After their meeting’s discussion winds down, students in the Gender Committee gather around member Havien Edmonds, center, to watch a funny video on his phone.
ighty students crowd inside history teacher Kurt Dearie’s classroom at lunchtime with an abundance of pizza, vibrantly unusual hair color and lively discussion.
It’s just another Wednesday at Carlsbad High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance.
The alliance and an offshoot support group are making fundamental changes in how their school sees, treats and understands students of transgender experience whose gender does not align with the one they were assigned at birth or whose identities are not encompassed within the gender binary of “male” and “female.”
The student committee reflects growing momentum of transgender activism in San Diego. Due to recent legislation, student activists can now demand change, such as the designation of an all-genders bathroom at their high schools. Still, the movement is not without its hardships. The committee, which started meeting this school year, has already experienced despair with the suicides of two transgender students at neighboring high schools.
Fighting that loss includes writing those identities into the history books. The forward momentum of transgender activism motivated a historian from Julian to come out and get involved in her community so young transgender people growing up can see themselves in a history that has too often forgotten their predecessors.
From Gay/Straight to
Dearie began advising the Gay/Straight Alliance in 2002 after a handful of students asked him to. The school administration feared backlash from the community and initially declined the request to start the club.
With Dearie’s committed advisorship, and despite vandalism and harassment that plagued the club in its first few years, the meetings steadily grew.
In 2008, Krista King, a graphic design and photography teacher, joined as co-advisor.
“When I started, there was still a lot of bullying,” King said. “It was still scary for students to cross that line to come into the club meetings and the majority of members were allies, but now more students are willing to be out and visible with their identities.”
Since King’s involvement, she’s witnessed the club grow exponentially.
“GSA has really changed the culture of our school,” King said. “It’s right up there as one of the cool clubs to join.”
The rise in the club’s popularity highlighted the limited focus on gay and straight sexual orientation reflected in the club’s name. Dearie, King and the students wanted something more inclusive.
“We changed the name to Gender Sexuality Alliance last year because that encompassed everybody,” Dearie said.
MULTIMEDIA Kurt Dearie, Krista King and students in The Gender Committee talk about their club’s major goals and accomplishments.
The Gender Committee started as an offshoot support group last fall and has become a hub for transgender activism that influences the school’s policies.
“I lacked a lot of knowledge so I asked the students if we could have a second group on Thursday so they could educate us about gender and also have a place to vent and talk where they can be themselves,” Dearie said. “It’s really a student-led grassroots movement.”
Dearie welcomes the students’ activism.
“It feels more beneficial to have a small group of people, specifically people who don’t identify as cisgender for the most part,” said Fiona Cisternas, 16, an officer of the GSA and the Gender Committee. “To get together to talk about those specific issues and challenges facing them.”
The advisors and students say faculty has been surprisingly responsive, especially under the leadership of new principal Josh Porter. This year alone, students in the committee have gotten official name changes, admittance to the appropriate locker rooms and a new all-genders single-stall restroom.
“We had to get all of the faculty to approve giving up this staff bathroom on this side of the school,” King said. “Some were hesitant because staff bathrooms are limited as is, but we can’t complain about having less when these students have none.”
The all-genders restroom was the student committee’s first major accomplishment as a group.
“Now we have a gender neutral bathroom so non-binary kids can feel comfortable,” said Trinity Serafin, 15, a member of the Gender Committee. “I’m non-binary and when I go into the girl’s bathroom and see a row of girls I’m like ‘Nope, this is wrong for me!’”
Kurt Dearie, left, in his classroom during a meeting of the Gender Committee. Co-Advisor Krista King looks on.
In addition, the student committee frequently has training sessions with staff about the concerns and needs of transgender students.
“We want to do more teacher training, not only with newer teachers, but the older ones with tenure too, who maybe haven’t been trained in five years and don’t know anything about the new demographics at our school.” Cisternas said.
Trainings open a dialogue between students and teachers about the correct ways of handling a transgender student’s concerns, such as bullying, a student’s chosen name and preferred gender pronouns, facilities that student is allowed to use and the elimination of class activities that rely on the gender binary like boys vs. girls games, among others.
“I’m cisgender and I’m privileged.” King said. “Sometimes I catch myself saying things to them that I’ve had straight men say to me all my life like ‘Are you sure you’re a lesbian? Why?’ but about gender, and I realized that’s exactly the wrong response.”
In addition to training their own faculty, the GSA works with California State University San Marcos to train teachers in their graduate program and assists neighboring schools in creating their own clubs.
“We went to Sage Creek [a high school down the road] and helped them start their GSA, which was really cool,” Serafin said. “It was really exciting because we’re spreading!”
In the past few months, two transgender students from nearby high schools, Sage-David and Taylor Alesana, died in separated accounts of suicide. Both were active at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center, which many students from the Gender Committee also frequented.
The club was hit hard with the news of Sage-David the day before a meeting in early March. Students walked into the room hugging each other, some with tears in their eyes.
Forty-one percent of adults identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming report attempting suicide, according to a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Williams Institute.
That’s 10 times more than the overall national average. In comparison to lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide, the statistic for transgender people still sits 10 to 20 percent higher. Across demographics in the study, younger transgender respondents are attempting suicide more, at 45 percent for people 18 to 24.
“Those statistics do not surprise me,” Dearie said. “Statistics show that a first attempt is a strong indicator of successfully committing suicide, and that horrifies me.”
The GSA conducted an anonymous survey of the students involved and out of 50 participants, 14 reported attempting suicide.
Fiona Cisternas, left, discusses their ideas regarding another member’s proposal of starting a clothing drive for transgender people in San Diego, which could include the purchasing of chest binders and/or breast forms.
The shift toward a focus on transgender rights was something Dearie said he saw happen almost overnight, but it seemed inevitable.
“I’ve always had transgender people in the GSA but they seldom have identified themselves that way,” Dearie said. “It’s usually when they come back to visit years later that they tell me.”
It’s a change that comes with shifting the conversation from sexual orientation to gender identity.
“Past teacher trainings would mostly focus on sexuality and now we’ve seen a really big shift towards, not only people identifying as sexualities that aren’t heterosexual, but people identifying with gender identities that aren’t cisgender.” Cisternas said.
More inclusive legislation allows for greater transgender representation in the media and that is having a direct effect on students, Dearie said.
“Because of changes that are happening both in their knowledge and publicity, with high profile people coming out as transgender, they’re starting to come out and express their gender at school; and schools and communities are not prepared for it,” Dearie said. “At the same time, I’m also optimistic because it is that coming out and backlash that will allow it to go forward.”
Dearie says his observation of transgender student activism resembles what he witnessed when the GSA first started.
“Transgender students are where lesbian, gay and bisexual students were 10, 15, 20 years ago as far as the discrimination, the lack of knowledge and understanding,” Dearie said.
Meredith Vezina, a historian documenting San Diego’s trans history, also sees the parallels.
“The transgender movement is really where gay liberation was in the 1970s,” Vezina said.
Through her research, she noticed that the presence of transgender women of color at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, like Marsha P. Johnsnon and Sylvia Rivera, are often debated because those events were not documented.
Building a History
The historian, 63, works to ensure her community is no longer erased within that history.
At Lambda Archives, San Diego’s archive for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender history located in University Heights, she builds what looks like a television set in their reading room.
“As you can see, I’m sort of a one woman show,” Vezina said.
Meredith Vezina prepares her camera, which she learned to operate while working on her military oral history project.
She met her wife, Ellen Holzman, while conducting research for her master’s thesis at San Diego State University around 25 years ago. They hit it off and wanted to start a women’s history journal. After seeing the lack of funds in women’s history at the time, they focused on military history and continue to do that work today.
Vezina kept her transgender identity private for most of her life after that, living in Julian with Holzman and working on the military history project.
It’s that work that has supplied her with the equipment and funds to produce the Trans* Oral History Project.
After seeing the rise of transgender personalities in the media like writer Janet Mock and actress Laverne Cox last year, Vezina realized she no longer wanted to live in hiding and decided to get involved with her community’s activism. With her background in history, she started at Lambda Archives but realized quickly the lack of resources there regarding transgender history.
Vezina, right, interviews Paul, a transgender man, for the Trans* Oral History Project. He appears on the monitor Vezina set up in the Lambda Archives’ reading room to conduct interviews.
“The traditional oral interview would be like ‘What was San Diego like in the 1970s?’” and there’s none of that for trans people, or very little of it,” Vezina said. “We’re focusing on the present.”
It’s an approach that focuses on building history for the future.
“The value I see here is that 10 years from now, we’ll have something to look back at,” Vezina said.
Having lived separated from her community for so long, Vezina is actively researching and learning about the current practices of transgender activism.
“There’s a whole new way of doing things and a whole new vernacular, and I’m still learning,” Vezina said. “The whole idea of there being a spectrum of people along the binary never occurred to me and wasn’t something I even considered until a year or 18 months ago.”
