Hector, Father Turned Drug-Runner

Hidalgo - At age 18, Hector Salinas's girlfriend became pregnant unexpectedly. The pair promptly married, she bore their son, and the new father found himself unable to buy diapers and milk for his baby boy on the US$200 per month he earned working for the local water authority of the state of Hidalgo. So Hector headed north to the United States, alone.

Three years later, he was running drugs along the California coast, pocketing six thousand untaxed dollars per month, and sending his family at least US$800 per week. Hector says he fell deep into an underworld and ended up an unwitting witness to a murder.

That’s when he decided to escape the snares of his drug boss. He stole home to Hidalgo and met his baby boy for the first time in three years, vowing to keep him from a similar fate.

Over a long Friday afternoon, the affable Hector, now a spiky-haired office-worker in Mexico City, recounts his migration story systematically, in minute detail, as if chronicling its moments for his son’s generation. His speaks terse, matter-of-fact Spanish, his emotions always controlled. He refuses to pass judgment on any of the actors in his tale, including himself. He simply warns fellow Mexicans against rushing north, and urges them to temper their dreams of America.

In the next two posts, I'll look at Hector's views of the United States during his migration north, once he arrived in San Francisco, as he fell into a brutal gang, and finally today as he advises his growing boy.

Read More
MexicoAmar Bakshi
The Hyphenated American

CARACAS - In the parlance of hyphenated identities,Nelson Agelvis would be an 'American-Venezuelan'. He was born in Venezuela, grew up in Kansas City, speaks with an American Midwest twang, and now teaches media studies in Caracas. But he says such labels, and hyphenated identities in general, are "uniquely American."

We listen together to Super Tuesday coverage on the radio of his Ford Explorer. As American pundits ponder the possibility of the "first female president", or "the first African-American president," Nelson wonders aloud if such distinctions cause the U.S. more harm than good.

"In Venezuela," he says, "the media doesn't mention the race or origins" of its subjects, whether they’re Carnaval dancers packing clubs now, or foreign politicians running for president.

"[My students and I] don't fixate on Obama as the first black candidate….And we're really puzzled by the way Americans do,” he says. “It seems to us like a form of racism. Americans don't realize how racist they are….By always discussing race, they just perpetuate their problem."

Read More
VenezuelaAmar Bakshi
An American Sister & Israeli Bombs

Beirut - The day Zeina's sister Dina returned to Lebanon from the U.S., bombs began raining down on Beirut.

By the time her sister fled Lebanon days later, Zeina found herself torn between loyalty to her Lebanese homeland, and her long-held vision of someday enjoying a peaceful, prosperous life in America.

Zeina, a twenty-three-year-old anthropology masters student at the American University of Beirut, remembers her mixed emotions during theJuly War of 2006, when Israel launched an aerial offensive in response to the seizing of two Israeli soldiers by the Islamist movement Hezbollah.

Read More
LebanonAmar BakshiComment
Israel's Silicon Valley

Beit Shemesh - "Israel's ten thousand miles from Silicon Valley; but it takes a nanosecond to get there," says Jon Medved, one of Israel's leading high-tech venture capitalists and CEO of a new startup calledVringo, which allows users to share video ringtones on their cell phones.

Israel is a small country with seven million people, unfriendly neighbors, and relatively high taxes. So why does it have the second-largest concentration of startups per capita after Silicon Valley? Jon says the two places are more similar than one would think.

He knows from life experience. He was born in San Diego, raised in Los Angeles, and went to UC Berkeley for college. That's where he first got interested in Israel, arguing Israel's case against campus colleagues during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Read More
IsraelAmar Bakshi