Border patrol
This article really floored me. The Mexican government has published a guide to how to sneak across the border into the United States. It is entitled “Guide for the Mexican Migrant.” Naturally, there are Americans who are pissed about this, with some reason. But according to the NYT, the Mexican government says it is just responding to realities, which I also think is justified.* Quite frankly I’m amazed that the Mexican government saw fit to do this at all; they must know it will set off a firestorm of protests in this country, not least among politicians. But what interested me most about this article is that the reporters actually took to the streets of LA (okay, to Sunset) to ask some illegal migrants themselves what they thought of the pamphlet.

Many illegal immigrants living in Los Angeles said they had heard about the booklet, but few had actually seen it. A group of Latino men waiting for work outside the Home Depot superstore on Sunset Boulevard were offered copies of the booklet by a reporter. They freely admitted that they were in the United States illegally. That said, the men flipped through the booklet for a few minutes before dismissing the effort of the Mexican government.

“Useless,” said Jorge Castillo, 30, a Guatemalan who has made the desert trek seven times in seven years.

“Trash,” said Efraín Travolia, 35, a Mexican who speaks a little English.

The men then go on to give their own bits of wisdom about how to make the crossing. This is some incredible, rich information. Maybe it’s old hat to some immigrant communities, or to people who study border life or politics, but it really astonished me:

If immigration authorities chase you, count your steps. If you forget the number, you cannot retrace the route to the spot where the group split. Then the migrant may become disoriented and alone. “These are the people who die,” Mr. Castillo said.

Go read the article. It’s not too long and it’s fascinating–and disturbing. How often do we forget what we have here, just going about our lives here in the US? We whine and rail and complain about the state of this country, the state of our lives, forgetting the struggles so many people go through, maybe even the struggles our parents went through, to get this kind of life.

Renewing a commitment
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and after talking to my cohort today and my professor I’ve come to two conclusions that will hopefully lead me to working harder and becoming a more diligent grad student.

First, part of why I’ve been so apathetic lately has been that I’m increasingly convinced that I shouldn’t be in grad school right now. I just think I should have taken some time off after college, or even gotten a masters’ degree instead, something to give me some added experience and focus. I may be deluding myself; it may not be true at all, but that’s what I’ve been thinking lately. That said, though, I’ve already learned a lot and put down some real roots here, and I love my cohort. So I’m not leaving the program anytime soon. With that in mind, I should stop thinking “I don’t belong here” and start thinking “I’m here, better make the best of it.”

Second, I’m not an undergrad anymore. I should stop acting like I am one. Last quarter was good, but somehow winter break erased that, and I’ve been behaving this quarter as if I’m still in college: procrastinating, going whole days without studying, approaching my classes week by week instead of preparing for the future.

It’s a sorry commentary on my work ethic and my outlook, I think, that it has taken me half the quarter to figure out what I should have known going into the program. But as Mommy says, I’m smart and I can keep up, so hopefully the rest of this quarter will go brilliantly and end on a high note now that I’ve reaffirmed to myself my place in grad school. And as I always say, just articulating these thoughts makes me feel so much better and so much more capable, and I’m sure now I’ll be able to work hard and everything will go well. I did it last quarter and I know I can do it again.

Oh, and on a more personal level, writing and completing my short story has really made me hyper-aware of many of my faults and bad habits, since a lot of my main character is based on me. I’ve been pleasantly shocked by this outcome; I had no idea that trying to figure out what made my character tick would have so many ramifications for my own life and behavior. I know this means nothing to you now since you haven’t read my story, but I will upload it on Thursday, I promise! Or, if enough people comment and ask to see it, I’ll upload it now but you have to swear not to give me any feedback until after six pm PST Thursday, when writing class will be over and I’ll know what my classmates thought of it.

*Within limits, I believe strongly that our actions should respond to realities and not just our values. Especially when current circumstances go against what we believe to be ideal, we should search for new ways to enforce our values even while we take steps to deal with things as they are. This is why I have such a big problem with the Bush administration’s emphasis on abstinence-only sex education in schools. I do think plenty of young people are having sex when they shouldn’t be, but I also know for certain–as a historian as well as just a plain, normal human being–that people always have and always will do this particular deed under inappropriate circumstances. Multiple times. And with multiple partners. Therefore I think it’s stupidly optimistic to preach only abstinence when there’s no escaping the fact that a lot of these kids are going to have sex anyway; teach them it’s best to abstain, certainly, but don’t by omitting safe-sex lessons leave them powerless to defend themselves when they do transgress. (Using sonograms to deter women from having abortions is something else entirely–don’t get me started on this.)

Wow, this is so interesting I just had to add it. Some forensic scientists are starting to talk about using the word “evil” to describe some of society’s most vicious criminals.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]