Category Archives: Bay & Beyond

Day of the Dead

The sight of white painted faces and indigenous attire. The smell of freshly-picked marigolds and burning incense. The taste of freshly-baked pan de muerto and the favorite foods of our loved ones. The touch of the warm, melting candles and cold, paper maché calacas. The sound of the Aztec drums and modern mariachi music. These are the things that ignite the five senses of the living as they celebrate the dead on every November 2nd in the Mission District in San Francisco.

 

When a family member passes away, their loved ones usually grieve in sorrow. However, in Mexico and some parts in the United States, the death of a loved one is seen as a cause for celebration. Dia de los Muertos, commonly known as Day of the Dead, is a celebration that occurs the first and second of the month of November every year. Originating in Mexico, the tradition has spread all over the Americas, including north and central, throughout the years. It is a celebration that combines indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholicism.

“[The Aztecs] had advanced belief systems that were eventually imposed by eurocentric beliefs,” said Juan Pablo.

To the Aztecs, death was not seen as a negative part of life, but instead, death was an opportunity for the soul to be reborn. The Mesoamerican religion was divided into three parts: world making, world centering and world renewal. They believed the human body contained three different forces in three different body parts: the head, the heart and the liver. The head was filled with tonalli, a “Shadow Soul” that was associated with the heavens which provided energy for growth and development. The heart was deposited with teyolia, a soul associated with earth that gives life to people and provided emotion, memory, knowledge and a sense of identity. The liver received ihoyotl, a luminous gas that was associated with the underworld and provided humans with bravery, desire, hatred, love, and happiness.

Every year for the last 35 years, Colectivo del Rescate Cultural, also known as The Rescue Culture Collective, has hosted its annual San Francisco Day of the Dead Ritual Procession. The Colectivo, which includes the processions’ Founding Director Juan Pablo Gutierrez, has a group of organizers, artists, cooks, publicists, and more that come together as a community to create what is necessary for the procession to be successful. Juan Pablo came up with the idea of creating a procession when he was a part of the League of United Chicano Artists (LUCHA) while in Austin, Texas.

During the procession, a wide spectrum of the dead are celebrated; from their old ancestors to the victims of recent events such as natural disasters and terror attacks. The Marigold Project is a collective that organizes and creates the colorful altars that are seen during the procession. They ask the community to participate by making their own altars. They ask that the altars are made according to the direction/element that is associated with each deceased person. The directions are North, East, South, West, and the center. The North is associated with earth and the elders. The East is associated with air and children. The South with fire and young adults. The West with water and adults. Lastly, the center is associated with the ether and ancestors.

Aside from making an actual altar, people are also encouraged to take a framed photo, an article of clothing, or anything else that was previously owned by a deceased, loved one in order to carry them alongside as they walk through the Mission.

 

Though originally born in Mexico, Juan Pablo was brought to Texas when he was just eight years old. He grew up in the 60s and 70s within the Chicano environment and has embraced it ever since. After attending the University of Texas, he wrote in San Antonio, worked with Catholic Charities of San Antonio, worked with the Mexican American Cultural Center, and more. In 1982, he came to San Francisco and eventually started working with El Tecolote.

 

When Juan Pablo came to the Bay Area, there was already a procession that was organized by a different organization but he knew his would be different. Juan Pablo wanted the new procession to focus on the Aztec calendar. Every year, the theme of the procession follows the topic that is depicted on the calendar.

According to Juan Pablo, the San Francisco Day of the Dead Ritual Procession is the largest in the nation. The procession brought in a total of half a million people in total last year, according to the SFPD. However, the large crowd eventually led to people wanting to make a profit off the free event. Juan Pablo never fails to shut down offers of company’s selling beer or shops setting up a pop-up store on the side of the street. As he stated, the commercial-free zone is open to the community and it creates a “safe zone” therefore it is a “good time to come and experience the Mission.”

 

“Our dead are not for sale,” Juan Pablo said without any hesitation.

 

Along the lines of commercialism, Dia de los Muertos has also faced other problems and misrepresentations. In 2013, Disney had requested to copyright the term “Day of the Dead,” however, it wasn’t long until they received backlash. People also often refer to Dia de los Muertos as the “Mexican Halloween” (which should be noted at this very moment, that it is not).

“If you want to be respected,” said Juan Pablo, “you have to respond to these kinds of things with consistency, not aggression.” Consistency in the sense that despite what people think or say, one must stay true to one’s culture. “People have to be educated,” Juan Pablo concluded.

Dia de los Muertos is about celebrating those that have passed away by remembering the life they once lived. It’s a time to look at their photos, remember what their voice sounded like, cook their favorite foods and listen to their favorite songs, and to think about all the memories they created whether they be good or bad. As my grandfather once told me before passing away, “Death is not a ‘goodbye’ but instead a ‘see you later.’”

Dream On.

Whether it’s reading our article about using the N-word, listening to our End-Of-The-World podcast, or reporting fashion trends on campus, and learning workout routines on Instagram; we want you to know that we’re hustling for you, our multifaceted readers. Enjoy what we have to offer this semester.

Click on the link below to view the beautiful, first Issue of this semester.

 

XPRESS Magazine, October 2017

 

Letter From the Editor

When I first started my journalism journey back in 2012, many wondered what the hell I was going to be doing with the path I was on.

This field made no money, print was going extinct, and it seemed to be a dying industry.

But then, good ol’ Mr. Trump came along.

And now whenever I mention I’m a journalism major, it’s followed with a, “Good! We need more people like you, now more than ever.”

The thing is though, there’s always been people like me. Well reported information has always been there for people to absorb. Unfortunately ,it took a rude wake up call for the majority of people to realize how important we are, but hey, we’re here, and there’s no point of putting the blame on anyone now.

What matters is where we go from here.

How we document the truth and how it is delivered is something I’ve been thinking heavily on since I came into this position. So when I gathered my editorial team, I made sure to make it clear to them: we need a voice that’s personable, trustworthy, and relatable.

We’re millennials and so are our readers. We poke fun at how hard it is to find affordable housing while having good paying jobs with benefits, and yet, somehow turn up for march after march, fighting to make a change for future generations. We’re being accused of killing a different failing industry at least once a week, but making everyday changes within ourselves, hoping to positively influence society.

With this in mind, I wanted this issue to be strictly online.

I want to test our readers.

I want to take social media strategies, apply them, and see exactly what we get when our main goal is to not only inform, but to engage with them.

Gathering inspiration from Teen Vogue’s Editor in Chief Elaine Welteroth and Digital Director Phillip Picardi, I’m offering our readers more, too. Our students here at San Francisco State are so diverse.

You deserve more.

Whether it’s reading our article about using the N-word, listening to our End-Of-The-World podcast, or reporting fashion trends on campus, and learning workout routines on Instagram; we want you to know that we’re hustling for you, our multifaceted readers.

 

Enjoy what we have to offer this semester.

Dreaming, Still.

“This is why I think this is bullshit,” 19-year-old Vanessa R. Cuevas exclaims. “How can they threaten to deport people when this is the only country we’ve ever known?”

After President Trump’s recent order on September 5, 2017 to end DACA within six months, hundreds of thousands of DREAMers are scrambling to see what they can do to prevent deportation.

DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program which allows undocumented, young adults – who originally came to the U.S. as kids – to receive benefits such as safety from deportation and work permits. However, the fee that these DREAMers pay is roughly five hundred dollars out of pocket for every two years when their renewal is due. With that being said, there is a large misconception that U.S. taxpayers are paying for this program, but little do people know that DACA is actually a self-sustaining program, hence the large fee that they must pay.

In order to qualify for DACA, one must have/do the following: be younger than 31-years-old, came to the United States before your sixteenth birthday, lived continuously in the U.S. from June 2007 to the present, were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time of applying, came to the U.S. without documents or their lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012, are currently studying or graduated from high school, and have not been convicted of a felony or any misdemeanors.

