1,954 miles

from Extreme Greographer
from Extreme Geographer


What would it mean to try to “see” the entire southwest border at once? To travel the whole 1,954 miles in, say, six minutes?

Might simply looking at a place that has been so heavily politicized — a place abstracted into a sound bite — give a small amount of texture and meaning to a phrase like “build that wall”?

The southern border is a space that has been almost entirely reduced to metaphor. It is not even a geography. Part of my intention with this film is to insist on that geography.

By focusing on the physical landscape, I hope viewers might gain a sense of the enormity of it all, and perhaps imagine what it would mean to be a political subject of that terrain.

“Visualizing the U.S.-Mexico Border” (6:41 minute video of the entire border at The Intercept)


things i’m liking right now (10/30)










I’ve alluded recently to some of the books I’ve been reading. I read all my books in print–no Kindle or audio books. This means I get through them slowly and my backpack is always heavy. But for me, nothing can beat the feel and smell of printed books.

Instead of getting into what I’ve already shared, I’ll share a couple new releases I am eager to pick up. While 2016 has been a great year for lit from authors of color, I feel it’s been lacking in the Latinx department.  But I digress. Maybe all the great Latinx talent is holding its breath until after the election, at which point we’ll see a flourishing golden age of satire, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction on America in the Age of Trump. One can hope.

Meanwhile, I’m eager to pick up these two debut novels. Both are set in California and both come from exciting new voices who, based on reviews and interviews, are pretty interested in breaking down tired old stereotypes.

screen (big and small)

Moonlight, man. Damn. Go see it. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more intimate film. You’ll see what I mean. If more movies handled romantic/sexual relationships with the honesty, subtlety, and tenderness of this film, we’d all be better off. Catch the NPR Code Switch podcast interview with the director, Barry Jenkins.

And on the small screen, Luke Cage is the hero we all need right now.


Sho Baraka–a Christian rapper, whatever that means these days– blindsided me with this amazing album. Can we get more rappers and ALL churches to be this woke and relevant and talented and honest, please???

Also, if you are not listening to Heartbreak Radio, who even are you?

untitled poem 10/28/16

i stood on a flat sidewalk
in the flat middle of the small city
watching a roadrunner glide along the top of a grey cinder block wall
the chlorophyll stink of cactus paddles
dropped onto the dirt
their syrupy blood wetting small pebbles

the sun whitening the sky

there was a mirror, but it was the rain-dust-pelted window of an old truck
i saw myself in it
i saw myself in it
i saw myself in it
that city that slept when I slept, slept longer than me
didn’t say goodbye to me when i left her
didn’t write letters to me when i
woke underneath palm trees, on quads, in dorm rooms
and i remembered her

i remembered her, that city
that place where i learned to read books
that place where i learned to sit quietly in the truck when my father drove us out of the city to go fishing or shooting or hunting
that place where I learned how to turn my heart into a desert

I saw myself in it

dad drove me out of the city to a desert with lonely railroad tracks running through it
summer rainstorms washed silt away from hills where obsidian arrowheads lay buried for a century or more
the people of isleta
the people of laguna
the people of acoma
they used those arrows to fight the navajo and the apache
or was it the other way around

then they fought the spanish
then they fought the anglos
then they fought no one
and then maybe i moved away
and then maybe i regretted it

the blood pumped in and out of my heart fast
a bang of thunder
a crack of thunder
the pillars of heaven broken for you
this is my body, broken for you

this is your body, broken for me

fat rain drops plopped in the dust
and I saw a desert melon plant spread out across the cracked gully of an arroyo
its fruit was yellow and green and when i plucked it it smelled bitter and rotten
its flesh was yellow and it contained seeds
and it contained a world within itself

a rattlesnake lay coiled in a hole nearby
my dad had a .44 revolver
my dad wore a red flannel shirt
my dad smelled like gunpowder and soap
my dad tousled my hair and laughed
my dad ate sunflower seeds in the truck on the drive home

i looked out the window and saw volcanoes
long dead
places where indians and cowboys took refuge
long dead
and this was where it ended and this was where it began

and this was where i began

oh snap







I’m reading a novel right now, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. One of the main characters is the great-granddaughter of a Zen Buddhist nun.

Early in the novel, the great-grandmother proposes this thought experiment:

If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.

That last sentence made me pause and put the book down. A truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how I spent every single moment of a single day of my life.

How many moments in my life am I actually aware of what I am doing? Like, intimately aware? I do a lot of intentional actions on any given day, but aren’t many of those just habitual, mechanical, thought-less? Aren’t I also often trying to do multiple things at the same time, in the same moment? How aware can I be of what I am doing when I am not fully doing any one thing?

Then I asked myself, would I even want to be aware of how I spent every moment of every day? I imagine having that awareness and then being overcome with waves of crushing guilt and anxiety at how much of my life I am wasting on stupid stuff. Like, damn, I spent a MILLION seconds just locking and unlocking my phone?? I’m NEVER getting those seconds back, and one day I’ll be dead!!

Nah, bruh.

