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Andi Hernandez in gothic lolita dress at the Conservatory of Flowers. Photo by: Melissa Burman

Written by Erin Browner Photo by Melissa Burman


A multi-layered dress of dark silk ruffles and satin bows bury Andi Hernandez’s petite body. Voluminous, luscious locks of light auburn hair coil down her velvety corset. Tucked under her corset is a shiny blouse, complete with long, wavy sleeves. Raven-black billowy petticoats gather at her waist and form a bell-shape silhouette. The sharp heels of her knee-high, military-style stiletto boots snap on pavement.

The day Hernandez discovered Lolita fashion, millions of young women were doing the same thing; they sat at home and flipped through their precious fashion magazines. Flashes of lingerie and naked women have been the apple of the media’s eye for the last century. Sexism is prominent in the media largely because most of the media (and most of the world) is run by men. What Hernandez, like most other Lolitas, sought was an alternative.

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Hernandez and Morrow. Photo by: Melissa Burman

At first sight, dainty Hernandez looks eccentric and intimidating. Then she smiles; the whites of her teeth outshine the glow of pearls threaded in her hair and around her waist. As Hernandez begins to talk about one of the most important moments of her life, her eyes radiate a sweet glow. She then holds out her hand to display a dazzling onyx jewel on her ring finger and her smile grows ten times bigger.

The first time Hernandez met Elliot Morrow, they sang karaoke together at a meet up in San Jose. The two were practically strangers when they sang “1000 Words” by Jade Sweetbox, a track from the Final Fantasy video game soundtrack. Now the song holds a special spot on their wedding playlist. The lovers dated for three years before they eloped on November 11, 2011. It only seems fitting that their wedding ceremony reflected the Japanese-inspired fashion that brought them together.

Flash back five years to a curious Hernandez cruising through magazines in high school. She remembers squealing when she stumbled upon a cute style while browsing Japanese fashion articles. Images of modernized Victorian dresses struck Hernandez with love at first sight. She’s been a follower of the Lolita fashion trend ever since.

“It’s definitely a world primarily made up of women who dress for women and for themselves,” says Angie Lyons, San Francisco State University student and local Lolita. Historical research fuels her interest in this highly antique fashion trend. Not only because of the origin of the style, but because of the influence of Victorian times.

Ask any Lolita to define her style and she’s bound to include “Victorian,” “cute,” “elegant,” or “innocent.” Lyons describes Lolita style as “princess clothes for the modern maiden,” which is pretty spot on. Essentially, these ladies are infatuated with the idea of pursuing the secret wish many women have – the desire to escape from patriarchal expectations to dress slutty. They want to be a princess, go for tea and receive an offer of marriage from a prince in wonderland.

Maybe Lolitas don’t necessarily marry Prince Charming, but according to a Canadian documentary, some refer to their world as Alice’s rabbit hole. In the documentary, the fashion’s followers say the common Lolita wants to live in a utopia where “creativity and expression are free of modern society’s expectations.” Once a Lolita gains the confidence to take that freedom, the world becomes Wonderland.
But there’s more to Lolita than dressing in princess dresses, petticoats, and corsets. Lolitas have rules, and the first rule is to minimize the amount of shown skin. The innocent style bloomed from the over sexualization of Japanese women. During a rise of prostitution in Japan, women sought a form of expression to rebel against society’s constant sexualization. Lolitas began to dress in innocent, modest clothing to counter the condescending perception of their race.

Not all Lolitas identify with the sociological conception of the fashion. Many associate Elegant Gothic Lolita with a genre of Japanese music. In the 1980s, the Japanese music industry latched on to EGL’s visual form of expression and incorporated Lolita fashion into their musical performances. The use of voluptuous hair, flamboyant makeup, and Victorian-inspired apparel among musicians is known as Visual Kei. In the past twenty years, the Lolita trend stretched worldwide with Visual Kei bands, turning from female rebellion into a form of individuality for all genders and races.

A well-known Visual Kei band is MALICE MIZER. It combines a gothic version of Lolita while still maintaining a sweet, Victorian performance. Members of MALICE MIZER are often dressed in black from head to toe, with pale makeup and shadowy eyes. Its use of dripping blood in music videos, heavy drumming, and extensive guitar solos are similar to American metal bands.

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Erica Brown. Photo by: Melissa Burman.

But the singer of MALICE MIZER won’t give a ghoulish screech like the vocalists of Necrophagist or Megadeth. MALICE MIZER’s vocals are much more musical and prominent, comparative to Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. MALICE MIZER’s insertion of sweet French lyrics and playful keyboard chords produce a taste of Versailles, which is a core vision of Lolita for its Victorian-esque dressing gowns and attention to detail. The band’s balance of sour and sweet is similar to the huge sub-category of Lolita fashion, Gothic Lolita.

Opposite of gothic on the Lolita spectrum is Sweet Lolita. Erica Brown of Concord is a candied example of Sweet Lolita. A pink, sparkly bow sits on top of bundles of blond, curly hair. Each time her eyelashes blink, her straight-across bangs are flicked away from her doll-like eyes. Pastel shades of every color embody her cupcake-shaped dress. Ivory lace bloomers peek out from under her skirt. Her piggy pink shoes are bulkier versions of Mary Janes, with three times as many bows. Sometimes, the Sweet Lolitas wear candy in their hair (or wigs). Brown carries a heart-shaped wand, that of a child’s toy. She collects plastic children’s jewelry. She acquired heart rings and star bracelets in random places, some at the child’s makeup section of Target, others at Dollar Stores.

The Sweet Lolita’s child-like visage is commonly misunderstood, just as Gothic Lolita’s image is confused as a costume. With a childish appearance and the name “Lolita,” people foreign to the style assume the fashion is a fetish. This is one of the most common misconceptions of the Lolita trend. Every Lolita is determined to explain her fashion when it is confused with the sexually perverted novel, Lolita, by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov’s version of Lolita is a 12-year-old girl involved in incestuous, sexual acts with an older man. His book did not influence Lolita fashion, the literature is not connected to Japan whatsoever.

Lyons explains the only similarity between the two concepts is the name itself, “It’s unfortunate,” she says as she fiddles with the Hello Kitty keychain attached to her cell phone.

“I think it’s very strange when people equate Lolita the fashion with Lolita the book because pedophilia is all about wanting [sexual relations with] children, not about wanting women who dress like children,” says Lyons.