MULTIMEDIA Vezina talks her motivations, the Trans* Oral History Project and filming the narratives of transgender San Diegans.
The videos will be included in the Lambda Archives and Vezina has also been contacted by San Diego State to share the content. She plans on making these videos publicly available on a website she is developing called Trans* Narratives.
For Vezina, it isn’t just about letting these stories hide inside a resource center.
“I want to get these videos out there so the people I interviewed can say, ‘You followed through, we aren’t just sitting there on the shelf,’” Vezina said.
“I come here because the community welcomes me, teaches me and supports me. I want to give back. I want to do the same for others.” – Thu Nguyen, Little Saigon community center volunteer
Seventeen-year-old Thu Nguyen grew up in a culture where emotions and passions were hidden rather than embraced and working in the family business was more important than becoming independent or chasing dreams. Sadly, it is this same culture where few people trust the government, let alone strive to make a difference in it.
Thu Nguyen’s lifestyle and view of the world changed when she moved from Da Lat, Vietnam to San Diego, California one year ago. After finding the Little Saigon Community Center in City Heights, she is learning what it means to speak up and pursue her goals.
Many Vietnamese individuals and multi-generation families going through the same experience as Thu Nguyen are given the opportunity to honor their past, build a future and find a piece of home in Little Saigon, a neighborhood City Heights. They can also gain support along the way at the Little Saigon Community Center.
Vietnamese immigrants have populated neighborhoods in City Heights since 1975, after the Fall of Saigon. Today, almost 50,000 Vietnamese-Americans live in San Diego County according to the Pew Research Center.
Within a two-mile radius between Highland Avenue and Euclid Avenue off El Cajon Boulevard, there are hundreds of Vietnamese residents and dozens of Vietnamese stores and restaurants. Many residents today say this area was the origin of the Vietnamese community in San Diego, said Frank Vuong, co-founder and Executive Director of Little Saigon Foundation.
In 2013, Vuong and Su Nguyen co-founded LSF and worked with the city to officially designate the streets from Highland Avenue to Euclid Avenue as Little Saigon.
“Little Saigon was founded on the principle of love and the value of service,” Vuong said.
Little Saigon’s purpose is to create opportunities for Vietnamese people struggling to assimilate into American culture. Its goal is to become an ethnic enclave that Vietnamese are proud to be a part of and where others are welcomed.
“The community and surrounding businesses were all-in,” Vuong said. “The people in this neighborhood aren’t focused on money and how it plays into development of Little Saigon. They just want to be proud that there is a Little Saigon.”
Little Saigon is a cultural and commercial district. In the center is Asia Business Center, which includes businesses that offer food, newspapers, and tax and health services. Within the center, a brightly and intricately decorated family-run shop called Fortune City offers household items, decorations and Asian gifts.
VIDEO: Fortune City owner Scott Luong creates and displays lucky bamboo in his store, a family business, located in Asia Business Center. He describes how his store helps fulfill dreams he has for his children.
Also nearby is Pho King, a business that has boomed since Little Saigon’s inception. Pho King’s specialty is a widely popular Vietnamese dish, pho: a noodle soup that consists of broth, rice noodles, meat and herbs. Song Huong Food To Go is another visitor favorite and sells a variety of Vietnamese food, including sandwiches, appetizers, steamed rolls, noodle soups, rice soups, rice dishes and vegetarian dishes.
When Little Saigon was officially designated, LSF created a community center in the heart of the area to provide free services and assistance to anyone in the community.
“We respond directly to people’s needs,” Vuong said.
LSF surveyed over 700 people in 2014 who lived in surrounding neighborhoods. The survey asked people what they thought a local Vietnamese community center needed.
The Little Saigon Community Center was the first Vietnamese community center in City Heights, as well as the first in all of San Diego County that provides services and is open every day.
The center also provides volunteer opportunities for high school and college students like Thu Nguyen. Students are given responsibilities in the office and chances to work at community events. They are taught valuable lessons and skills as they pursue their passions and careers.
Thu Nguyen’s dream is to be a businesswoman. As a volunteer at Little Saigon, not only does she get the chance to network and build relationships with community leaders, but she is also given mentorship and guidance in the area of business. When she is at the community center, Vuong coaches her and has her help him complete the tasks of running LSF.
Through her work at the community center, she is developing skills that help prepare her for the future.
SLIDESHOW: Lisa Yen Huynh hosts a flower arrangement workshop at the Little Saigon Community Center to bring Vietnamese women together for fun and bonding.
Although LSF has many events, improvements and developments planned, Vuong said that there is currently no space to support much activity and scarce funds to start implementing ideas.
LSF Vice President Tran Lam is in charge of community event planning and has already made significant progress for the Vietnamese community.
In 2004, she successfully advocated for a Vietnamese language option in the San Diego’s Voter’s Ballot and on the County’s Registrar of Voters website while organizing registration for more 6,000 Vietnamese voters. In 2006, Lam co-hosted the first large-scale San Diego Lunar New Year Tet Festival at Qualcomm Stadium, attracting more than 25,000 visitors. In 2015, visitor attendance grew to more than 30,000.
Lam still has visions for LSF to be financially stable through investments or businesses that will generate sustainable incomes and to have full-time employees to manage programs and day-to-day operations. LSF will host fundraising events and sell tickets to them – each ticket will help LSF get one step closer to reaching its visions.
“I want to live up to our name as a Foundation,” Lam said.
Art, something essential to any culture but something Little Saigon currently lacks, is one of the first things Vuong hopes to implement next.
Vuong said once Little Saigon’s streets look more aesthetically appealing, LSF will work to place cultural banners on freeway exits and on light poles.
“We want to show off Vietnamese art, sculptures and creative design,” Vuong said. “We want people to see something when they drive around and be inspired to take a closer look.”
Moises Vazquez, once in line for food at Desayunado Salesiano shelter, now serves breakfast for up to 1,200 people each morning.
He is one of the many volunteers at the shelter that caters to immigrants and the needy in Tijuana, Mexico. Vazquez has been a part of the team for a year and lives above the dining hall. He said the shelter is supported with donations – food, clothes, money and time given by the community, has kept the shelter running for 16 years.
Many of the immigrants they serve are part of a mass child migration coming from Central America. There have always been children coming across the border without their parents, but last fiscal year U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) recorded apprehensions of unaccompanied minors reached a record high. The media and immigration experts refer to this phenomenon as “the surge.”
The drastic rise of unaccompanied minors (0 to 17 years old) arriving at the U.S. border from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, also known as the Northern Triangle, has more than doubled each year since the surge began in 2011. In most recent years, there were 20,805 apprehensions in FY 2013 compared to 51,705 in FY 2014.
Many have formulated their own opinions as to why children are traveling 1,600 miles alone. Some believe they are coming to find their parents, while others say they are coming for a better life. The experts believe the main reason the minors are fleeing is due to violence in the Northern Triangle.
Everard Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute at University of San Diego, said those in Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic are just as poor as the Northern Triangle, yet they aren’t fleeing to the U.S. According to Meade, Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans are escaping violence, not poverty.
“Their murder rates are through the roof, with Honduras’ being four times as much as Mexico’s during their recent drug wars,” Meade said.
Jill Esbenshade, associate professor of sociology with published work for the Immigration Policy Center, agreed with Meade’s conclusion. She said the minors are also fleeing to surrounding countries like Nicaragua, which is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere.
Audio: Esbenshade said the statistics prove that the minors are fleeing violence.
Unbearable living circumstances in the Northern Triangle are forcing the minors to have a “leave or die” mentality according to Carina Carballo, a volunteer who conducted numerous interviews with Central American immigrants in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala last summer.
Esbenshade said no one feels completely safe in the Northern Triangle because no one is exempt from the violence.
“It’s not just the active gang members that are targeted for violence, but also people related to them or connected to them,” said Esbenshade. “It becomes a much more widespread net of people who are experiencing risk.”
The U.S. Office on Drugs and Crime’s most recent Global Study on Homicide report contains 2013 data that named the Northern Triangle as three of the top five most violent countries in the world. Honduras, rated number one, has a homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 people. For San Diego, that would be about 2,800 murders in one year. El Salvador was number four and Guatemala was fifth.
“La Bestia” (the beast) is a network of freight trains that run from south to north Mexico. It carries products like food, cement and plastic to the U.S. for export; and many times Central American immigrants as well.
The trains do not include passenger railcars, forcing immigrants to ride on top of the cargos. Many get swept under the train while trying to hop on, while others face serious injuries by falling off.
Esbenshade said there are the dangers of the “La Bestia” ride, but there are also the dangers of Mexican authorities and organized criminals that prey on the Central American minors.
“There have been…unidentified cadavers of Central American migrants who are robbed and killed on their journey up,” said Esbenshade. “There’s a lot of abuse and violence perpetrated by the Mexican authorities.”
Organized criminals who control the routes are known for kidnapping, extorting and sometimes killing the minors.
