Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Looking for Work, Weary of Terror

William, a young migrant worker from Honduras, relates the nightmare of being held hostage in Mexico. His story is only one of many; last week, seventy-two migrant workers were killed in Mexico as they sought work.

Kidnappers will often blackmail the families of these migrant workers for ransom; some families have sold what little they own for their loved ones’ lives. “The journey can make poor farmers even poorer,” reports Jason Beaubien for NPR’s Morning Edition.

I’m reminded of an excellent feature film I saw a couple years ago called Sin Nombre, in which a young Latin woman hitches her way from Latin America to the U.S. on a dangerous, thieve-ridden freight train. What may seem like a noble pursuit–setting off in search of money to send back to your family–is riddled with violence, police and thieves, and extreme natural conditions. The plight of these workers is often an overlooked aspect in the long debate over illegal immigration.

Filed under: global justice, immigration, labor, , , , , , , , ,

Ignore the Actual Cost of Your iPod. What’s the Real Expense?

Consumption. Capitalism. Environmentalism and government intervention and global resource management. Big words, often abstracted to the point of little meaning. What do these “isms” have to do with your iPod?

Writer Annie Leonard breaks it down in The Story of Stuff. “You can’t run a linear system on a finite planet,” she says, before launching into the interrelation between your iPod and the big box stores and toxic ecology and global labor forces. Perhaps a bit simplistic at points, but useful as a primer (or wake-up call). It’s often difficult to remember the tremendous natural resources needed to manufacture and consume the products in our everyday lives.

It shouldn’t be a shock to any of us, but the U.S. is a nation of consumers. It’s the main component of our American identity. Not cultural traditions or human diversity or unified pride in our people. We define ourselves through the stuff we buy. Even comedians recognize our love of stuff, and hilariously skewer it.

A bit of cultural exchange with our Ugandan friends: we brought Jiffy Pop, they roasted corn from their garden.

Maybe a small bit of proselytizing, but I’ll say it anyway: traveling in January to Uganda and Rwanda, a concrete thing I took away was not the poverty of the people, but the excess of American consumption. I and my students had so much stuff. Rarely did we notice the cumulative amount of our things–handheld iPod speakers, baseball caps, four or five bottles of sanitizer–in contrast to the folks we visited.

It was easier for us to discuss how Rwandans had nothing, rather than that we, as Americans, had so much.

So what’s the real cost of your iPod? Not the retail value, but the actual expense on our environment, our quality of life, the complexity of our cultures?

How do we justify, as Leonard points out in analyzing a $4.99 radio, the hidden costs: “the metal probably mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year-old factory worker in Mexico”? How does our careless spending (the majority here in the U.S.) wreak havoc on limited resources–both natural and economic–across the planet?

Filed under: africa, consumerism, economy, , , , , , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
June 2017
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No food for lazy man

Mao and Du Bois

Inside W.E.B. DuBois' library

Commemorating the great pan-African writer

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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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