Category Archives: Bay & Beyond

Kicking for change

J Coach Benjamin Anderson, center, holds a team chat after practice at Margaret Hayward Park. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
J Coach Benjamin Anderson, center, holds a team chat after practice at Margaret Hayward Park. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

On the basketball court underneath the Interstate 280 overpass, men and women gather on a chilly September evening and introduce themselves twenty minutes before the last practice at Mission Bay Creek Park. There is a mix of old and new players from Street Soccer USA (SS USA). A tall man wearing a newsboy cap comes up and introduces himself as Shane Bullock, one of the preliminary candidates to represent the United States at the Homeless World Cup (HWC) taking place in Santiago, Chile in October.

When brothers Lawrence and Rob Cann combined social work with their love for soccer in North Carolina, they found that using the two together kept people engaged, hopeful, and motivated. This realization turned into more teams being brought together, slowly creating the Street Soccer USA organization. When Rob moved to San Francisco, they were able to cover more ground.

Through soccer, the organization aims to help homeless men, women, and youth get their lives back together. They realize that a lot of the homeless are just stuck in a cycle of hopelessness; after being on the street and in shelters off and on for years at a time, they get stuck in a loop, and it becomes their identity.

It took Bullock a while to decide he wanted to join Street Soccer USA. He thought they were just pick-up games and was hesitant about playing for a homeless team. For weeks, recruiters from the organization had been coming around the Saint Vincent de Paul Society homeless shelter – where he had been living for ten months – and when they asked him if he wanted to play, almost saying yes, he said he would take a raincheck instead.

“I didn’t see them for a couple of weeks after that,” Bullock says. “But they came by again, so I decided to go and I’ve been here ever since. I didn’t realize it was this whole thing.”

The twenty-six-year-old joined the program the week of Thanksgiving last year. He explains that when you are in the shelter [at Saint Vincent de Paul of Society] for the night, you have to stay in. So when he first went to practice, it was just to get out.

“I could only read so many books in there,” Bullock says. “I was at the library every day and I would just go there, read books, eat dinner, and just go to sleep.”

According to the Homeless World Cup website, after attending a conference on homelessness in South Africa in 2001, founders Mel Young and Harald Schmied believed the power of soccer can push the homeless into a positive direction. And with the help of seventy partners around the world, they were able to bring the first HWC to Graz, Austria in 2003.

The United States team was picked during the Street Soccer USA National Cup, which was hosted in August by the Street Soccer USA organization in San Francisco.

In the past, the Street Soccer USA National Cup was held at Times Square in New York City but this year was the first time it was held in San Francisco, after it was continuously hosted on the east coast. According to Antoine Lagarde, a coach of the Bay Area team, with the Cann brothers’ connections and networking, Street Soccer USA set up partnerships with the mayor’s office, various members of the board of supervisors, San Francisco Recreation and Parks, corporations, and with the connections in the soccer leagues to get players to participate and help fund the program, making it able to come to life on the west coast. With City Hall as its backdrop, the sixteen teams from all over the country came together at the Civic Center Plaza to celebrate their hard work and showcase to the community that they are more than just homeless.

“Choosing players to represent the country in the HWC is not about who the most skillful player is,” Lagarde says at another practice in Margaret Hayward Playground. “We want to send a message [to the other players] that it’s not about who’s good, it’s the people who are in the program who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

There are three criteria in which a player is chosen. First, what they have achieved off the field: securing housing, a job, and going back to school. Second, how they act on the team: their attitude, teamwork, and if they act as a role model [to other players]. Lastly, playing ability and commitment – even if the player is at a beginner’s level or has just joined the program, showing up to practices and games is critical.

Lagarde, a former player, is now an employee of the organization as a coach, and is also a teacher at the San Francisco Conservation Corps. When he first joined the Street Soccer movement, he was “in a weird transition stage,” struggling with bipolar disorder that led him to destructive behaviors. When he was getting better and on the path out, he was an assistant teacher, and a lot of his students that were in gangs were having issues. With his love for soccer, Lagarde, along with a case manager, started a soccer team, and ended up going to Washington, D.C. to compete in the National Cup. Soon after that he went to the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris to coach the US team under the Eiffel Tower.