MULTIMEDIA: Slideshow of Tijuana Shelters and interview with church volunteer Carballo, explaining her duties.
Despite the many dangers of the journey to the U.S., there are many shelters and churches along the way, aimed to educate and help immigrants. Some provide shelter and assistance to all, while others separate the immigrants by gender.
Many of the churches and shelters in Mexico offer similar support like clothes, shoes, baths, haircuts, food, temporary shelter and medical and legal assistance.
Instituto Madre Asunta is a shelter for women and children, while their partner home, La Casa del Migrante, cares for men. After 1 to 15 days at the shelter, the volunteers either help the immigrants acquaint to Tijuana life by finding a job or they may choose to leave.
Desayunador Salesiano welcomes immigrants from various backgrounds, ages and genders. Velazquez said they receive immigrants from all over, many from Central America and some even from the U.S.
Pastoral de Movilidad Humana de la Diócesis is a church at the southern border of Mexico for Central American immigrants traveling to the U.S. Made up of volunteers like Carballo, they educate the immigrants about the route north and the dangers they may encounter if they continue to travel. Carballo said the volunteers create case files for each individual because many die or go missing on the journey north.
Kaythar Almufti stood in front of his tented ground covering, showing off the burlap sunshade he stitched for his garden plot earlier that week and the tiny sprouts underneath it, poking up through the ground.
The sun descended steadily behind him in the early evening as he spoke of his plans to grow Iraqi chard, okra and eggplant in the plot he’s been developing in an El Cajon community garden.
“If you use Mycorrhizae, it will give you giant vegetables, huge ones,” he said. “But to grow anything, plants need heat and a good environment.”
The competition is fierce among the El Cajon gardeners to produce the best and healthiest-looking vegetables in the garden, Almufti said. But they all motivate each other to keep up the difficult work.
Almufti was an early adopter to the community garden lifestyle, both in Iraq and in El Cajon, where he says he and his family have been growing vegetables since the New Roots Fresh Farm Community Garden opened in 2013.
The garden has brought the community together and allowed them to invest in the land, a sentiment that is shared across community gardens in San Diego as diverse groups join together in these public spaces. These gardens have paved the way toward community building by providing an active public space for gathering and producing fruit, vegetables and plants. The gardens have also led to collective perceptions of increased safety among dangerous areas, and strengthened a diverse network of neighbors throughout San Diego County – following the example of lawn-care days (more at Contractorculture.com).
Judith Jacoby is the founder and co-director of the San Diego Community Garden Network, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote sustainability, education and community through gardening.
She noticed the scarcity of community gardens in the county when she moved to San Diego from New York, Jacoby said.
“When I looked at gardens here, the ones that did exist, for the most part, they were not very community-minded,” Jacoby said. “They were almost always locked and not accessible to people who didn’t have a plot in the garden, and we really see community gardens as, well, for the community.”
She also noticed differences in attitudes toward these types of public forums. When she started the network, she found many people in the community garden areas didn’t want them, citing the fact that they didn’t want people they didn’t know coming in and out of the neighborhood. Since then, people have learned to appreciate the diverse company that the gardens bring.
The gardens function as a community-organizing tool so people can learn to do new things and feel a sense of accomplishment in a “fairly simple way through their neighborhood,” Jacoby said.
Kaley Hearnsberger is a Food Security and Community Health Supervisor for the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that functions as a resettlement agency in San Diego for refugees to make sure they successfully adjust to their new lives.
She also works as the project manager for the City Heights New Roots Community Farm and said changes in the community have been noticeable.
“The New Roots Community Farm directly impacts the surrounding area by creating green space in the park deficient neighborhood of City Heights,” Hearnsberger said. “It also supports the community by offering spaces for people to grow their own food and even make a little extra money on the side by selling crops at local markets such as the City Heights Farmer’s Market.”
VIDEO: Sitey Mbere and Camarino Fierros share their gardening experiences in the New Roots Community Farm in City Heights.
Almufti’s uncle, Sabah Mansoor, who gardens at the IRC’s El Cajon community farm, is one of these people, who said the garden provides him with happiness and a way to make extra money.
“It’s good,” Mansoor said. “I’m very happy with my garden, we can sell sometimes and make some money.”
Mansoor sells his vegetables at the El Cajon Farmer’s Market on Thursdays when he’s not using it to make Dolma, a popular Iraqi stuffed vegetable dish and other meals for his family and friends. Mansoor said he has many friends he’s made in the garden whom share gardening tips and encouragement.
According to a study by the American Journal of Community Psychology, community gardens have enhanced neighborhood ties and can even increase perceived safety in the areas surrounding these public spaces.
Jacoby said this is reflected in the attitudes of parents in the City Heights community, which houses the first New Roots Community Farm managed by the IRC. The City Heights garden, with a widely diverse population that includes African, Asian and Latino gardeners, sees a gathering of community members daily and a variety of ethnicities and ages.
Because of this, parents feel more at ease with their children out and about in the community.
“It makes the street safer,” she said. “People are always there, and before parents wouldn’t let their kids out past six. Because we have such a diverse bunch of gardeners, it acts as a sort of surveillance for the community.”
A study of community gardens in Houston, published by the American Society for Horticultural Science in 2009, found that while crime rates did not go down in the area, perceptions of reduced crime in the community were apparent.
The study compared randomized areas to areas surrounding community gardens and found no statistical differences in the crime rate, though garden representatives shared that they felt the neighborhood had been revitalized by the gardens and felt “perceived immunity from crime.”
Sitey Mbere, a Somalian immigrant who owns a plot at the City Heights garden, said tools were stolen from her and other gardeners, so she didn’t consider the space necessarily safe.
But Camarino Fierros, a long-time gardener at the City Heights location said he’s seen young people in the community join in at the garden with their families.
“They come here with their families and work hard and enjoy the garden,” Fierros said. “These kids could easily get into trouble in our neighborhood but they are here instead.”
Hearnsberger said while there is no hard evidence that safety has increased in the surrounding area, the garden has worked as a crime prevention measure by design.
“Any time you create a space that is used by people instead of abandoned, it builds community and thus more accountability,” she said.
Jacoby said she’s proud of the gardens and the opportunities they provide for residents throughout San Diego County.
“I’m very excited about our gardens,” she said. “They help people to learn how to communicate, discuss, and come to peaceful solutions. They learn more about each other and differences in opinion.”
She said the Gardening Network is now working on finding ways to get the more than ninety gardens across San Diego County to support each other through shared resources and knowledge.
Joven Sibug, bicycle courier and founder of Pedal Pushers, rides his bike at least 60-80 miles a week to make deliveries in the city of San Diego from Mission Valley to the streets of downtown. Pedal Pushers is just one of the latest movements getting more people riding their bikes.
“I think people didn’t see promise in it anymore especially with things like email and cloud servers coming around but I think there’s still a need and there’s still enough work for at least a few companies in town,” Sibug said. “Business has been good. We’re growing. We’re growing faster than I imagined but we’re growing at a rate I like too that I’m comfortable with, especially since there’s not that many of us.”
According to the data gathered by the League of American Bicyclists in Where we ride: An analysis of bicycling in American cities, San Diego ranks third with the largest percentage of bike commuters with a population of more than one million people, just behind Philadelphia and Chicago.
The same analysis shows that while from 2000-2012, there is a 44 percent increase in riders, it is an overall 4.5 percent decrease compared to the 1990s until now, which means there are less cyclists on the streets compared to two decades ago.
Pedal Pushers is one of San Diego’s latest courier services that opened in November by Sibug, an eight year veteran to the bicycle courier community.
From legal services to food delivery, Sibug and two partners work to ensure it’s delivered to where it needs to be.
With the service, he aims for it to be not only an efficient service but an environmentally helpful solution primarily utilizing bicycle messengers, unlike other companies that use all types of vehicles for their deliveries (click here for more information).
“It’s so vivid,” said Justin Vorhees, co-owner and bike courier for Pedal Pushers. “There’s so many different interactions, so many different things to see, so many locations, all that stuff. It just makes it for a lot more interesting work day. It’s great.”
MULTIMEDIA: Joven Sibug and Justin Vorhees talk about their experience working as bicycle couriers for Pedal Pushers in San Diego.
Sibug started his courier career in San Diego for Aloha Bicycle Courier before moving out to New York and ultimately back to San Diego to create Pedal Pushers.
“It’s small, it’s mellow,” Sibug said. “When I first started as a messenger in San Diego there were probably about 20 messengers. Now I want to say there’s maybe 12, so it’s been going down but we’re trying to change that. I think that the point of courier collective is we’re trying to change that landscape and be able to provide for more opportunities for courier work, bike courier work specifically in metropolitan San Diego.”
Unlike the Pedal Pushers, there are others who don’t ride a bike for a living, they use it to get to work or school.
With roughly 1,400 miles of bike facilities, whether it be shared or exclusive, San Diego provides many paths for cyclists to ride on.
Despite that, it doesn’t mean bike travel is efficient on all roads.