There is a gray line drawing the difference between Lolita and Harajuku fashions. Harajuku is the Japanese “style” Gwen Stefani popularized with her solo album in 2004– the same album that introduced Lyons to Japanese fashion. Most people outside of Japan quickly stamp the label “Harajuku” on any Japanese-inspired fashion. After Stefani released Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Japan’s Harajuku district became a capitol of fashion, and primary reference of Japanese fashion for the United States.

It’s true that the Lolita fashion began in the Harajuku district in Tokyo, but “Harajuku” is not a fashion trend– it is the physical area in which fashion trends are discovered and worn. A San Franciscan would not say she dressed in the Mission fashion to get coffee with friends. Imagine if Stefani’s infamous track, “Harajuku Girls,” was translated to San Franciscans as “Mission Girls.” The imaginary lyrics are amusing, “Mission girls, you got the wicked style. I like the way that you are. I am your biggest fan.”

Stefani is a shining example of evolving fashion, as her punk rock roots led her to Japanese fashion trends. Clothing outlets like Hot Topic cater fashion similar to Lolita, such as steampunk, pin-up or retro– all incorporate full skirts and the flattering accents of a women’s body.

Instead of shopping at Americanized retail stores to put together an authentic Lolita-inspired look, most Americans shop at Japanese designer stores in SF which import the styles straight from Japan. Angelic Pretty downtown SF and Baby, The Stars Shine Bright (also known simply as “Baby”) in Japantown are the two most-shopped spots for Lolita clothing in San Francisco– and probably in the entire nation– according to Lyons, a former employee of Baby.

Lyons worked at Baby during their first ten months of business in SF. Lolitas scattered across the nation came to visit SF for Lolita shopping. Lyons remembers Lolitas crying of happiness, just because they finally had access to the fashion they were most passionate about.

Countless colors of lace and frill create a rainbow of poofy dresses hanging along the walls of SF’s Angelic Pretty. Tables sprinkled with accessories like flowery bracelets, rose headbands, lace veils, and pearl necklaces complete for attention. Long socks are printed with rose, ribbon, cat, cake, fairy, and star patterns. It’s easy to spend a pretty penny in Angelic Pretty and then walk out looking even prettier than the Hello Kitty credit card swiped for the purchase.

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Andi Hernandez, Erica Brown (middle) and Shannon Sorenson in thier Lolita best. Photo by: Melissa Burman

Although buying designer brands is utterly expensive, many shoppers believe the cost is worth the amount of detail and high quality that the Japanese designers provide. Dresses are trimmed with lace, doused with jewels and stitched with ribbons.

Hernandez and Brown agree that most Lolitas receive expensive brand items as gifts from family, or save up over time and splurge on one essential piece, then enhance it with fixings with their casual wear clothing. The cost of dressing Lolita in the United States is a huge obstacle, as the only retail options are high-end Japanese brands with jacked up prices caused by import fees.

Clothing is the meat of Lolita fashion, but outsiders of the trend often don’t know about the communities of Lolitas, and the intense friendships created through this community. Official meets ups occur at least once a month, when members of the Elegant Gothic Lolita Facebook group organize tea time and shopping in Japantown.

A few years ago one of Lyons’ friends, Jennifer Torrence, borrowed a Lolita dress and joined Lyons on a Lolita meet up. Dressing up in Lolita for the first time, Torrence said she just felt really cute– and maybe a little uncomfortable. Despite her trouble breathing, she found goodness in the experience. The highlight of her time at the Lolita lunch was walking in as a newcomer and immediately being accepted by the community, and even more importantly– she was respected.

“Being around all these women who were just having fun and upbeat and sweet and cheery,” said Torrence. “That itself was a really good experience.”

That was the first and last taste of the Lolita community Torrence took. But after only one meet up, she believes if people understood Lolita is not a sexualized fetish (again, the confusion with Lolita the novel), they might be more receptive and keen on trying to understand the fashion, and likely to participate. San Francisco is a society of cliques and small circles where individuals are afraid of branching out from their long-term friends, and trying to find groups with similar interests. Because San Francisco is such a diverse city, these types of opportunities are plentiful, and the likeliness of finding one other person with a similar interest is tenfold.

On the other hand, San Francisco is one of the top destinations in the world. A lot of outsiders peek in to the safe zone many unique people call “home.” With that in mind, clashes of culture wreck the streets every day, and tourists are quick with their cameras to capture the city’s freak show.

Some onlookers are too bashful to ask the Lolitas to pose a photo. “I prefer when they ask to take a picture instead of me turning around to a sudden flash,” says Hernandez. She pretends to look out for photographers, peeking over each shoulder of bows and frills, then laughs.

A Lolita outing can resemble Disneyland. Groups of visitors line up to shoot a photo of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. In this case, the princess is a Lolita, and she likes to throw up a peace sign. This sounds tiring, but Lolitas are too polite to say “no.” Manners and the utmost form of elegance is valued by Lolitas, just as it was in Victorian times. It’s crucial for Lolita to remain civilized if she wants to embody the true meaning of her fashion. Usually Lolitas naturally carry those characteristics, or aspire to act as ladylike as Marie Antoinette. If the occasion rose, Lolita too would offer cake to judgmental masses of the working class, just because she is that sweet.

Many times the Lolitas are judged for resembling nursery rhyme characters, such as Little Bo Peep. Once Shannon Sorensen wore her petticoat and full dress to Great America and “some jerk” shouted at her, “Hey, where are your sheep?” She shook it off gracefully– Lolita style. Sorensen and many Lolitas agree that when the situation allows, they are quick to politely teach someone the difference between Lolita fashion and character costumes.

Adorable characters are seeds of inspiration for Lolitas to build on; a single look branches from that seed to create her outfit. But Sorensen doesn’t incorporate inspiration from objects or characters like other Lolitas might. Everyday clothing can be transformed into pieces for her Lolita look.

An elegant bow is tied at the collar of Sorensen’s solid black blouse. Sorensen explains the top is not a brand piece. “This shirt just so happens to go with this skirt,” she says as she fiddles with the peasant sleeves of her top. It’s tucked in to a black corset which is layered on top of a black, silky skirt with cascading layers of frill.

Sorensen says her Gothic Lolita style is very personal. “It’s become so much of who I am, that it’s just me.”

