school for international social work, and spent several years working on political campaigns in East Africa.
The drawing bug bit again after she moved to the Bay Area and began sketching fellow commuters on the train to work. Something had shifted: "In art school it was all about expressing my analysis of the world, and my ideas." But now she wanted to use her talents to tell other people's stories. Her sketches of life in the city—street characters, found objects, or moments on a bus—became an online series for The Rumpus, culminating in a 2014 book, Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words.
"Anna Schoenberger, Manager at Thrift Store"
Interviewing diverse tribes for Meanwhile was a great warmup for Pen and Ink, MacNaughton tells me. Nowadays, it's impossible to predict who might have a tattoo: anyone from "people who work downtown in an office on a top floor in a suit to somebody who doesn't work who has tattoos all over his face," she says. She shoots me a sly look. "I get a possible tattoo vibe from you."
When I break the news that I'm actually not among the 23 percent of Americans who are inked, she counters, "You just don't have one yet." (I've recently become obsessed with FlashTats, those sparkly temporary tattoos designed to look like jewelry. Gateway drug?)
MacNaughton, who has wavy rust-colored hair and sparkly eyes, sports two tattoos herself—both equally embarrassing, she admits. She points to one on her forearm: a triangle connecting three circles meant to represent a philosophical "mirror theory." "There was a point when I would have removed this. But I'm really glad now that I didn't." Doing Pen and Ink, she says, "helped me embrace that attitude that this represents a time in my life when I was more sincere. That was a great time. And I am so glad it is not that time anymore."
MacNaughton and Fitzgerald are already busy with a sequel, Knives and Ink, an illustrated series of tattooed chefs and their tales. MacNaughton's not done inking herself, either. "My next tattoo," she confides, "is Grandma-related."
For the past two years, killing a wolf in Wyoming was pretty simple. In a trophy game area near the border of Yellowstone, licensed hunters were allowed to take a certain number of gray wolves. In the rest of the state, or about 80 percent of Wyoming's land, anyone could kill a limitless number of them on sight.
But that's about to change. A judge ruled Tuesday that the animals' delisting in 2012, which handed management of the species over to the Wyoming government, was "arbitrary and capricious," and that the state isn't ready to manage wolf populations on its own. The move has wolf activists breathing a sigh of relief; Wyoming's management plan, as Sierra Club's Bonnie Rice put it, could have potentially taken wolves "back to the brink of extinction." Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not challenge the previous finding that wolves had recovered and that the species "is not endangered or threatened within a significant portion of its range." But even so, her ruling means that Wyoming's wolves will again enjoy protections under the Endangered Species Act and can no longer be hunted—at least in the short term.
"The court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming's wolf management plan."
While as many as 2 million gray wolves once roamed North America, the carnivores were nearly wiped out by humans by the early 1900s. Roughly 5,500 remain today, though an uptick in laws permitting wolf hunting in states like Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, and Idaho all threaten to keep the animals scarce. Wyoming's hunting and "kill-on-sight" policies, for instance, meant 219 wolves were gunned down since 2012, according to Earthjustice.
In part because wolves were reintroduced in Wyoming, whether to kill or protect this predator remains a very polarizing issue in the state. Wolves kill farm animals and pets, pissing off ranchers and rural landowners alike and feeding into the attitude that the canids are just a deadly nuisance. A Facebook photo posted last year by hunting outfitters, for instance, shows a group of hunters posing with a dead wolf with blood covering its paws and mouth. The caption reads "Wyoming is FED up." Commenters responded with notes like "the only good Canadian gray wolf to me is a dead Canadian gray wolf" and "Keep on killing guys!"
But scientists and conservationists have fought hard to restore this species into the North American ecosystem. Studies have shown that wolves maintain balance in the environment: they prey on other large mammals like moose and elk, whose populations (and eating habits) can get out of control without a predator to keep them in check; their hunting helps feed scavengers like wolverines, bald eagles, and mountain lions; their predation can force elk to hang out in smaller groups, thereby reducing the spread of diseases; and they've even been found to be good for the soil.
By restoring protections to gray wolves, states Rice in a press release, "the court has rightly recognized the deep flaws in Wyoming's wolf management plan." She argues that the state needs to reevaluate how it treats the animal and develop "a science-based management plan that recognizes the many benefits wolves bring to the region."