“There’s 1,400 miles of bike facilities but it’s actually kind of a lie because if you look at our map, you’d think you can ride everywhere but that’s not true,”said Chris Kluth, San Diego Association of Governments active transportation manager. “Or else you’d see everyone on them.”
SANDAG acts as a forum for San Diego county decision-making such as public transportation and is pushing the San Diego Regional Bike Plan “Riding to 2050.”
The $400 million plan aims to provide a strategy to make cycling a viable option for everyday travel by expanding the number of various paths for cyclists to travel and create programs to keep it sustainable, which would help San Diego achieve its goal to reduce emission of greenhouse gasses, reduce traffic issues and improve public health.
“We need to up our game,” Kluth said. “Our main goal is to make more options for everyday people and everyday trips. The more people you get riding, the more you’ll attract and the more you attract, the safer it is for everybody.”
It can be difficult to persuade people to get on bicycles when cars are a much faster alternative.
Sometimes people only want to ride a few days out of the year or tourists want to take a look around the town they’re visiting. This is where the solution to cater to the masses comes in: DecoBike.
DecoBike is a bike-share program where people can borrow bikes from any of the solar powered docking stations across San Diego. The company currently has 73 stations and aims to have more than 180 stations and 1,700 bicycles that can be accessed 24 hours per day.
Anyone over the age of 18 can rent out a Bike Titan with a debit or credit card starting at $5 for every 30 minutes or can purchase a monthly or annual membership.
DecoBike started in Miami in 2010. For San Diego, the bike-share program was created with an $8 million investment from the company in a partnership with the city in November.
SANDAG’s Kluth believes it makes a good addition to America’s finest city.
“Decobike is a good start and I think it’ll be a good catalyst to get other bike infrastructure going,” Kluth said.
DecoBike customer service representative Levys Martinez said the reception for the bike-share system in San Diego has been positive.
“We’ve gotten pretty good feedback so far since it’s a brand new program to the city and people are liking it,” Martinez said. “It’s a new way of transportation not only to locals but to tourists as well.”
Martinez said he hopes to see DecoBike pick up even more in the future.
“Every time people ride a bike, they always should have a smile on their face,” Martinez said. “We’re just giving nature and life back when we’re not riding our cars. But for the city, I think it’s a great way for transportation, not just DecoBike but any bike. You’ll get there faster and enjoy nature. It’s a great solution.”
By using a bicycle, people aren’t only helping sustain the Earth but get the added benefit of exercising for their health.
Jane Hall, professor emeritus and founding director institute for economic and environmental studies at Cal State University Fullerton said pollution is a threat that affects both the world globally and regionally.
“Clearly climate instability is a growing threat,” Hall said. “The pollution is global but the impacts are local. At ground level, many heavily-populated urban areas suffer fine particulate pollution that shortens lives and increases illnesses and medical costs.”
Paula Morreale, the sustainability coordinator at the University of San Diego, has followed the principle of leaving no trace, reducing waste, increasing conservation efforts and preserving natural resources.
And although Morreale said she believes San Diego has taken a good first step in creating the infrastructure for alternative transportation solutions, she thinks there is still more to be done.
“I think San Diego county is taking a good first step in creating the infrastructure and resources for alternative transportation solutions,” Morreale said. “A lot more needs to be done for bicycle commuting and better road infrastructure to encourage biking and walking.”
The community might not be described as one of the most privileged in the city of San Diego.
In fact, according to the city’s planning department, many households within the community make less than $10,000 and many of its residents are migrants who speak very little English.
However, walk into the City Heights Recreation Center in the heart of the community on any given Saturday afternoon and privileged is what you’ll be.
From one room come the sounds of violins playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” In others, you can hear voices singing Yiddish folk songs and Portuguese classics or students strumming guitar chords and playing classical pieces on the piano.
In a community with a high concentration of low-income students and a lack of music education opportunity, the City Heights Music School and other music organizations are making up the difference.
MULTIMEDIA: City Heights music director Victoria Eicher describes the benefits of music education for students.
The school, which is supported by the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, offers music classes to students of all ages and cultures despite the limitations that most of these students face.
According to Victoria Eicher, director of the City Heights Music School (CHMS), one limitation is that many students don’t speak English. However, to her, music becomes the universal language that binds.
“Music is a common language and can reach every culture through music,” said Eicher. “Music has the extra benefit of transcending language and cultural barriers to bring a community together.”
Brazilian artist and CHMS teacher Ilana Quiroz understands that teaching capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts class that combines the elements of song and dance, breaks many cultural barriers because most of the songs taught are sung in Portuguese. None of her students speak the language, so for her, it is a form of unity.
“Kids want to connect,” said Quiroz. “Capoeira is like a community thing. You have to be connected to your peers.”
According to Quiroz, kids are not the only ones who tend to be her students in class.
“The parents think they are coming for their kids but they actually end up leaving class learning something themselves,” said Quiroz.
Victoria Eicher wants to make sure experiences like the capoeira class can be offered to anyone and makes sure money is not a limitation.
The tuition for each class session is $60; however, according to Eicher, partial and full scholarships are distributed to students thanks to sponsors.
“To me, there’s no difference in ability and potential between a child born in one community versus a child born in another. The difference is in opportunity,” said Eicher.
Nearby schools are also benefitting from CHMS’ generosity and value in music since funding for instruments and instructors is minimal.
“Eventually, the seed we plant in our Saturday music classes begins to grow and spreads to support other programs (music and other) as our students build a sense of identity, achievement, and confidence.”
The City Heights Music School is able to supplement the music classes at Rosa Parks Elementary School with congas, bongos, and timbales while Hoover High School receives instruments for their mariachi program.
A similar outreach program is giving students an opportunity to experience music in a smaller group setting and is expanding from what already exists at schools.
Currently, Villa Musica is offering music programs at four schools within the City Heights community and at the Logan Heights Library.
“We are trying to be a supplement because there wasn’t enough (music) in schools,” said Ariana Warren, community programming coordinator for Villa Musica.
According to Warren, music instruction is only being taught to kids in the fifth and sixth grade once a week within the San Diego Unified School District. She sees resources such as time and money as the limiting factors for the students. Now the organization is supplementing instruments and instructors because of lack of funding from the district.
“The kids who are learning instruments are excited and we hope to foster that excitement,” said Warren.
Warren hopes that Villa Musica will be able to continue fostering those feelings but with such small class sizes, funding can be a problem. In recent efforts, the organization has applied for more funding with a new push within Title I schools. Twenty-two of them have been selected to receive funding to team up with a non-profit like Villa Musica to expand music education.
Music has a profound effect for students who live in areas like City Heights and come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to a 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, students who receive quality music education earn better grades, are more likely to earn a degree and involve themselves in more extracurricular activities. Students tend to have high career goals and pursue careers in medicine, math or law.
“Music allows kids to be expressive and focus on a lot of detail,” said Victoria Eicher. “Once they get good at something they can share their success. It’s a great team builder.”
Ron Bolles, retired San Diego music teacher and music education advocate, has seen his fair share of the impact music has made on students throughout his career.
“One of my former music students now works for the district attorney’s office in San Diego and told me that she takes all that she’s learned in my class and goes in to her court cases as if it’s a performance,” said Bolles. “If she hasn’t practiced and prepared she knows she will lose her case.”
Bolles published a book called “Learning That Lasts a Lifetime,” that tells more of his student’s testimonies through the years to help advocate for more music opportunities in schools.
According to Bolles, more music opportunities are crucial to society because music builds a sense of community, but more importantly –identity.
“Our society seems to be very self-centered,” Bolles said, “But when a person participates in a musical ensemble they create, through rehearsals, a beautiful piece of art and understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Identity and discipline are the common benefit seen among many teachers, including those within the City Heights Music School and Villa Musica.
For its 50th season, the San Diego Opera featured the classical opera, Don Giovanni. By the end of the performance, Don Giovanni dies. After nearly facing the same fate in spring of 2014, the opera is reborn and ready for its encore.
Taking the final bow
When news broke in March of last year that the San Diego Opera was planning to close its doors, community members and San Diego Opera performers were devastated. Vocalists from the opera and members of the community came together to mourn.
Ashraf Sewailam, who played Leporello in the opera’s production of Don Giovanni, sees the San Diego Opera as the crown jewel of San Diego. To him, the news was heartbreaking.
“We heard the news and ran to the restaurant where everyone would go during rehearsals, and everyone was there and crying,” he said. “It was like somebody died.”
San Diego Opera vocalist, Reinhard Hagen, didn’t understand how the opera could go from functioning fluidly to crashing and burning.
“I had terrible feelings because I couldn’t understand what happened,” Hagen said.
At the time, the opera was led by Ian Campbell, who was the director for 31 years. Hagen said some pointed fingers at Campbell for closing the opera, but he just felt bad.
“It’s really sad what happened, but (Campbell) did 31 years here and took this opera to a world class level,” Hagen said.
