Illustrating Immigration, 2019

Art by Anja Riebensahm

Illustrating Immigration began as a project to tell stories about people who moved from one country to another and what they noticed when they got there. From the beginning, we have included difficult migration stories because we recognize that not everyone migrates under the same conditions, and millions of people face closed or restrictive borders that limit their ability to move.

Over the past year, as we have heard and witnessed stories of suffering on the U.S.–Mexico border, we have felt moved to help bring an end to these human rights abuses.

Few journalists, politicians, or civilians have been allowed to see the conditions at U.S. immigration detention centers. In an effort to raise awareness, we’ll be sharing illustrations of court statements from people who have been held by U.S. immigration authorities and experts who have evaluated them.

Our goal is to raise awareness so that these abuses end and no person is ever hurt like this again. To paraphrase Nora Ephron, years from now, we may say many things about this period of U.S. history, but we will never be able to say we didn’t know what was happening.

These statements were collected by legal professionals representing children in court. The documents were filed in June 2019 and were made public, with personal details redacted, in July 2019. We accessed them via the National Center for Youth Law.

Illustrations by Anja Riebensahm.

Illustrating Immigration, 2019

A LITTLE BETTER: Make Less Trash on a Business Trip

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This weekend I got to go to a conference in Chicago. I am a huge nerd, and I don’t get to go to many conferences,* so it was really exciting for me. But there’s one aspect of conferences I strongly dislike. They are so trash-y. I mean, have you ever seen a conference room at the end of an event without overflowing trash cans? Then again, the overflowing trash cans are a result of one of the best parts of conferences: talking  over (free!) food and drinks with like-minded people.

I knew there would be free breakfast, lunch, and a small dinner at the conference I attended, and I thought that all the plates, cups, and utensils would most likely be disposable (I was right), but I didn’t want to miss out on the food or make a fuss. (My thinking is that there are times to make a big deal about our choices and setting an example, and there are times for blending in and talking about other things that you have in common with people. And honestly, the times to make a big deal are few and far between.)

So I tried to follow the advice hanging in my aunt Menry’s kitchen, which just says, “Try a Little Harder to Be a Little Better.”

Here’s what I came up with:

• a big bag to skip the free tote bags that are often given out at conferences. I try not to have such big bags because when I do, I fill them up with anything and everything (“just in case” and end up with a backache), so I rented this one from Rent the Runway.

• a thermos, which is easy to fill with tea, coffee, water, whatever. I just make sure to rinse it before filling it with something new, and I always, always, always make sure to empty it before putting it back in my bag (which is also a nice trick for making sure I’m drinking enough water). If you need one, there are tons of thermoses on eBay!

• a spoon and fork from home and a cloth napkin to wrap them in. I have no idea where all our cloth napkins came from, but they fill my house with color and make me so happy that I actually look forward to cleaning up all the food I spill on myself #MessyEater. Like I said, I have no idea where ours came from (I think they were gifts), but if you’re in the market, Etsy is the place to buy cloth napkins online. 

…That’s it! Did I make “zero waste”? Definitely not.** But I made much less trash, and the people around me didn’t seem to notice I was using fewer disposables, so I don’t think my small changes detracted from the conversation or made me seem like a “weird, save-the-planet person.” ; )

* partly because I try not to fly in order to pollute less.

**For the curious: I used a paper cup to serve myself fruit in the morning, ate a sandwich box complete with an individually-wrapped cookie and a bag of chips, and used one plastic plate for dinner.