San Francisco State University students and sisters Vanessa R. Cuevas and Jessica D. Cuevas came to the United States from Mexico alone when they were only three- and four-years-old. Since they are originally from Michoacán, they were put on an airplane to get closer to the border. There they were picked up by two ladies that would eventually take them across the border in their car. They reunited with their dad somewhere in Los Angeles and he brought them to the Bay Area. About a week later, their mom was brought over and they were all together. They settled in a home in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and have been there ever since. They both currently work at a Cheesecake Factory near their home.

Vanessa is a third-year student with an undeclared major but plans to declare as a Political Science major. Jessica is a fourth-year Latina/o Studies major with minors in Education and Philosophy.

It was decided that Jessica, now 21-years-old, would wait for Vanessa so they could apply for DACA together. The process took around four to five months – they needed to have various documents on hand. Luckily, their mother saved all their childhood award certificates so that they were able to prove that they have been here since they were very young. When it was time for Jessica to start applying for college, she realized her options were very limited. Since she isn’t allowed to apply for FAFSA, she could not accept going to Sonoma State University. Instead, she waited until the very last day to accept her state-issued financial aid (CA Dream Act) because she didn’t get her acceptance to San Francisco State University earlier.

The two recently noticed that the program is taking longer than usual to send them their paperwork to renew everything.

“It’s making us nervous,” Vanessa explains.

“Usually they send us the letter by now.”

They explained their frustration with not knowing what will happen in the near future.

“We don’t know if we’ll we be working for four more months or two more years,” Jessica says. “My only options would be to not work or to work illegally.”

The girl’s’ parents have told them that no matter what happens they will just have to move forward.

Jesus Peraza, 20, Psychology Student at SFSU

“I hope ICE gets us,” 20-year-old Jesus Peraza says. “I don’t like living here.”

This is what Jesus once told his parents after living in the U.S. for a short while. He was originally born in Sonora, Mexico and came to the U.S. about twelve years ago. He lived alone with his mother and aunt until he was about five-years-old, when his mother married his now stepfather. They traveled to the U.S. with a tourist visa.

Jesus was told by his mother and stepfather that they were coming to the U.S. for about three months,and would eventually return to Mexico. However, once they got there, he realized that wasn’t true because his mother enrolled him in an elementary school in Paramount, California. It was there that he was able to learn English; his teachers took extra time to help him which made it easier for him to pick it up.

“Kids would bully me and call me names,” Jesus laughed, “but I didn’t know what they meant.”

Though the name-calling didn’t phase him, he still felt like an outcast therefore he devoted himself to school. The language barrier was just one reason for Jesus’ culture shock, along with food and the way people communicated. Christmas in the U.S. wasn’t the same and even until this day, Jesus despises Christmas because in Mexico he was able to celebrate with his large family.

Jesus, now 20-years-old and a third-year psychology major at SF State University, is currently a DACA recipient. He hopes to continue school after his bachelors degree in order to receive his masters degree.

After hearing about Trump’s decision, Jesus did not go to school that day because he realized that this decision not only affects him and others just like him, but also his parents. Luckily, he just recently renewed his DACA paperwork.

Since Jesus is undocumented and is under DACA, he is prohibited from leaving the country at any time. This has prevented him from studying abroad and traveling the world.  

“Even though I have this program that somewhat protects me, I still feel restricted. I feel chained up to a system that doesn’t allow me to be completely free.”

He has friends that travel and it makes him feel stuck, or as he says “frozen.”

“I stopped picturing my life in Mexico a long time ago… so it’s scary to think that I may not have the ability to work, get married, have kids,” Jesus continues.

“It’s daunting.”

Now when walking around campus, he starts to worry if he’ll even be able to continue studying at SF State. He also describes that his immigrant and queer identities have been attacked since now President Trump began campaigning. “They might take DACA away from me, but they will never take away my education,” Jesus says confidently.

Although there are several ways to get approved for citizenship here in the U.S., marriage was not an option for 18-year-old, Maya F. Ochoa. Soon after President Trump announced the want to repeal the DACA program, Maya’s lawyer emailed her with the recommendation of getting married soon so she can apply for citizenship.

“I couldn’t believe she told me that because I’m only 18… I shouldn’t be having to think about that,” she says, still stunned.

Maya, a first-year Chinese language major at SF State University, came to the U.S. when she was only five-years-old. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Maya, her brother, and mother also came with a visa on an airplane. They first established themselves in Whittier, California and her family continues to live there.

She is the first in her family to go to college.

In a non-marital attempt to get her U.S. citizenship, her father’s sister and her husband have offered to adopt her. However, she refuses because she would then have to change her last name and live with her new legal guardians.

Maya F. Ochoa, 18, Chinese Language Major, SFSU

At times, Maya questions if it is worth it to stay here and she sometimes considers going back but resents the idea of having to start her life over.

“I appreciate that my parents brought us here to have a better life,” Maya says slowly.

“And I’m not going to lie, we are more financially stable here than if we were to stay in Guadalajara, but I still feel trapped.”

Maya, just like Jesus, wishes she could travel and study abroad. With pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language, one part of learning a foreign language is the ability to use it in its country of origin, but Maya cannot leave the country.

Maya explains the reasons why people from all over the world, not just Latin America, come to the U.S. to escape horrible conditions in their own countries, such as war in the Middle East, government corruption in Venezuela, gangs in El Salvador, and drug cartels in Mexico.

“The government does not understand [these situations],” she said firmly.

“But if the script was flipped, they wouldn’t like to be treated the way they are treating us.”

One idea that Vanessa, Jessica, Jesus, and Maya came up with was the idea of not continuing school. This consideration did not come to their heads because they simply do not want to continue fulfilling the “American Dream,” but because they are not sure that they will be able to. Sure, they can continue and finish school but the same questions these four ask themselves is similar to “what will I be able to do with my degree?” and “will I even be able to find a job because I am an immigrant?”

Though the future of these young dreamers is currently in the state of unknown, they continue to study with the hopes of prospering and growing in this country because the U.S. is the country they call home.

Robert Arriaga, 26, Sociology Major SFSU

Tinder – The Social Currency for International Students

We live in a time where most services are just a click away, and love is no exception. Well, that depends on how you define love. Over the years several dating apps have hit the market, and amongst the most popular ones is Tinder.

Since 2012 Tinders’ users, now over 50 million in more than 190 countries according to The New York Times, have been swiping left or right with the goal of a so-called ‘match’, or a mutual like. You basically go shopping for a potential partner, friend, or hook-up based on their looks and a short description known as a bio.

Tinder as a City Guide

Students at San Francisco State University, where over 1500 international students call home, use apps like Tinder to meet people even if just for a casual hook-up, but that’s not the only reason students are drawn to Tinder. Surprisingly, a lot of international students use the app for more than just a quick way to get laid.

25-year-old Hanna Grimsborn, a marketing major from Sweden, has found Tinder helpful but not in the way you think.

“I actually never meet someone from Tinder for a date, and I think it’s mostly boring to chat with people I don’t know,” she explains.  “Recently I realized I could use the men I matched with to get recommendations on good bars, night clubs, restaurants etc.”

 

 

While Grimsborn’s method has resulted in various tips on stuff to do in the city, a lot of men still want to get something more out of a match.

“They usually respond friendly to my questions about recommendations and suggest me to go there with them. I never do, I just take away our match instead.”

Apps like Tinder can be somewhat of a meat market, and Grimsborn is very clear on why she has issues with this modern form of dating. In her experience men write stuff they would never have the guts to say in real life, which has led to both compliments and sexist comments. Men she has been matched with also seem a lot more interested in talking about themselves rather than getting to know new people.

“I’ll avoid those guys,” she says.

