Pigeons over LA River

A flock of pigeons flies above a concrete section of the LA River in this selection from Bear Guerra’s photo essay “A Possible River.”

Bear Guerra has been spending a lot of time around the Los Angeles River, contemplating its meaning and (lucky for us) shooting photos. His photo essay “A Possible River” was recently published in Emergence Magazine and features 22 thoughtfully captioned black-and-white landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. From his written essay:

Surprisingly few Angelenos are even aware that the massive man-made drainage ditch they see from the freeway was once a verdant habitat for a diversity of birds, mammals, and fish; or that today there are still several soft-bottom stretches where natural springs prevented the concrete from taking hold, offering a rare chance for nature to thrive amidst the sprawl. One has to know where to look, but a sense of what once was here—before all the cars and people—can still, to some extent, be found.

Turtle suspended in glass jar

The western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) was the only native turtle species that would have been found in the LA River before channelization. It has been completely extirpated and is now a California “species of special concern.” Photo by Bear Guerra.

In June, Bear published “An inventory of loss on the Los Angeles River” in High Country News with 13 color images documenting animal species that once lived in and along the river but are no longer found there. The photos, he writes, “represent the erasure of incredible diversity and beauty” not just from the area, but also from “the collective memory of Angelenos.”

But there is, he notes, an active citizen movement that hopes to revitalize the river. He says he hopes his essays help. “[I]f we can remember what was lost,” he writes, “then certainly we can imagine what might be again.”

Tolan with doctor, mother, and baby

Sandy Tolan with Dr. Mohamad Abu Samia, director of the Rantisi hospital in Gaza. Photo by Abdel Kareem Hana.

Sandy Tolan is in Gaza, reporting on the water crisis there. Here is a Facebook post from July 26:

This morning in Gaza, a whiff of war in the air in the wake of Israel’s deadly overnight air strikes – a shaking of the fragile ceasefire a few days earlier. All week long I’ve been looking into the human consequences of Gaza’s water crisis on the ground here, visiting refugee camps, talking to hydrologists, engineers, officials, UNICEF and other international donors, and chatting with people along the harbor and the beach. This morning, as I spoke with a Hamas water minister, the wail of an ambulance and a slow mournful dirge began drifting through the window: a memorial procession for the three men killed last night.

Surreal and disturbing as it was, the true human stakes of the water disaster here came into focus only when I started talking to pediatricians. One, from the health ministry, told me that he’s seen dramatic rises in kidney failure, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, salmonella and severe diarrhea in the children of Gaza – between a 30 and 50 percent rise, he estimated, just over the last few months. Much of this he attributed to water and food contamination, the result of salty well water, water delivery trucks carrying e coli, and food that spoils with only four hours a day of electricity – part of the economic strangulation of Gaza.

In the evening, we met with another pediatrician – Mohamad Abu Samia, director of the Rantisi hospital in Gaza. He told us he’s seen a doubling cases of gastroenteritis, renal failure, and thyroid cancer, and the rise in a previously rare disease: Blue Baby Syndrome, related to the elevated nitrate levels in the Gaza wells. “Bluish lips, bluish face, bluish skin,” the doctor tells me. And blood the color of chocolate.

Now, he is seeing cases of marasmus, the result of severe malnutrition in infants: “just bone and skin.” Not all of these diseases can be traced to poor water quality, but all are related, said the doctor, to Israel’s economic blockade. “Before the siege, we didn’t have any patients with malnutrition,” Abu Samia told me. “Now with the temperature going to 40 (104 Fahrenheit), like in the Gulf: no electricity, no water. So much hard suffering. The siege should be stopped.”

Then the doctor led us out of the small examination room and into a quiet ward with some of the sickest babies in Gaza. The room was sectioned by curtains, and he had a few kind words to dazed mothers trying to comfort babies with congenital heart disease, severe malnutrition. The mothers have already lived through three wars and an economic siege. Doctor Abu Samia softly exchanged words with each mom; in one case, he gently lifted the shirt of a tiny infant, revealing a scar from heart surgery nearly half the length of her body. Another was hooked up to a respirator – the minute it stopped, the child would die. And because electricity runs only four hours a day in Gaza, the baby must stay at the hospital, where generators keep her alive.