“With what I learned as a player, I try to transmit to the current players,” Lagarde says. “Players who represent the country become ambassadors and serve as role models to the other players.”

“What we do that’s different— we realized that a lot of these players are numb. They’ve given up, they don’t want to feel the pain and would rather shut it off, and not have too many expectations. So when they step on the soccer field, their emotions come out again- they’re happy, they’re sad, they’re passionate, they enjoy life, they want to taste more of it.”

Street Soccer USA supports and gives those in the program “tough love,” Lagarde says. He explains that they check in on them, ask about appointments, or ask about cutting down on drinking. Other players on the team encourage them to keep that motivation and help with the resources they need to get that focus back in their lives. After a year in the program, 75 percent of the players reach their main goals: housing, getting sober, going back to school, reuniting with family, and obtaining full-time employment. The struggles of the other 25 percent are related to alcohol, drugs, or various types of mental illnesses.

“Even in a city like San Francisco, with all these social services, there’s very little funding when it comes to mental health issues,” Largarde says.

The organization is funded through grants, churches, private donations, and a for-profit soccer league called “I Play For,” where they have multiple games throughout the year. Grants from the US Soccer Foundation helped fund the Street Soccer court at Margaret Hayward Playground that was installed over the summer, and corporations like BlackRock, an investment management company, gave donations. These donations have allowed them to hire coaches and have scholarships so that some of the players can pay for college books, buy clothes for interviews, get IDs, or pay off tickets. Sponsors also give funds for uniforms, cleats, and some of the travelling expenses.

According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were over six hundred thousand sheltered and unsheltered homeless in a single night in January last year, seeing a decline since 2010. California had the highest rate of homelessness, representing 22 percent of the homeless population, and even though the country as a whole saw a decline, the Golden State had an increase in homelessness second behind New York between 2012 and 2013. San Francisco has one of the highest homeless populations amongst United States cities.

James Grigsby does tricks with the ball before Street Soccer practice at Margaret Hayward Park. Grigsby comes from a hip hop dance background and constantly looks to incorporate those talents to his time in the Street Soc- cer world.(Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
James Grigsby does tricks with the ball before Street Soccer practice at Margaret Hayward Park. Grigsby comes from a hip hop dance background and constantly looks to incorporate those talents to his time in the Street Soc- cer world.(Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

At the September practice at Mission Bay Creek Park, while the players got acquainted with one another, a man with blonde hair down his neck set up perimeter with small orange cones around half of the basketball court. He then gathered everyone in a circle and introduced himself to the newcomers as Benjamin Anderson. In the circle, Anderson asked each person to say their name and pick a stretch to do, with each person after having to repeat everyone’s name of who went before him or her.

“Support is really important when you’re trying to make a change in your life,” Anderson says, almost shouting to the small group, competing with the noise of cars and trucks exiting the freeway directly above.

After hearing about the organization a year ago, Anderson contacted the director of the program and has been involved as a Street Soccer coach ever since. To him, the biggest thing about Street Soccer is that it creates a community of support and gives the homeless a reason to get out of the shelter and engage in a healthy activity. Those individuals who continuously come to practice then become friends, help each other, and become each other’s support system, Anderson says.

“Collectively, we do some goal setting and life skills coaching,” Anderson explains. “And then the community kind of helps hold the players accountable to reaching those goals through positive reinforcement, encouragement, and it instills a sense of confidence in the players.”

After engaging with homeless players for a year, the twenty-eight-year-old thinks the biggest struggle is the fact that they do not have a lot of motivation.

“A lot of these folks are in the shelter and looking for work and they’re continually demoralized because it’s difficult to get your feet on the ground,” Anderson says. “San Francisco is a really expensive city. The job market isn’t the best for entry-level employment. So a lot of players get discouraged when they do make the attempts to improve their situation.”

One player from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society homeless shelter had just joined practice that afternoon when Anderson and Bullock came to ask if anyone wanted to play soccer. “I just wanted to relax on my day off,” Aldo Sanchez says, about joining the group.

