Posts By: Homelands

In 1991, Homelands co-founders Sandy Tolan and Alan Weisman traveled to the Dominican Republic to report on Haitian sugar cane cutters working in near-slavery conditions on Dominican plantations. Their story, Sugar and Sorrow in Hispaniola, aired on NPR’s All Things Considered as part of the Vanishing Homelands series.

Listener Joel Abrams of Boston has never forgotten it. “If you had asked me was I interested in farm workers in Haiti, I would have said no,” he told NPR recently. “But I listened to this, and it really made me care about them and brought them to life as people for me and in a remarkable way.”

On May 5, All Things Considered aired excerpts from Sandy and Alan’s story as part of NPR’s 50th anniversary celebration. You can listen to it here. In a medium as evanescent as radio, it is beyond gratifying to know that the work lives on in people’s hearts.

Not only that — this particular story will have another afterlife. Sandy has been working on a podcast series about his search for Lulu Pierre, one of the cane cutters he and Alan met 30 years ago. He’s also producing a piece on Haitian cane cutters for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. We’ll let you know when there’s something to listen to.

One morning in Milwaukee in 1972, Homelands’ co-founder Sandy Tolan read in the sports pages that his childhood hero, Henry Aaron, was getting hate mail and death threats for following his dream. Aaron, the superstar outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, was approaching what was then considered the greatest record in sports: the career home-run record of 714, held by the legendary Babe Ruth.

Aaron was Black and Ruth was White. During his chase, Hank received 929,000 letters. Some cheered him on, but many were filled with racist hate and violent threats. Outraged, Sandy sent a letter of his own. “We’re rooting for you up here in Milwaukee,” he wrote.

Remarkably, Aaron responded.

Henry Aaron died on January 22 at age 86. In an essay in The Atlantic, Sandy recounts what Aaron wrote to him in 1972 and describes how the correspondence led to Sandy’s first book, Me and Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-Five Years Later (2000). The book was ostensibly about a ballplayer and a fan. In fact, it – like Aaron’s life – was about much more than that.

Read the essay here.

In December, as Covid-19 rates surged in Los Angeles, Sandy Tolan and his wife Andrea Portes rented out their LA house and drove to Arizona. They planned to fly from there to Florida to fetch their son, who was visiting his “biodad” in Miami.

But then they had a better idea. Why not just keep driving? Not only did flying seem unsafe in those days of contagion; a road trip would be a chance to reconnect with a vast and beautiful country far from the coastal centers of chaos. And so they took to the road.

Sandy calls the trip his “Late Covid American Sojourn.” You can follow his adventures, both physical and philosophical, on Facebook or Medium.

Photo from Big Bend Ranch State Park, TX, by Sandy Tolan.

The spectacle of far-right hate groups launching violent attacks around the country cannot obscure the deeper changes that are transforming political and social life in Arizona and other western states, writes Ruxandra Guidi in a commentary for High Country News.

The January 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol occurred as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s win in formerly red Arizona, where Ruxandra lives and teaches. She says the lesson should not be lost on us.

“The Black-, Latino- and Indigenous-led civic movement that delivered our state’s election shows us that there are consequences for discriminating against communities of color, disenfranchising voters and underestimating their power and contributions to society,” she writes. “Arizona isn’t just the most predominant Western electoral battleground: It is a template for the future of the Western U.S.” 

Read the entire commentary here.

Photo: An organizer leaves a flyer at a home in a South Tucson neighborhood. Photo by Bear Guerra.

In an essay in Emergence Magazine, Diné (Navajo) poet Jake Skeets explores how time and land hold “fields” of memory that can unfold through language and storytelling. The piece is illustrated by photos and photo collages by Homelands’ Bear Guerra.

Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He is the author of the poetry collection Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, winner of the National Poetry Series and the American Book Award.

Bear’s work explores the impacts of globalization, development, late-stage capitalism, and the contemporary human condition. He is also the photo editor for High Country News. Bear grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Maria Ines Zamudio

María Inés Zamudio is the recipient of the 2020 Cecilia Vaisman Award from Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Zamudio covers immigration for WBEZ, the Chicago NPR affiliate.

The Vaisman award honors an individual working in audio or video journalism who works every day to shed light on the various issues affecting Hispanic and Latinx communities inside and outside the United States. The award is named for Medill faculty member and Homelands co-founder Cecilia Vaisman, who died in 2015.

Learn more.

Photo by Bear Guerra

For the first time in history, Latino voters will comprise the largest non-white voting bloc in the 2020 election. In a 12-part photo essay in High Country News, Homelands’ Bear Guerra follows the Bernie Sanders campaign in Nevada as it works to win Latinos’ hearts and minds and get them to the polls on caucus day.

Sanders would go on to win 51% of the Latino vote in the February caucus. He finished with twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.

Bear’s piece was created in collaboration with the PBS film, Latino Vote: Dispatches from the Battleground, directed by Bernardo Ruiz.

Alan with tree in Alaska
Alan Weisman poses with a tree during a reporting trip to Alaska. He has been grounded in western Massachusetts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homelands co-founder Alan Weisman takes writer Raffi Khatchadourian for a virtual walk in the woods near his home in western Massachusetts for a “Talk of the Town” piece in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker.

In “After COVID-19, Will Nature Take Over?”, Alan contemplates the meaning of the great slowdown in economic (and polluting) activity brought by the pandemic. His bestselling 2007 book, The World Without Us, describes the ways in which nature would recover if human beings suddenly disappeared from the planet. Readers have been returning to the book looking for lessons.

“I don’t think nature is avenging itself,” Alan tells Khatchadourian. “We are having an impact in ways that we can’t predict, because there are so many variables in the ecosystem, but until something happens we just keep forging ahead in a bubble of denial.”

Read the article here.