Fallon Salomon, a 23-year-old history major from SF State, went out to explore the world with Tinder as her companion. During her semester abroad in Amsterdam, she was introduced to the notion that dating apps can indeed improve the quality of her social life. Even though Salomon only lived in the Netherlands for six months, she had a four month-long relationship thanks to Tinder. She also got to learn more about the Dutch culture through people she met on the app.

While the relationship didn’t last, Salomon says she has had great experiences through Tinder, meeting people she wouldn’t have met otherwise.

When you move to a different country there are so many new impressions. The language is different, the culture is different, the food is different, even the traffic is different. Typically you will use every opportunity to get to know people so you don’t have to be alone. According to Salomon, it’s easier to make friends on Tinder abroad than at home.

“I think people are much more outgoing abroad. There’s a certain kind of curiosity there, that I just have not experienced here at home. I’m not sure why that is!”

 

The Culture Shock

Social culture variates throughout the world, and therefore people from different parts of the world will use Tinder in different ways. Today, the app has users in more than 190 countries, so using Tinder as a traveling tool can actually serve as a cultural journey.

“Some of my most important memories from studying abroad were born from the people I met on Tinder. I talked politics with all of them, and appreciated, and gained from their perspective,” Rebecca explains.

Rebecca, a 26-year-old international relations major from SF State, reminisces of her semester abroad in Israel, and the friends she made through Tinder.

“They were never really tour guides, but spending time with their friends and participating in their traditions was an invaluable experience of cultural immersion.”

For Rebecca, the dating app served as both a way to improve her language skills and to meet potential hook-ups. However, she says that American and Israeli women were treated very differently. For example, men would assume that American women are easier to get than Israeli women, and would experience more sexual comments, while Israeli women who were considered harder to get, were treated with more respect.

“They think because we are on a date, hooking up is expected or guaranteed, regardless of if there is chemistry.”

 

A New Dating Era

By now you might think that women are the only ones using Tinder for things other than sex. While research shows that men use Tinder more as a hook-up app, there are still some using it to make friends.

When Fabi Rausch, a 22-year-old electrical engineering major from Germany, traveled through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, he found Tinder helpful for getting in touch with locals. However, he wouldn’t want to get a girlfriend through the app.

“Apps like Tinder can be very objectifying because you judge people based on their looks. I made some friends when I was traveling, but I prefer meeting people in real life” Rausch explains.

Dating apps like Tinder are being used for much more than one-night-stands. Instead modern technology can, and is, helping young people connect with new cultures and languages, especially while being abroad. Imagine being placed on the other side of the world without your main form of communication. It can be nerve wrecking to not know anything or anyone, and for a lot of young people dating apps take some of this pressure away. It’s an informal platform that helps you enter a new society. Bottom line here is that dating apps can be used for so much more than dating. Perhaps your new perspective on life is just a swipe away.

Urban Exploration: Discovering the Underground Bay

By: Tessa Murphy

The voice on the phone wasn’t dark or mysterious like you’d expect from the man giving the where and when for an illicit activity we knew very little about.  John Law sounds like a somewhat distractible old-time hippie, a rough quality working its way into his California accent.  We were meeting at Oakland’s Tribune Tower, where Law keeps an office, but he wouldn’t give any specifics about where we were heading.  All we knew is that we’d be on one of Law’s urban exploration expeditions.

Urban exploration is the act of venturing into abandoned or uninhabited man-made structures like houses, factories, or – in our case – tunnels.  Law calls it “looking for negative spaces and finding out how to get into them.”  He’s conducted these expeditions all over the Bay Area and joined others throughout the world.

The day arrives.  We climb past the modernized lower floors of the Tribune Tower into the unrenovated top, untouched since the building’s origins in the 1920s.  Old school rock music plays faintly from above, gathering the weirdness of this transition in its notes.

John Law’s name is on his office door.  It looks very professional – opaque, lined glass, a deep-colored wood frame, tall and thin and altogether stately.  Bold, black, capital letters: John Law.
The door itself is under a peeling metal ladder and next to a small USPS box marked “soft porn :)” and a picket sign with a picture of an angry man holding a glass of whiskey-colored liquid and no words.  The wooden floorboards are scuffed like a well-loved dance floor.

John Law’s office is mostly purple, and what isn’t purple is lined with a motely conglomerate of books.  To accommodate the sloped copper roof of these highest floors of the Tribune Tower, the whole office seems to slump in on itself.  Photos and newspaper clippings and a bullet-riddled California license plate “CAR HUNT” bear down from the walls.  Bookshelves and filing cabinets tuck into the spaces between sloping square pillars, and a ragged black Wild West-style “San Francisco Suicide Club” pillow slouches on a spare chair.

Law sits among it all, tucked into the clamor like the filing cabinets.  His hair is long and grey, thoroughly adjusted to his age but not to his demographic.  He wears a salmon pink hoodie and reading glasses, and looks up from his large-screened iMac to greet us as we stand in the doorway.

Law recommends we get breakfast and talk about our plans while we wait for the tide to recede from our tunnel.  We all climb into one of the cars, following Law’s directions to a spot he knows in the area.

We arrive at a little diner in another city and park out back.  It’s a local joint, homey with green vinyl booths and framed photographs of old movie stars on the wall.  Families eat here, friends get together for a mid-week chat.  Our group is neither of these.

Over French toast and omelets, we took in anecdotes of Law’s life.

John Law walks inside a tunnel that he occasionally uses to explore for its graffiti art, somewhere in the Bay Area  on Thursday April 14, 2016. Law asked not to use the name of the destination due to his urban exploring morals and ethics of keeping the places he explores, a secret. (Aleah Fajardo/ Xpress)
John Law walks inside a tunnel that he occasionally uses to explore for its graffiti art, somewhere in the Bay Area on Thursday April 14, 2016. Law asked not to use the name of the destination due to his urban exploring morals and ethics of keeping the places he explores, a secret. (Aleah Fajardo/ Xpress)

He had been an early member of the Suicide Club, an underground society in San Francisco in the 1970s.  Despite having membership cards, statuses, and official t-shirts, the Suicide Club was not an organization.  It was a thriving animal: a leaderless confederate that rearranged its shape with an unspoken, human-centric flow, a bridge between the personal freedom of the Summer of Love and the dark countercultures of the 1980s.  It explored the intersection between illegality and morality, challenging the boundaries society sets upon itself.  It took the prime of high society and forced it into the shape of the scraps, the wanderers, the ruleless.  It upset prim tourists on cable cars with the brazen form of the human body, it held evening gowns above damp sewer floors, it crowded groups of hippies into a Nazi bar.

Its membership card read:
“The Bearer: has agreed to get all worldly affairs in order, to enter into the world of chaos, cacophony & dark saturnalia, to live each day as if it were the last, and is a member in good standing of the Suicide Club”

The Suicide Club has been credited as the first modern urban exploration society.

But its events were never intentionally destructive.  In fact, Burning Man’s “leave no trace” adage comes directly from one of the Suicide Club’s unofficial mantras.  The club left its mark in other ways: it imprinted the unusual and obscene on the minds of outsiders, tasking those around it to question which boundaries in their lives were artificial.  While many of its events were illegal, Suicide Club members upheld a strict moral code that guided them through their activities.

“There’s always that thrill of doing something you’re not supposed to do,” Law says later.  “But it’s not immoral.  Who the fuck cares?  I’m in a tunnel.”

We have another short drive after breakfast, parking behind a single other car on the side of the road.  We walk a little ways, climbing down a use-worn path to the wide entrance of a concrete tunnel.

Inside, the tunnel flows with ankle-deep mountain water, chilling our feet to a numb buzz.  Art reclaims the inhuman concrete walls, and we turn our flashlights on to see as we pass through the sunlight of the tunnel’s entrance.  We soon round a bend and our path falls away into darkness and the rushing sound of the water.