But I think this is meant to help you realize the importance of awareness, of understanding the impermanence of all things. Wasn’t there a Christian monk from back in the day who saw that he could “practice the presence of God” in all of life’s mundane moments?

Anyway, this kind of made me want to do an experiment where I take one day out of my week and try to be intimately aware of everything I am doing in every moment. Not that I would dwell on every action or write it down, but just be aware.

Can it be done? Has anyone out there every tried anything like this? Leave comments with any and all thoughts!


artisanal soap and inter-generational love


I just returned from a brief work trip to Albuquerque (where I also saw my family). A highlight is getting to go to the Los Poblanos farm store in Albuquerque’s North Valley, where I can pick up some premium artisanal soaps. Oh yeah, I’ve been really into artisanal soaps recently.

My two days in the 505 were the last half of a longer work trip to Sacramento. I didn’t have a lot of down time during the trip to read or write. When I am at home with family, much of the emotional bandwidth is taken up by whatever drama or crisis is currently playing itself out.

My Grandpa Chavez, who is 91, keeps file folders and boxes full of papers, letters, clippings, and other ephemera pertaining to each of his five grandchildren. Each file is labeled with with the name of the grandchild written with a Sharpie in all-caps. On all of my recent visits home, Grandpa will heave himself out of his living room chair, go into his office, and return with the stack of papers from the “JACOB VIGIL” file. There are newspaper clippings of me when I won the 1996 New Mexico State Geography Bee; letters I hand wrote to him when I was in college; programs and announcements from graduations and weddings.

This last time, there was one piece that stood out. Some time when I was in middle school (I think), Grandpa let me see the diary he kept when he was in the Navy during World War 2. The diary consisted mostly of names and dates of places in the Pacific that his ship visited. At that time I was obsessed with anything World War 2, and I had the idea of making a map that charted Grandpa’s travels based on the records he kept in his diary.

I taped a bunch of pieces of construction paper together and used a grid technique to replicate an atlas map of the Pacific onto my home-made 3 X 4 foot “poster.” I labelled all the islands and ports (San Diego, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, Yokohama, many others).  Then I marked his ship’s progress in pen with lines and arrows, writing the dates of his visits next to the places on the map.

Grandpa kept this map, and seeing it after nearly 20 years was a rare window into my younger–and incredibly dorky–self. It was also a touching reminder of the immense respect and love I’ve always had for my Grandpa. It’s hard to remember a time in my life in which he was not the most interesting, admirable, important person I knew. Somehow my brothers and I (and later my cousins) knew that the best parts of who we were, who we would become, would always be traced back to him. His jokes, his easy-going demeanor, his Spanglish exclamations and endearments–all seen woven into our DNA.

Grandpa Chavez isn’t a serious man or even an educated one, in the formal sense (his brief military service took him away from his high school graduation, which would have been in 1944). But no other person has inspired in me as much love for learning and curiosity about the world has he did.


My map project was a small expression of the awe and gratitude I felt for him as a kid. But as I get older and gain more of a sense of myself as an adult, that gratitude has deepened. I like maps because of Grandpa. I like politics, and books, and history because of Grandpa. And on top of those things I built other things–an interest in policy, a love for writing, an appreciation for family stories and traditions.

Looking at that map–colored in with cheap markers and meticulously labelled with a 14 year old’s attempt at serious handwriting–I remembered that there are so many ways we are who (and where) we came from. My essential nerdiness was really just a 21st century version of Grandpa’s. In just being who I am, I pay homage to him, preserving and carrying on the things about him that I know and love.



The #StandingRockSyllabus

Indigenous peoples around the world have been on the frontlines of conflicts like Standing Rock for centuries. This syllabus brings together the work of Indigenous and allied activists and scholars: anthropologists, historians, environmental scientists, and legal scholars, all of whom contribute important insights into the conflicts between Indigenous sovereignty and resource extraction.

24 more days

What the electoral map would look like if only Crips were allowed to vote.

Sorry about that post from the other day everyone. Well, not really sorry. But I’m feeling better and sometimes you just find yourself all in your feelings, amirite?

So, I promised I wouldn’t do this (I think?) but here I am weighing in on the Never Ending Fever Dream From Hell 2016 election. Bear with me. It’s more just me sharing an interesting thought from some smart people.

As this whole thing winds down, I’m drawn to “what next” scenarios. It’s pretty clear that Trump won’t win, but it’s equally as clear that things will never be the same.

This piece in The New Republic, fleshes out some intriguing thoughts. The theory of Trump’s media ambitions post-election is not new. But this articulates the theory in such a way that makes some frightful predictions about what our post-Trump world will look like after Hillary is sworn in. First, on why Trump-As-President would not really be a happy camper:

As president, Trump—a con man who traffics in dark fantasy—would quickly find himself constrained by the realities of actual government. The Constitution makes it difficult to pull off the kind of Putinesque strong-arming that Trump admires. Instead, he would be forced to try, and ultimately fail, to be what he is not: a capable and measured leader, his power subject to the checks and balances of a democracy. Congress has its own political stories to tell. Supreme Court justices, unlike reality-show apprentices, can’t be fired.

