The Migrants That Don’t Matter [Spanish]

In anticipation of reviving this blog, I’m going to publish a few near-complete drafts that were sitting in my queue. Hence, for “recently”, please read: four damn years ago. The context around immigration to the US has, obviously, worsened considerably.

NPR’s Alt.Latino recently released an interview with Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez, whose book, Los migrantes que no importan, has recently been translated to English as The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. It is the product of eight journeys on “The Beast”:  the network of trains by which Central American immigrants make their way across Mexico in appalling – and appallingly risky – conditions.

The entire interview is fascinating and heartbreaking, and can be heard here [in Spanish], but one thing really stood out to me. Martínez says that the idea of the ‘American Dream’ as a driving force for migration is long dead: Central American immigrants riding the Beast know the journey is dangerous, and that on arrival in the US they will work inhumane hours for miniscule wages – first to pay off the debts owed to coyotes, then to send an average monthly remittance of $70 to their families. They know their life in the US will be precarious; they feel deeply the separation from family. They don’t keep making this trip because of mere hunger. Hunger can be abated by begging on the streets. They do it because of a deep sense that if they work hard enough there may be some hope for a more dignified existence, for some progress. That elusive American dream.

And these immigrant – the sort of driving, hopeful, ambitious people so important to capitalist thought – fall through the cracks. Martínez’ book documents the rapes*, robberies, human trafficking, corruption, violence, loneliness, and hunger they will deal with on their journey to the US. It’s out on Kindle.

* It is estimated that 60% of Central American women travelling through Mexico to the US will be raped. This is based on reported cases, so you can round that up considerably.


I have a black dog

A little more than two years ago I was officially diagnosed with chronic major depression and social anxiety disorder. I’d been keeping fairly quiet about my problems – the emptiness, the panic attacks, the days of hiding in my room or even in my bed – for some two years before that. The people I was close to were aware I’d had some bad experiences while I was living in Peru, and that the escape to Argentina was only partially driven by a desire to step down from the backpackers’ I was running and take up an exciting internship in Buenos Aires.

Nobody knew the extent to which I was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.

Nobody knew I had been date-raped on a night out in Cuzco. Nobody knew I was raped again while travelling through Chile.

Nobody knew that throughout my year in Buenos Aires I would lie in my studio apartment for days on end, eating my feelings – this is a city where you can have ice cream delivered to your door – and staring at the walls.

Things got pretty bad eighteen months ago, and that’s when I began to seek help. It’s been a rough ride since then: I dragged myself across the finishing line of my Honours in Economics, then got two months into my PhD before collapsing into a quivering mess of unprocessed trauma, social isolation, and self-loathing. I was speaking to a psychologist and taking antidepressants, but I was also downing a couple of bottles of wine a day: I didn’t want to see any of my friends, but nor did I want to spend time with myself. That kinda limits one’s options. I stopped running. I stopped finding any joy in books or music or cooking. I stopped looking at Facebook, writing, or planning dream backpacking expeditions. If somebody had asked me what I liked doing, I would have been utterly baffled by the question.

And then things got really bad six weeks ago, and that’s when I picked up the phone and called my mother in Brisbane. “Come get me.” She did. We packed up my Melbourne apartment and my one-year-old cat, and installed me in a flat some five doors down from the unit she shares with my stepfather in Brisbane.

I went to a psychiatrist, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, placed on a cocktail of sedatives and antidepressants and anti-craving pills to replace the alcohol and sleepers and prolonged release sleepers and plenty of talking therapy.

All the while things were spilling out of me. The secrets I had held on to, because I blamed myself, hated myself, thought myself weak and deserving of the things that had happened to me.

But my mother and stepfather were my rocks; my father, although he lives abroad, sent enough puzzles to keep a semi-bed-bound (and very sedated) patient busy for months, and offered much moral and financial support; my not-so-little-anymore brother sent flowers. I arranged them where I would see them each morning when I opened my eyes, and along the windowsill I placed pictures of the friends I miss so much.