Timelessness overtakes us.  The tunnel’s bend seals it from the day outside, and our own darting lights recreate the world underground.  We step carefully at first, unsure where algae would find life and slide us to our knees in the icy water, or where the tunnel’s floor would leap up or fall away.  This world feels separate from our own, and to navigate its sanctuary we grant it our cautious respect.

John Law goes inside a tunnel that he occasionally uses to explore for its graffiti art, somewhere in the Bay Area  on Thursday April 14, 2016. Law asked not to use the name of the destination due to his urban exploring morals and ethics of keeping the places he explores, a secret. (Aleah Fajardo/ Xpress)
John Law goes inside a tunnel that he occasionally uses to explore for its graffiti art, somewhere in the Bay Area on Thursday April 14, 2016. Law asked not to use the name of the destination due to his urban exploring morals and ethics of keeping the places he explores, a secret. (Aleah Fajardo/ Xpress)

We stop frequently, Law pointing out the paintings on the walls that he likes.  He hasn’t been through this tunnel in about six months, and he’s hoping there will be new canvases, adorned with a stylized “2016.”  But the painting of this tunnel seems to have trickled this rainy winter, and we don’t find any.

Some stretches of wall bear the weight of thoughtless graffiti, first-time spray painters who scream their presence to this silent world.  Deeper in the tunnel the art is slower, beautiful sweeps forming words and pictures that whisper in the circles of our lights.

It seems remarkable that so many artists chose this hidden place for hours of creation.  The art down here belongs to these people alone: the ones who duck into city secrets and find themselves in this lost, unseen underground.

“That’s the great thing about the world,” Law says over the static of the water and our throbbing echoes.  “There’s all kinds of shit you don’t see.”

The tunnel morphs through the years as new pieces are pasted haphazardly to the old.  Sometimes it stands tall, proud, its floor flattened like our own anonymous runway.  Other times it broadens, its base rounding to cup its running flow of water and force us down to the stronger current.

It doesn’t feel like day or night.  I have no sense for how long ago we’d entered the tunnel, and the unbroken darkness ahead suggests nothing of its end.  The pressures of the world above fall away, and this endless tunnel becomes heart, head, and home.

“It’s like a different world,” Law rumbles over the echoes.  His tone is soft, almost affectionate.  “The feel is different.  The air is different.”  While he had fit into his cluttered purple office at the top of the Tribune Tower like a Jenga piece in a neatly stacked game, Law widens here.  He strides, taking the tunnel with him, perusing its walls like a rich man in an art gallery.
Law stops, stands back to face one of the walls, and shines his flashlight over the painting on it.  “Please reincarnate me as poison oak,” a creature begs from under the beam, pierced by arrows in its slow crawl to death.  The artist who painted this was skilled, creating shadings and textures from spray paint on these rugged concrete walls.  Law takes it in for a moment, silent.  His face is serious but not guarded, a contemplative understanding in his eyes.  After a while he picks up his conversation again and we move on.

After an hour or so, sunlight appears ahead and Law hushes us.  The timelessness of the underground falls away and we stride back out into the day, the whole world glittering green around us.  Children laugh nearby, and a rocky stream runs towards us, beyond us, becoming the water we’d marinated in through the darkness.  It’s like waking up from a dream, the world still surreal from the depths of sleep.

We stand silently on the other side. It is still only late morning, and the people in the houses around us are just getting out for the day.

Law retreats into himself again out here.  He doesn’t seem uncomfortable, but neither is he the jovial purveyor of unseen places that he was in the tunnel.

Soon we step back to the muted comfort of our underground world.

The way back feels shorter. Our shoes slurp at the tunnel’s edge, but we’ve forgotten how to feel our feet.  Law speaks to each of us as we walk, one at a time.

I ask about the modern day Suicide Club-types, explorers who run silently around the Bay, uncovering its secrets or exposing its wrongness.

“They’re out there,” Law tells me. The serious will find them, or make something new. “The people who are rewarded are the ones who take the risk.”

All too soon, we round the bend back into the sunlight at the tunnel’s entrance. We stand outside for a moment, the end of our adventure abrupt, anti-climactic in a way.

The week after our expedition, I ran into Law at an unusual robotic art event in San Francisco. Police waited on motorcycles at the entrance to a roped-off parking lot tucked into an office complex in Hunter’s Point.  Members handed out earplugs and safety waivers on the way in. The crowd was dressed mostly in black, faux fur or bright leggings showing through the throng here and there.  This was not a normal Sunday night crowd.

Here Law strode, vested in neon, through the roped-off lot among the artists and their work. With him were more than a dozen others, similarly-clad, all waiting for nightfall to begin the show.  People knew him here.  Friends in the crowd leaned over the caution tape to hug him ‘hello,’ and the event’s organizers stood with him to talk.

Law is a particular kind of unusual. San Francisco is known for its weirdos, and a middle aged man in reading glasses doesn’t stand out.  But the Suicide Club spent five years zealously disrupting the Bay, and in many ways that energy is still fostered in this city’s thirst for the unconventional.

Law’s kind isn’t really going anywhere. Like the hidden spaces that creep silently around the Bay, the spirit of the Suicide Club is here, unseen.

 

Love Trolls

By: Minerva Razo

“We both know why we’re here,” reads a message from a stranger, “just come over.” Not sure what warranted that from a match but a new message from another stranger pops up before it’s given another thought. “To keep it light, I got a female but I think you’re cute af.” This is from a person who is supposed to be looking for a love connection.

These are just some of the messages that people on dating apps receive on a daily basis, and the messages become even more persistent from there. Whether people are looking for a hook-up or true love, there’s an app for that. Dating apps have become extremely popular among San Franciscans- there are even some apps that cater to The City alone.

According to the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of young adults aged 18 to 35 are involved in online dating. A survey conducted by Consumer Research in March 2016 showed that 57 percent of women surveyed have experienced some form of harassment. Twenty-one percent of men also revealed they have experienced harassment. The ever-popular Tinder and OkCupid apps had the highest number of reported harassment at 39 and 38 percent, respectively.

“Guys are like, ‘Oh, you know why we’re both here, just come over,” said Jera Reichert, a current Bay Area Tinder user.  “I feel like that’s super sexually harassing and a lot of people say ‘Oh, that’s what you get for going on a dating app.’”

Women recieve a wide range of message with matches going as far as calling them “bitches” or “cunts” when they don’t respond or say no to a date.

“I think it has something to do with how quick it all is: you swipe left or right and there’s hardly any profile so it’s practically designed with only hooking up in mind,” said Tatiana Laurent, a former Tinder user in the Bay Area. “I got off Tinder a long time ago. It was just always messaging at late hours and saying, ‘Wanna hang out?’ Then they invite you to their place instead of a coffee shop.”

If agreeing to meet an online match, most women tend to take extra precautions in case the worst happens.

“I do feel kind of different when I go on dates with someone I don’t know because I have that paranoid thought in my mind,” Reichert said. “I might just be paranoid because I watch a lot of criminal shows but no one really knows who that person is. I would be super careful and tell my friends ‘Oh, I’m going out with this guy,’ and send a screenshot of him and tell them this is where we’re going.”

There are now numerous personal accounts on social media that are shedding light on harassment on dating apps as a way of taking control and spreading the message that harassment isn’t ok.
At 410 thousand followers since its creation back in 2014, the Instagram account Bye Felipe is dedicated to exposing the harassment people – mostly women – experience on dating apps.

“My main reasons for creating the account [Bye Felipe] were: A, Commiserating with other women (you can’t be a woman online and not get creepy messages from men); B, Letting men know what it’s like to be a woman online (it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows!); and C, To expose the problematic entitlement some men feel they need to exert over women in general,” wrote Alexandra Tweten, creator of Bye Felipe, for Ms. Magazine. The page currently has 377 posts, almost all from the encounters women face when on dating apps. The encounters are usually pleasant until the woman stops responding or rejects the match in some way.