In fact, before Sorensen discovered the Lolita community at a crucial moment in her life. The Lolita had a difficult time in high school while growing up in a suburb outside of Santa Cruz. Stress from classes, crumbling relationships, and the pressure to fit in became all too much for her. Sorensen attempted to take her life three times throughout her high school career. But as she sought professional help and invested in her personal interests, she found a hobby to occupy her morbid thoughts.

Sorensen considers herself a “loner Lolita.” When she says the phrase, there is a soft ease in her voice and she chuckles. The Lolita believes she has found a hobby to occupy her time while alone, and that’s enough for her. Like in girl world, the Lolita community constantly expects each participant to “do it right.” This means hiding skin, having the bell-shape silhouette, wearing the brands, going for tea, and keeping ahead of the trends. But that’s not an element of Lolita that Sorensen appreciates, it’s actually one she tries to avoid.

Sorensen participates in Lolita her own way, by learning to sew her own pieces, writing non-fiction about Lolita characters, and finding music associated with the trend. She is solely paving a path to self-discovery, which gives a deeper meaning to this Japanese fashion.

Kickstart Your Art

Written by Leigh Walker
It’s another day at Calen Perkins and Andrzej “Zej” Kozlowski’s home recording studio in San Francisco. Acoustic and electric guitars line the walls, none are tuned and many sit neglected, collecting dust. The duo sit quietly on the floor brainstorming what the next step will be in their career. Perkins twiddles his thumbs and thinks, but Kozlowski has an idea – though he isn’t sure if it will actually work. Many of their friends use a website to get their projects going: Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a website for anyone who wants to create a project, self-promote, and raise funds. Based in New York City, Kickstarter consists of a team of thirty-six people. The website allows anyone around the world to pledge the amount of money they need for a project, try to get patrons to back it up with monetary donations, and hopefully earn enough money to create their project.

Perkins and Kozlowski are indie folk musicians attempting to use Kickstarter to raise money to record their first full length album.

“We have played a lot together over the last two years and now want to really record a good album,” Perkins says. “We chose to use Kickstarter because it seemed like the best way to raise money for our album. It’s a really easy-to-use format, and they give you lots of tips and guidance along the way to run a successful campaign and hit your goal.”

Continue reading Kickstart Your Art

From Vandals to Artists

A group of onlookers point out different stickers featured at Slap Art Exhibit in SF State's Cesar Chavez Center On Jan. 27

Written by Natalia Vaskez Photo by Samantha Battles


“It’s an entirely selfish art form, obstructing public spaces just to leave your mark on the world, but when we put it all together it looks like a strong community,” says Micah Serias. His large dark eyes scan the stickers, making out the San Francisco skyline. He scans each individual sticker, also known as a “slap,” with its signature design unique to each artist. The latest evolution of street art can be seen in sheets of tiny mail stickers on the bus, on newsstands, benches, and “pretty much anywhere somebody can see your name,” he says. “I’ve seen a slap on the Bay Bridge where people roll close to the wall and just throw up their name.”

Branding public space with the face of the people is nothing new to San Francisco. The city’s rich history of civil disobedience has been reflected in street art since the early sixties and art has often parallelled those movements for social justice. These illegal art installations stand out from the critically acclaimed art of the galleries because of the inherent risks to the artists. But like so many other illegalities, San Francisco allows residents to bend the laws of vandalism and foster creativity throughout the city.

Most recently slap art came to San Francisco State University in a completely unique art gallery, showing in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. Complete with a keg of Pabst Blue Ribbon and brats for every dietary restriction, students listened to a live band and took in the power of street art. Jordon Aydaub, an SFSU student and street artist, organized the event but the stigma of street art made the private owners of the gallery inflict some strict requirements.

“They said I needed to have a certain amount of illustrated pieces, and all these other random requirements,” Aydaub begins to comment before more people come up and congratulate him on the great turnout for the gallery opening.

This stigma within the art world has unarguably lessened through the pioneer work of key artists throughout the last half century. Most notably San Francisco’s Mission District has “the highest concentration of murals per square feet in the country… and some scholars believe an amount which supersedes that of any city in the world,” according to the book Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo. The muralists of the 1960’s were believed to be inspired through Mexican muralist traditions.

Continue reading From Vandals to Artists

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Written by Ivanna Quiroz Photos by Godofredo Vasquez


Ten minutes until face off and the brown wooden benches of the Kezar Pavilion are quickly filling up. Outfitted with black Beats headphones, the DJ bobs his head up and down to mostly hip hop and some hard rock. Hoards of people enter, some juggle nachos, hot dogs, and energy drinks – most in clusters, and most clad in t-shirts supporting their gym or favorite fighter. Some groups are happy, cheerily chatting with one another, while others strut back and forth from one side of the arena to the other, game face on.

The star of this production, the cage, sits in the center, surrounded by cushioned blacks seats that constitute the “VIP area.” For the moment, the cage is empty. Its gray floor is clean and its padded corners shiny. For the spectators in the arena, the cage is unassuming, even though in just a matter of minutes, it will transform into a place of chaos. For the fighters waiting to enter, the cage is intimidating, threatening. For within the confines of this hexagonal structure, their fate will be decided. There is always one winner and one loser.

Zhong Luo, the owner of Dragon House, quickly appears for a few seconds and just as quickly disappears, talking urgently through his blue-tooth ear piece. Zhong Luo, or “Sifu” as he is called by his fighters, began learning martial arts at age three from his father and Grandmaster Luo Rong Qiang. By the age of five, Zhong Luo was already winning awards in hand-form competitions. When Luo was fourteen, he was well practiced in San Shou (Chinese kick-boxing), Mongolian-style wrestling, and weight-lifting.

Continue reading Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Hunger in the Horn

By Tamerra Griffin

A brief scroll down any notable news outlet’s web page will yield the latest from the turbulent political arena, which seems incomplete without an alleged sex scandal or controversial leaked footage; recaps of big-name universities’ athletic events, and the NCAA infractions thereof; multi-million dollar celebrity weddings (and subsequent divorces); not to mention the occasional, but always well-received, human interest piece that spotlights a local hero.

However, save for the now-quintessential photo of an enrobed East African woman delicately swaddling an emaciated, wide-eyed child gaping at the camera, one will be hard pressed to find detailed information regarding arguably the most severe human rights crises of the century.  In the midst of volatile international relations and a domestic morale that has certainly seen better days, it would seem that humanitarianism and philanthropic efforts would become more crucial and prevalent than ever before, used at the very least as a means of boosting a sense of global optimism.  And yet, as the famine in Somalia forges through the country and into neighboring nations in the Horn of Africa, it is ironically becoming the biggest deal that Americans aren’t talking about.  The question is: Why?