I’m home again now, after seventeen days in hospital. I still go in a couple of days a week: group cognitive behavioural therapy (GCBT) twice a week, tailored therapy discussion groups once a week, fortnightly appointments with both psychiatrist and psychologist. Basically there are a shit-ton of professionals combing through my brain right now, which is actually pretty reassuring.

But the biggest difference, I think, has come from honesty. All those fragmented, painful memories I had been pushing down, down, down for year after year after year are out. My parents and friends know, and have cried with me and for me. I feel better, lighter; even if I do still have the odd bad hour, afternoon, or day.

The internet now knows, too. I wanted to write this post because there are so many of us – 3 million of us in Australia live with depression or anxiety – locking our secrets inside, drowning them in booze or sex or drugs or food. Pretending that if we don’t look at the bad stuff, it’ll go away on its own.

It won’t.

Links and Resources (Australia):

Telling people:

One of the hardest things I ever did was to tell the people close to me how I was feeling. It can be hard to explain depression to people who have never experienced it, and often their attempts to commiserate by comparing your situation to times when they’ve “felt a bit down” just make you feel weak for succumbing to depression when others have had it as bad or worse. This is an illness. You are sick. Help others to understand how best to support you using resources like the video at the start of the post, those listed immediately above, or the incomparable Allie Brosh‘s work on the subject:

From Brosh's 'Adventures in Depression'
From Brosh’s ‘Adventures in Depression
From Brosh's 'Depression Part 2'
From Brosh’s ‘Depression Part 2

So, that’s what I wanted you, denizens of the internet, to know. This isn’t going to turn into a mental illness blog; largely it will remain a sporadically-updated journal of my political rants and so forth. But the facts that I was raped, that I suffer from mental illness, aren’t things to be kept secret or to be ashamed of. It’s a tiny fraction of who I am, and it’s time to integrate that part of myself and keep on living.

Eighteen months later…

It’s been quite a while, for reasons I will expand upon in another post, in a few more days. Meanwhile, though, some exciting news:

I’ve created a small business, providing editing and proofreading services. I specialise in academic editing in the social sciences, but have also been dipping my toes into short stories, novellas, and poetry. It’s been great fun and a wonderful boost to my own writing.

So come visit me at Marginalia: Words and Edits by Camden Luxford, or follow me @EditsMarginalia for language geekiness and shameless self promotion. I’ll still be tweeting politics, develMarginalia Edits business cardsopment, and social justice @camdenluxford, although at, perhaps, a less frantic pace than I was before the eighteen-month hiatus.

My business cards came yesterday and are so beautiful I just have to share them with you, so a big thanks to MOO for providing such creative and fun templates.

See you all in a few days!



Political personalities: Palmer and Merkel in their natural habitat

Who is Clive Palmer? What is the meaning of him? … He is a foolish passionate man, who has that endowment of the very rich, an erasure of the line between fantasy and reality, come along at a time when Australian political institutions had become sufficiently disarticulated to let him in with ease. Most people, especially those in the media, have become convinced that he is a man of no fixed character or beliefs, who rose to power through a rational political process. The reverse is the case. Palmer is a man with a coherent set of beliefs who is nevertheless a random product of an electoral process acquired in the fit of absent-mindedness.

— Guy Rundle, QE56 2014, p. 64

I have read two sensational political profiles in the last week of two dramatically different politicians: Guy Rundle’s Quarterly Essay on Clive Palmer and George Packer on Angela Merkel for the New Yorker. A great essay encourages readers to revisit and revise their opinions, and I am reconsidering my impressions not only of these two political personalities, but also the political systems that shaped them.