A LITTLE BETTER: Make Less Trash on a Business Trip

2018 in review

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetI started the year by watching a TV show that made something click for me. I decided I wanted to be a confident woman like the one I saw on my screen. Realizing how few examples I regularly see of confident women in pop culture, I decided to seek them out. I listened to Solange. I searched for feminist podcasts and listened to every episode of Unf*ck Your Brain and Another Round. I watched the first season of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel again. I spent a lot of time thinking about my grandmother in her beige slacks and soft blouses.
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I thought about what truly makes me happy and prioritized those things. I watched less TV. I stopped curating and documenting my life as much as I used to.
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I helped throw my mom the surprise party of her dreams!
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I realized that there are only 24 hours in a day and that I can’t do it all and that it’s OK (it’s really OK!). I learned to say “I’m sorry. I can’t” and “I need help” and “I’d love to, but I really need to sleep tonight.” I left lots of texts and emails unanswered so that I could be with the people around me. I learned to make (short) realistic to-do lists and check everything off instead of making (impossibly long) optimistic to-do lists and feeling defeated. I took care of myself when I got sick. I went to therapy. I went to church.
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I wrote a thank-you note to my third-grade teacher. I had soft pink hair and an easy birthday party. I hung my laundry to dry in the sun, and when my neighbors thought it was a yard sale, I gave some of my clothes away. I cooked in a crockpot and exercised to feel good. I felt good. I went to bed early and let the sun wake me up instead of an alarm. I saw my family as much as I could.
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My mom told me, “It’s not your job to fix the world,” and I realized she’s right. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I took comfort in how small I am and how limited my sphere of influence is. I only have so much energy, so much power, so much time. I tried to use those resources carefully to help build the world I want. I took courage in knowing that we’re building it together. I tried to learn from my sobrin@s.
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Instead of comparing myself to people who have more and feeling inferior, I thought about how lucky I am. I dreamed about a world where everyone has what I have: a loving community, a sense of purpose, a warm home, food in the kitchen, and comfortable shoes. I tried to act in line with my values. I forgave myself when I messed up.
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If I counted up the bad things that happened this year, the problems I faced that I couldn’t, and may never, solve, I could say it was a hard year. Or I could count all the ways I learned to navigate problems and give thanks for my resourcefulness and my people. I have a feeling that years from now I’ll remember my friends showing up on my doorstep with dinner every time I remember the problems. Life is like that. Good things happen even in hard times. And if we have friends willing to make us food and bring it over on a cold, rainy night, our problems seem smaller than they did before dinner.
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I ended the year with wind in my hair and nopales in my teeth, and for the first time in my life, when it was time to eat 12 grapes, I knew exactly what to wish for.


2018 in review

How To Throw A Ballot Party


A ballot party is a fun, easy way to spend time with friends and become a more informed voter.

The concept is really simple. All you have to do to host your own is print out sample ballots and invite your friends over for dinner. As you eat, everyone researches a different line on the ballot on their phone or computer (good sources of information include the local news, voter guides from trusted organizations, and candidate questionnaires like those from the League of Women Voters). Then, you talk about what you learned and everyone fills in their sample ballots. Everyone takes home their own ballot––and no one has to share their choices––but we all get help learning about the issues and our voting options. It’s especially great for becoming informed about all the down-ballot races and referenda without feeling overwhelmed, and it gets us to vote where our votes count most (did you know that, at the local level, races can be decided by just a few votes? Or even a coin toss in the event of a tie?)

Devin and I have been hosting ballot parties before every election for the past couple of years, and honestly, I look forward to them the way I look forward to a holiday. This year we’re planning on making a soup and a big salad, but if you are less inclined to cook, I think it would also be fun to get together with friends and order pizza. The best part is that a few days after the party, I head to the polls with my little sample ballot in hand, confident that I know what I’m voting on and what choices I want to make.

What do you think? Is this totally nerdy? Would you ever host your own ballot party? I’m happy to help you plan one if you’re interested!

How To Throw A Ballot Party

MADE: Pickled Rhubarb

It’s rhubarb season, and, if you know what rhubarb is, I know what you’re thinking: pie, pie, pie.

I hadn’t heard of rhubarb until I was 19 years old. That was the year I got to share a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie with my friend Clara. That little piece of pie was delicious and life-changing. I’m serious. It helped me get a job, start dating Devin, and find myself in a perpetual pie contract. So yes, I know how good strawberry-rhubarb pie can be.

But rhubarb is bountiful. It grows and grows and grows, and if all you’re doing is putting it in pie, you’re missing out.

My first venture beyond rhubarb pie was this upside-down cake, which I highly recommend.

Next I started putting it in salads. I’ve tried tons of salad recipes, most of which call for pickled rhubarb. And last spring, I figured out my favorite way to pickle it. A few people have asked for the recipe, so I’m sharing it here (though really, it is so easy, it hardly qualifies as a recipe. Perfect for summer!).

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Quick-Pickled Rhubarb

• 2–3 rhubarb stalks (depending on their size)
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup water

1. Slice the rhubarb in half-inch pieces
2. Place in a container that has a lid (I like to use a pint jar because the lid seals tightly).
3. Pour in the sugar, vinegar, and water.
4. Shake up the jar.
5. Make sure the rhubarb is completely covered. If you need, add a little more vinegar/water.
6. Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours (1.5 if you’re really hungry––but the longer it marinates, the better it tastes.
7. Serve with your favorite salad.