The conservation groups that sued after the wolves were delisted in 2012 include Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Though yesterday's news comes as a victory to these groups, a bigger hurdle lies ahead: The US Fish and Wildlife has proposed to remove the gray wolf from the federal Endangered Species list altogether based on the animals' perceived recovery. A final decision is expected later this year.
Summer's pulling to a close, but perk up. Here are videos of five refreshing female vocalists whose smart and uncompromising performances have dazzled me recently:
1. Frazey Ford
Fans of the quirky alt-folk band the Be Good Tanyas—of which Frazey Ford is a founding member—won't be disappointed with this sneak-peek single off Ford's upcoming solo album, Indian Ocean, out in mid-October. With subtle vibrato and pulsing emotion, Ford's velvety vocals take center stage in "September Fields." While Ford's a country-folk singer at heart, the electric organ in the track transforms her normally aching lullaby into something funkier and full of sunshine. As I listened, I kept picturing late summer drives through peaceful farm towns, passing barns with their paint peeling, peach stands framed by dry corn stalks, little girls in their Sunday best giggling on the steps of a small church. "Are you holding, holding on so tight?" Ford croons. Yes—to the edge of my seat in anticipation for her album to land.
2. Diana Gameros
One evening in July, Mexican singer Diana Gameros boarded the historic Balclutha, a tall ship parked in the San Francisco Bay. Under violet lights in the main cabin, alongside a handful of other masterful Latin American musicians, she delivered "Canciones Del Mar (Songs of the Sea)." The group performed ocean homages plucked from all over the continent, from fishing ditties to a silly tune about an octopus to a tribute to the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, who is said to have ended her own life by wading into the sea.
Gameros also performed her original, "Soy Tu Mar," and released this humble video a month later. The waves washing through the ballad offer the singer an ethereal alternative rhythm, and pair well with her bright nylon-stringed Takamine guitar with a sound reminiscent of a mariachi. Gameros grew up bouncing between her hometown of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and Holland, Michigan, where she learned English and studied music. She now resides in the Bay Area and plays regularly at a tamale parlor in San Francisco's Mission District. Her delicate first album, Eterno Retorno, showcases Gameros' bilingual songwriting and jazzy voice. Like "Soy Tu Mar," it's at once full of yearning and serenity. Don't miss the improvised bonus song in the tunnel at the end of the video.
3. Sevyn Streeter
Ignore the nails and revel in this diva's silky and powerful voice. It baffles me that the guys lifting weights in the righthand corner of this scren were able to hold it together while Streeter just kills it.
With roots in church gospel music, Streeter started winning talent competitions at a young age, but her cousin had to convince her to upload her music to MySpace. It soon caught the eye of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez's producer Rich Harrison, who asked Streeter to join RichGirl, a new pop group he was forming. The band never really took off, but Streeter continued to write songs, and six of the tracks she helped pen made it onto Chris Brown's Grammy-winning album F.A.M.E.
Now, with an EP to her name, Streeter is working on a debut album. The singles out so far are gussied up with plenty of electronic beats and echo-y harmonies. But after seeing this video, I hope she releases more stripped-down acoustic tracks that allow her pure voice full reign.
4. FKA Twigs
Move over Gaga: FKA Twigs has arrived. This satisfyingly weird artist struts her sultry vocals and mesmerizing poise in the video version of "Two Weeks." This year saw the London-based Twigs, a former backup dancer, move into the spotlight with her album LP1. Hipster music blog Pitchforkraves about its "eerie, post-humanist, Uncanny Valley-girl aesthetic." Indeed, Twigs plays a doll in many of the surreal videos off this album—in "Water Me," her head bobs from side to side and her eyes are unnaturally large.
In the video above, she's an unapproachable empress. But amid all this cold posturing, her voice is piercingly intimate. And her command of her space and skilled restraint suggest that this 26-year-old half-Jamaican artist is only getting started.
5. Irene Diaz
Okay, this video's not brand new. But Irene Diaz is probably new to most of you. I just stumbled on her recently (h/t NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts), and I'm hooked on this playful song with its driving piano and flirtatious glances.
Based in Los Angeles, the soulful Diaz is just breaking into the national scene, playing at 2014's SXSW and opening for Lila Downs' on her current tour. Diaz seems like she'd be a ton of fun live—but here's hoping she pauses from touring long enough to complete her first full-length album soon. As one blogger pointed out, Diaz sounds a bit like Fiona Apple, but her songs aren't quite so morose. They're muscular and catchy, with a hint of vintage spunk.
