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.
Some researchers believe that the microbiome may play a role in regulating how people think and feel.
By now, the idea that gut bacteria affects a person’s health is not revolutionary. Many people know that these microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. The trend has become almost commonplace: New books appear regularly detailing precisely which diet will lead to optimum bacterial health.
But these microbes’ reach may extend much further, into the human brains. A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system.
It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”
Just why was Tom Hanks dancing in a black-and-orange suit on Saturday Night Live so funny?
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live offered a mini masterpiece: a gloriously silly Halloween-themed piece revolving around a “Haunted Elevator” ride and its unusual star attraction. Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon played a couple looking for spooky thrills who instead found something far more bewildering: a pumpkin-suited man who would randomly appear alongside two cheerful skeletons and perform a dance routine. “Who are you?” asked a frustrated Bennett after the man (played by Tom Hanks) appeared for the second time. “I’m David Pumpkins!” came the reply.
McKinnon followed up: “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is … ?”
Tom Hanks’s Doug has a lot in common with “Black Jeopardy” contestants—except, of course, for politics.
SNL’s ongoing “Black Jeopardy” series has been, in part, about divisions. In each edition, black American contestants answer Kenan Thompson’s clues with in-jokes, slang, and their shared opinions while an outsider—say, Elizabeth Banks as the living incarnation of Becky, Louis C.K. as a BYU African American Studies professor, or Drake as a black Canadian—just show their cluelessness.
When Tom Hanks showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat and bald-eagle shirt to play the contestant “Doug” this weekend, it seemed like the set-up for the ugliest culture clash yet. The 2016 election has been a reminder of the country’s profound racial fault lines, and SNL hasn’t exactly been forgiving toward the Republican nominee on that front: Its version of Trump hasn’t been able to tell black people apart, and it aired a mock ad painting his supporters as white supremacists—which, inarguably, some of them really are.
Why cultures that value interdependence, like Japan, win at being deep
Think of the last piece of big news you got. How did you feel about it? Happy? Sad? Angry? Worried? Excited? Grateful? A little bit of all of the above? Experiencing multiple emotions at once may make it seem like you don’t actually know just how you feel about something—that you’re ambivalent, or indecisive, or wishy-washy. Psychologists would say it just means you’re emotionally complex. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, emotional complexity varies a lot between countries.
There are two definitions of emotional complexity that researchers tend to use. One is called “emotional dialecticism,” which just means feeling positive and negative emotions at the same time. The other is “emotional differentiation,” which is when someone is able to separate out and describe the discrete emotions they’re feeling.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Trump supporters are convinced Democrats are using “oversampling” to stuff the polls in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they’re just wrong about statistics.
Late last night, pro-Trump Twitter lit up with excited chatter. Donald Trump is falling fast in the polls, sliding through a month-long decline most statisticians would say is a result of him being, you know, unpopular. (And maybe this. Or this. Or this.) But one blogger had another theory: Polling organizations are deliberately interviewing more Democrats to skew the surveys toward Hillary Clinton.
This afternoon, Trump threw his support behind the idea. “When the polls are even, when they leave them alone and do them properly, I’m leading,” he said at a rally in Florida. “But you see these polls where they’re polling Democrats. How’s Trump doing? Oh, he’s down. They’re polling Democrats. The system is corrupt and it’s rigged and it’s broken.”
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.
On a recent evening in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.”
Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words face down, a reminder of the device’s optimal position.
By ridiculing Kid Cudi’s substance use and depression, he proves how much guts his rival had in fighting stigmas.
When the rapper Kid Cudi announced he’d checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal thoughts earlier this month, it sparked a social-media conversation about stigmas around mental illness in America generally, and among black men specifically. The hashtag #YouGoodMan went viral, people shared their favorite hip-hop songs about mental health, and many praised Cudi for his courage in going public.
Now, a new track from Drake makes clear how powerful the stigma Cudi defied remains. In “Two Birds, One Stone,” the rapper seems to describe Cudi, saying,
You were the man on the moon
Now you just go through your phases
Life of the angry and famous
Rap like I know I'm the greatest
Then give you the tropical flavors
Still never been on hiatus
You stay xanned and perked up
So when reality set in you don’t gotta face it