“This is a problem I have always experienced,” said Sarah, a repeating commenter on the Ms. Magazine blog. “A guy who was old enough to be my dad messaged me on a dating site (Plenty of Fish to be exact), and I told him I’m not into older guys. He then proceeded to lash out at me, calling me names such as bitch and cunt and said I was too fat for him anyways.”
Many other women commented on their experiences too, revealing their experiences to be similar to those of the original commenter.

“When I first discovered that other women were receiving the exact same messages I was getting, it made me feel more at ease,” said Tweten. “It made me feel solidarity with them, and like it wasn’t such a big deal, as I had thought before. I get a lot of thank you letters saying, ‘I didn’t know other women got these messages too!’ It makes me feel better.”

More and more companies are dedicating themselves to making women feel better about online dating as well. The Grade titles itself as “the female friendly dating app.” Though based out of New York, the app has gained popularity among young San Franciscans. The Grade’s mission is to make every user accountable for their actions by actually giving them a letter grade from A+ to F based on their behavior in three categories: message responsiveness, profile popularity, and peer reviews. People who receive an F are automatically disbarred from the site.

According to Tweten, the best way to prevent harassment on dating apps is for the companies to actually take the time to listen to the victims on their sites, to find more efficient ways to block frequent harassers so they aren’t just free to create another profile, and to have some sort of censor in their messaging system.

“Censoring these messages may help in the short term, but the messages featured on Bye Felipe are like an immortalized version of the catcalls and threats women receive on the street every day, just walking around and existing,” said Tweten. “Until we change the cultural atmosphere, women will continue to receive these hurtful messages online and in real life.”

 

Following the Money

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

When I got out of class, a small white envelope was waiting for me on the windshield of my car. I could feel my lungs fill with dread and my face glow red as I read the parking citation, issued at 12:42 pm. I checked my phone: it was 12:46. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. But for the time being I did neither.
This overwhelming sense of crisis came from the eight parking tickets I had already received this month. In fact, the large sum of racked up costs from the tickets had prevented me from paying my pricey San Francisco rent on time; I knew that the last thing I needed was another ticket.
 
In the heat of my frustration I jumped in my car and chased down the parking enforcement officer in a most ungraceful fashion. After a few minutes of begging and justifying my way out of the $78 parking ticket, I stood in front of the officer feeling bare and helpless, palms shaking, with a look of desperation in my watery eyes.
“Just don’t cry!” the agitated parking attendant said as he ripped the parking ticket from my shaking hands. “I already had someone cry this morning and I can’t do it anymore.” He appeared to me as a weary worker, an afflicted professional, and — most importantly — a forgiving gentleman.
 
“Thank you, thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me,” I gasped as I fought the urge to give him a friendly and appreciative hug. From our brief encounter that sunny afternoon I never got his name, but I surely did not forget his simple act of kindness.
 
If you’ve ever had a car in San Francisco, chances are you’ve shared a strikingly similar experience and probably received your fair share of little white envelopes underneath your wipers. And if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ve been left wondering where that hard earned money went. After not being able to pay my rent that month, I decided it was imperative for me to find out exactly where the city is spending the revenue from parking and meter citations and how it was — supposedly — coming back to me. The first thing I discovered is that San Francisco has the highest ticket and meter prices in the United States. For example, a parking ticket in Boston — a city of similar size and geography as San Francisco but with a slightly smaller population — will run at $25 for an unpaid meter and $40 for street cleaning. In San Francisco that same ticket will run you $78, a rate that has shown steady increases over the last several years in order to pay for increased enforcement and maintenance. These exorbitant prices tower even in comparison to an urban hub such as New York, where a street cleaning ticket begins at $45 and, in some areas of pricey Manhattan, can go up to $65.
 
Information provided by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) spokesman Paul Rose shows that the projected outcome in parking fees and citations will be over $311 million dollars this year. This money will go back to the SFMTA and City of San Francisco, and a large percentage of it will go toward public transportation maintenance and paying SFMTA employees.
“There’s operations and there’s capital,” said San Francisco State University Geography and Environment professor Jason Henderson, who specializes in urban politics and transportation.
 
“Operations is often the trickier part of transportation funding. There are a lot of restrictions. Like the federal government; when they allocate money to the Bay Area, the federal government will not pay for operations. They expect local government to pay for operations. So we can buy buses and build railways and things like that, but we can’t pay for our operations from the federal money.”
 
Because the local government has to find a way to pay for operations, they have used parking revenue as part of the budget since 1999, with the vote on Proposition E giving wind to a new Municipal Transportation Agency that would have greater power and control over standards and budget. However, the use of parking revenue only covers about 35% of the operations budget on average.
 
Reports provided by the City and County of San Francisco show that public works, transportation, and commerce is the largest area of spending and revenue for the city of San Francisco. The SFMTA is both the greatest source of expense at $1,067,863,751 dollars, with a revenue of $1,075,713,302. These numbers are almost impossible for most to fathom, simply put they mean that the city has generated a revenue of almost $8 million dollars from the public transportation agency within the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
 
After having a greater understanding of where and how the parking citation revenue is used, I wanted to hear from parking enforcement officers on the ground about the labor of their job and the significance of parking tickets. I sat down with Bill Kettle, a SFMTA parking control supervisor, while he and his team caravanned through the streets writing citations as a street sweeper followed behind us.
 
“That whole thing with, ‘Oh you guys have a quota’… Look, we don’t have a quota,” exclaimed Kettle as he broke down the myths of the job. “Trust me, I’d far rather not have to ticket anyone at all. But that has never happened.”
 
Considering that street cleaning is by far the biggest source of ticketing in the city, many have come to believe that street cleaning is useless and essentially a conspiracy to make the city money. Although it is fact that street cleaning tickets wind up generating a pretty penny for the city, there is some important value to be recognized in why we should have to move our cars every week for a truck to blow past as it moves around dirt and trash. According to the San Francisco Public Works office, the city’s street cleaning team covers 150,000 curb miles and removes 25,000 tons of litter and debris every year, which would otherwise wind up polluting the Bay.
 
But preserving the environment isn’t the only reason we should have to feel obligated to abide to street cleaning. Supervisor Kettle stands by the benefits of street cleaning when he explained that, “the good thing about street cleaning is that if we don’t come by the streets will fill up with abandoned and stolen vehicles. Actually we find the most stolen vehicles, because we are out here consistently.”
 
Despite my initial outrage and shock after enduring a month long ticket hail storm, I have come to some surprising conclusions about parking tickets in San Francisco. What I found is that the tickets in San Francisco, although overpriced, are not entirely unsound and in fact they may be necessary in shaping our cities local environment. That being said, I’ve found that the best way to prevent these pesky penalties is relatively obvious: be observant and cautious when parking in the city, and hold our local government accountable as part of the process to create fairer and more feasible pricing and policies.
 
And as for now, my days of parking in the city are long gone. I traded in my car keys for a clipper card and bicycle, which, I’ve found, is even more effective to avoid parking tickets than chasing down meter maids.

 

Threatened Sanctuary or National Insecurity?

By: Brandy Miceli

People from around the world gathered under the trees of Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to share their stories of brutal violence, sexual assault, and yearning hunger during their journey to the United States from their homelands — the hot spring day complementing their zeal to be heard.

With mouths full of homemade tamales rojos y verdes, folks chanted, “Undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid!”

This event, put on by the Immigrant Youth Coalition, Coming Out Of The Shadows (COOTS), was a place where they could express themselves in the streets of Oakland, one of over three hundred sanctuary cities across the country.

