Good Reads: From immigrant families, to women in construction, to plight of puffins

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes a look at the family realities of deportation, how discrimination kept black children from access to swim lessons, the stories of female construction workers, the pursuit of education amid chaos in Nigeria, and how climate change is affecting puffins.

An immigrant advocacy group rallies outside a detention center in Eloy, Ariz.

Every year more than 100,000 American citizens say goodbye indefinitely to a spouse or a parent who has been deported, reports Eli Saslow for The Washington Post. These wives, husbands, sons, and daughters are the other side of immigration enforcement. 

Mr. Saslow unfolds the story of one such wife, Madina Salaty of Lawrence, Kan., who must prepare herself to say goodbye to Zunu Zunaid, the man she loves. 

Mr. Zunaid came to the United States on a student visa, Saslow reports, but when his father in Bangladesh was unable to keep up with his tuition payments, Zunaid dropped out and started working. He’d spent 20 years in the US. He knew he was in the country illegally, as did his wife when they married in 2011, but America was home. 

Had Zunaid come to the US and married Ms. Salaty 30 years ago, he might have been able to stay, his immigration violations dismissed when he married an American citizen. However, a 1996 change to immigration law removed that possibility.

The history of a stereotype

As is the case with many stereotypes, there is a hint of truth in the statement “black people can’t swim,” writes Brentin Mock for Grist

“The truth in it comes courtesy of the oft-cited statistics that close to 70 percent of black children can’t swim (compared to 42 percent of white kids) and black children are three times more likely to drown than white kids,” Mr. Mock reports.

Those statistics are the grim effect of decades of discrimination, as black families found themselves evicted from beach communities, banned from public swimming pools, and left with only the most dangerous swimming holes for possible refuge, he writes. But in recent years, as civil rights activists have torn down societal barriers, new athletes have emerged, such as Cullen Jones, the first black man to win an Olympic gold medal for swimming in 2008.

Women of steel

The construction industry is one of the last bastions of male-dominated professions, but some women have muscled their way in, writes Dorothée Moisan for online magazine Narratively.

“When I started in the masonry trade, men around me tried to break me and to discourage me,” Michelle McKenzie told Ms. Moisan. “But I stuck with it.”

Women make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry workforce, Moisan reports, and many say that they have faced discrimination, endured hazing, and learned to accept a double-standard level of pay. Crane operator Pia Hofmann told Moisan, “I know I’m skilled but I’ve got to be extra good to prove myself.” 

Project manager Shamsell Abdill said that she felt that she constantly had to defend her decisions and prove that her being a woman adds something valuable to the project.

“The difference is that women ... take it more personally,” she told Moisan. “For men, it’s just a job. For us, this project that we follow from cradle to grave is a bit like our baby.”

Defying Boko Haram

While the world clamors for the return of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the anti-Western education group Boko Haram, 11 million children in Nigeria await an education, Will Ross reports for BBC News. Al Haji Sani Jibril knows sending his 12-year-old granddaughter to school to learn English is dangerous, but he also knows that an education will empower not only her, but her siblings, her friends, and one day her own children.

“I believe sending Fatima to school is like educating our whole society, because my granddaughter will influence her peers to go to school,” he told Mr. Ross.

Sending children to secular school does not simply defy Boko Haram’s declaration that only boys should be educated and even then only in the Quran, it helps to prevent future youth from joining the terrorist group.

As the governor of the Nigerian state of Kano told Ross, “We are all aware that there is certainly a correlation between illiteracy, poverty and conflict.”

Suffer the puffins

Puffins became the new poster child for climate change in 2012, when a chick dubbed Petey died in front of an online audience. Schoolchildren around the United States had watched Petey grow up via “Puffin Cam,” a live video feed set up on Maine’s Seal Island by Stephen Kress as part of the Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, reports Rowan Jacobsen for Mother Jones.

As the world watched, Petey wasted away, not because his parents neglected him, but because they could no longer find the teardrop-shaped hake and herring to feed him. Instead, they spent weeks bringing him butterfish, a wider fish that proved to be too large for Petey to swallow.

“Unfortunately, these clowns of the sea seem to be the canaries in the western Atlantic coal mine,” Mr. Jacobsen writes. “Their decline is an ominous sign in a system that supports everything from the last 400 North Atlantic right whales to the $2 billion lobster industry.”

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