Earlier, he looked up at the building on the other side of the court and asked another player how much he thought it was to live in the luxury apartment. The Edgewater Apartment on Berry Street he was referring to ranges from $3,224 for a one bedroom to $4,428 for a two bedroom. Sanchez came to the city from Las Vegas last month, and Long Beach, California before that.

“I don’t think about what we do,” Sanchez says, unsure if he wants more out of it. “I just like to go with the flow.”

Bullock was at the shelter for ten months before moving into his single room occupancy. Now an employee of Street Soccer USA, he is able to make enough for the necessities he needs to get by. Before San Francisco, he was living in Sacramento with his older brother and moved down when he realized his younger brother needed help.

Not wanting to go into detail regarding his brother’s status, Bullock says, “I don’t want people judging him for the situation he’s in.” He did not have money saved up when he came down, and neither him or his brother saw it as a “viable option” to live together, and as a result, Bullock found himself homeless.

“There wasn’t really anyone here for him, or at least that’s how he felt,” Bullock says, looking down at his hands. “And so I took it upon myself to come down here.”

It was overwhelming for him to be chosen for the Homeless World Cup. He says that he is only an alternate and will not play unless someone else cannot, but he is excited to watch his teammates from other cities across the country play. He has never been to South America, but he has been to France, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland for a People to People program, which gives students the opportunity to learn about other cultures through traveling and giving them the chance to gain hands-on experience of what it is like to live in another country.

“I haven’t had a specific goal I wanted to reach in my life,” Bullock says. “But the reason I came to San Francisco was to help my brother, so that’s my goal right now — Just to get him going better.”

Inside the barriers of the street soccer court at Margaret Hayward Playground, where names of their sponsors and crests with bold words such as “OPPORTUNITY,” “SUPPORT,” and “HOPE” wrap around the sides, players and a new volunteer huddle in the center where the Street Soccer USA logo lays to listen to the coach at the end of practice. Lagarde shouts, “We all play for change in our lives—everybody put their hands in—”

“One, two, three, CHANGE!” everyone chants loudly in unison.

#BlackTwitter Addresses Cultural Appropriation

After years and years of trying to tame large backsides “in countless exercise classes,” we can finally relax because according to an article published by Vogue last month, we have officially entered the era of the big booty. According to the article, Jennifer Lopez succeeded in making butts kind of cool in the early aughts (who could forget that Versace dress she wore to the 2000 Grammys?), but ample butt was nothing to be proud of until recently.

Never mind the fact that having and celebrating sizable derrieres has long been a part of black music and culture. As far as Vogue is concerned, none of that mattered before they cosigned butts with their article.

In response to Vogue’s article, which gave a nod to a total of four black artists, black Twitter users began using the hashtag #VogueArticles to suggest other story ideas for the magazine, all of which praised white people for things that have been a part of black culture for what seems like forever. The hashtag quickly began trending, and has been included in more than three-hundred thousand mocking tweets.


https://twitter.com/lancehouston/status/510438522747379714
The #VogueArticles hashtag is just one shining example of the way Black Twitter, the name used to refer to black Twitter users en-masse, utilizes the site.

No one is sure when Black Twitter started, or who even coined the term ‘Black Twitter’, but the virtual community has become a way for African Americans in the United States to voice their contempt, joy, and other feelings about the black experience in America. If you’ve never heard of it, it is likely because the issues and references that are worked out through the community’s often playful hashtags are ones that have never impacted you. But if you can relate, and are capable of curating a Tweet funnier than the last guy’s, Black Twitter is open to you too.

“I use Twitter every day, if not every couple of hours,” says Barbara Cummings a black, 22-year-old, recent graduate of SF State.

Cummings isn’t alone in her frequent Twitter use, the same Pew survey showed that of the twenty-two percent of black people that access Twitter, eleven percent log on at least once a day, compared to just three percent of whites.


Though the hashtags are often humorous (after ABC news published an article titled ‘Twerking: A Scientific Explanation’, Black Twitter created the hashtag #ABCReports, and began suggesting titles for other investigative pieces like: Is It Scientifically Possible to Smack the Taste out of One’s Mouth? A Roundtable Discussion #ABCReports) trending hashtags are also used to highlight the plight of blacks in America and spark social change.

