I’m a big baseball fan, one of my proudest accomplishments is spotting future stars early. 2 guys, my circle of baseball communicants could tell you, I spotted early were the Nationals great young third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose excellence in all phases of the game is being more and more widely recognized. The other guy is the Astros’ George Skinner. Nobody who watched the World Series or the playoffs that preceded it need hear anything more.
I first became acquainted with Lauren Markham through TheFern.org, a blogsite of Ag-Insider, a website devoted to issues in American Agriculture. She had written a short report on how the election of Donald Trump had intensified fears among undocumented farm workers in the Central Valley of California.
Then Dr. Google directed me to a piece Lauren had written for Huffington Post about how coffee rust was ruining lives in rural Guatemala.
Both pieces struck me strongly as “my kind of journalism.” By that I mean, they start with an important news development, like, there’s a “Great Fear” in the heart of America’s fruit and vegetable industry, or there’s new evidence of climate-driven changes in an important coffee country, and then they tell the story through close observation of what this news means to the everyday lives of ordinary people.
Now, in her new book The Far Away Brothers, Lauren Markham has reported magnificently on the big story of unaccompanied minor immigrants being detained by the Border Patrol shortly after they crossed into the United States — children, as Lauren puts it, “without papers or parents.”
That big story was “made real” by Lauren through the lives of 2 of those children, identical twins whom she calls Ernesto and Raul Flores (concealing their identities for obvious reasons). She met the twins at her day job. Lauren is a family service co-ordinator at Oakland International High School.
She was able give the boys a world of help at school and in finding them a lawyer who succeeded in getting them Green Cards. They gave her their trust, sharing with her a story of remarkable drama, with at least as many painful and frightening downs as rewarding ups. They also introduced her to their family…their older brother in Oakland, their parents and siblings in El Salvador.
This family story is powerful because it is so powerfully observed and so knowledgably placed in the context of the Big Story – the surge in minor kid border-crossers and how they live once they are in the United States.
The book got a rave review in the NY Times Book Review and was featured as a recommended book in the daily paper’s round-up for readers.
The Times has also published a fine op-ed by Lauren on President Trump’s campaign to kill the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a bit of typical Trumpian malignity that would severely hurt Oakland International HS. But also, Lauren continues to expand the sights or her reporting, writing recently for PlaceJournal.org about the California wildfires…the whole policy complex involving re-building, but told through the lives of people who returned home after the 2015 Valley Fire and people still burned out by the wine country fires of 2017.
Lauren was still working on The Far Away Brothers when I invited her to be a guest on HERE & THERE in May to talk about the fears President Trump had set loose in the Central Valley. It was a very interesting show, because it’s message was that fears were paralyzing the lives of undocumented families, local small business was hurting because people were staying home, afraid to be seen on the shopping streets of Merced or Madera or Fresno. Fear of exposure on official documents was keeping people from re-insuring their cars. And, of the widest consequence to our audience outside California, they weren’t going to work in the fields.
But….and this is where the show broke ground….the Great Fear in the Central Valley was unfounded. ICE raids were hitting California hard. People were being arrested at their workplaces, or in courthouses, if they had a legal obligation, or in front of their kids’ school when they went to pick them up or drop them off. But that was all in Southern California…around Los Angeles, in particular.
But in the Central Valley? Nope. Hardly a raid anywhere. And when Lauren wrote about the subject in June for California Story, the story held up, as it did in September when I did a Google search for reports of raids or arrests. Looks like the Trump-Ag-Industry connection paid off for some people.
Lauren Markham writes, I am a writer and reporter based in Northern California. I write fiction, essays and journalism – mostly about migration, youth and the environment, though about other things, too.
I am the author of The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, published in September 2017 by Crown. My essays and journalism have appeared in outlets such as VQR (where I am a Contributing Editor), The New Yorker.com, The Guardian, The New Republic, Guernica, VICE Magazine, Orion, California Sunday, The Utne Reader, Pacific Standard, and on This American Life.
A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in fiction writing program, I have the great fortune of having been awarded fellowships from the Mesa Refuge, the UC Berkeley 11th Hour Food & Farming Journalism Fellowship, The French American Foundation, The Rotary Foundation, and the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism. In addition to writing, I work at a high school for immigrant youth in the Bay Area.