No doubt about it -- our current immigration situation is a total shit storm. With all that's going on here, it's the perfect time for Terry Greene Sterling's book, Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone. Sterling puts a face to the story through thoughtfully crafted profiles of everyday people who are navigating their lives through an impossible system.
We reviewed the book
yesterday, and you can read a chapter here
. Sterling will be making an author appearance and signing books in Tempe tonight, so we caught up with her via email to ask a few questions.
These are such personal stories in the book. How did you find your interview subjects and get them to open up to you?
I am politely but persistently nosy.
The immigration debate was heating up so much while you were working on this book. What has that process been like?
I wanted to write true, intimate stories about a few of the thousands of unauthorized immigrants who quietly live, work, play, sin, and die right here in the Valley, America's red hot immigration pressure cooker. As I got to know a few of these people, the immigration debate ramped up and affected these people in dramatic and unpredictable ways. The immigration brawl made their stories more urgently compelling.
(more after the jump)
As I was reading the book I found myself thinking: This immigration debate in purely, simplistic terms is about those who claim to belong here more than others. In 1949 Phoenix was roughly 17 square miles, with a population of 100,000 people. In 2006 Phoenix was a sprawling 500 square miles with 1.5 million people. This rapid development would suggest that, in a political sense, this is also a trans-American migration story not just about border-crossers from Mexico. What is your take on that?
If you're suggesting Phoenix's population uptick of the last 50 years is largely a result of migration of Americans from other states, I agree. And if you're saying many unauthorized immigrants were attracted to the Valley by the jobs associated with that growth, I also agree.
How did being bilingual and having grown up on both sides of the border shape your views?
I speak Spanish well enough to know the Mexicans with chain saws in the backs of their pickups are palm-tree trimmers, not beheaders.
Any ideas how we can move the immigration debate in a more reasoned direction?
Idea Number One: Unauthorized immigrants and Tea Party devotees should routinely pound down a few cool ones together. Idea Number Two: Ban politicians from such gatherings.
Terry Greene Sterling will be at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe, at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. For more information about her book, go to www.TerryGreeneSterling.com