Four uniformed agents bashed down Tony Choi's dorm room door. He started awake as they stormed in. Four unfamiliar figures surrounded him. He was
confused. But there was no time to react. They yanked him out of bed. He was still in his pajamas. He screamed as they dragged him away.
Then, they vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
It took a minute for reality to sink in: this was the same nightmare he'd been having ever since the fall semester began.
It was 2008 - Choi's sophomore year at Berea College, in Kentucky, where he majored in political science and Spanish - when everything went awry.
The country was in the midst of an economic crisis. Choi's college, facing a shortage of funds, was forced to cut his scholarship stipend. At the same
time, his mother in New Jersey had just been diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer and had stopped working. His education prospects seemed dire, and he
felt powerless. Worse, Choi was an undocumented immigrant..
The stress built up on Choi. He grew paranoid and insecure. He constantly imagined that government agents were out to arrest him.
"I was isolated and 700 miles away from home. My family couldn't help me. I was very, very afraid," he said. "I just kept having panic attacks. I would
freak out that someone would find out (about my immigration status). I think that's what started the nightmares."
Choi continued to have similar dreams at least once a week throughout fall. They'd become so recurrent that he was convinced they would become reality.
"I read stories online about immigrant families being detained or whatever, so I was like, I need to prepare to get the hell out of here," he said.
With that, Choi plotted his grand escape, to be triggered if anyone at Berea should learn of his status. He planned to escape, by foot, 120 miles from
Berea, KY, over the state border to Cincinnati, OH.
"I went down to Walmart and bought a first-aid kit and a blanket," he described. "I printed Google maps. They're about this thick," his thumb and index
finger measured a quarter-inch. "I couldn't walk on the Interstate (highway), so I wanted to know which back roads I could take to Cincinnati."
Choi's ready-to-go escape toolkit, that would let him flee the state between the moment when an acquaintance realized he was undocumented and moment when
the authorities would actually show up at his door, included flashlights and extra batteries, a change of clothes, and water. He also packed $100 in
"I'd camp out in the wilderness. That's why I would have blankets. I would be sleeping out in the open," he said. "I mean, I was paranoid."
"At Cincinnati, I'll catch the train to New York," he figured, "and then from there back home to New Jersey," he said.
* * *
I met Choi five years later at his office at the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, Queens. He commutes two hours daily by bus and train to
and from Little Ferry, New Jersey.
Once a predominantly white neighborhood, Flushing has undergone major demographic change since the 1970s, when first the Taiwanese, then the Koreans, and
the mainland Chinese surged in.
Today, Flushing is one of the largest Asian enclaves in New York City. Shop signs and advertisement boards along Main Street, Flushing's central drag, are
mostly printed in Chinese.
The people flooding the narrow sidewalks of Main Street are largely topped by black hair. They jostle for space among the merchants peddling goods like
fruits and vegetables, Chinese herbs, two-dollar pirated DVDs, made-in-China phone accessories, and leather shoes that spill out onto the sidewalks. The
conversations overheard are usually conducted in Mandarin or the Wenzhou and Fuzhou dialects. Many residents, especially older ones, don't speak English.
The air, someone told me, smells like China, the sour, fishy odor of wet food, markets, garbage and grease blended together.
An undocumented Asian person can easily blend in in this busy neighbordhood. Marilyn Bitterman, the district manager of Queens Community Board 7, estimates
that around 40,000 undocumented people live in her district, which includes downtown Flushing. In total, 11.1 million undocumented immigrants were residing
in the United States in 2011, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in a latest report. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Ohio, the
seventh-most populous state in the U.S.
Choi suggested taking breakfast at the McDonald's on Main Street, next to a Chinese herbal pharmacy. Choi's hair was cropped atop his round face like Bart
Simpson. His blue T-shirt was left tucked out over a pair of jeans.
Pop hits from the American charts greeted us as we stepped in. I reminded him over the loud music that he'd be talking about his illegal immigrant status
at a public place. He shrugged. There's not a white person in the restaurant.
Choi, 24, was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, his family's lumber company went bust, forcing them to
declare bankruptcy. Their home was foreclosed by the bank.
"I remember coming home one day from school and seeing all of the things in my house having pink stickers on them. All of our appliances and furniture," he
recalled. "I was like, why are they on my bed, on my desk, and everything. I didn't know what they meant. I asked, but my mum didn't give me an answer. My
family doesn't like to explain things to me." It was only when he grew older that Choi realized that the bank was auctioning those items off.