“Folks are eager to tell their stories,” Yadira Sanchez, an activist with the Immigrant Youth Coalition, said.

Sanctuary cities erupted into recent headlines following the death of Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, a thirty-two-year-old San Francisco woman, at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant. He had been deported five times, and served over twenty years in jails and federal prisons for felony drug charges and re-entry since 1991. In 2009, less than three months after his fifth deportation, Lopez-Sanchez was charged with another felony re-entry, and served five years in prison.

On March 26, 2015, the United States Bureau of Prisons turned Lopez-Sanchez over to San Francisco authorities for an outstanding marijuana charge. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requested to detain him until they could pick him up. The marijuana charge was ultimately dropped, and due to San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, the Sheriff’s department did not honor ICE’s detainer request and released him on April 15, 2015. Three months later, he was taken into custody for shooting Steinle.

Sanctuary city policy limits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. They’re designed to build trust between local police and immigrant communities by allowing them to report crime without fear of being deported. This policy is an aberration with completely divided views; some abhor and some support.

Steinle’s death led to a political standoff. Republicans quickly proposed a bill that would cut federal funding to cities with sanctuary status, and require a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for any undocumented immigrant who was deported and is caught upon re-entry, as part of “Kate’s Law.” Democrats swiftly blocked the bill. All republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election have vowed to end sanctuary cities, and this stance has gained support through numerous conservative outlets.

Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

“When you start talking about sanctuary cities that harbor criminal aliens, then that’s just indefensible on any level,” said Joe Guzzardi, National Media Director and Senior Writer for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). CAPS is an anti-immigration organization that works to formulate and advance policies and programs designed to stabilize the population of California, the U.S., and the world, according to its website. The organization is involved with a campaign that would eliminate sanctuary cities, blaming the policy for loss of life beyond Steinle.

“There have been hundreds of similar cases over the years that don’t merit a mention in any papers or newspapers other than perhaps the local ones,” Guzzardi said, suggesting this incident gained coverage because it happened at a popular tourist destination in San Francisco to a “ridiculously attractive” young woman. “What happened to Kate Steinle is not in any way out of the ordinary,” he said.

Francisco Ugarte, Attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender and immigration expert, suggested it’s no wonder why the event gained so much attention considering the timeliness of Donald Trump’s candidacy annunciation.

“Trump talked about them [undocumented immigrants] as rapists, as criminals, that when they come here they don’t bring their best, they bring their worst,” Ugarte said, “And I think that this case nicely fits into a hysterical xenophobic narrative.”

So much so that the court has been so far unwilling to consider the fact that Steinle’s death was unintentional. Lopez-Sanchez’s case is being charged as a murder, when the bullet fired was accidental and ricocheted off the cement.

“He handled a gun that discharged and unfortunately killed Kate Steinle,” said Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender and Lopez-Sanchez’s attorney. “If he were a caucasian college kid, if he were a U.S. citizen, if he had been eighteen years old, if he had been seventy-five years old, I don’t think he gets charged with a crime… We don’t know of there ever being a case in San Francisco of a ricochet being charged as a murder.”

Although that is seemingly critical to the case, it gained less attention than the topic of sanctuary cities. Even though sanctuary cities have plenty of democratic supporters, former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was publicly lambasted for not honoring ICE’s detainer request and releasing Lopez-Sanchez from custody, even by Mayor Ed Lee. Justifiably, San Francisco’s new Sheriff Vicki Hennessy is necessitating reform while recognizing the benefits that sanctuary cities have on all citizens.

Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

During San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Meeting, Hennessy proposed not to eliminate sanctuary policy, but to create guidelines by which she would communicate with ICE.

“What I am trying to do,” she said at the meeting, “is target the few violent criminals that may not be part of the community, not be working toward rehabilitation.”

The question quickly became one that Americans on both wings share: are sanctuary cities safe for the American population?

The American Immigration Council found that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than people born in the United States. Between 1990 and 2013 the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

During the same period, FBI data indicated that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary. This demonstrates that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates, including both documented and undocumented immigrants.

According to Mother Jones, since San Francisco enacted its sanctuary city laws 26 years ago, homicides have fallen to their lowest level in decades.

The Public Policy Institute of California found that in California, a state with a large population of undocumented immigrants, the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults is 297 per 100,000 adults, while the incarceration rate for people born in the U.S. is 813 per 100,000 adults.

It’s difficult to conclusively say the impact that sanctuary cities have on the United States, when skewed views on sanctuary cities have muffled the truth about them. It’s true that sanctuary policy has inadvertently caused loss of life. But the complexity of this issue requires looking at the proportion of undocumented immigrants who commit murder, before threatening to deport even non-criminals as some politicians have, claiming that a disproportionate amount are criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security figures state that between 2010 and 2015, 124 undocumented immigrants were released from immigration custody and were later charged with murder. CNN Politics found that is only a thousandth of a percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, estimated at 11.2 million, making up four percent of the United States population.

Most undocumented immigrants do not have a criminal record. They come here to seek better lives. They raise families and are contributing members to society who want to feel like part of the community.

Folks munched on pan dulce and sipped coffee under the morning sun as the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN) celebrated their tenth anniversary with Immigrant Family Day, a day of community building activities, a press conference, and sharing of testimonies on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. SFILEN is a network of thirteen nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing immigrants with legal services to better their lives.
“In today’s political climate, it is more important than ever to celebrate the achievements of the ten years of work of SFILEN,” said Omar Ali of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “It is indicative of the power of grassroots organizations. It is a testament of all the ways we can work together to ensure that the people feel dignified, even for some of the most undignified groups.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors member John Avalos spoke about his proposed measure that would ban local law enforcement from notifying ICE when an individual will be released from local custody, except in very limited circumstances. San Francisco’s Sanctuary City and Due Process for All ordinance currently does not specifically forbid pre-release notifications.

“We’ve created this network of people from all over the world who are unified in protecting immigrants,” Supervisor John Avalos said, “…We’re now looking at how we can protect our sanctuary city policy and make sure we can keep people out of immigration proceedings. That’s before us at the Board of Supervisors on May 10.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote whether to implement Avalos’ proposal or to accept Sheriff Hennessy’s new guidelines. Considering that vote, in addition to Lopez-Sanchez’s trial on May 12, the future of San Francisco as a sanctuary city is unknown. What is known, is that immigrants will relentlessly fight to keep their home as it is now — a sanctuary.

 

Can’t Drag Me Down

By: Rachel Sison

She’s been performing for 35 years and she’s not worried about stopping in the middle of a performance and announcing she’s done. Though she might not have the energy anymore Collette LeGrande-Ashton is far from done for the night.

Though retirement is an option, for LeGrande-Ashton, drag queen and cocktail waitress at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, this won’t be happening anytime soon.

LeGrande-Ashton, 65, is one of the oldest drag queens in San Francisco and has been working at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge since 1998. She has been performing for over 35 years.  LeGrande-Ashton performed in her first drag show in her late teens in Santa Barbara. During 22 years of that time she was also working in customer service at AT&T  until she retired in 2002.

At Aunt Charlie’s, LeGrande-Ashton goes in every second and fourth Wednesday of the month and works every Friday and Saturday.

During an evening inside Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a gentle pink light from the neon sign over the bar illuminates everything. Thirteen people sit at the bar while the other 30 patrons are seated at tables, enjoying their evening.

LeGrande-Ashton and Aunt Charlie’s manager, Joe Mattheisen, chat with those sitting at the bar while they fill out orders.  LeGrande-Ashton herself walks around the limited space of the lounge to make sure everyone has a drink. As the evening goes on, the lights start to dim and everyone’s attention is brought to the back of the bar, where a curtain keeps the performers out of view.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton goes into the backroom of Aunt Charlie's Lounge to talk with other perfomers during the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton goes into the backroom of Aunt Charlie’s Lounge to talk with other perfomers during the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

As the host of the evening, Ruby Slippers, is introduced and the first of the performers go on, LeGrande-Ashton makes her way to the back. After the first couple of performances, Slippers introduces the next act and once the music starts playing, LeGrande-Ashton emerges in a completely different outfit.