The United Nations released its official declaration of the famine in two regions of Somalia, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, on July 20, 2011.  Since then, however, the famine has spread to six different regions, forcing Somalis to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.  Regardless of preexisting conditions in a country, a UN-certified famine must fulfill the following requirements: acute malnutrition rates among children exceeding 30 percent, more than two people per 10,000 dying each day, and each citizen’s average daily caloric intake falling below 2,100 (or just 40 calories more than an ultimate cheeseburger and 24 oz. vanilla ice cream shake from Jack in the Box).  But while the July report ignited a global public outcry that made it seem as if the crisis had just occurred, Somalia and the greater region of the Horn of Africa has been suffering for some time.

A people’s history

The famine in Somalia did not occur in a vacuum.  In fact, no food crisis does.  In the case of Somalia, a number of factors contribute to the impending food shortage that has affected nearly half of Somalia’s population of just over 9.3 million.

Given its location on the equator, which slices through the southern tip of Somalia, the nation’s climate is mostly dry, arid, and hot, with average high and low temperatures ranging from 104 degrees to 59 degrees, respectively, each year.  Furthermore, Somalia receives very little rainfall (a condition many environmentalists cite as yet another effect of global warming), which makes it susceptible to drought.

This is precisely what happened in the summer of 2011, and the inability to produce enough crops sent the prices of such essential foods as red sorghum (a grainy cereal that looks similar to couscous) skyrocketing.  Following the United Nations announcement in July, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a study illustrating the extent to which Somali farmers were forced to inflate the prices of their products.  In Bakool, for example, the going rate of red sorghum increased 186 percent between June 2010 and June 2011 (to put it in context, this would be as if the price of a 14 oz. box of Cheerios went from $4.69 to $13.41 at Safeway).  The drought also had a significant effect on the local livestock, of which ninety percent reportedly have died of starvation since the onset of the drought.  With the decline in availability of these two crucial sources of food, Somalis could do little else than hope for rain to replenish their crops.

Famine in Somalia
Malnourished Ethiopians are treated in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia. Cate Turton/Department for International Development.

Developmental dilemmas, civil unrest

Additionally, Somalia’s low status on the global power pyramid means that it suffers greatly from the slightest shift in economics.  Acknowledged by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as a least developed country–a title based on low income, weak human assets, and economic vulnerability–Somalia, according to SF State professor of Africana Studies Dr. Serie McDougal, is without the means to respond to such natural events as droughts, which is not the case in other areas.

“Somalia doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with climate change, or even natural disasters,” he said.

McDougal exemplifies this developmental disparity in other regions as well.

“We all know about the earthquake in Haiti, but there was also one in Concepción, Chile [on February 27, 2010].  Even though the magnitude was larger, the latter dealt with it in a matter of months; with Haiti, it’s been years,” says McDougal, who  has worked at SF State as a professor for four years and currently teaches several courses in Africana studies.
The irony is that even though Somalis suffer greatly from climate change conditions, they actually leave a pretty tiny carbon footprint compared to other countries.

“If there is a flood in San Francisco, we have the infrastructure to respond to it,” says McDougal. “We also have the irrigation capacity to use conserved water to bring it to places that have drought.  But in San Francisco, with all of the industry and cars, we actually contribute more to the climate change than Somalia ever could.

“The people least responsibe for climate change are the ones most effected by it; Somalia is a perfect example of that,” he says.

The impact of these environmental factors notwithstanding, there is another element that plays into this multifaceted plight.  The political field in Somalia is extremely vulnerable right now, which has paved the way for radical groups to emerge as national authorities.  This group in question is known as Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic.  Opposing the leadership of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia–which is recognized by the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States–Al-Shabaab consists of the branch of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts that overtook the southern half of Somalia in the latter half of 2006, and has since performed a number of militant acts in the country, like the Mogadishu suicide car bombing on September 17, 2009, that killed 11 peacekeeping African Union soldiers and a number of citizens seeking care at a nearby hospital.  Currently, Al-Shabaab controls southern Somalia, where the famine is most severe, and until very recently has denied the entrance of foreign aid organizations looking to provide Somalis with food and water.

Famine in Somalia
Children queue for food at a distribution center in Mogadishu, Somalia in August, 2011. James Hooley/FCO

Redefining humanitarianism?

Given all of these layers in the stratum that is the famine in Somalia, one might presume–hope even–that the case would be handled with immediacy and zeal.  But alas, unlike the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan, this particular human rights crisis is receiving little to no attention by the general American population.  According to research done by CNN Money, Americans raised $275 million for Haiti and $87 million for Japan, both within the first week of the respective disasters.  This money was generated through non-governmental organizations; the American Red Cross raised $2.8 million towards the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami response on text donations alone.  Regarding Somalia, not only are statistics chronicling American donations elusive, but it was not until August 8, nearly three weeks after the UN’s declaration of famine, that President Obama permitted a donation of $105 million to be sent to the East African country. In overheard conversations regarding the topic, students still react in ways that indicate they were not even aware the famine existed.  In Professor McDougal’s classes, he notices not necessarily a disinterest among students, but an overall lack of new information.
But who is at fault for that?

According to Kate Kilbourne, the web and social media manager for the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), this responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the news.
“It has to do with media attention,” she says. “I fault mass media and its outlets.  Famine is prevalent, but people don’t know about it.”

Professor McDougal takes a less critical perspective, instead looking more closely at the potential gains by developed countries in providing aid to Somalia.
“At any given time, there are a number of humanitarian crises in the world, and countries choose which ones to put at the top of their list [in terms of who to help] based on a strategic interest,” he says, citing as an example the United States’ decision to intervene in Libya, a country from which they could gain immensely, than that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is currently undergoing a civil war that has claimed over three million lives in a five-year period.
But both Kilbourne and McDougal’s ideologies align when it comes to the importance of preventative, rather than reactionary, aid.