President Trump would face, for perhaps the first time in his life, an environment in which the law—not his word—is the law. Top military and intelligence officials have already vowed to disobey Trump if he ordered them to commit war crimes, as he has promised to do. Try to imagine Trump negotiating the finer points of public policy, even with a Republican-dominated Congress or Senate. His loyal followers will become disillusioned because he will be unable to deliver on his promises to build a wall and deport everyone without documentation and make the rest of the world bow before America’s might. Or they will become disillusioned because he won’t even try to deliver on his promises, which were nothing but lies in the first place. Or they will become disillusioned because their entire political philosophy requires them to reject the very existence of government, and Trump will be the CEO of the world’s most powerful government. Whatever the scenario, a single term beckons—assuming that Trump can evade impeachment that long. In Trump’s victory lies the defeat of Trumpism, as his wish-fulfillment agenda comes crashing, finally and inevitably, to earth.

I find this all to be pretty fair and reasonable. A Trump presidency would make a mockery of our institutions, even put them under severe strain. But it would not be the end of the world. I’ve believed all along that the guy would hate actually holding the office, if he even wanted it in the first place.

Now, here’s the scary part. What happens when The Donald loses? What hath this nation wrought upon itself?


But a narrow loss would hold no such pitfalls for Trump. Robbed by Crooked Hillary and a rigged election, undermined by politically correct wusses and Mexican rapists, Trump will don the mantle of martyrdom. Nothing is more central to Trump’s brand than a sense of grievance, and nothing will make him and his followers feel more righteously aggrieved than losing to Hillary Clinton in a close election. In defeat, his power and appeal will grow a thousandfold.

Even worse, that sense of grievance may find its ultimate expression in the form of TrumpTV. Free from the responsibilities and limitations of the presidency, Trump would be his new channel’s greatest star, a pretender-president expounding in prime time from a mock Oval Office. Imagine the network’s all-star lineup, personally recruited by Roger Ailes and Steven Bannon: Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter. Trump will be president in the same way he is a successful businessman: He will play one on TV. The ultimate source of his power has always been ratings, and a narrow defeat by Hillary Clinton will send his ratings through the roof, enabling him to proclaim his message more loudly than ever.

And make no mistake what that message will be: the promotion of civil insurrection, and perhaps even race war. If Trump loses, it will be because his base—white men, many of them without a college education—is now outnumbered by racial minorities and college-educated women. Trump’s defeat, coming after Barack Obama’s two terms, would affirm that white men are no longer guaranteed what they consider to be their rightful place at the center of national politics. Stripped of their political and social hegemony, they will increasingly resort to violence to maintain their hold on power.

I think there is something to this. Trump has the opportunity to be more powerful than he ever imagined, and it doesn’t have to include the Presidency.

It says something about our times that media platforms have become such powerful arbiters of social, political, and cultural influence. We’ve seen this from #BlackLivesMatter to the rise Trump. The unfortunate side effect of this, though, is the partisan media bubble effect–something I’ve written about before. This quote from a recent article in Salon on Trump’s savvy harnessing of right-wing social media sums it up well:

Generally speaking, social media isn’t necessarily about exposure to a variety of ideas, it’s about running away from intimidating variety to embrace a technological safe space where we’re only sporadically confronted by contravening facts. Social media allows us to nest in our own bullshit and deludes us into believing our own lies.

This hints at part of the reason I have been critical with the the liberal media (which makes up most of what I read) and the community of liberal friends I have. Our customized Facebook bubbles have allowed us to indulge in self-righteous shock and hand-wringing panic about the rise of Trump. How can this have happened? Who are these people??  The Vox generation of center-left punditry and policy wonks reinforce this: Trump supporters are crazy, they’re a different species. If only everyone was as sane and sensible as we are.

This allows us to dismiss Trump voters wholesale. They are illegitimate, retrograde, “deplorable.” The problem with this is that we are doing the same thing Trump and his supporters are doing. We’ve drawn the battle lines and excused ourselves from offering any viable, inclusive, thoughtful, democratic alternative to Trump’s madness.

I am convinced that this is why Bernie was so popular. He spoke to those of us who know that the system is rife with corruption and serves the interests of the elite. So does Trump. So what can a progressive political agenda offer to working class whites who feel alienated by a globalized economy and a multicultural society? The problem is, many on the left have absolved themselves from any responsibility to even ask the question. All “those people” are beyond redemption anyway.

Is it any surprise, then, that those people were scooped up by the Trumpian whirlwind, the demagogic promises of a flamboyant and swaggering strong man?

There is a lot more I can say, and there will be many more opportunities to say it. We should be under no illusion that the rage and bitterness provoked by Obama’s presidency will suddenly disappear in Hillary’s America (or that Donald Trump will, for that matter). It will be easy to retreat to our ideological corners and take shots at the other side, writing them off as crazy. I just hope that we (left and right) will more and more recognize “the things that would bring you peace” and act on it. After November, we’ll all desperately need it.