In her latest commentary for High Country NewsRuxandra Guidi writes how the U.S.-Mexico border has become a stage for political theater,  and why the Trump administration’s “deterrence” tactic against undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers is cruel and inhumane.

“There is no such thing as a ‘crisis’ at the border,” she writes. “What we are witnessing is a rise in the number of people seeking asylum in the U.S., and doing so without receiving due process. That includes the caravan of more than 1,100 Honduran migrants, most of them families with children, whose well-publicized trek to the U.S. prompted Trump’s call for the National Guard. These migrants did not come to scale any walls; they came to ask for U.S. asylum at the border, as several dozen of them reportedly already have.

“Illegal crossings are currently at a 46-year low — down 71 percent in May 2017 from 2014’s peak, when Customs and Border Protection records show that it detained almost 69,000 people.”

Photo by Bear Guerra.

The Cecilia Vaisman Award for Multimedia Reporters will recognize Latinx and Hispanic audio and video journalists “who bring light to the issues that affect the Latinx and Hispanic communities in the U.S. and around the world,” according to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

The award, sponsored by Medill and the the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, is named in honor of Homelands Productions’ co-founder and senior producer, who died in 2015 at age 54.

Cecilia, who was born in Argentina and raised in the United States, worked in long-form and short-form audio, video, and print. She taught in Medill’s audio program and was a beloved mentor and fierce advocate for young journalists.

Cecilia received many awards for her work, including the Clarion Award and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters’ Golden Reel Award, as well as two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for reporting on the disadvantaged. A series she co-produced for NPR on AIDS in Brazil won her an Armstrong Award. In 2016, Cecilia was honored posthumously with a Studs Terkel Award from the Chicago-based organization Public Narrative.

Please click here for an obituary in the Chicago Tribune, and here for a brief audio tribute produced by WBEZ in Chicago. You can watch a video of a January 2016 memorial event at Medill by clicking here.

Homelands member Ruxandra Guidi has been named Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies 2018 Susan E. Tifft Fellow.

The award, now in its second year, offers a woman journalist or documentarian the opportunity to spend a week-long “creative residency” at the CDS, giving lectures, visiting with students, and participating in discussions about the evolution of journalism and documentary storytelling today.

For more information, please click here.

The traveling photo exhibit from Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra’s year-long, multi-platform exploration of the lives of older adults in the heart of Los Angeles will open on Friday, October 6th, 2017 at the city’s Central Library.

The photos are part of “Going Gray in LA: Stories of Aging Along Broadway”, produced in collaboration with Los Angeles’s KCRW Public Radio, and with support from the Eisner Foundation. The exhibit will be in both first floor gallery spaces, from October 6, 2017-January 25, 2018.

For more information, please visit the library’s event page: http://www.lapl.org/whats-on/exhibits/going-gray-la-stories-aging-along-broadway

And for more about the project, please visit: http://curious.kcrw.com/category/going-gray-in-la/

Jaguar tracker

Biologist Miguel Gómez of the Northern Jaguar Project inspects a jaguar photo trap. Photo by McNair Evans/Pacific Standard.

In a major piece for Pacific Standard magazine, Homelands’ Alan Weisman goes deep into the wilderness of northern Mexico and southern Arizona on the trail of jaguars who venture across the border. The 300-pound cats are at the heart of a controversy over mining, conservation, and the Trump border wall.

Cat fight: Inside the struggle to save the latest migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border” describes the decades-old effort to preserve the jaguars’ northern habitat in the face of political, economic, and institutional obstacles. The struggle is becoming increasingly urgent as more jaguars are discovered farther north and plans to seal the border progress.

Activist Eduardo Guevara takes a picture inside Lawson Dump as smoke rises from a fire smoldering below ground. Although it was ordered closed in 2006, underground fires continued to burn for years afterward, and residents of nearby mobile home parks continued to complain about noxious odors and possible contamination. Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra.

For the last several years, Homelands’ Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra have been visiting California’s Coachella Valley to document the environmental and health disasters there, from contaminated water to pesticide pollution to hazardous waste. Now, in a major piece for High Country News, they introduce us to Mexican and Central American immigrants who no longer want to be seen as victims.

Read Rux’s article and see Bear’s photos here.

El artículo también está disponible en español.