June 09, 2010

Hunger Strike for 'Dream Act' - A Fair Proposal for Education instead of Deportation for Children of Undocumented Immigrants

"In New York City since June 2nd, a group of 10 undocumented students continue to starve themselves outside of Sen. Chuck Schumer's office, living off water and salt as a way to pressure him to pass the Dream Act as a standalone bill."

The Dream Act is "
a proposed legislation, introduced nearly a decade ago, would allow qualifying undocumented youth to be eligible for a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship, provided they obtain a college degree or serve in the military."

If passed the "Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would grant children of illegal immigrants who have completed high school education and two years of college the opportunity to apply for citizenship and thus be able to apply for post secondary education....students will get the chance to get higher education through attaining citizenship. Around 70,000 undocumented students graduate from high schools in America every year."

Juan came to this country when he was 10 years old. He was heartbroken to leave his grandmother behind in Honduras, his native country; she had been the sole family he had had for the first ten years of his life. His father left Honduras before Juan came into the world, and his mother left shortly after, seeking a new life in the USA. Some ten years later, Juan is told that his parents have sent for him, and he boards a plane to come to the USA to join his parents who are now illegal immigrants as their visitor VISA had expired within a few months of their arrival.

Juan joins two strangers, his parents, in a strange land and starts in a strange American Public School setting where his native language, Spanish, is of no help. He is enrolled in an ESL program, and that is the beginning of his academic career. The 11 year old gradually gets acclimatized to his new parents in the new setting, and is gladdened by the arrival of his baby brother who till date is the only one Juan considers as his real family. Within months of his arrival, Juan too becomes an illegal alien, a status he is completely oblivious of until he is in his junior year at high school and is thinking of college as his next step toward living the American dream. What is more is that Juan is now a star soccer player who has been the MVP in the county for two consecutive years scoring the highest number of goals. At the All Star Game, the recruiters all make a beeline for Juan only to lose interest when the coach tells them of Juan's undeclared legal status. In the meanwhile, Juan is slowly awakening to to the reality of his situation; he sees his team mates, who played soccer only so that they could put that on their resume, being accepted to colleges on full and partial scholarships. His high school coach tries to find Juan a spot in a community college only to find that the college cannot give Juan any money because he is undocumented. Juan's parents in the meanwhile, decide to separate, and decide that Juan will go with the father and Jose the younger would stay with the mother. Juan cannot bear the thought of separating from Jose, the one human being he feels connected with! He protests but to no avail. His father, who is a part owner in a construction business, has to relocate because of the non availability of jobs in the current recession. As a result of the financial crunch, he will also not be able to help pay for Juan's college. Juan is devastated; his dream of going to college and being able to play soccer at a college level is shattered!

Juan has since done odd jobs accompanying his father to construction sites every now and again. He plays soccer whenever he can on adult leagues that call him when they are short on players for practices. That may perhaps be only reason why Juan hasn't sunk into depression despite the hopeless situation he finds himself in.

Why should this trusting 19 year old have to pay a price this big for something he really is not responsible for? Why should Juan have to suffer for the decisions made by his parents? Why does he have to suffer the illegal alien status when the USA is the only place he recognizes as home, a home he has never been outside of since he first arrived here?

The 'Dream Act' can bring hope into Juan's life and into the lives of thousands of other Juans who live their life in fear, in a kind of limbo that they cannot find a way out of. Life is passing by for the Juans of this country, and we can change that if we support the Dream Act that will give the children of illegal immigrants their life and the opportunity to live out their American Dream!

June 02, 2010

"Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson - Science Fiction at its Best.

Folding the Map's intriguing review of "Spin" has definitely put this book on my reading list. According to the reviewer, this science fiction novel may be a contender against classics such as Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land", my most favorite piece of science fiction.

"Spin, science fiction at its best

Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson, starts out as a seemingly average bit of modern science fiction. There is some “event” that is inexplicable to humans and, over the course of the novel, the event, its origins, and its consequences bear out in ways that can be either interesting or uninteresting to the average reader. That is what separates good science fiction from bad and also where Spin excels! The reasons for and consequences of the event in Spin are absolutely fantastic and make the book more than worth reading by any fan of science fiction.

So, to begin with, let’s describe the “event” in the novel. At some point in the near future, the entire Earth is suddenly covered by a membrane that selectively lets things through. For instance, electromagnetic radiation is not let through in either direction but satellites, rockets, and the like are (note: the membrane generates a sort of artificial sunlight in order to allow life to continue on the planet). Even more interestingly, the membrane effectively slows down the passage of time on the earth such that, for every decade that passes on the earth, a billion years pass by in the rest of the galaxy. Effectively, this means that humans have 50 years left before the sun’s expansion makes Earth unlivable (thanks to a variety of reasons, including deadly radiation and unbearable temperatures). That is the “event”. While quite intriguing, it is not the most exciting premise for a science fiction book that I have read.

What happens thereafter, in humanity’s attempts to save itself from extinction in 50 years is what makes this book spectacular. First, in hopes of providing itself the time necessary to develop technology to defeat the looming extinction of the species, humans decide to launch a colony on Mars. As Mars does not have a membrane around it, time there flows regularly and people on Mars have the full length of time till the death of the sun to come up with a way to save their brethren on Earth (or at least allow the human species to continue). This much we get from the back sleeve of the book. And here is where the fun starts. Beyond lie spoilers…

Within a hundred thousand years (real time), Mars is also enveloped by a similar membrane. At this point, it is believed that the membranes are the hostile actions of an intelligent alien species. But to what end is unknown. As the years (and decades) pass, humans go through various stages of coming to terms with their seemingly inevitable destruction: hedonism, religious fervor, hysteria, suicide, looting, etc. It seems that we are doomed.

However, the Martian colony, before being enveloped by the membrane, sent a representative back to Earth with tremendous amounts of technology not yet developed on Earth. Among these technological treasures were replicators, also known as von Neumann machines. [On a side note, I feel like it is rare that von Neumann machines are meaningfully brought into science fiction novels and really appreciate the inclusion of the concept into this novel by Wilson.] After much debate, these replicators are launched into outer space in the hopes of, at the very least, understanding the origins of the alien intelligence out to destroy us.

What these replicators report back (and how they fare) is far too interesting and exciting for me to simply give away here. It would be a disservice to any potential reader who happens to come across this review. So, I close out this review simply by saying that Wilson successfully manages to weave together human, geological, and galactic time spans in this novel, while incorporating a number of speculative concepts that are thrilling for any science-fiction fan. Enjoy!

PS, There is some amount of storyline about the characters in the book, which I intentionally omitted. The human interest plot was well-written but I just don’t consider that to be the real core of a science-fiction book.

PPS, If you don’t know what von Neumann machines are, you really should click on the Wikipedia link I inserted in the text. And here. It’s a really interesting concept that doesn’t get enough air time, in my opinion."