“I can’t really speak for all black people, but I can say what I see a lot of. If something pops up in the media that may have an underlying racial motive my black twitter followers will bring it to my attention or look at it in a perspective that’ll really leave me thinking like, ‘This whole racism thing never really died,’” says Cummings.

After the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, protests began and the small town’s residents began to clash with the local police.
Meanwhile, the news coverage of the events transpiring in Ferguson focused mostly on the well being of the police force and painting Mike Brown as a thug through pictures found on his various social media accounts, instead of using pictures that showed the teen had a soft side.

In response to the way the Mike Brown and the countless black victims of police brutality are portrayed in the mainstream media, Black Twitter started using the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and users began posting pictures of themselves in which they were drinking, smoking or joking around alongside pictures of themselves graduating from college, posing in family portraits and doing other non-threatening activities and asking the simple question #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, what picture would they use?


https://twitter.com/_cooljase/status/500790616737845249

Similarly, shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder last summer, one of the jurors responsible for coming to that verdict, known in the media as Juror B37, announced that she would be publishing a book about her time on the jury in what was a highly publicized case that was an extremely sensitive topic for a lot of black people.

Upon hearing this news, Twitter user @MoreAndAgain disseminated the contact info of the literary agent who was responsible for offering Juror B37 the book deal in the first place and encouraged other black Twitter users to contact the agent and voice their opinions on a potential Juror B37 book.
https://twitter.com/MoreAndAgain/status/356945360259788800
Soon after, the agent contacted @MoreAndAgain to let her know that Juror B37’s book deal was off the table.

 

Feminism is for men too

Men and women are posting photos showing their support for #HeForShe campaign, an initiative to promote gender equality.
Men and women are posting photos showing their support for #HeForShe campaign, an initiative to promote gender equality. (Dani Hutton/ Xpress Magazine)

For a long period of time, the only people who spoke out about the cause of equality for women through the establishment and defending of equal political, cultural, economical, and social rights for women were feminists and activists.

In the past decade, however, female celebrities like Beyonce, Shailene Woodley, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, and Ellen Page have bravely declared themselves “feminists”—influencing a whole new wave of young adults.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. That definition is quite different from the image of “man-haters and anti-men activists” that feminists have generally been depicted as. Feminist and social activist Bell Hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, argues that without the liberation of men, as well as women, equality of the sexes cannot be reached.

“It is not the word [feminism] that is important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it,” says British actress Emma Watson. Watson is one of the latest Hollywood stars to call herself a feminist. Last month, the young actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador made headlines when she spoke at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, inviting men to take part in the #HeForShe campaign.

The essence of Watson’s speech was not just to reach the number of women in the world who declare themselves “anti-feminists,” but to also reach all the men who think that this issue is irrelevant to them and their lives.

“I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves,” says Watson.

Male celebrities like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Legend, and Ryan Gosling have all made declarations toward the empowerment for women through equal rights.

“All men should be feminists,” says Legend in an interview at his Chime for Change event back in 2013. “If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place. We are better off when women are empowered— it leads to a better society.”

Other stars like Gosling have started Tumblr pages to share feminists phrases and motivational quotes through their celebrity. Gordon-Levitt used his popular YouTube page HITRECORD to create and share an inspirational and informative video regarding feminism.

“How can we accept change in the world if only half of it is invited, or feels welcome to participate,” Watson explains about the impartial role of men in this social movement.

It is naive to think of women’s rights as an irrelevant issue, especially with the fact that women still earn less than men. In 2012, the  U.S. Census Bureau found that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterpart. This is one of many inferiorities that women face.

With many women, the target of the campaign, being “against” the word “feminism,” it is as if this issue is even more crucial now then it was when it began in the 1800s, when the movement started. Modern day women are thought by some to be equal or even superior to some men because of the improvement in the work force and in powerful positions, but a few exceptions do not erase the bigger issue of gender inequality.

The birth of the #HeforShe campaign brings new hope for the public view and stigma currently surrounding feminism. Men and women can make the declaration to help the equalization of sexes by pledging for the U.N. campaign. If the campaign passes, can we see if anything will change.

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

 Photo by Brenna Cruz, special to Xpress

Starting today, September 27th, a seemingly unusual partnership starts on Alcatraz Island. From now until April 26th 2015, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz will be shown on the historic federal prison island turned national park site. The significance of this? For starters, this artist will not be attending his own show.