If you need a salad recipe to go with this, I like to use kale chiffonade, millet, strawberries, and toasted hazelnuts. Between the strawberries and the rhubarb, I don’t usually use a dressing, but you could always make a strawberry balsamic vinaigrette, if you’re feeling fancy.

MADE: Pickled Rhubarb

Let me mean different things

When I move to New York after college, I work at a restaurant where I meet a man who “works in publishing.” He’s an editor who comes into the restaurant alone to read book reviews and to meet with one of his authors. I tell him I want to work in publishing. He gives me a copy of an anthology he edited, invites me to a reading.

The reading is in the Rare Book Room at The Strand, and it is Intimate. When I walk in and sit down, one of the authors featured in the collection turns to me and asks me who I know at the event. “I’m a friend of the editor,” I say.

Her eyes narrow.

“No,” I want to protest, “The only thing I’ve ever given him is more water, a napkin, a spoon. The only thing he’s ever given me is a copy of this book. I liked your story in it.”

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(One good thing about coming of age with digital camera technology is that I know exactly what I was wearing that day. I took a picture right before I left the house with the camera in my laptop. I stood on a chair in order to capture the whole look: a poofy pink skirt with a brown cotton jacket.

I’d decided to document my outfit because I wanted to remember the occasion –– my first literary event in New York City! –– and because I thought I looked like a cupcake in a crumpled paper bag. Hardly the outfit of a seductress.)

But I am 22, and sometimes my body means things I don’t want it to.

I want to ask the author, a stately woman with blond hair and pearls if she remembers her body being a hurdle to personhood, a threat to her safety. “When does it stop?” I want to ask. Instead, I read her mind. She is thinking about age-appropriate women who become ex-wives and the young women who “take” their places. She is thinking that men’s preference for younger women is really the preference to dominate.

She is thinking, in short, all the same things I think, but she can’t see past my body, and she thinks I am the problem –– or at least, complicit.

My face feels hot during the reading. I get my book signed by all the authors in attendance, trying to think of interesting things to say about each of their stories as I stand over them at the signing table. All of the authors are men, except for the woman who thinks I am bad. I leave quickly.

The next day the editor emails me to thank me for attending the reading. He says he hopes “we’ll have more time to talk, next time.”

I wait 12 days to write back. I re-read the email over and over, trying to figure out if his tone is flirtatious, before deciding that it’s not. In my reply, I try to sound like the professional I dream of being. I ask if would be possible for me to ask him some questions about his “career trajectory” and any advice he has “for someone hoping to work in [his] field.”

He writes me an encouraging email, saying that summer is a difficult time for job hunting, but he thinks something good will come up for me soon. He offers to talk to me at the restaurant or at his “family apartment” in the city (something rich people who live in Connecticut have, I learn).

I am working when he comes to the restaurant, so he suggests his apartment as the most logical place to meet. I spend the rest of my shift wondering if I should go or not. I text Devin to ask what he would do and he says he would go. I think about how Devin’s body has never been anything but safe, and I am sad and a little angry.

(This, I think, is the hardest part about dating a straight White man: the window into an alternate existence, always just out of reach.)

The career counselors from my college said, “Network, network, network!”

I said, “How?” and followed their advice.

1. Find someone who has your dream job.
2. Invite them to get coffee.
3. Ask them about how they got their job, and see if they’ll help you get a job.

The career counselors never mentioned that it might be harder for some of us to do this kind of networking. A college graduate is a college graduate is a college graduate, their “career tips” implied. I believed them at first.

I spend the rest of my shift filling tiny to-go containers with salad dressing, answering the phones, refilling water glasses, and smiling at the customers. The whole time I am making a list.

+ He’s never been creepy.
But all our interactions have been in public.
+ His emails are business-y.
But why did the female writer look at me like that? Maybe she knows something I don’t.
+ Oh please. He probably suggested the apartment because he’s clueless. Maybe he’s hard of hearing.
Or maybe not.

My shift ends and, despite my daydreams of visiting an apartment overlooking Central Park and launching my career with a firm handshake, I can’t make myself go.

Instead I
• walk  to a street-level restaurant “overlooking” a subway entrance
• stare at greasy croissants in a pastry case
eavesdrop on millionaire women 
• think about how patriarchy means circumscribed.

Let me mean different things