Palmer, the man about which Australian democracy circa 2014-5 improbably turns, is dismissed by many as a fickle showman, a buffoon with more money than sense. Rundle is clear-eyed to the man’s weaknesses and vanities, but finds a sincere constancy in his value system. Palmer’s compromises and apparent flip-flops are politics as it is supposed to be played, ground given where necessary but always in accordance with a coherent political ideology. The prevailing narratives about Big Clive are driven, Rundle argues, largely by the horror felt by a political elite that sees a more cut-and-thrust politics suddenly injected into the stable bipartisan order of professional politicians. More than a rendering of Clive Palmer, this essay is a critique of a broken electoral system defended by a self-serving political caste, “sealed off from the general public, with the process of becoming a politician deliberately mystified to keep the amateurs out”. But now Clive has flung open the door, “and god knows who will rush in”.

Angela Merkel is perhaps as different from Clive Palmer as it is possible to be. She is quiet, highly analytical, profoundly methodical and slow to commit to any course of action. It is appropriate, then, that Packer’s political profile of Merkel evokes a democracy facing the opposite crisis: rather than a sudden shakeup of party politics, the Germany described is utterly apolitical. “Merkel took the politics out of politics,” Packer quotes Georg Diez as saying, and he suggests that’s precisely what the country – paralysed by past guilt and afraid of big ideas – is looking for. The Merkel described here strives to be everything to every voter, and is motivated primarily by an instinct for power and a single central value: freedom.

It is unfortunate, but no fatal flaw, that neither Rundle nor Packer spoke with politician they profile. The essays are more like anthropological studies, eschewing the polished image presented in an interview for an analysis of the social and natural environment in which these personalities have developed. In Rundle’s case, the background is necessarily filled out in vivid detail so as not to be overshadowed by the showman in the foreground, this “man so utterly a creation of the Gold Coast that you can small the coconut oil and sand on him”. The Coast itself is a character in his critical history of Australian democracy, instrumental in the shaping of Palmer’s politics. Packer’s study of East Germany is muted and oppressive, simple but evocative, like the black and white portraits of Merkel’s evolution as a public figure that open the disquieting piece. Both essays are wonderful studies of the modern democratic politician in his or her natural habitat.

Christine Bader on ‘The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist’

Christine Bader spoke at the Carnegie Council earlier this month about her book, The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When GIrl Meets Oil. Essentially, the book is her attempt to reconcile her own time working in corporate social responsibility for BP and feeling like the company was doing all the right things out of a genuine desire to get it right, with the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

I was investing in the health and well-being of communities, living around big BP projects, because everybody in the company who I worked with understood that what was good for those communities was good for business.

It was fascinating work. I was going to West Papua, at the remote tip of Indonesia. Then I was working in China on a chemicals joint venture, where we were going to be bringing 15,000 migrant workers into a town of about 30,000 people, again ensuring that we could mitigate the risks and the upheaval to communities there. It was fascinating, amazing work [full transcript here].

Bader concludes, later, that those projects were model projects because there was so much potential for things to go horribly wrong: an enormous amount of political and social risk – and international attention – that made the corporate social responsibility environment there different, perhaps, from that of other projects.

So there were all these factors that created this perfect storm for senior management to basically give us whatever we wanted that we thought was necessary to mitigate the risks.

I didn’t realize at the time that that was so unique, that I could call up headquarters and be like, “Hi. Could I have $100,000 to do a human rights impact assessment?” “Sure. Take whatever you need.”

That’s part of the journey of the book, actually—years later, wondering what happened with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, actually going back and thinking, “What was so special, what was so unique about my time there?”

So that’s what I think happened there. There was a sort of perfect storm of factors that made the company throw whatever we needed behind trying to get this project right.

The whole talk is very interesting. Bader argues from the assumption that development is inevitable, but that companies have a responsibility to mitigate the externalities on local communities. She further argues that the corporate philanthropy model is flawed, and that the proper social role of the corporation must be constantly kept in mind: i.e. companies shouldn’t play a large political role or step into positions of governance or governance training.

Bader’s views are very similar to my own, but I found it refreshing to hear a former insider’s perspective, and to be reminded that corporations are on the whole made up of good people who want to do the right thing, or at least not the blatantly wrong and abusive thing. The challenge is to create a regulatory framework that aligns these largely decent instincts with the legal purpose of a corporation: to make profits.