Famine in Somalia
Luli Hassan Ali looks after her severely malnourished child Aden Ibrahim Ali (4) with brother Mohammed (6) sitting next to them, in a clinic in Dagahaley section, Dadaab camp. Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in the world with people fleeing the civil war in Somalia. In recent months the rate of new arrivals has increased dramatically due to the added factor of drought that is affecting the region. It has now become severely overcrowded. Andy Hall/Oxfam

Reflecting her organization’s focus on female empowerment, Kilbourne suggests that “rather than giving money or food to countries suffering from drought or famine, we need to train mother support groups on how to grow their own food so that they are less reliant on external entities.”
McDougal concedes that while it is a good sign that Al-Shabaab has lifted its ban against foreign aid workers entering the country, he still believes that “when it comes to precautionary aspects, it is really a question of this: can we achieve a stable, representative government, and can we get international private companies to invest in water conservation and agricultural self sufficiency in Somalia?”  Until this happens, he argues, “it’s going to be this same crisis response, where we bring wheat, rice, and other food in the wake of a disaster.”
In the case of environmental disasters like the one in Somalia, philanthropy seems to take on a different meaning.

“There is definitely a philosophy of what it means to help,” says McDougal.  “What I’ve been taught is that it’s a selfless and spontaneous thing: somebody drops their bag, and you immediately help them by picking it up.  But when it comes to international relations, help is far from selfless.  It’s very quid pro quo, and it transforms help into a strategic means of exercising power.”

So until the media makes an effort to illuminate the food plight in Somalia, and until larger governmental organizations sincerely accept the concept of helping without seeking anything in return, the chances of seeing a significant improvement are disconcertingly slim.  Somalia has dropped its bag, and the rest of the world, for the most part, is taking its time in picking it up off the ground.


The Mission’s Day of the Dead tradition reminds the crowd to cherish the best of times.

By Victor Rodriguez

Photos by Cindy Waters

Amid the penetrating smells of the burning incense, the parade is underway with dancers in their positions, percussionists at the ready, and participants each holding one figure of the Aztec calendar. People line up on the sidewalks and curbs to watch the neighborhood pilgrimage. A morbid view is not uncommon, and many people, both adults and children, wear the traditional black-and-white face paint of a human skull to recall the better days they had with their dead.

The black lines on her face indicate careful time management in preparing for the event. A spider web on her forehead, thin and wavy lines on her cheeks that begin with plastic blue diamonds, and the skull’s teeth formed to make more of a frown than a smile. They portray her with a melancholic expression on this particular day. Holding a candle very close to her chest, Rachel Lesage watches the parade with careful contemplation.

“This candle is in memory of my mother,” says Lesage, “It’s a way of channeling with her according to this day’s tradition.”

Dia De Los Muertos
City College student Antonio Lewington shows off impressive make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Dressed in black and carefully arranging marigolds of cloths on the bun of her hair, she has made the Mexican holiday a part of her tradition for fifteen years in remembrance of her loved ones.

Day of the Dead, a tradition crucial to the Mexican culture, dates back to Aztec times. It is a day where people pay their respects and feel a connection to the other side. Sugar skulls, marigolds, incense, and altars are common attributes to the “decoration” of this holiday, much like stockings stockings and pine trees represent Christmas. But in the Mission, the celebration does not limit itself to the Mexican population, it reaches a good amount of the diverse culture in San Francisco.

Dia De Los Muertos
Shrines and letters to deceased loved ones line the outskirts of Garfield Park during the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

“Here, I have my dad, and on the other side is my first boyfriend,” says Pedro Valverde, describing the candle he made to display the pictures of two important people in his life. According to Valverde, such a major celebration in the city is important to uphold the tradition he started being a part of in Texas.

Dia De Los Muertos
SF State students Zach Canter and Lauren Vizzini ride the Muni to the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Glass candles, the ones common in the religious community, are custom made by the people who recall those most important in their lives. The light signifies a welcome to the spirit of the deceased, and a recollection of better moments spent with them. The wrapping around it can be colorful and intricate, but most of the light up a picture of those departed.

Dia De Los Muertos
Antonio Lewington holds a candle of the Virgen de Guadalupe at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission Distict on November 2nd.

Valverde looks up at the parade as it begins on 22nd and Bryant, holding his father’s rosary with one hand, and says, “This is a way that I can have soul access with him on a day like this.”

Dia De Los Muertos
SF State student Tara Deaton shows off elaborate make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Yet, the parade does not call for a very silent and tearful march, as one might initially believe since it is a day of mourning. The parade is a form of ritual for the crowd to experience a joyous emotional connection. Though the humor of the sugar skulls and face-paints seems a bit dark, Michael Wilson interprets it like others do.  An event like this is important to be considerate of the dead: “It’s a cultural experience that gives us a way of being respectful of the dead.”

San Francisco’s Central Subway

By Chris Torres

Photos by Hang Chen

It’s twenty after eleven on Tuesday morning in Chinatown.  People browse storefronts, trudge up the hill, hang laundry out to dry from lines strung from a neighbor’s side window.  Folks exchanging information, glances, loose change.  A pair of tourists from somewhere in Europe armed with a map and cameras pass into a hole-in-the-wall shop selling produce and postcards.  A man hoses down the sidewalk.  San Francisco’s most densely populated neighborhood woke up hours ago.

It’s standing room only on the 30-Stockton bus between Broadway and Market.  People have places to be—it’s Tuesday.  Market Street is going to be packed.  BART is running on time.  More are boarding from all doors, and it looks like this bus is going to miss the next outbound Caltrain by three minutes.  “Please hold on.”

San Francisco has a plan to completely overhaul this crowded line.  With a cost hovering around $1.6 million, and a time commitment of roughly a decade from the plan’s inception, the city can’t afford to back out now. Ground on the project was broken last year, and the Central Subway is expected to be operational in 2019.  With 48 percent of the total funding coming from federal sources, 23 percent from the state and 29 percent from local sources, the project isn’t so daunting, at least according to the SFMTA.

Central Subway
A construction worker wields at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street as pedestrians cross the street, Nov. 15, 2011. The construction is working on the wiring for the Central Subway project.

The completed second phase of the T-Third Street line, an underground subway running north along Fourth Street from King Street and the existing light-rail line along Third, will travel underneath the Market Street Subway, then continue further north under Stockton Street, and turn around under North Beach.

The new alignment is “expected to dramatically increase ride time from the beginning of the Third Street alignment to the northern terminus at Chinatown,” according to a Board of Supervisors Resolution.  The Board estimates ride time between Broadway and Market Street to be improved from 20 minutes to about 7.