Aunt Charlie’s Lounge is one of the oldest LGBTQ-friendly bars in San Francisco. Despite the changing times the bar has remained open while the former neighboring bars have all closed. According to the manager this can be attributed to the fact that Aunt Charlie’s is owned by a single person and doesn’t.

“What’s helped us here is it a sole proprietor,” said Mattheisen. “It’s not a corporation. It’s not a partnership where it needs to bring in enough for three or four people.”

Mattheisen also contributes the bar’s success towards the fact that the bar has handled its own problems, which made getting their entertainment license easy.

“The whole time the bar’s been here,” said Mattheisen. “It’s handled its own problems.”
Their customer base is mainly regulars, but they receive a lot of out of towners who want to see the drag shows the Dream Queens Revue and the Hott Boxx Girls.

“If you’re gay or straight it doesn’t matter,” said Mattheisen. “If you’re going to be a jerk you’re not staying.”

Many of the employees at Aunt Charlie’s have been there since its opening in 1987, and most of the queens have been there since 1998 when the drag shows began. The last time this bar hired a new queen or employee was six years ago.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton takes money from guests while cocktailing inbetween her perfomaces with the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton takes money from guests while cocktailing inbetween her perfomaces with the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

“The drag shows really bring people in,” Mattheisen said. “Bachelorette parties and birthday parties.”

Over the course of LeGrande-Ashton’s career as a drag queen she has been Grand Duchess two times for San Francisco’s Grand Ducal Council (GDC). Becoming apart of the the GDC  similar to presidential elections, nominees put their names forward and must campaign around the city to gain votes.

The GDC is a non-profit fundraising organization that does work for various charities. Despite no longer being part of the GDC, LeGrande-Ashton continues to attend and do fundraisers for different charities.

“At Aunt Charlie’s I pretty much have a routine. We do five or six of them a year there. I’ve started most of them,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Did one for Magnet which provides services for HIV people and stuff like that. Did another a couple of months ago for St. James Infirmary. That’s for sex workers since there’s a lot of them in the Aunt Charlie’s area.”

Not as young as she once was, LeGrande-Ashton explains that she sometimes feels un-energized but continues to work at Aunt Charlie’s and attends various fundraisers and charities when they ask her to.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton performs her number at the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton performs her number at the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of how I feel that day other than that I have to gear my mind to do it now,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Years ago I could just do it in five minutes and think nothing of it, but now I sort of have to have a routine,” she said about getting ready for a night balancing drag and cocktail serving at Aunt Charlie’s

In addition to having lower levels of energy, LeGrande-Ashton has also developed some minor health issues, but that still hasn’t dissuaded her from going in.

“I’m developing a bit of arthritis in my feet walking the cocktails,” LeGrande-Ashton said. “But I’ll keep doing that until I fall over”

Ashton’s attitude to keep working is not too surprising. According to a survey conducted by TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies found that a majority of “sixty-somethings” and older plan on or are still working. While others plan on at least working part-time.

“Even if I don’t feel like it I’ll drag myself in there. I owe that place a lot,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “It gave me place where I made a lot of new friends and met a lot of great people. The only days I’ve ever missed at Aunt Charlie’s are days when I have an event.”

Ruby Slippers the hostess for the Dream Queen Revue has been a longtime friend of Collette and has attended various fundraisers and charities with her doesn’t believe Collette will ever retire.

“She’s not going to give up,” said Ruby Slippers. “Never. Never! I don’t care what she says, because she loves it!”

More Than A Party Drug

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

Andy Gold was on the trip of his life.

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

In fact it was one of the only trips of his life. He was not at a rave, not at a boisterous dance club. Instead, he was propped upon a soft grey leather couch placed beside a large window overlooking the hills of Marin County, a couch which he affectionately refers to as the “tripping couch.”

“I had never done MDMA before,” said 62-year-old Oakland attorney Andy Gold. “I’d lay there for a long time and didn’t have any effect from the drug. After a while I thought I must be on placebo – and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Gold is among the first of 6 research subjects to complete a several months-long clinical drug trial, which will determine the impact of MDMA on anxiety, depression, loss, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder caused by life threatening illnesses.

“Normal life just wasn’t the same anymore,” Gold said.

In 2004 Gold was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. He quickly entered surgery and began a  long string of chemotherapy treatments in 2005, while he had simultaneously landed the biggest case of his career. During the case Gold was bound to privacy, careful not to reveal anything about his health within his work life.

“I was living this very intense double life,” he said.

The effect of this dual identity combined with the fear of losing his life lead to a delayed emotional and psychological impact, which didn’t allow him to process the shock left by his cancer. After struggling with the long term trauma following his long battle with colon cancer, and in 2015 he decided to seek help and soon joined a clinical trial in hopes to regain his life.

The unique study led by Dr. Philip Wolfson and family therapist Julane Andries follows up on multiple PTSD studies previously created and conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The pharmaceutical research and educational nonprofit organization is now celebrating their 30th anniversary with a banquet in Oakland this April to raise funds to be used in research. According to MAPS director of communications, Brad Burge, they are currently fundraising to get 1 kilogram of pure pharmaceutical grade 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA). This is a milestone for MAPS that would allow them to conduct research that will move towards the possibility of a Phase 3 study. This study would precede approval for MDMA to become a drug to a prescription drug to be used and administered for medical purposes.

 

MDMA
Infographics by Stephanie LaRue

The preliminary studies using the drug have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome post traumatic stress disorder from war and sexual violence, as well as aid communication in patients with autism.

“The use of it [MDMA] increased ability for people to handle negative trauma and feelings inside themselves and to come to a more loving position with themselves and with others,” Dr. Philip Wolfson, lead investigator of the trial, said. “It facilitated dialogue and communication, so it was a very successful model.”

Wolfson is no stranger to the use of these treatments and has a long history of administering psychedelics during his sessions before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) deemed MDMA illegal in 1985. Before then it was used by therapists in the United States & Europe as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

“It’s more of an evolutionary treatment rather than a revolutionary treatment,” Burge said. “It’s using a drug that has been kind of forgotten about for decades, combining it with modern approaches to psychotherapy and making a hybrid treatment approach.”

Once MDMA was classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is defined as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Subsequently, the substance, commonly known by its street name “Ecstasy,” never disappeared but instead resurged as a popular party drug that is frequently cut with other illegal substances and widely used by millions in the United States.

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some Molly or some Ecstasy,” Burge, said. “More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting. Here we have this epidemic of uncontrolled drugs and drug use that happened as a result of them being illegal.”

While MDMA and its other forms continue to grow in use and popularity, those at MAPS are hoping to encourage “scientific and rational discussion about psychedelics, whether for recreational use or for therapeutic use,” claimed Burge.

The study takes place in Marin County and is run by Dr. Philip Wolfson and his partner Julane Andries. The trial officially began in April 2015 and is expected to continue through the end of 2016. They have recently finished treatment sessions with the first round of 6 patients and have 5 new patients currently enrolled. The study is a double-blind trial in which both patient and doctor are unaware until after the second session whether the patient was given the placebo or the substance. There are weekly sessions that run for about 1-2 hours without the use of the drug, and longer sessions every 5-8 weeks involving either the drug or a placebo. These sessions can last up to eight hours and include overnight stays.

“We allow these clinical studies to proceed if they are safe and have a reasonable chance of answering questions about the efficacy of the drug for the intended use,” stated U.S. Food and Drug Administration press officer Deborah Kotz.