Little kids, including a troubling number of children age five or younger, make up the fastest-growing group of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the US border in fiscal year 2014. So far this year, nearly 7,500 kids under 13 have been caught without a legal guardian—and 785 of them were younger than six.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
It's still mostly teens who travel solo to the United States from countries like El Salvador and Honduras, as the Pew Research Center revealed today in a new analysis of US Customs and Border Protection data. But compared to 2013, Border Patrol apprehensions of kids 12 or younger already have increased 117 percent, while those of teens have jumped only 12 percent. Apprehensions of the youngest group of kids, those under six, have nearly tripled.
These new stats reveal a trend made all the more startling as details of the journey continue to emerge. In his feature story about this influx of child migrants, for instance, MoJo's Ian Gordon tells of Adrián, a Guatemalan kid who dodged attackers armed with machetes, walked barefoot for miles through Mexico, and resorted to prostitution to reach sanctuary in America. And Adrián was 17. For the increasing number of kids under 13 making this harrowing trek without parents, the vulnerability to exploitation is only magnified, the potential for trauma and even death only amplified.
That so many young kids feel compelled to leave home, or that their parents feel compelled to send them, sends a grim message about the state of their home countries. As El Salvadoran newspaper editor Carlos Dada told On the Media's Bob Garfield last week, quoting a Mexican priest who runs a shelter in Oaxaca, Mexico: "If these migrants are willing to take this road, knowing everything they are risking, even their lives, I don't even want to imagine what they are running away from."
Here's another Pew age breakdown, this time by country of origin:
Guatemalan migrant Gladys Chinoy, 14, waits with more than 500 other migrants alongside a freight train in Chiapas, Mexico.
Ever since unaccompanied child migrants became a national news story six weeks ago, many people have started asking: Is this an immigration crisis, or is it a refugee crisis? In response, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said last week it wants to designate many of the Central Americans fleeing regional violence and gang extortion as refugees.
The announcement comes amid mounting evidence of the horrific conditions causing so many people to flee Honduras, El Salvador, and parts of Guatemala: kids escaping rape, gang recruitment, and murder all around them, as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario detailed in a chilling op-ed in last Sunday's New York Times. With this new designation, the UNHCR hopes to pressure the United States to give more immigrants, including many of the 70,000-plus unaccompanied minors likely to arrive at the US border this year, political asylum.
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
But if the UNHCR were to make such a move, it still would have no legal significance for the United States. So is it really that important? Yes and no, says Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights at the Women's Refugee Commission. Brané and I talked about what a "refugee" designation could mean, and other ways the US can help ease the pain for immigrants—particularly those who've experienced targeted violence.
Here are nine key takeaways from our conversation:
1. Casting this as a "refugee situation" isn't necessarily the important part.
"This population contains within it many children and mothers and parents bringing their children who qualify for refugee protection or for protection under international law. Whether you formally call it a 'refugee situation'—that to me is less relevant than acknowledging that this is a population that is being driven out of their country. And their government is not willing or able to protect them."
"Fifty-eight percent of the kids said, 'I received a death threat'."
2. It's not just general violence and unrest that's causing people to flee Central America and Mexico.
"It's true that general conditions of war or of danger are not sufficient to qualify for asylum. But the UN agency of refugees, in interviewing 400 of these children, for over an hour each, they found that 58 percent expressed a targeted fear. Not just, 'I was scared because my neighborhood was dangerous.' Fifty-eight percent of the kids said, 'I received a death threat.' Or, 'I had a body cut up in a plastic bag left on my doorstep as a warning.' One hundred percent come from a dangerous place. That we know. But 58 percent were targeted. That's the piece that people are not getting."
3. Using gang violence as grounds for international protection is not a novel idea.
"The UN committee for refugees has recognized for many years now that gang violence absolutely qualifies, depending on the circumstances, as persecution and as qualifying for status under the refugee commission. And the US has granted many claims. People talk about this being difficult to do. It is difficult, especially if you don't have an attorney. But children with attorneys requesting asylum are winning those cases. It's absolutely a grounds that has been accepted in the US. It's not something revolutionary."