There have been alternative plans tossed around, such as whether to run the subway under Fourth Street, or rather continue the line under Third to later link up with Stockton Street.
The SFMTA predicts that by 2030, the T-Third Street, including the Central Subway addition, will have a “20 percent higher ridership level than the N-Judah,” which is currently Muni’s busiest line.  Additionally, the MTA predicts an estimated 30,000 jobs will be created by the project.

Central Subway
The Central Subway construction at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street creates traffic problems in the Union Square area. Only commercial vehicles are allow to drive through the construction area.

While the project’s ‘why’ might not be in question, its ‘how’ might be. SF State professor Jason Henderson, an expert in the geography of transit, is neither for nor against the plan.  But he sees the terminus at Broadway as a major flaw.  “The problem with the Central Subway is that it doesn’t come out the other side… the original versions had it actually coming out on to Geary, and then run[ning] to the west side.”  During BART’s construction, there was talk of running a line down Geary, then north over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County.

Somewhere during planning, it was settled that the Central Subway would turn around underneath North Beach, just past the proposed Chinatown Station.  While the line could, in theory, be further extended in the future, the $1.6 billion price tag is something that Professor Henderson finds difficult to reconcile.  It would make more sense, he says, to spend that money to augment the existing system to be more in line with San Francisco’s “Transit First” initiatives.
The Van Ness Corridor is currently undergoing tests to determine if a strictly transit lane could improve Muni’s flow along the often busy stretch of Highway 101.  Another option would be to add more limited, or express, bus lines to reduce the number of stops on the highest volume lines.

Central Subway
David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

“There’s two problems in San Francisco that make Muni unreliable,” Professor Henderson believes.  “Number one, the cars.  The buses get stuck behind the cars… the other thing is that they [passengers] board at the front door.  There really should be all-door boarding.”

The Neighborhoods

Driving a subway line through existing infrastructure is no small task.  “The project will require the demolition of rent controlled housing stock and displacement of 19 low-income households from Chinatown,” according to an MTA impact study.

The report further predicts that the Stockton and Third Street Corridors are expected to “see a 26 percent increase in population and a 61 percent increase in employment,” as a result of the Central Subway.  Planners are hoping the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART will allow for easier commuter access from across the Bay Area and down the peninsula.

The Stockton Street Corridor is among the busiest thoroughfares in San Francisco.  Terry Joan Baum, a playwright and activist who ran for mayor in the 2011 election, told XPress in a September, 2011 interview that she’s completely behind “solving transit needs right now with really extensive rapid transit bus [service], with infrequent stops.”

Mulling over the logic of driving a subway tunnel under existing downtown urban infrastructure, noting that it’s “absurd on the face of it to have this gigantic project because a few blocks of Stockton Street move very slowly.”  She suggests to simply fix those few blocks of Stockton Street with simple changes, such as eliminating street parking along some stretches, or making the most crowded segments bus only.

Central Subway
Muni riders packed the platform at Powell Station during rush hours.

The Third Street stretch of the line has grown in the years since construction.  Around 54 percent of Third Street Corridor residents do not own a car.  While long stretches of Third Street are non-residential, much of Potrero Hill, Bayview/Hunters Point, and the surrounding areas are.  In addition to the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART, the T-Third Street also serves both AT&T Park and Candlestick, as well as the growing UC San Francisco developments in Mission Bay.

If the growth in South Market and along the Third Street Corridor is some indication of a neighborhood’s evolution with the addition of rapid transit, then the  MTA’s prediction of increased population andemployment could be an accurate glimpse of the future.

Subway Stations

In order for the Central Subway to come into working order, some existing structures will have to be demolished to create stations.  The Board of Supervisors has already set plans to provide assistance to those displaced by the project’s construction.  While there is no true way to immediately predict how, or if, the transit improvement might give rise to growth and development in the surrounding neighborhoods, the city does know that it will need to provide these relocation packages to build Chinatown Station and Moscone Station.  The Board of Supervisors are including provisions in the package that would allow tenants of these properties not only to remain in San Francisco, but also in or reasonably near their current location.

The first of two critical properties, a gas and smog station at 4th and Folsom in South Market, is operated by Convenience Retailers LLC, and is the planned site of Moscone Station.  The adjoining smog shop is independently owned and operated.

Central Subway
David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

The MTA report notes that service stations are strategically placed to best serve drivers through a region’s busiest thoroughfares.  It further recognizes that such stations can’t be relocated too closely to opposing corporate entities if it would negatively impacting their business.  Convenience Retailers LLC has already relocated.

The second property, located at Stockton and Washington, is a privately owned, rent controlled, multi-unit building, and the planned site of Chinatown Station.  The building houses eight retail tenants, ranging from restaurants and hair salons to a butcher shop and office space.  Upstairs, there are 19 families living in 18 residential units, amounting to about 56 total people.  Tenants can negotiate their own relocation package, including the property owner for the building itself.

The report recognizes the area’s historical significance, as well as the tourist draw.  Much as the Tenderloin and Chinatown was reconstructed after the 1906 quake and conflagration to support a large bachelor workforce.  At present, many of these units are housing entire families and, according to the MTA’s impact report, are showing “significant signs of deferred maintenance.”

San Francisco is set to take on some distinctive changes over the next ten years.  In addition to the Central Subway, the waterfront will see some new cosmetic renovation for the America’s Cup in 2014.  The new Transbay Terminal, which should be in service by 2019, includes plans for thirteen new towers around the new terminal.  If all goes according to plan, the city’s skyline could be dramatically different by 2021.

A subway line is only one small piece of this.

Helping Youth Reach Their Full Potential

By Victor Rodreguez
Photos by Eric Verduzco

She sits cross-legged, runs her hands through her black hair and smiles between each sentence, describing a scene into a life that is now just a memory. Her parents had a hard time trying to fund her educational endeavors. By the time college rolled around, she was on her own. Yet, now as she leans in to her desk of the SMART program’s new location, she recalls the track she’s on from new career opportunities that arose finding her way through the educational system. For Nonoko Sato, the matter of trying to help local kids with the same motivation she had more than eight years ago is personal.

Students who come from various backgrounds and have tried their luck in public school, sometimes find that the end result is ineffective. A chance for higher education or even just graduating from high school can seem so distant through little or no fault of their own. That extra push to keep up the educational endurance comes from the dedication of directors and mentors of various programs who seek to make their pupils excel.

