The World

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  • Hosted by Marco Werman

The World brings international stories home to America. Each weekday, host Marco Werman guides listeners through major issues and stories, linking global events directly to the American agenda.

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When Maria was six in August 2017, she was separated from her mother, Magdalena, by border patrol agents near El Paso, Texas.

“I didn't understand them,” Maria says. She and her mother speak Akateko, an indigenous Mayan language. “I kept saying, ‘Ummm ummm ummm.’ And then when they took my mom, I got scared and didn’t understand anything.”

One of the thousands of parents who have been separated from their kids at the southern border, Magdalena didn’t hear about the recent executive order reversing the family separation policy, because she’s already been deported to Guatemala.

Magdalena is in hiding. She lives with her eldest brother and follows him wherever he goes, like a shadow.

“I am always home. I never go anywhere, and if my brother goes somewhere, I will go with him,” Magdalena says on the phone through an interpreter. “I never stay in the home alone.”

Ana Raquel Minian grew up in Mexico City where, at home, “politics was discussed at the dinner table pretty much every day,” she says.

But to learn more about her own country, she decided to study its ties to the US. She started digging, studying history in the United States, earning her doctorate at Yale University. Now, after a decade of research, she's published her new book, “Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration.”

It’s hard to imagine a better time for her work to come out.

Ryan Schuessler/PRI

The young man holds the piece of paper up over his head, facing a crowd on a Chicago sidewalk, his brow furrowed underneath a white headband bearing “ROHINGYA” in bright red letters. On the paper, there are two pictures: one of an elderly man with an orange beard, sitting stoically for the camera in a white robe. The other picture: a charred body.

“This my father,” he screams toward a stream of pedestrians, many of whom don’t look up. His voice cracks and his bottom lip quivers. “They kill him. I have proof.”  

What do the United States, Nigeria, Iraq, Sierra Leone and France all have in common? 

They all have remixed version of Childish Gambino's “This is America” music video specific to their individual countries. The original video is a social and political critique of America that has generated conversation and controversy in the US and, as of publication, more than 350 million views.

Ethnomusicologist Sidney Robertson Cowell first started lugging her Presto instantaneous recording machine around Fresno, California, in 1938. There, she recorded Armenian dances at community picnics, hymns at the Armenian cathedral and songs at musicians' homes.

And then, on Oct. 30, 1939, Vartan Shapazian in nearby Fowler, California, sang a mournful song for Cowell called "Groong Jan" or "Dear Crane." It laments the 1915 Armenian genocide.

In the summer of 1942, the SS Drottningholm set sail with hundreds of desperate Jewish refugees, en route to New York City from Sweden. Among them was Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr, a 28-year-old from Germany, who was seeking entry to the United States.

When he arrived, his story was much like his fellow passengers: As a victim of persecution, he wanted asylum from Nazi violence.

Eighteen years ago, veteran Associated Press photographer Alan Díaz won a Pulitzer Prize for an image that marked a change in what it means to be Cuban American. He captured the moment a 6-year-old Cuban boy, Elián González, was forcibly taken from his Miami relatives to be reunited with his father in Cuba.

That iconic photo marked a new era in Cuban American life, one that has been in constant transition ever since.

Many people in the United States have reacted to the separation of families at the border with sadness, protests, donations and a lawsuit against the federal government. But for some, the story feels especially personal, and familiar.

Here's an explanation about why there's a backlog of immigration cases

Oct 5, 2018

The recent wave of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border tests any already overwhelmed US judicial system.

Faten, 30, lives in a big house perched on a hill in the Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, about 12 miles northwest of Jenin.

She has three young daughters — on this spring day, they are all dressed in matching black pants and lacy maroon tops. Her youngest, who is 4, scoots around the kitchen in a toy car.

Faten, who asked me not to use her real name to protect her privacy, is pregnant. Again.

There’s a push by Washington to send one clear message to Central American families wanting to migrate here: Don’t come.

Or, at least, don’t believe what all the smugglers promise.

“You will not get papers to allow you to stay, and you are putting yourself and your children in grave danger,” Gil Kerlikowske, head of US Customs and Border Protection, said during a press conference earlier this month.

“My heart shivered,” says Martins Akinbode-Busayo, 35, a Nigerian health worker who fled his country in 2015. His government targeted him for helping gay people access HIV treatments.

In 2014, Nigeria passed a law that criminalized not just homosexuality, but also the organizations that support gay people. He applied for asylum in New York last year, and is awaiting the outcome of his application. But he felt despair after Donald Trump’s presidential victory.

There was a time in US history when the government thought that a country was “not sending its best.” A time when the government thought that immigrants’ home countries could do more to help them screen who gets to come to the US.

It was Italy in the 1920s.

It’s a trope to say America has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants. This is only partially true. It also has a long tradition of treating immigrants with open discrimination and even violent hostility.

The current debate over whether to accept Syrian refugees has echoes of a different time when another wave of people were leaving a Mediterranean country. They were seen by some Americans as being so alien in religion, culture, education, politics and law, that they could never be assimilated. They were even suspected of ties to terrorism. These were the Italians.

