Not far from the southern limits of the US, and the very busy San Ysidro border crossing into Mexico, a small group of men, ages 30 to 70, have made a home. They have family in the US. They fought in the US military. Some were injured in battle. Some have PTSD.
They have all been deported to Mexico and want to return to their homes in the US.
For now, though, home is a place called The Bunker, a Tijuana support house for US military veterans who have nowhere else to go when they land back in Mexico. It was founded by Hector Barajas, who himself served in the US Army and was deported in 2004.
Meena Ramamurthy is a filmmaker and storyteller. A colleague, another writer of color, once told her: “Don’t write a pilot with two people of color.”
“It doesn’t come from a bad place,” Ramamurthy says. “It just comes from experience.”
If you’ve watched “Master of None” (the “Indians on Television” episode), this probably sounds familiar. Studios, investors, networks — they have not caught up to the changing demographics of their audience. And in the meantime, they’re having a hard time bridging the gap between a new generation of storytellers and their old formulas for what works.
So stories with two lead characters who are Indian? They get left behind.
An annual report from USC, Ramamurthy’s alma mater, quantifies the issue. The study, by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, drilled down into the content of 10 major media companies. The results may not be wholly surprising. This year, they found that, “The film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club.”
“I’ve never been able to get tickets,” says this San Diego native. “I’m what you would call a frustrated Comic-Con fan. For many of us out there, it’s very hard to get in. And it’s pretty expensive if you want to take the family.”
Badges go for $50 for each full day, and $35 for the first and last partial days of events — that’s $220 for an adult to attend the whole convention — and this year they sold out within hours of becoming available. The event takes over San Diego. More than 130,000 people are expected to attend and the official shuttles have 60 stops around the city.
But none of those stops are in Barrio Logan, a neighborhood that’s a stone’s throw from the San Diego Convention Center, where Comic-Con’s main events take place. That’s why Favela, owner of Border X Brewery, started Chicano-Con.
The cargo in Pacific Arts Movement’s overhauled moving truck is a motley assortment: In front, a Wi-Fi hotspot, charger, chemical compounds and grease remover, a pack of cigarettes and DVDs. In the back there are three white lab coats, a coffee table and two rugs, a small white parasol, orange safety cones, and a generator (plus a custom-made padded box to muffle the sound of the generator).
Bryce Griffin, who holds the title “Electronics Wizard,” drinks a can of Monster before taking the wheel.
“It’s actually really physical and kind of mentally draining. I’m climbing up on the truck and jumping around and it’s crunch time to get everything set up before the time we’re supposed to start,” he said. “And the stress doesn’t really go away once we actually start because at any second everything can turn off I have to get it running again.”
Griffin is part of a small team called Drive-By Cinema. It’s a new initiative of the Pacific Arts Movement, a 12-year-old nonprofit arts organization best known for producing the San Diego Asian Film Festival. The truck is a hollowed out, painted-over U-Haul, tricked out to create cinematic experiences in unlikely places. Screens can go on any side of the truck—including on top where a modified scrap piece of sail becomes a two-sided projection screen so people can see films from either side of the street where the truck is parked.
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Jeffrey Wasserstrom and I, co-editors of will be at the legendary Los Angeles Time Festival of Books at USC on Sunday, April 21. Come to roam the festival and find us at 3:30pm in Seeley G. Mudd (SGM 124).
I’m excited an honored to be speaking next week at UC Irvine at day-long event that is mouth-watering for anyone who loves to write. The Digital Storytelling Symposium features some of the most innovative people in long form writing today including, well, Longform folks themselves. The Atavist, Byliner, Equire, Noir Magazine, Matter and the Los Angeles Review of Books will all be represented. Here’s more information about the roundtable I am on and the whole event.
DIGITAL STORYTELLING: A SYMPOSIUM
THURSDAY, 18 APRIL 2013
11 A.M.-6:30 P.M.
UC IRVINE SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES
11-12:00 “The Future of Digital Publishing”: A Roundtable
Humanities Instructional Building 135
Moderated and introduced by Kavita Philip (UCI History)
Tom Lutz, Founder and Editor, LA Review of Books; Professor, UC Riverside Department of Creative Writing
Angilee Shah, Social Media Strategy, Public Radio International
Mark Bryant, Editor-in-Chief of Byliner.com
Nancie Clare, Founder and Editor of Noir Magazine (noirmagazine.tumblr.com)
Mike Sager, Writer-at-Large for Esquire and founder of digital publishing imprint The Sager Group (www.thesagergroup.com)
Here’s how classes work: Holakou Rahmanian turns on his computer early in the morning or late at night. He goes to a website whose address is known only to students, faculty and administrators of his university. Sometimes he’s in his pajamas when he logs in. Sometimes, he guesses, his professors are also in their pajamas. In his four years of classes, he has only seen his online teachers’ faces once or twice. The bandwidth is saved for their voices and online whiteboards.
Rahmanian, 23, completed a degree in computer science last fall and is close to finishing his second major in mathematics. He is one of about 50,000 students who have studied in unconventional ways at the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education since it was founded in 1987 to subvert official discrimination by the Iranian government.
Marwa Atik needs five pieces of trim, the kind embellished with pearls and black jewels. At a store in downtown L.A.’s Fashion District, boxes of trimmings line the walls from floor to ceiling, but Atik scans quickly and zeroes in on what she wants. At her direction, a clerk climbs a tall, wooden ladder and pulls down one of the cardboard boxes. He counts out five pieces and, after 30 seconds of bargaining, Atik makes her purchase.
For the next five days, the designer will create elaborate hijabs, which are head-scarves for Muslim women, to display at an upcoming Irvine fashion show. Atik’s company, Vela, specializes in unique designs of an item known more often for its conservative connotations than its stylistic value.
At a conference about social movements in Los Angeles last month, all it took was the mention of her name and the crowd erupted in applause. In the world of community organizing, Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, is a rock star.
As the crowd sat, though, Poo asked the women to stand up again and give themselves a round of applause. “Women are the heart of social organizing,” she said. “And you should be recognized.”
Rock star she may be, but Poo always puts the movement first. When she was voted onto Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World this year – hailed by no less than Gloria Steinem – she attributed it to her cause. “It’s a testament to the power of women’s organizing,” she said over tea. “And particularly to the movement that I’m a part of.”
These days, Rob is in the news for debunking the Mike Daisey Foxconn investigation that aired on This American Life. We’ll be talking about that story and his other reporting on China for American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program at UCLA on April 17. Is there something you want me to ask? Please leave your questions in comments.
The Challenge of Covering a Fast-Changing China
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Presentation Room 11348 YRL
UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library [map]
How is China’s economy changing and how is this affecting its people and the world? What are the biggest obstacles and most exciting aspects of reporting on this increasingly important topic? These are the kinds of issues to be discussed in a conversation between journalist and editor Angilee Shah, and Rob Schmitz, American Public Media’s Marketplace China correspondent, who along with covering a host of important stories, related to everything from labor rights to education to the rise of consumerism, played the key role in exposing the fabrications in Mike Daisey’s account of Foxconn factories on This American Life and then was featured in that show’s much discussed retraction episode.