Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.
Josefa Velasquez | The City | March 24th, 2022 | 4,200 Words
Amazon workers in Staten Island made history last week by voting to establish the company’s first union. The grassroots effort was led by two men, Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, who faced all manner of racist and classist indignities, often as a matter of policy created by Amazon officials to derail unionization. On the eve of the vote, The City, a non-profit newsroom, published this fantastic behind-the-scenes look at what was going down on Staten Island. It’s essential reading at a pivotal moment in U.S. labor history, full of rich detail and blistering reminders of why Amazon unions are necessary. For example: “[Smalls] was fired for allegedly stealing two minutes of company time, which he attributes to ‘human error’ for punching in his work time incorrectly.” And: “Sun-faded prayer candles commemorate a 24-year-old [Amazon worker]…killed by a driver in November as she crossed the street during her near-midnight lunch break.” —SD
Wufei Yu | High Country News | April 1st, 2022 | 4,116 words
Aimee Towi Mae Tang, a fourth-generation Chinese New Mexican, felt disconnected from her Chinese roots. Amid a rise of anti-Asian hate crimes across the U.S., she wanted a better understanding of her own identity, which included learning how her family had settled in Albuquerque. Born in China and new to Albuquerque himself, journalist Wufei Yu decides to help Tang learn more about her family’s history, and in doing so, perhaps find his own place in a new city. Yu visits the National Archives in the San Francisco Bay Area to dig through documents: “For two days, those 400-plus colorful pages became my world — passenger arrival lists, immigration records, business filings and legal case files, dotted with Chinese characters.” The piece is sprinkled with such pages — lists, photographs, maps — along with gorgeous illustrations by Sally Deng. Yu pieces together the story of Tang’s great-grandfather, previously known to her as Edward Gaw; but deep in these archives, on paper, he is known as Ong Shew Ngoh: a young man from South China who made the journey to San Francisco and fought to stay in America during its anti-Chinese immigration crackdown. He went on to become a businessman in Albuquerque, owning for a time one of the best grocery stores in town until its Chinese community was pushed out. “If my great-grandpa were allowed to have land,” Tang says in the piece, “the Tang family and Chinese Americans could have owned downtown Albuquerque.” I enjoyed Yu’s tracing of the Tang family in these documents, and this glimpse into one of the early Chinatowns of the American West. —CLR
Tom Foster | Texas Monthly | April 6th, 2022 | 8,905 words
There’s nothing in sportswriting like an underdog story. But sometimes that underdog status persists regardless of the wins column, regardless of championships, regardless even of dynasties. That’s exactly the case with Houston’s Elsik High School soccer team, from its international stock (the school district, in southwest Houston, serves students who speak 90 different languages) to its tough-love head coach Vincenzo Cox, who found in his kids a long-overdue sense of belonging. After all, just being good at soccer doesn’t undo the reality of the world. “There are times when the hurdles life puts in front of his team just break Cox’s heart,” writes Tom Foster. “When a player has to leave town for a bit because his dad’s been drinking again and it’s not safe in the house. When a kid shows up for high school who doesn’t know his ABC’s. When Cox hears about rival coaches speculating that he has recruiting pipelines to Central America and Africa.” Foster is at his assured best here, taking the reader through multiple seasons in a single story that somehow feels like a 21st-century global-Texas version of Hoosiers — and as a Hoosier myself, I don’t use that comparison lightly. —PR
Tim Requarth | The Atlantic | April 6th, 2022 | 1,776 words
As governments lift COVID restrictions and people attempt to navigate as the pandemic endures, we are only now entering what will be a lifelong phase of discovering COVID’s long-term repercussions on society. What shadow will COVID cast on people who were children when the virus first appeared? At The Atlantic, Tim Requarth* reports on one reality of the pandemic, “some 200,000 American children” who have been orphaned because of COVID. But what is the U.S. federal government doing to help these kids? Very little, as it turns out. “And while a memorandum issued by President Joe Biden yesterday promises that the administration will develop a plan for orphans, it’s poised to be too little, too late. ‘It really doesn’t outline any plan or commitment,’ Rachel Kidman, a social epidemiologist at Stony Brook University, told me. And the inaction goes deeper than that: With a few exceptions, even the parts of the country most inclined toward action don’t seem to be doing much to help these kids…The pandemic’s orphanhood crisis matters most for orphans, but it also matters for the rest of us. If America can’t do anything to help the children most profoundly affected by COVID, what hope is there to make any sort of long-lasting changes as we try to leave the pandemic behind?” —KS
* Tim Requarth’s Longreads essay, “The Final Five Percent” won the 2020 Science in Society Journalism Award in the Longform Narratives category and was included in the 2020 edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing.
Ellen Ruppel Shell | Smithsonian Magazine | April 4th, 2022 | 5282 words
I had never heard of “The Tree” until reading Ellen Ruppel Shell’s fascinating essay, but in certain circles, The Tree is not only famous, it is magical. A mahogany tree originating from the Chiquibul jungle in Belize, its beautiful wood is prized by carpenters and luthiers — with musicians claiming guitars made from The Tree produce an extraordinary sound. Shell wanted to discover more about this Tolkienesque-sounding entity and immerses herself in its story: from being cut down in 1965 to the hunt for any remaining stashes of the precious (and finite) material today. A cross between an adventure story and a collector’s tale, Shell throws in some psychology for good measure: Does this wood actually create a unique sound, or is its coveted nature influencing what people hear? This detailed exploration made me sit down and consider the use of rarity to define prestige. —CW