Help is wherever someone is willing to look for it. “We assist students who want to learn, but their family income and status keeps them from continuing after high school,” says Sato, executive director for Schools, Mentoring and Resource Team (SMART). “Our goal is for them to understand where education will take them if they really want it and that we are there helping them until they’re ready for college.”

At Risk Youth
Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In common terms, these students would be labeled as “at-risk youth,” but that term means so much more than just an unsuccessful tenure in public school. Different programs target different circumstances, like household income, juvenile detention, foster children, and poor academic performance, among others.

At San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (SFCASA), the main goal is to help children in foster care by mentoring one-on-one to help them with life’s endeavors and a better future that would otherwise be difficult beyond their control.

“We provide mentoring and advocacy for youth in foster care on a one-on-one basis,” says Sally Coates, executive director of SFCASA. “Think of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we mentor in a similar fashion, but beyond that, we have the legal authority to advocate for the youth in the court room based on the best interests for the youth.”

When they end with their students at the age of eighteen, those who carry on can be referred to the Guardian Scholars, an educational opportunity program at SF State. Their aim remains the same in creating a system of support that covers the students academic, social, and even financial needs. A report shows how desperately these young people need the system, since only one percent of former foster care youth go on to pursue a college education, and even then, only eleven percent of the same youth will obtain a bachelor’s degree.

At Risk Youth
Aidé Aceves, Program Associate at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In a similar sense, Nick Wightman, regional director of a program at YMCA San Francisco, overlooks and assists in helping students with their primary struggles.
“We definitely work to help kids get more engaged in school and see themselves as successful so they can graduate high school, go to college or whatever it is they aspire to do,” says Wightman. “With at-risk youth, there are many factors in play that have to be addressed along the way.”

Also working one-on-one, Wightman describes the objective of the YMCA program as helping the at-risk youth academically and with social skills by partnering them up with a mentor. While not necessarily academically focused, the mentors and the program make efforts to help these students cope with their status at their normal schools, where most of them are brought by referral from counselors and agencies.

Perhaps the efforts speak for themselves when describing the dedication that each program’s volunteers offer for these kids. And not all have to necessarily address the academic front. While some programs might be more successful in achieving results than others, it is crucial to understand that there has to be a consensus between what the child wants or needs, and what the mentor can provide.

At Risk Youth
Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

At least for Kaina Walker, this is the approach that she overlooks as the programs director for Youth Justice Institute, a program dedicated to transition their youths into positive members of the community when life circumstances prove too difficult.

“These are mostly students ages fifteen and sixteen, who are high-risk,” says Walker. “Many of them are either in juvenile detention or on probation, so they need lots of support.” Walker explains that the goal for mentors, most of them being college students (many from SFSU), is to provide company and address the needs accordingly for the purpose of mental health. This approach makes their kids obtain a feeling of empowerment, for the betterment of the community.

Walker claims that success is not measured by tracing the magnitude of the student, but by embedding in them that they can give something back. The importance is in planting that seed, and that the effect is unpredictable. Whether ready and immediate or sometime later, that is where success can be attributed.

Yet, to draw from inspirations that follow strenuous experiences also makes it crucial to “nip it in the bud,” meaning that students can be prevented from having to confront any rigors relevant to their education by themselves entirely. In one such example, Ben Buis comprehends the significance to be the first in the family to attain the goals that their preceding generations came short of, and therefore makes the mission of the program a part of his personal effort.
“I struggled through college,” says Buis. “There was no influence to help me through it, both financially and academically, so my need to teach and serve the program is to help the students in these types of situations.”

At Risk Youth
Ana Maria Sauthoff, Program Manager at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

Where as Sato overlooks and handles partnerships with schools, other educational organizations, and families associated with SMART, Buis contributes his part by ensuring that the mentoring and the program fulfills and educates the students based on their needs. “I’ve always tried to assist students directly in what they need,” says Buis. “While we try to support them academically, it also counts to support them socially and emotionally.”

It would be inaccurate to try and pinpoint that academic opportunities have greatly risen for many more students, diminishing the crowd that is have not obtained a high school diploma. The U.S. Department of Education (through the National Center for Education Statistics) charts that from 2000 to 2008, the average freshman graduation rate for public high school students has remained at an average of about seventy-three and a half percent. That’s almost three out of four students, a figure that is similar to the proportion in California.

A middle ground has to exist between the student and those interacting with the student. Where family and teachers have come up empty-handed, mentors are there to trace the source when all else has fallen short.

“Mentors are aware that this can be a scary world for these youths,“ says Walker. “While they are motivated and push college mentally, they understand that these kids need to be kept company for mental health.” Walker notes that within the program, it is essential for mentors to respect the needs of the youth.

At Risk Youth
Students at the SMART program in San Francisco, Calif., interact with one another playing activities before they meet with tutors who help them with homework. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

“In this way, mentors are also learning from the kids,” he says. Metaphorically, biology would liken this sort of rapport as a form of symbiotic relationship of mutualism.

“Many of our [SFSU mentor] students have been able to move forward in their careers,” Walker says of the program mentors over the years. “Many are now probation officers, police officers, lawyers, Juvenile Hall counselors, community service providers, moved on to get their masters, etc.”

Most of their jobs entail working with youth and helping them in many different roles. So despite the dismal job market, now it is more important for mentors to get first hand experience to compete with others. Education does not appear to be enough, according to Walker’s observations.

“Academics have been faulty, but these are students who want to learn,” says Sato, “The idea is to let them venture, [something] parents can sometimes have a hard time understanding.” She explains that each program has a role to play, to make their students reach a full potential.

Granted, not many programs can become readily available to the needs of any struggling student, but staff members work to minimize in taking no for an answer. Not to mention that any effectiveness can only come from the dedication of a staff. Denying the “no” comes from several fronts; from the governments and bureaucracies that cut the funding, from teachers and faculties who have given up, and from parents who do not believe in the causes and probabilities of higher education.

Nevertheless, bearing in mind any instances of program success, maybe they can collectively influence the attention of the general public. In a positive manner, it can raise the hope that more doors can be opened for under-privileged and at-risk youths, bringing down that percentage and giving a national dilemma a path towards resolution, starting in San Francisco.