Well, at least not for now. The artist is, and has been, banned from leaving China since April of 2011, and will continue to be indefinitely until Chinese authorities allow him access. He was originally detained for eighty-one days on the premise of “tax evasion,” but has continued to be detained because the Chinese a government suspects him of “other crimes.” Others say it is because Chinese authorities have not liked Ai for some time because of his outspoken politics and art.

Ranked in the top twenty of most influential artists in 2011, it is not hard to believe that Ai has a huge following online, with about one hundred and two thousand followers on Instagram and more than two hundred and fifty-five thousand followers on Twitter. Hashtags including #aicantbehere, #passportnow, and #flowerforfreedom are dedicated to the artist and his work and have been spreading across social media. Since his the first day of his detainment, the artist has taken a picture of flowers on a bicycle and posted it on social media daily, symbolizing his inability to travel; some followers have done the same to show their support of the artist.

So, how is it this show came into fruition then? Curator and executive director of the For-Site Foundation, Cheryl Haines, took it upon herself to come up with one of the most symbolic while slightly ironic places to hold the exhibition. Haines has been planning with Ai since his release from jail two years ago, when she offered to bring him a prison for his work to be featured in.

“This exhibition is a very large undertaking for our foundation and addresses some very basic issues important to us all, the need for human rights, freedom of expression, and the role that communication plays in creating a just society,” said Haines in an interview with SF Gate.

The curator, the artist, the For-Site Foundation, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (the National Park area that has managed Alcatraz since 1972), Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (the nonprofit partner of the GGNRA), along with groups of volunteers have worked together to plan and execute this exhibition.

Many of the pieces in this art show are a part of a larger global discussion – that of prisoners of conscience. The goal of this initiative is to draw attention to other activists and political prisoners locked up or put under house arrest globally, and the injustice in such a system that allows this. The exhibition includes pictures of one hundred and seventy-six prisoners of conscience, including Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Martin Luther King Junior, made out of one point two million LEGOs and then constructed by volunteers in San Francisco following more than two thousand sheets of instruction put together by Ai.

“Alcatraz has been a place for movements of freedom to be seen ever since the indigenous people occupation in the 1970s. With Ai Weiwei’s exhibit, this brings the same conversation to a global scale,” says Alexandra Picavet, public affairs officer for Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Entrance to see @Large is technically free, because Alcatraz Island is a National Park site, but the ferry ride over to the island via Alcatraz Cruises is $30. Other packages are available as well, with things like the early bird special and gift for $50 and a guided tour plus the gift for $125. You do have to make sure you purchase tickets in a bit early – they tend to sell out a few weeks in advance.

But this show is much more than LEGOs. Every part of the exhibit intends to send a message; a colorful dragon kite representing personal freedom, porcelain flowers in sinks and toilets representing the comfort flowers could bring to prisoners, and a giant wing, made out of repurposed Tibetan solar cookers and kettles, representing freedom that can be viewed by visitors, but not accessed are just a few of the pieces of the exhibit.

Although it is also aesthetically pleasing to visit, @Large raises more important questions than “why did he chose that color over this other one?” It brings visitors and onlookers to think about what exactly constitutes right and wrong, who deserves to be treated like a criminal, who does not, and what type of society we live in now, the year 2014, that would allow this and many other injustices in the world.

As Ai has been quoted time and time again, “If there is no freedom of expression, then the beauty of life is lost. Participation in a society is not an artistic choice, it’s a human need.”

Hazing Tragedy Shakes Bay Area Greek Life

A Cesar Chavez student center view of SF State's campus. Creative Commons photo by Librarygroover
A  view of SF State’s campus from the Cesar Chavez student center. Photo under Creative Commons by Librarygroover

Along Malcolm X Plaza, fraternities and sororities set up booths to advertise Fall “rush,” where prospective students participate in a recruitment period in hopes of gaining an invitation to the Greek organization of their choice.

Justin Lovell, 22, historian of SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter, remembers when he pledged his fraternity. “It was honestly the best part of my college experience,” says Lovell. During his pledge, he participated in social networking events with sororities, did volunteer work, and learned about the organization’s long history.

SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter is currently home to fifty-six active members. Lovell has been able to find the best friends he’s ever had and admires the strong sense of brotherhood within the fraternity.

But despite all the fond memories of his chapter, this year, the members of Pi Kappa Phi are haunted by the tragic death of an associate member.

In the midst of summer, Cal State Northridge student and Pi Kappa Phi pledge Armando Villa, 19, participated in SAW (Super Awesome Weekend), a 14-16 mile round trip hike along with other Pi Kappa Phi pledges and brothers. The fraternity-sponsored event in the Angeles National Forest quickly escalated into a disturbing scene when Villa was found by a Pi Kappa Phi brother in a ditch, where he lay in great distress, barefoot, and blistered. He was pulled out by frantic fraternity members who attempted to cool him down by sprinkling him with water. Villa was pronounced dead upon hospital arrival.

university investigation of the fraternity was conducted due to the accusations of hazing. In the investigations findings, it was discovered that the pledges were given one gallon of water each and had run out of water between one-third to three-quarters of the way through the hike. The pledges, showing signs of heat exhaustion, reported feeling disorientated and dizzy.

The condition of Villa’s feet was most likely due to his instruction by fraternity members to wear shoes that were too small for his feet while on the hike.

On Friday, the Zeta Mu Chapter at Cal State Northridge announced a permanent voluntary withdrawal and closure of the chapter.

“Although closing a chapter is never an easy decision, Pi Kappa Phi expects our students to uphold and abide by the fraternity’s risk management policy and standards of conduct. Hazing has no place in our fraternity,” says Chief Executive Officer Mark E. Timmes.

“They put all of us in a bad light; we don’t want to be seen as hazing douchebags,” says Lovell about the incident, aware of the organization’s strict no hazing policy. The SF State student defines hazing as making someone do something they don’t want to do. SF State University’s policy on hazing describes it as acts of physical abuse, excessive mental stress, and verbal abuse.

Lovell says SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter takes anti-hazing education and prevention very seriously, which has resulted in a 20-year-long incident free streak at the university. The death of Villa now serves as a reminder of the dangers of hazing at SF State.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering 9/11

Photo courtesy of AJ Montpetit
Photo courtesy of AJ Montpetit

Certain moments in history are so monumental that most people will never forget where they were when it happened or when they heard the news. For this generation, 9/11 is that moment.

I am sure I will always remember how I found out about 9/11. I had just recently started the fifth grade at Carr Elementary School in Torrance, Calif., and was nine days shy of my tenth birthday. Sometimes, my mom would turn on the news while I was getting ready for school, but she had not on that day. I walked to school that morning with no idea how the world had changed while I was sleeping. Once we were all in our seats, my teacher, Lauri Beard, told the class what had happened. The air grew heavy as a hush fell over the room. There was no sound but her voice.

I cannot repeat verbatim what she said to us, but the way she told us has always stuck with me. She did not try to sugarcoat things or pretend nothing was wrong just because we were children. She also did not try to scare us with talk of terrorists or warn us that we were under attack. She spoke to us straightforward, calmly, but with gravity. I cannot begin to imagine what she must have been feeling that morning, but I am sure having to tell a room full of mostly ten-year-olds something so horrible was no easy task. Whenever I think back to that awful day, I want to thank her for the way she handled such a difficult situation and the respect she gave us.

I can recall two ways in which my school attempted to convey the enormity of this tragedy to us students, and how they still resonate with me. When Miss Beard broke the news to my class, she told us that there had been enough people in the Twin Towers for them to qualify for their own ZIP code. On one of the following days, a row of easels was set up, each bearing a sheet of newspaper, covered with nothing but columns of names—thousands in all—of the dead and missing. I never would have imagined that mere text could have such a strong visual impact.

At the time, one of my best friends, Huda El-Haj, and her family happened to be Muslim. I remember her telling me about her father, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, experiencing discrimination after 9/11. Years later, the Muslim Student Association at my community college, Cypress College, hosted Purple Hijab Day to raise awareness about domestic violence. They encouraged female students to don the hijab for a day to support the cause. I wore one of the lavender headscarves they were giving out and got dirty looks from at least a couple people. I was not personally hurt by this, but I could not help but feel for those women who wear the hijab every day as an expression of their faith and are subject to the prejudice I received that day or much worse.

