First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Loung presents the reader with a straightforward and heartbreaking account of the Cambodian genocide through her first-person perspective as a child struggling to survive. She does a fantastic job of humanizing the experience, displaying a singular perspective of an era which can be hard to empathize with otherwise due to its unimaginably vast and horrific nature (including the death of millions). The contrast between Loung and her relatives is particularly beautiful in showing the different ways that humans can cope under extreme duress. While she is headstrong and fueled by rage, her sister Chou endures through passivity. Loung’s description of the desperate actions taken out of fear, hunger, and anger are especially enlightening. The prose is fairly simple and the internal monologue comes off as repetitive at times, though this bolsters the book’s childish lens. Loung focuses almost entirely on portraying the narrative of her family; do not expect a complete overview of the genocide or any political analysis.

Finally the women stand still. Their weapons drip with blood as they walk away. When they turn around, I see that they look like death themselves. Their hair trickles blood and sweat, their clothes drip, their faces red and rigid. Only their eyes look alive as they seethe with more rage and hate. The women are quiet as the crowd parts for them to pass through. During the execution, the crowd did not cheer but watched, silent and devoid of emotion, as if it were the slaughter of an animal for food. After the women are gone, the crowd begins to buzz.

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois lives in El Barrio (an impoverished neighborhood in East Harlem, then mostly populated by Puerto Ricans) from 1985 to 1990 and befriends a network of crack dealers. Through transcriptions of tape recordings combined with historical contextualization and socioeconomic analysis, he paints a vivid picture of broken families who want out of this lifestyle but face countless hurdles from institutional racism. Generational trauma is maintained by a cycle of physical/sexual/emotional abuse and drug addiction. The characters are not easy to like yet their humanity is made obvious. Read more


(Written in October 2018)

Lucas Johnson’s painting Volcano Series No. 3 (1991) depicts a dark green mountain split open down the middle. Bright red lava flows down the split carrying black rocks and large cubic slabs which appear architectural in nature. These slabs look like sandstone and two of them are embedded with staircases.

The painting instantly captivated me. I’ve always felt entranced by lava. Its bright orange red tone is so luminescent that it serves almost as a warning sign, though any soul close enough to witness its flow has likely already asphyxiated from the fumes. Is there any force in nature more hell-bent in destruction? At its core, pyromania is nothing more than a fascination with utter destruction.

This picture is surreal because the lava is so thick with undissolved debris, unlike any photograph of lava that I’ve seen. The sandstone blocks look out of place floating in the molten torrent. They appear Egyptian in origin but the mountain is green, indicating plant life and a location away from the Egyptian desert. The painting depicts the mountain at an upward angle to the viewer in order to create a sense of gravity, yet there is no direct indication of motion within the lava. The biggest sandstone block at the very bottom of the frame may even be blocking its flow.

I think Johnson intended to create a juxtaposition of the natural world and its struggle to compete with the man-made world, classically known as the conflict of Man vs. Nature. Lava normally creates a path of utter destruction but the blocks in the painting appear whole and largely undamaged, perhaps even standing a chance of winning the fight. He does portray one side as the deserved victor. In blending the two worlds into one, Johnson is stating that their coexistence is natural.

The Hazards of PCB Pollution

By Wyatt Lucas, Alex Botnick, and Prince Agyemang


Superfund sites are hazardous contaminated areas that are in need of long-term cleanup. The Kin-Buc Landfill in Edison, New Jersey is just one of the many superfund sites in the state (EPA Superfund Program: Kin-Buc Landfill). Now an inactive landfill, the 220-acre site was active from the late 1940’s up until 1976. From 1971 to 1976, the landfill was used for municipal, industrial, and hazardous waste. Hazardous waste was accepted up until 1976 and was discontinued when the state revoked the landfill’s permit for violating environmental regulations. The hazardous liquid waste that was dumped at the site seeped into nearby creeks, resulting in Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) pollution (EPA Superfund Program: Kin-Buc Landfill).

PCBs are organic chlorine compounds that form oily liquids used in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors. PCBs are also found in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers. These chemicals were used due to their resistance to extreme temperature and pressure. In 1977, the production of PCBs came to an end and by 1979, the EPA officially banned the use of PCBs due to their negative environmental and health effects (Illinois Department of Public Health).

The Kin-Buc Landfill is highly contaminated with PCBs. These chemicals pollute the air, water, soil, and sediments within the area. Nearby bodies of water such as Edmonds Creek, Rum Creek, and the Raritan River all have PCBs detected in their waters. Other pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals have been detected at the landfill as well (EPA 2016).

The purpose of this essay is to identify how PCBs are released into the environment, the effects of PCBs on the environment, and solutions on how to stop PCB emissions as well as how to degrade the chemical. The Kin-Buc Landfill will serve as an example of how PCB pollution takes effect on the environment, as seen in figure 1. Continue reading “The Hazards of PCB Pollution”

The Labor Movement’s Resurgence during the Great Depression

(Written in September 2017)

The Labor movement’s explosive growth in the 1930s was a direct result of the National Industrial Recovery Act’s Section 7a putting protections in place for organized labor, but this growth would not have occurred at the same magnitude if the working class had not been largely homogenous at the time. Workers were able to organize in large numbers during the Great Depression because many of the divisions inside of the working class had disintegrated by this point. The high unemployment rate led workers to value their jobs more than ever; they sought to improve their quality of life through demanding better treatment from employers and they slowly won this fight, one battle at a time.

Continue reading “The Labor Movement’s Resurgence during the Great Depression”