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I’m doing a new thing! When I publish something, I’ll also do an out-loud reading on IGTV. You can use these “episodes” like a mini podcast if you prefer to listen to the story rather than read it, while also getting a bit of background; writer’s notes, if you will. This story is all about my recent spontaneous road trip through the arc of the 1960s civil rights movement; a journey that amidst this powerful current moment, also showed just how far we have to go, and what quiet injustices still exist in relative anonymity.
While recently traveling from Missouri to North Carolina, I embarked on a somewhat spontaneous 10-day road trip through the former Jim Crow south.
It gave me the opportunity to visit a lot of Civil Rights landmarks I never have, and to do so amidst the backdrop of the current Black Lives Matters movement.
But my journey from Memphis to Atlanta, stopping in Jackson, MS, Selma, AL and Birmingham, AL in between, also struck me as a gauge of just how far we have to go — from the homeless camps in walking distance from MLK’s home, to the abject poverty evident in a hitchhiker’s neighborhood, to the thinly veiled racism I witnessed on the streets of Memphis.
Transpiring simultaneously with the demonstrations fighting police brutality that have seized widespread attention, these quiet injustices — the faces of which are still overwhelmingly Black — manage to persist, I found, in relative anonymity.
This is a story about unprecedented opportunity in the midst of an unprecedented global catastrophe, and how our collective failure to see it led to the further victimization of a chronically neglected community.
Shorty leaned against the plexiglass window outside the brick building, her wide cheekbones springing toward her eyes and pulling her entire face into a smile.
“Drumroll please,” she crooned, her small, wiry frame a coil of energy.
We were at the Los Angeles Mission in the heart of Skid Row — one of the country’s largest communities of homelessness; a tent city smoldering beneath the wealth of downtown Los Angeles’ soaring high rises. We’d come to the charitable organization in downtown LA, to ask, again, about any mail for Shorty; to keep going through guessed motions even though I had no confidence that one day a government check would show up.
I had arrived here, to Skid Row, in April, curious to see how Coronavirus was affecting a community that in some ways mimics a developing country; where sewage is tossed into the street and water is accessed from fire hydrants.
One of my many adopted projects was this: to try to find out if it was possible to get a CARES Act Coronavirus stimulus check for someone like Shorty — an unhoused woman who is essentially off the grid, lacking income, taxpayer status or a history of government assistance.
Over the two-plus months I spent in the community, even sleeping side-by-side in a tent for a few nights, this would be a process that would take me on a roller coaster through highs and lows; twists and turns that served to both offer unexpected hope and reinforce the very structures of oppression that created such a conundrum.
But in this moment, back at the Mission, Shorty was feeling optimistic.
“Happiness is on the way,” she sang. “Peace and quiet and serenity is ON. THE. WAY!”
When the man working the window indeed produced a government-marked envelope, it felt like a miracle; a victory won against long odds.
But the real miracle, though I didn’t know it then, would come later.
Did you miss my story for Meal Magazine when it appeared in print in their stunning Issue 1? (You can order the worthy hard copy here.)
Thanks to Meal going digital, it’s now online.
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Over the last 15-20 years, many U.S. natives have added a new dish to their food vocabulary: pupusas.
But not everyone understands why these Salvadoran snacks started showing up around major U.S. cities—and how our own government played a role in getting them there.
That journey is a tale of war, migration, imperialism and how deeply food is engrained in our identities and histories.