In the thirteen years since 9/11, I have developed an ever-deepening desire to understand the world as best I can. Among other things, I want to have at least a modest comprehension of global politics. That is why I chose to mark the anniversary by attending the Thirteenth Annual Jules Tygiel Memorial Forum on Post-9/11 World Affairs, held on the 13th anniversary at SF State.

The assembled panel spoke on a number of political topics, centered around the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, politics in India, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and U.S. foreign policy. I found the whole discussion fascinating, but the discourse on the Middle East was what I found to be most fitting given the date. Fred Astern, a professor of Jewish studies, pointed out that we cannot yet know how the current state of world affairs will look when framed in a greater historical context. He elicited laughter from the packed room when he said, “the French Revolution—we don’t know how that’s going to turn out.” He also encouraged a shift from the predominant western view of the conflict in the Middle East that “emphasizes European colonialism and imperialism.”

The moderator, history professor Maziar Behrooz, explained some of the similarities and differences between Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafism, which are all derived from Islam. I found his description of the Muslim Brotherhood most interesting; Behrooz called it a “reformed” Islam and said that it encourages followers to be Muslim while accepting the likes of modern technology and reason.

Andrei P. Tsygankov, professor of political science and international relations, offered a bit of advice. “The world is changing fundamentally,” he said. “We need to come up with a better definition of what is the world we live in.”

 That will not be easy to do, and it will be even harder to come to something enough people can agree on. Still, Tsygankov is right – the world is not at all the place it was thirteen years ago.

Catalonia: To become whole again

A group of Catalans pose together while celebrating their culture. This bevvy of friends and family go to picnics filled with traditional Catalan food. (Tony Santos/Xpress Magazine)
A group of Catalans pose together while celebrating their culture. This bevvy of friends and family go to picnics filled with traditional Catalan food. (Tony Santos/Xpress Magazine)

Written by Anais Fuentes

After losing their homeland 300 years ago, Catalans are still fighting for their independence.

For Americans, September Eleventh will always be remembered as the tragic day that terrorists attacked our country.  Every year on this day, we mourn for the lives that were lost and we stand together as a nation.  However, this day is also significant for another culture—and for a very different reason.  For Catalans, this day will always be remembered as the day they lost their independence and were forced to become part of the Spanish Kingdom. Now known as the National Day of Catalonia, every September Eleventh, Catalans join together and protest to gain back their independence.

Anna Preston, sociology major at SF State, grew up in a bicultural household with a Catalan mother and an American father.  “We strive to be independent from Spain, but unfortunately it is not seen as something feasible to the Spanish government.”

At this point you might still be wondering, who are Catalans anyways? Catalan people are from Catalonia, one of the seventeen regions of Spain, located in the North Eastern corner of the country.  With their own language, traditions, and culture, Catalans consider themselves different from the rest of Spain and have been fighting for their independence ever since they lost it.

“I grew up learning both English and Catalan,” says Preston. “In the summers I would go to Spain and during the school year I would be in the United States so I grew up as a part of both worlds. There is a huge sense of pride in our culture that we do not take for granted.”

Catalonia existed as a free nation until 1714, when Catalonia became incorporated into a Spanish state.  It all dates back to the fourteen hundreds, when King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile got married, uniting the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Their marriage united the two kingdoms, which unified Spain.  Then, during the period between 1936 and 1975, dictator Francisco Franco took over Spain in the Spanish Civil War.  During this time, Spanish was declared Spain’s only official language and the public use of other languages became prohibited. Catalan language, traditions, and culture were suppressed to the point of near extinction.  Schools were banned from teaching Catalan, Catalan books were not published, and some even burned.  It was a hard time to be a Catalan in Spain, but Catalans were able to resist this repression and salvage their culture.  Once Franco died in 1975, Catalans were able to regain their culture that had almost completely disappeared. It is because of those thirty-six years of oppression that Catalans have become so proud of their distinct culture, traditions, and language.