On the other hand, when the opera did announce its closing, Sewailam said he witnessed outreach and support from all types of people throughout the community.
“What really surprised me is that people who didn’t have anything to do with opera felt that it is the backbone of San Diego, and they took it back,” Sewailam said.
Saving the opera
Members from across the San Diego Opera came together to make up the White Knight Committee to save the San Diego Opera. The group created an online petition, a twitter account and a Save San Diego Opera Facebook page.
Chris Stevens, founder and chairman of the White Knight Committee, said the committee did everything they could to get the word out, especially in the first three weeks following the bad news. They ended up getting 21,392 electronic signatures.
“I would say when I started the committee, I felt like we had a 2 percent chance of succeeding,” Stevens said.
Stevens, who also performs with the San Diego Opera, said the committee consisted of only 20 members, but it was enough to make a change.
Stevens said Campbell’s departure from the stage meant a brighter future for the opera.
“It went from a time of status quo and everything being the same to the excitement and wonder of what we’ll be doing,” Stevens said.
He refers to the resurrection of the San Diego Opera as “SDO 2.0.”
“We are really good at grand opera so it will be interesting to see where we go,” Stevens said. “Opera is suppose to be by the people for the people.”
A new scene
San Diego Opera Media Relations Director Edward Wilensky said one thing that’s changed since the rebirth of the San Diego Opera is that there are new groups of people coming to the performances, young and “hip” individuals in particular.
“People are asking me where the bathroom or the bar is at each show 20 to 30 times a night, which is how I know they’re new,” Wilensky said.
Mitchell Sterling, a middle-age man who attended the opera’s 50th Anniversary Concert with his wife and teenage daughter, said something similar about the atmosphere at the the performances.
“The crowd seems more energized and emotional,” Sterling said. “It’s not that people used to take it for granted, but there’s a different energy in the crowd.”
Sterling was accompanied by his wife, Deborah, and teenage daughter, Sydney — a clear testament to the younger crowd he described.
Sterling says he gives the San Diego Opera an A plus across the board.
“It’s a great company and San Diego is really, really lucky,” Sterling said.
San Diego Opera Vocalist, Reinhard Hagen and San Diego Opera President Carol Lazier explain what the opera means to them and what’s next for the San Diego Opera.
For the San Diego Opera, more change is still in store.
Going from a grand, traditional style of opera, the company will now take a more creative step to make its shows more affordable and attractive for all ages.
The San Diego Opera is hoping to take a similar approach to that of LoftOpera, a small-scale opera company based in Brooklyn, New York. LoftOpera operates on a smaller budget and has concerts in nontraditional settings, such as warehouses and photo studios. It also showcases young vocalists and starts its ticket prices at $30, all while catering food and beer throughout the shows.
“That’s absolutely the direction we want to go,” San Diego Opera President Carol Lazier said of LoftOpera.
Lazier said the opera is already looking into having future San Diego Opera performances at smaller venues, besides its most common performance hall, the San Diego Civic Theatre. Lazier envisions a venue where audience members can connect with performers that will also be accompanied by a cheaper ticket price.
“The Civic Theatre can be so hard to see when you’re sitting way up high,” Lazier said. “It’s hard to fill all those seats, you just don’t get those personal feelings.”
According to Lazier, there are multiple operas throughout the country that have gone belly up because they weren’t able to support themselves and change with the times. To her, as well as the rest of the company, the positive and exciting changes to the opera will be brought in by the new general director, David Bennett.
“You know, our crisis was a good thing,” Lazier said. “Otherwise I think we would have had a long, steady death.”
MULTIMEDIA: Blue Roses Girls is a registered nonprofit meant for girls of all levels of ability to socialize and make friends.
Cheyenne walks in the room, beams from ear to ear and turns to embrace the girl closest to her. She laughs and chats for a moment before moving on to greet another friend in the group of about 30 adolescent girls.
She looks like any other friendly, happy child, but a closer look shows the subtle tapping of her hand, indirect eye contact and the occasional repeated phrase.
Cheyenne was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder as a child and is a part of Blue Roses Girls, a registered nonprofit for girls with developmental disabilities to interact and make friends. Within the group, 25 of the 40 total girls are on the spectrum. Cheyenne’s mother, Jazel Peterzell, is one of the founders of the group. She said although she now understands the condition more, at the time of Cheyenne’s diagnosis, she didn’t believe it.
“It baffled us because Cheyenne was verbal,” Peterzell said. “She would make eye contact with you, she wanted to play with other children … She wasn’t like what we see ASD children to be.”
Peterzell’s concerns are echoed in families across the globe, specifically those with daughters on the spectrum. As a traditionally male-dominated disorder, many don’t think of their daughter being affected in the same way they worry about their sons.
“Was I angry for a while? Yeah, I was very angry,” Peterzell said. “My first child, my only child and she’s a girl. I read about the statistics about ASD services and boys vs. girls and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve landed on some other planet here.’”
Autism, which is sometimes described as the result of an “extreme male brain,” affects males and females in a 4-to-1 ratio, according to the Center for Disease Control. And while overall autism diagnosis dramatically rose during the past few decades, a 16-year Danish study published last year found female diagnoses are rising at a faster rate. Researchers looked at nationwide data from hospital reports in Denmark. They found new male diagnosis quadrupled, while new females diagnosis increased sevenfold during the time period.
The results also showed that on average, girls were diagnosed at older ages than boys.
Lynette Louise, an international speaker on autism and author, said some women might be diagnosed later in life because girls are more skilled at masking the signs of the disorder.
“She is managing to sort of play out the actions of normalcy better and is less of a problem in the classroom … and fits her gender description better,” she said. “So it’s only her awareness of her own anxiety and her own challenges that brings her to eventually get diagnosed.”
Some parents and teachers overlook the traditional signs of ASD, such as trouble showing empathy or an aversion to physical touch, because girls can present the symptoms in unexpected ways, she said.
“When you have a little girl and she’s wanting to hug you and she’s all over your lap and she can’t leave your lap, you’re not thinking autism, but it might be,” Louise said. “It might be that she’s sensory seeking and she has to be on your lap, she can’t stand to not have that input. It still matches the diagnosis.”
Autistic girls may also have more “normal” interests than boys, she said. Highly specialized obsessions are characteristic of both sexes on the spectrum, specifically those who are higher functioning. When a young boy speaks nonstop about trains or bugs, most people can recognize it as out of the ordinary and a sign of autism. Girls on the spectrum might have fascinations that are more common, like a celebrity, books or makeup, leading people around her to write it off as normal.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, an authority on mental health in the U.S. In addition to reclassifying Asperger’s Syndrome (a disorder long-associated with autism) as an official ASD condition, it formally recognized the idea that girls may present autism differently than boys.
This comes in response to several studies from recent years suggesting we need different diagnostic material to identify girls on the spectrum, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. However, there is still no formal sex-based diagnostic criteria.
Tania Marshall, an award-winning author and child psychologist, said the gender bias toward boys in autism research has contributed to misunderstandings of how girls manifest the condition.
“Autism Spectrum Conditions had primarily been thought of as a male condition, and as such, the majority of assessment tools, research and writings have been based on males and have a strong ‘male-centric’ view or bias,” she said. “The outcome of this is that many females remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and are then receiving inappropriate treatments and support.”
As noted in the name, ASD is a spectrum condition, meaning that signs and symptoms can show up in a whole range of ways. One autistic child could be nonverbal, with a low IQ and an inability to touch or hear certain things without an intense reaction. Another could be on the honor roll at school, skilled in areas that require intense focus, have compulsive tendencies and difficulty in social situations.
This array of possibilities can make identifying ASD in a child or adult additionally difficult, as certain symptoms may be mistaken for another condition. With girls, this could mean if they learn to hide certain ASD traits, they may go undiagnosed or receive an inaccurate diagnosis, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, tourette’s syndrome or a generalized anxiety disorder.
Even with a diagnosis, some families still need to fight for services for their daughters on the spectrum. Tina Martinez, another Blue Roses Girl’s mom, said her daughter seemed like other little girls when she was diagnosed, making it difficult to convince the local center for developmental disabilities of her need for special attention.
“Because she was polite and could talk and was in a mainstream preschool, they just felt like she didn’t need any services at all, which is ridiculous,” Martinez said.
Girls on the spectrum, especially those who are high functioning, may blend in more with their peers than boys, eventually learning to mimic the social behavior of other girls, according to the National Autistic Society.
Marshall said this may also be an effect of gender norms.
“Generally, females are more likely to be driven socially to fit in, and therefore, they are more likely to use strategies like social echolalia, mimicking, and copying others,” Marshall said. “These strategies allow them to function better in social contexts but it can be these very strategies that can lead to a missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis.”
Five years ago, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal committee in charge of anything related to autism within the Department of Health and Human Services, included the need for increased research on females with ASD in its strategic goals. Since then, it has funded five new studies on the topic.