"Whenever people would call for my father, I would always have to tell them that they'd called the wrong number. He was trying to avoid the debtors," Choi
continued in a flat American accent. At that time, Choi received two to three of these calls each day.
His family moved in with his paternal grandmother a few weeks after, but they couldn't bring anything with them.
Social stigma was associated with bankruptcies in South Korea. Choi's paternal relatives refused to help his father, despite being wealthy landowners
"We couldn't see any avenue of social advancement in Korea. So we moved to Hawaii when I was 9, and lived there for a year before we moved again to New
He paused. I waited a while as he took a bite on his McMuffin. The four elementary school-aged Hispanic kids at the adjacent table climbed up and down
their chairs and raced around in a game of tag.
"We didn't plan on being undocumented for 14 years," Choi finally continued. "We entered using the tourist visa, with the intention of adjusting our
status. But the opportunity just never came. None of my parents' employers could sponsor their work permits which would have set them on the path to a
"I was angry with my mum for not being able to provide for me what my US citizen friends had," Choi added. "It was only when I was in college that I
realized it's not entirely her fault, and that the system's so broken it's forced us to become undocumented."
"I've always known that I'm undocumented. I've known it since the day my B-2 visa expired," he said, referring to the tourist visa for temporary entry (not
more than six months) into the U.S.
He was, however, forbidden by his family from revealing this secret to anyone outside. The horror of being sent back to South Korea was deeply ingrained in
him from young.
A pair of South Korean brothers who went to Choi's church in New Jersey received deportation orders after their identities were exposed, though Choi was
unsure who gave them away. Rumors rippled through the small and isolated Korean community in New Jersey about the hideous conditions of immigration
detention centers. "Sometimes they drug you going onto the plane," Choi said he had heard.
A report released last November by Detention Watch Network, a national coalition working for the reform of the U.S. deportation system, lists the Hudson
County Jail in New Jersey as one of the ten worst detention centers in the country. People reported waiting up to months for medical care. They complained
about inedible food, the use of solitary confinement as punishment, and denied access to legal assistance. The brothers bought their own tickets back to
South Korea after they completed college, in order to avoid being deported by the government.
"My parents, my sister, they told me, 'Don't ever tell anyone about your immigration status,'" he said. "And whenever I would bring the topic up, they
would be like, 'Do you really want the police knocking down our doors?'"
"It's scary, knowing it's a secret you always have to hold, that you always have to fear."
* * *
Asian undocumented immigrants have traditionally been less visible and vocal than their Hispanic counterparts. Most of the undocumented immigrants who have
gone public in the media about their status are Hispanic. In contrast, one rarely sees Asians talking about the issue on television.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
The insects are miniature transformers that can compress to half their size and still run really fast. The creepy little buggers might even inspire a new generation of search and rescue robots.
Cockroaches get everywhere. There they are, somehow, against all odds, in that room that looked to be totally sealed from the outside world, in that cupboard you swore was tightly shut. Now, Kaushik Jayaram and Robert Full from the University of California, Berkeley have discovered the secret behind their feats of infiltration.
By confronting American cockroaches with an ever-narrower series of crevices, the duo found that although this insect typically stands 12 millimeters tall, it can squeeze through gaps of 3 millimeters—the height of two stacked U.S. pennies. It does this by squatting down and then compressing its body by half. It is the world’s worst Transformer: instantly changing shape from a cockroach into a much flatter cockroach. Delightful.
Will the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who hasn’t been a member of their party, and who has long denounced it?
When a party chooses its presidential candidate, it also chooses its party leader in the election. This year the Democrats face an unusual situation. Bernie Sanders isn’t just an outsider to the party establishment; he’s not even been a member of the party, and has long excoriated it in unsparing language. Although the media haven’t much focused on this history, the early signs suggest it could become a problem for Sanders in getting the nomination—and a problem for the party if he does get it.
According to the entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses, there was a 30-percentage-point split between self-identified Democrats and independents in their support for Sanders. Hillary Clinton won 56 percent of self-identified Democrats but only 26 percent of independents, while Sanders won only 39 percent of Democrats but 69 percent of independents.
For decades the Man of Steel has failed to find his groove, thanks to a continual misunderstanding of his strengths.