Susan Wigham started a Catalan meetup group called Trobades Catalanes, which invites both Catalan and non-Catalans to get together and celebrate the language and culture.  This group has been meeting up monthly at different locations around the Bay Area for the past four years.  As an American, Wigham became fascinated with the culture and language after visiting some friends in Barcelona.

“What interested me about Catalans is the fact that they were once very repressed under Franco’s regime and now they are beginning to grow and gain independence,” says Wigham. “I got started organizing the meet up group because it was an opportunity for me to learn the language and give something back at the same time.”

Four years after creating the group, Wigham has become fluent in the Catalan language. “People have remarked to me on multiple occasions that I must have been Catalan in a previous life” says Wigham, “and I feel like that is possible.”

There are so many traditions unique to Catalan culture, that if I were to attempt to write about all of them, I would have to write an entire book instead of an article.  So I chose to write about just a few of them.

Fútbol

You may have heard of the famous soccer team, FC Barcelona, or Barca, known for their long-standing rivalry with Real Madrid.  “What many people do not know is that this team is Catalonia’s National team and the majority of their players are Catalan as well.  FC Barcelona has become more than just a soccer team to the Catalan people, to them it represents their identity.  The club has been used to openly promote Catalan independence. In Spain, soccer has deep political and cultural connotations and Barca has become a prominent symbol for Catalan Nationalism.

Language

Preston talks about what it is like being a Catalan living so far away from Catalonia.  “I spoke Catalan throughout my childhood and I still speak it, but I find it hard sometimes to feel connected when I am so far away from Spain.  I do not have that many Catalan friends around here so every opportunity I get to go to a Casal, which is a picnic gathering of Catalans, I will go to there just so I can feel reconnected to where I am from.”

Catalans are very proud people and their language is something they are particularly proud of, and rightly so. The Catalan language almost completely disappeared during Franco’s dictatorship but it survived against all odds.  Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish; it is derived from Latin and is spoken by millions of people around the world.  Most Catalans, however, are fluent in both Catalan and Spanish. But if you go to Barcelona and speak to the locals in Catalan, you will get huge brownie points and appreciation from the Catalan people.

Food

Catalonia’s gastronomic industry has gained a reputation for producing some of Spain’s finest cuisine. Because Catalonia is located in-between the ocean and the mountains, their meals include a diverse variety of seafood and meat dishes.  In recent years, a new wave of modern experimental chefs have come out of Catalonia, one of them being Ferran Adria, founder of El Bulli.  El Bulli was a Catalan restaurant near the town of Roses in Catalonia that received up to one-thousand reservations a year and only eight-thousand of those guests actually got a table.  Many have considered Adria the best chef in the world.

Dia de Sant Jordi

Among Catalonia’s many holidays, Sant Jordi day can be compared to our Valentines Day, in which Catalans celebrate their patron saint by exchanging books and roses.  On April 27th, the Catalan Meetup group held a Dia de Sant Jordi meet up at Hoover Park in Palo Alto.  It was a warm Sunday afternoon and by one p.m., people started to show up to Hoover Park with typical Catalan dishes and beverages in hand.  This was a chance for both Catalan speakers and non-Catalan speakers to immerse themselves in the culture.

Among those who showed up to the meet up was George Vidal.  Vidal’s grandfather was Catalan but his parents did not learn the language, losing the remaining ties they had to the culture.  “I wanted to get that back,” says Vidal.  “I am finally getting back something that I think our family lost because of the civil war. The language connects you so much with other Catalans, even if you are not Catalan yourself.”  Vidal is now working with the National Assembly of Catalonia, a civil organization that is pushing for Independence of Catalonia.  They are currently collecting votes to petition for independence.  So far they have collected about one -hundred-thousand votes and they are trying to reach their goal of one million.

Alejandro Pujol, a Catalan who has been living in the United States for the past 13 years, also attended the San Jordi festivities.  He came to America to pursue his masters in business and has been here ever since.  “I feel very Catalan,”says Pujol, “To me being Catalan is a strong cultural feeling that you are part of.”

Although the road to independence is long and windy, Catalans will continue to fight for what they believe.  And whether or not Catalonia becomes an independent nation, their distinct culture and traditions will always live on.