In San Diego, the local Regional Center, a nonprofit organization that contracts with the California Department of Developmental Services to coordinate services with developmentally disabled individuals, reports consistently higher numbers of female patients on the spectrum during the last decade.
Blue Roses Girls is still one of the only groups in San Diego that is meant specifically for girls with developmental disabilities, and it continues to grow each year. In addition to social activities for the girls, the group participates in community events to spread the word of the organization, and the needs of girls themselves.
“There’s a joke among the special needs mommies of these girls that we can’t die,” Peterzell said. “We need to live to be 100 so that we can see our children into middle age, because we’re so fearful about exploitative people.”
Cheyenne is getting ready to start high school next year, and with that comes a whole new set of challenges with navigating social situations, bullies and a potential love life. Her mother hopes that the next phase of her life will bring more opportunities for independence, but mostly wants those around her daughter to understand and respect her needs.
“That’s all I want for my child,” she said. “One good friend, and someone to love and take care of her. That’s all.”
San Diego might be flying under the radar in this regard compared to other major cities such as Los Angeles, but it still has its own identity.
“San Diego is really its own thing,” 9Five Eyewear employee Leon St. Heron said. “[It] always has been, there is some great history that comes from the city that’s overlooked because people can’t help but to rival the two cities.”
A city’s population helps make its own identity. When it comes to fashion culture, the same principle applies. Los Angeles has Fairfax and Rodeo Drive, New York has the Garment District — and San Diego has the corners where 8th Street meets G Street.
San Diego’s streetwear culture converges on this square block radius. This stylish part of downtown San Diego’s East Village is home to a slew of streetwear shops that share more than just the sidewalk outside their shop doors.
8th and G Streets house a group of shops that share business and good times. The stores in this area have created a niche for themselves in a city with an underated street-style culture.
5 & A Dime is one of the stores holding down the corners and is a longstanding shop on 8th and G Street. The brother and sister duo of Jason and Darcie Huggins just might have paved the way for what 8th and G Street is now. The siblings opened the shop on a Black Friday almost 10 years ago.
Currently, the meeting point of the two streets is home to seven shops; all of varying products.
5 & A Dime is a typical streetwear shop, selling its brand of clothing as well as cheesecake inspired cookies which have come to be known as Good Stuff. However its neighbors vary types of products they carry — catering to every type of need.
Blends is a fashion forward shoe store that offers the latest kicks for its consumers.
9Five Eyewear and HDQTRS have both moved on from 8th and G, but they got their start on the East Village block. Additionally Neighborhood holds a space which serves as an excellent lunch spot for the neighboring businesses.
Super 7 is the latest addition to the block, and it sells uniquely designed toys and action figures. Soon to come is a barber shop that will round out the variety of options on 8th and G, Jason Huggins, owner of 5 & a Dime said.
8th and G Street is a one stop shop for products, and shopping there helps support local business. The loyal customers know that these stores offer quality goods for consumers.
But, those loyal consumers weren’t easy to come by.
Considering that San Diego is a transplant city, it can be hard to garner a strong following in the community. But, it is still possible.
Downtown’s East Village has been an area on the rise for years. Huggins has spent the past 10 years witnessing that rise from his store-fornt.
“I see East Village kind of growing,” Huggins said. “It’s just not growing as fast as we like. But we’re going to stick it out. And luckily we have people in this area that feel the same way we do”.
8th and G became so well known by locals, that regular shoppers at the stores created what came to be known as the 8th and G Gang. It wasn’t an idea started by the owners, St. Heron said. It was started by the locals who were part of the community and wanted to support something homegrown.
But it’s not just locals who find the diamond in the rough that is the 8th and G Street shops.
People come and go all year round, whether it be for business or pleasure. But also, there are some who come and don’t go, they fall in love with San Diego and they stay put.
Mike Garnica moved to San Diego from Texas after high school. It wasn’t long before he found himself attracted to what 8th and G had to offer.
“All the shops offer great products,” Garnica said. “It’s high quality. And it’s great to rep where you’re living.”
The niche area has also seen its fair share of trials and tribulations. The area has persevered through the economic recession.
“Being here as long as we have, we’ve kind of experienced the highs and lows,” Huggins said.
Considering that Huggins’s store has been around the longest, he has seen the most change. Stores have come and gone, stores have moved mere blocks away, his store moved a block away; but one thing remains certain, Huggins feels attached to the concrete on 8th and G.
“We’ve been here for a really long time,” Huggins said. “And since we have our feet firmly planted here we really want to see this thing through.”
Downtown storefronts aren’t always the busiest of places, especially daytime hours during the week. But for a spot like 8th and G, it’s easy to pass the time with friends.
It’s not uncommon to see employees from each of the stores wander next door to shoot the breeze with employees of the other shops. This is what makes the dynamic on 8th and G different.
“Everyone has work for everyone else, we all know the systems and we all know the owners,” St. Heron said. “Anyone on the block could easily call anyone to watch the stores. It’s like babysitting and we are uncles & cousins. It’s kinda dope.”
MULTIMEDIA: Jason Huggins, owner of 5 & A Dime, explains how the East Village’s 8th and G Street block is a unique shopping destination.
It’s that type of camaraderie that is pushing the East Village to a new height. Instead of battling it out between each other in a cut throat business model, these shops band together to benefit the group of stores as a whole.
“East Village, Downtown San Diego still needs a lot of work.” Huggins said. “So it’s kind of our responsibility to work together, whether we like it or not. Luckily, we’re all friends so it makes it really easy.”
This is not something that’s as common in typical shopping areas. Sure, stores might be cordial to other stores that are near, but it’s not the same kind of bond that is seen at 8th and G.
Fairfax in Los Angeles does not operate that way, Huggins said. Up there, it’s much more clear that everyone is on their own.
This type of attitude does not go unnoticed. Even from the customer perspective it’s clear that there’s something different and special about 8th and G.
“Even as a consumer you can see it,” Garnica said. “You’ll walk into a shop and see guys from other shops. And they all speak so highly of each other.”
This part of downtown has built a name for itself by not only putting out quality goods, but by also banding together for the betterment of all. It’s a different atmosphere than most consumers are probably used to.
“It’s more about the connection,” St. Heron said. “Nobody is out for themselves down there.”
No one shop is better than the other, because it may be business — but it’s all for one and one for all.
Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” played once, ended, started again.
The song is the theme music of Breakfast Burrito Club, the morning show of Logan Heights’ community radio station, Radio Pulso Del Barrio.
On a Tuesday morning a little after 9 o’clock, the show’s hosts — Bob Green, Ana Brown and Bucky Montero — milled around the radio desk, checking cables, fiddling with the mixing board, tapping microphones. Their voices were audible on the monitors, but weren’t going out on the internet stream.
Then, looking over Bucky’s shoulder at the computer, Bob found the problem, “You’re not live, Bucky.”
“Oh!” Bucky clicked a mouse.
Ana leaned forward and spoke into her mic, “Is anybody out there?”
SLIDESHOW: Bob Green, co-host of Breakfast Burrito Club, introduces Radio Pulso’s weekday morning show.
Do it yourself
“The distinguishing characteristic of community radio is that you put average citizens on the air,” said Michael Huntsberger, a professor at Linfield College in Oregon who researches community and public radio.
By that definition, Radio Pulso is a textbook example. Most of its all-volunteer staff has no broadcasting experience, but because of rather than in spite of this, they are creating a radio station with an identity uniquely its own, in a community where identity has long been a basis of struggle.
The station was created last year with help from the San Diego Museum of Art, which awards grants to different neighborhoods to fund a public art project of the residents’ choosing.
Logan Heights chose to have a radio station, a decision which excited and perplexed Bucky, who serves as president of the station’s board of directors.
“We just started from ground zero, you know?,” Bucky said. “Like, okay, how are we gonna do this, how do we become a nonprofit, how do we get music? It was like basic questions.”
Bucky’s description of her morning show with Bob and Ana — “It’s funny and serious all at the same time” — could describe many of the station’s roster of shows.
An example: Beats Brunch, the noontime Sunday show that got its name from a New Year’s Eve party a few years back that lasted into the following day.
One of the show’s disc jockeys, Alden Medina, explained the next day’s party “was the more memorable one.” Inspiration found, he and his friends took their love of music and “brunch culture” on the air, blending in talk of urban gardening and sustainable food.
That last part, a focus on community service and bringing to light issues and topics of importance, guides the station’s vision. Shows are tried out on a probationary basis, and only keep their slot if they meet expectations in line with Radio Pulso’s mission of community empowerment.
VIDEO: Host of “All Out,” Jesus Villavicencio, talks about growing up gay and Latino and explains how community radio fosters understanding about LGBT issues.
As such, many shows have a socially and politically conscious bent: All Out (LGBT), Ladies First (women and feminism), and El Daily Justice (political commentary).
Interviews with community members, from the greater Logan Heights area and other San Diego neighborhoods and across the border in Tijuana, are a staple of the programming as well. Artists, organizers, urban gardeners, herbalists, acupuncturists, students, drag queens, tattoo artists and playwrights are just a few of those who drop by to chat about themselves, their projects and their concerns.