Though the study has not been shown to lead to any serious health issues or mental harm so far, some would argue that the somewhat radical use of MDMA would be unsafe for patients facing serious medical ailments and could cause wear and tear on the body and carry a long term effect on the brain.

“Having a very long-term view, including large numbers of people, I have not seen any long-term damage and I don’t think there is any from repeated use,” Wolfson said.

One way the use of MDMA in therapy differs from other medications frequently used in psychology is how often it is taken and the dependency that can occur. These medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. Antidepressants and tranquilizers are SSRI’s which typically require daily use and don’t carry out a long-term effect without the medication. They are a form of treatment often used for episodic depression but can also be used by patients for decades. Instead, Wolfson’s trial aims to utilize methods taken from sessions and help patients with their everyday life without dependency of the drug or other medications. According to Brad Burge, research done in previous PTSD trials has shown that the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has effects lasting up to 4 or more years.

“These people all have a certain measured level of anxiety, but similar to the other studies they all have depression and most often have symptoms of PTSD,” Andries explained. “So the protocol that we use very much follows the PTSD studies.”

Although Gold’s anxiety from his cancer may return, he is doing better knowing that he is well equipped to cope with his fears. He is aware that MDMA is not a cure for his illness, but assists his recovery.

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“I’m in a better place,” Gold said with a long pause and hopeful tone. “And I hope I stay there.”

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some molly or some ecstasy. More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting.”- Brad Burge

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

 

A Change Is Gonna Come

By: Arash Malekzadeh

Riot gear hung from the tense hands of three rows of San Francisco Police Department officers, positioned austerely on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to fortify the entrance against the crowd assembling out front. The protesters facing them raised their hands high in the air – some with their fists fiercely clenched, others holding signs emblazoned with the face of Mario Woods, the 26-year-old Bayview resident who was gunned down by five SFPD officers in December of last year.

The tense atmosphere was interrupted by feedback from the loudspeaker fastened to a wheelchair laden with nothing but audio equipment. A young protester grabbed the microphone and began singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song recounting the racism Cooke endured during the Civil Rights Era. She glared into the eyes of a black officer, unintimidated by the army of riot police standing in her way. Singling him out amidst his white counterparts, she forced him to question which side he truly stood on. “You in the middle!” she exclaimed just before she broke into the song’s chorus, “It’s been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon’ come!”

Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.
Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.

In these early months of 2016, San Francisco has experienced a resurgence of activism that initially gave this city its progressive reputation. With the shutdown of the Bay Bridge on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and with the recent protests over the fatal SFPD shooting of Woods, it is clear that wounds are still fresh for San Francisco’s black community.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, San Francisco’s black population decreased by nearly 54 percent since 1970, falling to 5.2 percent in 2014. Along with the population, black homeownership is concurrently in decline. While the killing of Woods catapulted this wake of civil unrest, the outrage in the black community stems from decades of policies – from urban renewal and gang injunction lists to gentrification and violent policing  – that, according to Reverend Arnold Townsend, have targeted black people in San Francisco and perpetuated their exodus.

“Racism is in the political DNA of San Francisco,” Rev. Townsend, a local NAACP board member, said. “They [San Franciscans] never talk about or admit it, which means you can never eradicate it. You can’t fix it unless you first acknowledge that it exists.”

Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.
Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.

Though the black community has called San Francisco home since its inception, the city saw its largest in-migration of black people during World War II. Black families were relocating to metropolitan areas from the South to work in shipyards, taking advantage of the profitable wartime industry. The black community flourished until 1970; thereafter, the population decreased as San Francisco policy disproportionately affected black people.

“I think the most difficult thing for people to grasp when they look at the black community in San Francisco today is that we have not always been a poor community to the degree we are now,” Rev. Townsend said. “The economic downturn for blacks is the most devastating thing there is.”

The economic downturn Rev. Townsend speaks of began in the 1960s with urban renewal, the federally funded demolition of primarily poor, non-white neighborhoods in the interest of revitalizing those areas. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claimed eminent domain on the Western Addition, eventually leveling 60 square blocks, displacing thousands of residents, and refusing to redress the community they forced out.

Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes

The redevelopment project destroyed the prospering black community that had established itself in the Western Addition only two decades prior, following the internment of the preceding Japanese American residents.

“There is a plan that has been in place, that began … when the redevelopment agency came up with urban renewal … which turned out to be Negro removal,” Archbishop Franzo King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition said. “It’s beyond a trend but a plan that the enemy of the people has put in motion. This is where the redevelopment agency began its mayhem and its attack on the black community in San Francisco.”

Decades ago, the Western Addition was known as “The Harlem of the West” and acted as the beating pulse of San Francisco, fostering a vibrant community and stimulating black culture. Hundreds of black-owned businesses – restaurants, salons, book stores, hotels, and jazz clubs – lined the neighborhood blocks. But as black people were pushed out of the city, their culture and institutions left with them.

Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“The places that give you a sense of community are gone, the places that give you a sense of being and belonging are gone,” Rev. Townsend said in a disapproving tone. “We do not own our own homes. We do not own our own neighborhoods. Having no sense of ownership and control … leads to a general sense of unhealthiness and instability.”

City policy ushered in displacement and uprooted people from their homes, which extracted power from the people and ultimately disenfranchised the black community as a whole. As the black population diminished, those that remained struggled to identify with their transforming neighborhoods. The black population was stripped of its autonomy; consequently, turbulence befell the community and gave way for crime to transpire.

“When I was in high school, my neighborhood … had one of the highest murder rates in the Bay Area,” said Etecia Brown, community organizer for The Last 3% of Black SF. “And so what you saw was a gang injunction list being implemented. If you’re put on the gang injunction list then you’re automatically barred from having public housing. What you saw then was a rampant rise of gentrification and displacement.”

To address the high crime rates in communities of color, San Francisco implemented gang injunction lists and divided the city by alleged gang territories. The repercussions of being on the gang injunction list extend beyond the presumed gang member; whether it be their grandmother, their sibling or their spouse, anyone directly associated with a person on the list forfeits their right to affordable housing.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, these lists inaccurately mark young people of color as gang members with no evidence or indictments to justify their claim. Those on the list are legally restricted from returning to their neighborhoods, and if they commit a crime, they face an additional seven years on top of their sentence for their presumed gang affiliation.

Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“Really, when you look at our community and see how much we’ve been impacted by arrests and mass incarceration, more specifically gang injunction lists that target black and brown people living in public housing, that really feeds into freeing up housing and land and property for these gentrifiers and these redevelopment agencies,” Brown said.
As black people overcrowd jail cells and policies forcibly remove them from their communities, the black population in San Francisco diminishes and space becomes available for the wealthy – for those who desire the urban areas currently occupied by the poor.

“African Americans have been dealing with involuntary relocation and displacement well before today,” said Thea Matthews of Black.Seed, the black queer liberation collective responsible for the Bay Bridge shutdown. “It is reaching a climax because of the residual, blatant disregard for black life.”
While the black population in San Francisco is nearly five percent, black people account for more than half of the county jail’s population, according to a city report issued in 2013. At times, as in the case of Woods, they do not even make it to the jail cell before they are killed.

“There was a point in which the executions of Black and Brown lives became again completely intolerable for a new generational wave of Black Americans,” Matthews said. “From Trayvon to Oscar, Alex to Mario, and countless others, these martyrs for the movement remind us of a failed U.S. criminal justice system; and the time to respond, act, and dismantle is now!”
City policy has historically debilitated the foundation of the black community; the killing of Woods was just the last straw. San Francisco’s black community is mobilizing to reclaim the power taken from its people and is refusing to let racism dwindle its population anymore than it already has.

“The sacred blood that was spilled out on the streets of San Francisco at the hands of these killer police … provided an opportunity for the community to lift their voice and for the community to unite,” Archbishop King said.