Superman should be invincible. Since his car-smashing debut in 1938, he’s starred in at least one regular monthly comic, three blockbuster films, and four television shows. His crest is recognized across the globe, his supporting cast is legendary, and anybody even vaguely familiar with comics can recount the broad strokes of his origin. (The writer Grant Morrison accomplished it in eight words: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”) He’s the first of the superheroes, a genre that’s grown into a modern mass-media juggernaut.
And yet, for a character who gains his power from the light of the sun, Superman is curiously eclipsed by other heroes. According to numbers provided by Diamond Distributors, the long-running Superman comic sold only 55,000 copies a month in 2015, down from around 70,000 in 2010—a mediocre showing even for the famously anemic comic-book market. That’s significantly less than his colleague Batman, who last year moved issues at a comparatively brisk 150,000 a month. Mass media hasn’t been much kinder: The longest-running Superman television show, 2001’s Smallville, kept him out of his iconic suit for a decade. Superman Returns recouped its budget at the box office, but proved mostly forgettable.2013’s Man of Steel drew sharp criticism from critics and audiences alike for its bleak tone and rampaging finale. Trailers for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, have shifted the focus (and top billing) to the Dark Knight. Worst of all, conventional wisdom puts the blame on Superman himself. He’s boring, people say; he’s unrelatable, nothing like the Marvel characters dominating the sales charts and the box office. More than anything, he seems embarrassing. Look at him. Truth? Justice? He wears his underwear on the outside.
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
A photo series reveals what expectant mothers in various countries bring with them to the hospital.
For most expecting mothers in the Western world, a hospital bag is something that makes the birthing process marginally more comfortable. You’ve just brought a new being into the world; you deserve to wear your own sweatpants.
But in some parts of the world, hospitals are so bare-bones that women in labor must tote everything with them, from rubber gloves to water pans to gauze.
To draw attention to the difficulty of giving birth in regions where water is scarce, the organization WaterAid recently dispatched photographers to ask expecting and brand-new moms in various countries to open up their hospital bags. Here are their photos, as well as lightly edited interviews with the moms conducted by WaterAid.
The former president’s heated assault on Bernie Sanders is a reminder of how the Clintons have long reacted to any opposition.
One of my oldest Hillary Clinton memories: Twenty-six years ago, I stood in the second-floor rotunda of the Arkansas Capitol half-listening to a news conference by Tom McRae, an earnest Democrat challenging Governor Bill Clinton for re-election. Then I heard it: Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.
The sound of Hillary Clinton’s low-heeled shoes on a hidden marble hallway jarred McRae, who in 1990 was Bill Clinton’s biggest obstacle to a fifth term and a presidential bid two years later. The first lady of Arkansas rounded the corner and stormed his news conference. “Tom!” she shouted. “I think we oughta get the record straight!”
Waving a sheaf of papers, Hillary Clinton undercut McRae’s criticism of her husband’s record by pointing to McRae’s past praise of the governor. It was a brutal sandbagging. “Many of the reports you issued not only praise the governor on his environmental record,” she said, “but his education and his economic record!”
Tracking them down is a globe-trotting adventure that rivals any jungle expedition.
In the darkness of the Akeley Hall of Mammals, swarms of kids gawk at beautifully staged dioramas of Africa’s wildlife. The stuffed safari, nestled in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, includes taxidermied leopards stalking a bush pig, preserved ostriches strutting in front of warthogs, and long-dead baboons cautiously considering a viper. In one corner, in a display marked “Upper Nile Region,” a lone hippo grazes next to a herd of lechwe, roan antelope, and a comically stern shoebill stork.
“This is my favorite one,” says Evon Hekkala, pointing to the display. “There’s a taxidermied crocodile tucked away down there.”
It takes a while to spot it and I have to crane my head to do so, but yes, there it is—a large crocodile, in the back, mouth agape, next to the hippo. It’s mostly hidden from view, and until recently, it was hidden from science, too.
Immediately, the pings from fellow journalists (and media-adjacent folk) came pouring in, all saying something along the lines of, “Can you actually let me know what you find out? I’m addicted to that stuff.”
They mean “addicted” in the jokey, dark-chocolate-and-Netflix-streaming way, but the habit can border on pathological. For me, rock bottom was a recent, obscenely long workday during which an entire 12-pack of coconut La Croix somehow made it down my throat, can by shining can.