New movers and shakers
“If we could get the community to feel like it’s their station — because it is, it’s not ours, it’s not mine — then we’ll have their support.” Bucky sipped coffee at a sidewalk table in front of Cafe Moto on National Avenue in Barrio Logan, just across the Interstate 5 from Logan Heights.
She’s conscious of the trend of young artists moving to Logan Heights and Barrio Logan from other communities, drawn by the place’s urban, Chicano and artistic culture.
She’s a part of it. Having grown up in San Diego’s South Bay, she moved to Barrio Logan after finishing out her twenties in San Francisco.
“It’s interesting how we all grew up in different areas but we all migrate to Barrio Logan,” she said, “and I think it’s because of that reason that it feels like home and it’s so Chicano.”
She, Bob, and Ana — all thirtysomethings and transplants to the neighborhood — were partially behind the recently exploded arts scene there, now home to no less than 10 art spaces and galleries.
She and friends Milo Lorenzana and Chris Zertuche started The Spot (renamed The Stronghold, after Bucky had left), and Bob and Ana are the remaining team behind The Roots Factory.
Having met San Diego Museum of Art’s project coordinator, Irma Esquivias, as the art scene was just beginning to take off, Bucky was tapped to be involved with the radio station.
But being the steward of an outlet for the whole neighborhood, rather than just her own creativity, is a new kind of challenge.
“That’s very, like, intimidating, and it’s a little nerve-racking for me because there’s a lot of politics around here,” she said. “We call it the barrio politics. There’s a lot of activism, there’s a lot of organizations, there’s a lot of art collectives that have been doing it longer than I have or longer than most of my friends have. So there’s a sense of ownership, you know.”
Chicano: past and present
“The trend is that the community comes first, and I think people realize that,” Bucky said. “We all do it differently, but everybody has that same mission. This is the Chicano movement from the ’70s but in 2015. And now we’re all different, and now it’s like new generations and now it’s like a hybrid of people involved.”
But differences between the old and new generation of Chicanos remain a source of tension, according to Bucky and her friends.
They’re careful not to step too much on the toes of those they refer to respectfully as “the elders,” the generation of artists and activists that established Chicano Park in the early ’70s. But they don’t always see eye to eye.
In the studio one day after a broadcast of Breakfast Burrito Club, Bob opened up about his ambivalence toward the Chicano label.
Bob’s generation, like the first Mexican-Americans to call themselves Chicanos, represents a hybrid of Mexican and American identity. But he senses differences among young and old Mexican-Americans prevent the young from freely claiming the label Chicano.
Younger individuals are sometimes criticized, he said, for not being able to speak Spanish, or for straying from traditional “Chicano” subjects in their art, such as the Virgin Mary or calaveras skulls.
“This older generation, they look at us weird, too,” he said. “They’re like ‘you guys aren’t really Chicano.’”
“We’re not American enough, we’re not Mexican enough, we’re not Chicano enough,” he said.
Bob was wearing a Roots Factory shirt. On the front was a rooster clutching a snake in an outstretched foot. A play on imagery lifted from the Mexican flag, which swaps the rooster for an eagle.
A few people were offended by the design, he said.
That gives him something in common with Victor Ochoa, one of the “elders” who helped organize the painting of murals at Chicano Park.
“When I painted the first skeletons on the wall in the early ’70s, Mexican people would come over protesting that I shouldn’t do that, people were gonna think that we were death hungry or something,” Ochoa said. “Tweaking images has been a fashion for a long time.”
Artistic differences aside, Ochoa would rather the younger generation not lose the intensity and defiance that characterized the Chicano movement’s beginnings.
“The thing that’s important for me to see is that there’s still a lot of effort to regain some of the Chicano attitude,” he said. “I think it’s mainly an attitude of preserving your culture, your community, your family, your identity.”
Of Chicano identity, Bob speaks intensely, defiantly, with attitude: “I’m willing to challenge that, and destroy it, and rebuild it.”
Saying San Diego Comic-Con is popular would be an understatement. When badges for the event went on sale this year, they sold out in less than an hour. Recent years have brought in more than 130,000 attendees, so needless to say that this event takes a certain amount of preparation whether you’re going as a fan, an artist or a giant publisher.
Such a large event takes preparation from everyone involved, but very few are as excited as the fans from San Diego going to Comic-Con.
Attendees have two choices for deciding how to dress for Comic-Con: either wear comfortable street clothes (walking around all day in a crowd takes its toll after a while) or dress up as a beloved character.
Izola Siegfried is the latter, also known as a cosplayer.
She also goes by the title The Fatal Siren, but according to her, the best time to start planning a costume is right away. And with 15 Comic-Cons under her utility belt, she knows all the ins and outs about cosplaying and the convention itself.
The first step in preparing for Comic-Con is actually getting the badges (obviously). After getting the golden ticket, you should decide whether to cosplay or not and who to go as. Depending on which character you choose, Siegfried says making a costume can range from a few days to six months. In fact, she’s already planning ahead for next year.
“One of my things that I will eventually do, and I’ll probably do this because ‘Mass Effect’ is supposed to come out in 2016, so I want to work on some N7 armor,” Siegfried said. “I love what I did on my character for ‘Mass Effect 3,’ so if I can copy that, I will be tickled pink. But because there are some many different pieces to it, it does take a good amount of time.”
Besides the N7 armor, she is also working on a Lightning-Cloud mashup from “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII” and a Hawkgirl costume with movable wings.
Multimedia: Siegfried talks about why cosplay is so rewarding. She also shares some techniques on creating cosplay equipment in this video.
“I try to do a different characters each day,”Siegfried said. “But if not and I like Hawkgirl enough and she turns out spectacular, I’ll wear her all four days.”
One trick she’s learned is using a 3D crafting printer that traces paper cut-outs and assemble a piece of the costume like a jigsaw puzzle instead of cutting out pieces of foam by hand.
Once Comic-Con announces which days are set up, Siegfried suggests spending a solid hour prioritizing what you want to see and coming up with a strategy. If you plan on cosplaying, take into account that you’ll most likely get stopped often for photos. Unless your vampire cosplay is perfect (and you don’t show up in photos), people will want to take pictures with you.
“If you want to go someplace, don’t dress up that day, cause you won’t get there,” Siegfried said.
If you do decide to cosplay, Siegfried has three tips to take to heart right before you go to the event:
But there wouldn’t be a Comic-Con without comic books and the thousands of booths filling up the convention center.
Even relatively new comic book writers and artists have the chance to show their stuff to the potential crowd of 130,000.
Alonso Nuñez is the Executive director of Little Fish Comic Book Studio and teaches aspiring artists the nuances of what goes into making comics. The students range from ages 10 to mid-40s.
“I don’t know where else in life you get a 12-year-old sitting next to a 40-year-old, and they’re sharing this experience and learning from each other as well as, hopefully, from me, which is really cool,” Nuñez said.
Multimedia: Nuñez goes over the various steps of creating a comic book. All the pictures were taken at the Little Fish Comic Book Studio.
Little Fish holds artist intensive classes during the summer that focus on Comic-Con. With the aid of a professional mentor (last couple of years had Klaus Janson, who’s worked with Marvel and DC), the students will show their work to Comic-Con at the Little Fish booth. The process takes about a week with six hours of work put in each day.
“[The students] hold themselves as though they are professionals, and they are to a certain degree.” Nuñez said. “They’ve sat down, set deadlines, met the deadlines and now they’re at Comic-Con.”
Other artists, however, have a more difficult time finding a booth at Comic-Con.
“Ten years ago, it was fairly easy to get a booth and a table at Comic-Con,” local artist Arnie Gordon said. “There was a switch in focusing in how to sell the show, and it became, more or less, geared towards pop culture. This is when the Comic-Con we know now became the madness that it is.”
Gordon says the larger crowd that gets a chance to see his work is definitely a benefit, but upcoming artists must maintain a presence in the industry and reapply for their booths to keep their spot.
A regular six-foot table at Comic-Con can cost somewhere around $1,500. The cost and the scarcity of space leads some artists to split the costs or even rent a table out for small window of time. Comic artists without a booth need to network more now than ever, because it’s all about who you know and getting a little lucky.
Gordon is currently working on a book for Rafael Nieves and occasionally does some artwork for Upper Deck’s comic-based trading cards all while balancing a full-time job and his family. He’s also with a group called PaperCuts with the goal to get back into Comic-Con. All his jobs require work, and Gordon says a 24-page comic could take him two months to a year depending on how much free time he has.
“You can’t wait,” Gordon said. “There is no downtime to prepare for San Diego Comic-Con. It’s that type of show that if you’re going, you need to start making plans for it immediately after the show closes. You’re already thinking about next year before the doors close.”
IDW Publishing is a local comic book company and the fourth largest comic publisher. In addition to the new location, the company will set up a comic art gallery that should be ready in time for the convention.