It’s been 10 years since Anna Takada was in sixth grade, but she still remembers her history class. The World War II imprisonment of her grandfather and nearly 120,000 others with Japanese heritage merited only a few lines in her textbook. And at school, her teacher skipped over those lines.

“I remember being shocked and hurt how it was glossed over,” Takada, 25, says.

At home, her father, who was born in Chicago where his family resettled after incarceration, told Takada not to ask her grandfather about that time in their family’s history, either. And she didn't. 

“Sir, I had not made much of the time through my sickness and I am asking you Sir to grant me the favour of allowing me a little more time to stay here so that I’ll be able to make a little money to carry home not that I am effecting the powers of this country but I am only appealing to you Sir.”

This is how Cecil Roach’s June 1945 letter to US President Harry S. Truman, dictated to an unnamed typist, ends.

This underground railroad took slaves to freedom in Mexico

Oct 4, 2018
Rick Wilking/Reuters

Donald Trump said during the presidential campaign that he wanted to keep “bad hombres” out of the country. He told the Mexican president, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, that he wanted Mexico to stop "bad hombres down there" from coming across the southern border of the US.

In the summer of 1966, hundreds of farm workers in Texas marched from Rio Grande City to Austin — almost 500 miles over 90 days — to demand change.

They weren’t asking for anything fancy. They wanted better wages, restrooms and uncontaminated water for the people cultivating and picking melons and other crops.

Consuelo López de Padilla fits the profile of a doctor with top-of-the-line medical training.

She spent 15 years in her native Venezuela studying medicine and working as a doctor. In 2001, she left the Andean hills of her home country for the frigid flatlands of southern Minnesota to spend three years researching at one of the world’s most prestigious health centers, the Mayo Clinic.

But after starting a family in the US, she never returned to Venezuela. She’s also never been able to work as a doctor.

The first time Zain Alam’s music video was screened in public, at a symposium hosted by the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) in Philadelphia in April, an elderly Sikh woman approached him in tears.

Alam was nervous. He had created the music video as part of the "Where We Belong: Artists in the Archive” project, an initiative to encourage artists to use SAADA’s collection — photographs, videos, letters and publications that date all the way back to the late 1800s — to create works that bring to life histories often overlooked by cultural heritage institutions.

Back in 1988, I was a graduate student in creative writing at San Francisco State University. I took a class called “The Art of the Memoir” — or something along those lines — and for it I had to write three pages to explain why I wanted to become a writer.

The private prison company, Management and Training Corporation, uses the slogan “B.I.O.N.I.C.” on its website and job listings. It stands for: “Believe it or not, I care.”

But inmates housed at one of MTC’s facilities in Raymondville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley didn’t buy the private prison company’s slogan. In 2015, a protest at the Willacy County Correctional Center turned into a riot. The fighting left the facility uninhabitable and it was shut down.

MTC isn’t alone among private prison companies in its safety problems.

There’s a remarkable picture that’s been making the rounds on the web recently.

You may have seen the shot: it’s of a group of medical students and they’re all women.

One’s from Japan, one’s from India and the third from Syria. They’re all wearing traditional clothes from their home countries.

Nothing too remarkable in that, you might say. Until you see the date.

1885.

These women were students at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP).

How amnesty gave a 100-year-old woman a new life in the US

Oct 2, 2018
Courtesy of Mónica Ortiz Uribe

My great-grandmother became an American citizen at the age of 100.

Before she was here illegally just as an estimated 11 million others live today. Her chance to legalize her status came in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, or as Spanish speakers know it, "la amnistía."

How do you explain immigration law to a fifth-grader?

Oct 2, 2018

The challenge: Bring immigration law to life for a room of fidgety fifth-graders.

Specifically, I need to bring it to life for fifth-graders who have already heard from a dozen other parents on Career Day in May — including an actual rocket scientist. I am an immigration lawyer and professor. The room is warm, and the kids sit at their desks, sets of four scattered around the room. The looks on their faces are tired and skeptical. My daughter at her desk is alternately hopeful and nervous that I will embarrass her.

My plan? Talk about Pokémon.

The Rules

At 9 years old, my grandfather Lew Din Wing was separated from his family and placed in immigration detention.

In 2002, I went to visit YeYe in his San Francisco apartment and I brought a tape recorder with me. He told me about his experience in detention in the last conversation we had before he died. Now, 16 years later, I can still listen to his voice, his labored breathing, and his life story. Or at least I can listen to the story he wanted to live on.

By 2020, every high school student in California’s public and charter schools will be able to take at least one ethnic studies class.

It’s thanks to a bill that California state Rep. Luis Alejo and the California Latino Legislative Caucus. In doing so, they joined the ranks of educators, students, activists and elected officials who have pushed for courses that better reflect America’s changing demographics.

It’s the final countdown until the Republican Party chooses its candidate for President of the United States and, even with a running mate named, it feels like a lot is still up in the air.

After the death of Alton Sterling — and Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and all the other people of color recently killed by police — many questions will likely go unanswered.

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