#359: The Grammar Of Exile
Plus: Join us this month to discuss “A Kingdom from Dust,” by Mark Arax
Hi loyal readers, and welcome to September! This week I have two great articles and a warm invitation for you. The lead article, “The Grammar Of Exile,” is set in an English class at a refugee resource center in Rome at the height of the European migration crisis in 2015. With writer Will Boast’s support, asylum seekers hope that learning the world’s most powerful language will grant them freedom and opportunity in their new land. The reality, of course, is far more complicated.
Also this week, I reveal this month’s Article Club selection, “A Kingdom from Dust.” It’s a brilliantly written, sweeping account of water and farming politics in California, exploring how two non-farming, kitsch-selling business people from the East coast built massive wealth by moving out west and making it big. I’m delighted that author Mark Arax has agreed to join us, and I encourage you all to read the piece and participate in our discussion on Sunday, Sept. 25. More details below.
+ If you live near Oakland, it’d be great to see you at HIGHLIGHTER HAPPY HOUR next Thursday at Room 389 beginning at 5:30 pm. This will be the 18th installment of HHH, a joyous gathering of our reading community. It’s a great way to meet new people, deepen relationships, chat about the articles, and win exciting prizes. There are seven tickets left, so get yours soon. Hope to see you there!
“Would, could, should — this was the language of possibility, of opportunity. Hopes, dreams, plans: You used the conditional to conceive them, take them from imagination into reality.” But in this well-crafted essay by writer Will Boast about his time teaching English to asylum seekers in Rome, what’s possible remains subbornly out of reach. The students – nearly all of whom are men, many of whom are professionals in the countries they fled, many of whom are already multilingual — diligently learn the what, where, how, and when of English in Mr. Boast’s class. But why confounds them — not just the word itself, but also understanding the why of their precarious, powerless situation, the why of being stuck in between.
Mr. Boast writes: “For almost all of my students, the crisis had come to mean something else: waiting. Waiting and trying to grasp the rules, the grammar, not just of new languages but of a new continent, one made up of a particularly labyrinthine network of bureaucracies and charitable organizations. And if I wanted to help my students, really help them, I’d have to learn that new grammar too. (37 min)
Ever had a Cutie? 🍊 Or a bottle of Fiji water? Or a glass of pomegranate juice?
Maybe you prefer nuts — like maybe almonds? Or pistachios, perhaps?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you support the empire of billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the king and queen of California agriculture, who control not only hundreds of thousands of acres of land, but also billions of gallons of water every year, not to mention the livelihoods of thousands of mostly undocumented people who work in their vast fields and live in their company town.
This month at Article Club, we’ll be reading, annotating, and discussing “A Kingdom from Dust,” and I encourage you to join us on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 pm PT.
I deeply appreciated this article because of what I learned about my home state – namely, how much power its big farmers wield, how little power its farmworkers possess, how messed up its water policies are, and how our desire for delicious produce in the supermarket is influencing climate change, contributing to wildfires, and literally making the land underneath our feet sink.
I’m grateful to journalist Mark Arax for generously saying yes to participating in Article Club and for agreeing to answer our questions. His well-written article has it all. Not only will you meet the Resnicks, but you’ll also learn about how they schemed their way to the top, stealing water to protect themselves from drought; how they built a company town, keeping their laborers dependent on philanthropy; and how they destroyed the environment, planting trees where they don’t grow and ripping out trees where they do.
And if you step back, as Mr. Arax encourages us to do, you’ll realize how fragile California is, and how dire our situation is — how we’ve managed to construct an enormous agricultural apparatus because of people’s ambitions for fortune, one that the country depends on, but one that fundamentally does not work, and one that will inevitably fail sooner rather than later.
After all, no matter how strong California dreaming is, there’s just no escaping the reality that 40 million people are living in a desert that’s getting drier.
➡️ Click here to read the article (89 mins)
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