4. Yes, this is a crisis—but we shouldn't throw our hands up.
"The numbers are small if you compare them to refugee situations worldwide. Like look at Syria. There's over a million Syrian refugees in Turkey. There's over 2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan. Those countries are tiny compared to the US, and the numbers are much bigger. It's absolutely our responsibility as the United States to manage this and handle it in a way that does not roll back protections. We have been the ones to stand up there and say to Turkey:' You've got to take these refugees'. For us to say, because of this small number, 'Oh, maybe we'll reconsider,' is crazy. It's absolutely manageable."
5. Very few migrants are faking persecution in order to get to stay in the United States.
"The US has excellent asylum screening procedures. The problem is, you need to beef up the system in order to accommodate these numbers. But that's something we need to do anyway. I know there's been a lot of allegations and concern that it's a system that can easily be gamed, and you can fake it—but it actually it's quite a rigorous process. There's several screening hurdles you have to get over, and then you have to go in front of a judge, and then there's security clearance."
6. And many of them migrate for multiple reasons.
"When people say they have family here, yes, that's true. But that's not what made them come entirely. Why are they coming now? A smuggler offered them passage to the US. Is the smuggler the reason you left? Part of it. But really, the reason you were looking for a way to come, again, goes back to the violence. Poverty, also. The majority of the kids coming also are experiencing poverty in their home country. Is that the main reason? Maybe, maybe not. It's combined.
"One interesting Vanderbilt study found that people who'd been victim of a crime were more likely to migrate than those who had not. It also found that people who feel their government is not responsive to their needs were much more likely to migrate than someone who's government didn't protect them. When you combine those two factors—both been a victim of a crime and felt their government couldn't protect them—they're exponentially more likely to migrate. It's always a combination of factors."
7. Requiring international protection, or refugee designation, for more migrants is the right start—but the US can't solve this crisis alone.
"Mexico also has to acknowledge that many of these children need protection. Mexico also has very good asylum laws on the books. What they don't have is the resources and the infrastructure to support implementing those policies. Frankly, I think one of the things the US should be doing, and could do if they talk about this in the context of a refugee crisis, is to provide support regionally, not just to Mexico but also to Belize, to Costa Rica, to Panama, all of the countries that are also seeing influxes of these children. Provide them with the support to implement their protection policies consistent with international law. And not all of these kids have to come to the US, right? The burden can sort of be shared in the region."
8. We don't have to wait to act until migrants get to our borders—we could process them before they leave their country.
"We've done that before: with the Vietnamese in the past, with Haitians, and with Cubans. The first thing that needs to happen is you have to set up what the criteria are going to be; who qualifies to be sort of preprocessed. You could limit it to kids with strong family connection to the US, who have been targeted and pass some sort of criteria. It can be done administratively. You do not need legislation to do that. And in doing it you basically cut out the smugglers. If you process the kids internally, they can get on a plane for $300 and fly over here—they don't have to pay $3,000 to a criminal organization. It really undercuts the smugglers and trafficking operation in a huge way.
"If you process the kids [in their own country], they can get on a plane for $300 and fly over here—they don't have to pay $3,000 to a criminal organization."
"If children see there's a legal way that's safer to come—without taking this horrible journey—maybe they'll wait a little bit. And at the same time, you're building up the child welfare system and funding safehouses and anti-corruption campaigns. Maybe they'll see things get a little bit better; I can wait, I don't have to leave today. You slow the flow at that end. Not just by deporting people summarily, without a hearing. If you do that, and that's all you do, they're going to turn right around and come back."
9. Even if Obama's request for emergency supplemental funding to deal with this crisis isn't perfect, it's better than nothing.
"While we may not agree with all the details of where some of the money is going to—it's sort of heavy on enforcement, in my view—there's no question that they desperately need this money in order to be able manage the situation and get a handle on it. Frankly, it needs to go through. Blocking it will make the situation worse. They won't have any place to hold these kids while they process them, they won't have money to process them and deport them, and they won't have money to put them on planes and send them back. So it's crazy that there's discussion about blocking it."
UPDATE, 7/24/14: The Obama administration is considering a plan to screen Hondurans under the age of 21 in their home country to see if they qualify for asylum in the United States, the New York Times reports. As Michelle Brané points out in the interview above, this would allow the kids to apply for protection without making the dangerous crossing through Mexico or supporting human traffickers. If successful, the pilot program might also be adopted in El Salvador and Guatemala. That the administration is discussing such a measure helps legitimize that the Central American children migrating en masse are fleeing threats of imminent danger. According to an early draft proposal, 35 to 50 percent of Honduran applicants could be considered for asylum.