IDW is known for publishing comics for third-party intellectual properties like “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Borderlands,” “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” “Star Trek,” and many more. It also releases its fair share of original pieces, such as “Locke and Key,” “Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland” and “30 Days of Night.”
Dirk Wood is in charge of planning the whole event for IDW. As the vice president of marketing, his job includes booking hotels, organizing writers and artists, plan signings and the 12 panels and meeting with fans and the press. IDW also creates exclusive books sold only at the event.
“It’s like opening a department store for one weekend,” Wood said.
Wood says he gets hit with a heavy workload three months before Comic-Con, sometimes working until 3 a.m. The three weeks prior to Comic-Con are especially hectic. Wood will get around 1,000 – 2,000 emails a day. But preparing for it is a year-round job.
“Nothing about Comic-Con is easy,” Wood said. “Getting a cup of coffee isn’t easy at Comic-Con.”
According to Wood, Comic-Con ran out of available space in 2005. He needs to reserve space for the next year right after he finishes that year’s Comic-Con. Last he heard, it takes at least a three year waiting period to get a booth if you aren’t returning from the previous year. So even if you start a new comic book company that gains popularity quickly, you’ll still have to wait a few years before you can have your own booth.
SAN DIEGO – The most successful professional sports team in San Diego may not be who you think it is. Topping the list is not the Chargers, not the Padres, but the 14-time indoor soccer champion San Diego Sockers. The Sockers are a storied franchise in the indoor soccer scene, but despite being the most victorious team in the county, the team does not always get the credit they deserve.
With an average attendance of over 3,000 fans per game since their revival in 2009, more than the Pacific division average, the Sockers have tallied nearly enough championship rings to fill one hand. But even with that success, playing in a league with less attention and interest than other major sports can make things difficult on the team and players. One disadvantage these athletes have is the lack of funding for their sport, meaning they must work just as hard off the field as they do on, in order to make a living.
With a club of guys from all around the world, the Sockers’ players pursue an array of careers outside the sport. From coaching youth soccer to selling real estates, the team has quite the cast of characters.
One player who puts in extra effort to get on the field also puts in some of the most dedicated work outside of the game.
“Mike has to battle to make our starting lineup,” said Craig Elsten, San Diego Sockers media relations director, of Sockers’ defender Mike Mercuriali. “He works at Prime Sports a sports apparel distributor. We often work with them to get uniforms made.”
Mercuriali, a San Diego native and San Diego State University alumni, has been with the Sockers organization since 2009 and was placed in the starting rotation in 2013. With options to go to other places, Mercuriali did not think twice about his opportunity with the Sockers.
“I made a decision that the dream was to play professionally,” said Mercuriali on his decision to stay in San Diego. “What I really wanted was to be in San Diego, be around family and friends.”
After making a name for himself in the Sockers organization, Mercuriali knew he had to find another form of income, and that is where an old Italian friend of his came into play.
“He was one of my students, I was a science teacher during the time I started this business,” said Vince Maruca, owner of Prime Sports in Chula Vista. “Being Italian, we kind of bonded over soccer. And just knowing him through the years I thought he would be a great salesman.”
Prime Sports specializes in customizable athletic clothing. Ranging from personalized items to high school apparel, representatives like Mercuriali are busy dealing with high demands from clients, similar to the on-field demands from the Sockers.
“Sometimes scheduling is not perfect,” said Mercuriali. “But we manage to get through all of it.”
One of the main reasons many of the Sockers have other jobs away from the game is because the financial pull from an indoor season is just too small to sustain living.
“They get paid pretty decent, during the season,” said Sockers’ Coach Phil Salvagio. “But that’s it, during the season. We only play four months, so they only get paid for four months.”
The income for Major Arena Soccer League players is far less than that of players from other major sports.
“You know you don’t get paid as much as the basketball or the baseball or even the professional outdoor teams,” said Mercuriali on the state of the league. “A lot of it is based off of demands.”
On average, an indoor player will make around $6,000 over a four month period, but some are more fortunate.
“Some make fifteen, sixteen thousand in four months,” said Salvagio. “Not bad, for four months. But you can’t live off that all year round.”
Those are only the highly successful, star athletes reaching that pay grade, not players on some of the less competitive teams. But in the end, Mercuriali made one thing clear; to him, this game is bigger than the paycheck.
“It’s about the passion,” he said about the sport he loves to play. “It’s about what Phil had said to us in the beginning… It’s not like he is getting rich off the deal either… I hope that people understand that it’s not really a money thing.”
SAN DIEGO– “I look at the calluses forming on my fingers from the pricks and it makes me so upset. Every doctor’s visit, I get reminded of the shorter life expectancy, which really sucks,” said 21-year-old Lindsay Altman.
She sat tense with her hands clasped tightly between her knees. A strand of her long, brown hair fell over her eyes when she looked down and chuckled. She apologized for sounding so depressing. Although she swore she was fine and said not to worry, the tearing in her eyes and tightening of her throat told a different story. Lindsay’s family has an inherently strong history with type 1 diabetes and although her parents did everything they could to prevent it, she was diagnosed with the disease at 17 years old.
At the age of four, Lindsay started getting blood drawn annually to test for antibodies—or self-destructing proteins. By the age of six, the doctors said she had the antibodies that would develop the disease. They said there was an 85% chance that within the next five years she would be diagnosed. Lindsay’s mom flew her to doctors and researchers, made her take specific medications and fish oils, but it was only a matter of time for—what she called—her little “time bomb.” Her mother was able to shock researchers by delaying her diagnosis for 11 years, but eventually it was time to face what was inevitable.
MULTIMEDIA: Lindsay describes the struggle of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and how it has affected her life socially. Professionals also explain the effects the disease has on one’s body now and in the future.
“Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks its own tissue—or in this case—the pancreas,” explains to Yumi Petrisko, Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. She says that because the beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed, the body cannot produce insulin, which is necessary for regulating the blood glucose (another blood issue complications – clotting – can be found at http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org/complications-and-liability-litigation/). The consistency of the blood glucose levels is crucial especially for people with diabetes because extreme fluctuations can cause severe complications.
On any given day, Altman says she has to prick her fingers anywhere from five to 10 times to check her blood sugar, which helps avoid the high’s and low’s. In addition, she has to inject herself with insulin about one to five times a day. However, she says there is no way to maintain a perfect insulin level so there is no avoiding the discomforts of her disease.
“High blood sugars leave me anxious, jittery and with a sort of a caffeine crash, where I am just so tired. Low blood sugars leave me weak, shaky, dizzy and sweaty,” Altman said.
These are only the current conditions that Altman has to face. Mark Kern, Professor of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University, says it can lead complications like problems with vision, kidneys—so people often end up on dialysis if they have type I diabetes that they don’t keep under control. He says they can also have problems with wound healing, so they can end up with infections.
“It’s not uncommon for people with diabetes to end up needing amputations of toes or feet or legs,” Kern said.
Altman said her grandfather, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 75 years ago, is completely blind from diabetic retinopathy and has nerve damage in his legs.
“I know that there is better technology available for me now, but to see what it may or may not do to my body is a lot to handle at times,” Altman said.
According to the American Diabetes Association one in four people has diabetes and does not even know it. It is estimated that one out of three children born after the year 2000 will be directly affected by diabetes in the greater area of San Diego alone.
Altman said that although her diagnosis has made her appreciate the importance of health and her supporting family, having this disease is a burden and is more than just physically difficult. She choked up when she described the stigma the disease has because it is misconstrued for type 2.
Altman said growing up was difficult, especially in her younger and awkward years, as a girl who is unsure of herself and her body image. Altman teared up when she said that it was really hurtful to see her own friends post pictures of them eating candy and pizza with the caption saying “fatty” and hashtag diabetic.
“It’s not like telling somebody I’m diabetic makes me feel attractive,” Altman said. “It makes me feel self conscious and makes me feel awkward.”
She later told a story about a time in the library when she had to inject insulin to avoid a blood glucose fluctuation and a nearby student looked over and gasped. Altman said it made her feel so insecure. She said she resents those experiences.
However, not only those who are diagnosed are the ones affected by the disease. Her father, Steve Altman, said that as a parent all he can do is worry. Lindsay’s mother, Lisa Altman, also described how overwhelming it was to have both their son and daughter diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“When they’re newly diagnosed it’s a learning curve because you know nothing about it,” Lisa said.
Lisa said it’s hard to learn to give shots and know all about the disease. However, she has committed her life to dealing with the disease for her family. Lisa sits on the board of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and hosts the Rock the Cure event at her house every year. She researches, helps newly diagnosed people and their families and does what she can to make a difference.
“I’ve worn my diabetes bracelet since her brother was diagnosed,” Lisa said. “Whether I’m going to a black tie event or working out. It’s the first thing I put on and the last thing I take off at night because it’s my life and what matters to me.”
Lindsay said she is grateful for the support her family gives her because they understand how serious her disease is and what it really means to have to live with diabetes.