The Dangers of Smart Pills

By Ivanna Quiroz
Cartoon by Gregory Moreno

Picture 3

Twenty one year old Suzanne* is your average SF State student. She goes to class, goes to work, studies, and finds time to go out with her friends on the weekends. Suzanne is a business major, and, like many students, she struggles with a busy schedule. Sometimes, she feels like she needs a little help and more time. Three years ago, Suzanne was a freshman and all she needed to do was ask her roommate for some Adderall. Her roommate, diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, would frequently sell her prescribed medication to other students. It was the miracle drug that made it easy for Suzanne to focus. Studying for an exam in Macroeconomics suddenly didn’t feel so difficult and writing a ten page paper in one night didn’t feel so stressful. The secret was in the pill. The required texts were more interesting and she was doing well on all her exams. What Suzanne didn’t plan for was the way Adderall would make her feel.

“I have high blood pressure, and, when I would take Adderall, I could feel that my blood pressure was raised and that my heart was pounding. I always got really cold. I didn’t eat and didn’t sleep. I don’t do it that much anymore because I do have high blood pressure. I know that it’s really bad because you can actually feel how bad it is. Your heart is racing the whole time and you can’t calm down,” Suzanne says.

Adderall and Ritalin are drugs usually prescribed to patients with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The difference between the two disorders is based on hyperactivity. Patients diagnosed with ADHD are characterized by excessive restlessness and movement while those diagnosed with ADD are characterized by inattentiveness. Some people are diagnosed with a combination of both disorders. Today, it is common for college students not diagnosed with ADD or ADHD to use drugs, usually Adderall, to help them focus and study.

“People usually do it situationally,” explains Albert J. Angelo, a health educator from Student Health Services at SF State. “They’re doing it because of finals coming up or they feel like they need to pull an all-nighter or they are taking some kind of test that they really need to concentrate on.”

According to a 2010 study conducted by the American College Health Association, eighty-four percent of students report feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do during the year and forty percent feel overwhelmed in just the last two weeks, maybe a reason why many turn to drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.

“One time when I took it I had to write a ten page paper for an ethnic studies class,” describes SF State student Aria*. “I was in the annex and I took half a pill of Adderall with a Monster. I was up for twelve hours in the annex writing. It was really helpful. It kept me motivated and helped me focus on ideas because my mind often scatters.”

“A lot of people like to take it with alcohol or snort it for a stronger effect,” says SF State student Brianna Brostoff. “I think it’s crazy, since I’ve heard stories about people getting completely out of control on it.”

For ADD patients, Adderall has a calming influence but for those who are not diagnosed, the drug does just the opposite. Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants meaning they can temporarily improve mental or physical function. Common short-term effects include high anxiety, hypertension, insomnia and loss of appetite. One of the major dangers of the medication is that it is highly addictive says Dr. Cesar Banda, a family practice physician from Sacramento.

“It’s the same category as cocaine or morphine because it’s highly addictive,” explains Banda. “They [users] could develop tolerance meaning they would need a higher dosage to get the same result.”

“I know that it’s addictive, that’s why I use small amounts,” says SF State student Brian*. “The only amounts to get what I need to get done when it comes to studying. I use it very, very sparingly. I will not take it every day or more than twice in a week except for finals week.”

Other possible outcomes when taking Adderall can include heart complications, dependency, severe depression, seizures, aggressive behavior and even psychological problems such as schizophrenia. There have even been cases of sudden death with Adderall users who had previous heart abnormalities.

“Side effects depend on the person’s body,” explains Angelo. “If you’re taking medication without having a medical exam, you never know what could happen, especially if you’re taking some other medication or if you’re using drugs or alcohol. It could be based on what your biology is to begin with. Anything’s possible.”

The price of Adderall tends to run between five and nine dollars per pill, but can sometimes cost a lot more during finals or midterms when Adderall usage tends to peak on college campuses. Brian describes his usage as seven and a half milligrams once or twice a week, and, during finals, thirty milligrams for ten days.

“It feels euphoric at first and it helps you concentrate on something such as reading that’s very monotonous where your brain ventures off onto something else. It helps you focus on the subject at hand,” he says.

“Its [Adderall] street value is very high, especially in this area where drug culture is so prevalent,” describes an SF State student diagnosed with ADD, who asked to remain anonymous. “Initially, I sold to whomever wanted it, but in more recent days I’ve only sold it to help out friends who needed it for studying purposes. My prescribed dosage is thirty milligrams XR. I’m pretty sure it’s the highest dose available and it costs me, I believe, almost nine dollars a pill. I’ve actually sold it for less most of the time, usually six or seven dollars, but around finals time, about ten dollars each.”

Adderall sales have increased 3,100 percent since 2002 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s becoming easier and easier to obtain a prescription for Adderall, and it’s common to hear of students going to doctors complaining of being extremely distracted and struggling to complete tasks in hopes of getting their own prescription for Adderall. A 2009 article estimates that 25 percent of college students have used “study drugs” (Adderall and Ritalin), but the American College Health Association reports that only about 6 percent of college students are actually diagnosed with ADD.

“American kids are lazy,” Aria thinks. “It’s an easy way to get stuff done without actually making your brain work on its own. I think American kids take advantage of drugs and we’re really dependent on them to get stuff done.”

Taking Adderall without having been prescribed the medication and without having been physically examined by a doctor can lead to devastating results, all for a good grade. Bad grades happen, but there are always other options—retake an exam, extra credit or even retaking the class. Bad grades can be changed but repercussions from abusing Adderall could be permanent. So, is it worth it?

*Students wished to only use their first names to protect their identity.

California’s Green Medicine


By Ashley Aires
Photographs by Gil Riego (Special to Xpress)
With the return of the school year at SF State, students are trying to find ways to cope with the endless homework that they’re now faced with. Megan, a senior who declined to give her last name, has already figured out how she wants to spend some of her free time: smoking marijuana.
As she sits on the cold, metal bench across the street from State’s massive parking garage, she lights up what could look like an innocent cigarette if it wasn’t giving off a different odor. The first drag seems to take her lungs by surprise as a cough forces her to briefly clutch at her throat. As soon as the coughing stops, Megan takes another hit, and another, until she looks at her phone and realizes that she is late to a communications class.
Megan never realized that a university police car had been sitting on the other side of the street. Or maybe she knew, but had no reason to pay attention to it. Megan just got a medical marijuana card, for serious back and neck pain, which means that she can buy her medicine without worrying about getting in trouble.
HopeNet's Steve Smith picks buds of marijuana during a demonstration of how to create their concentrated form, called keif, in December of 2010.
The first step to legalizing medical marijuana happened back in 1996 with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act (or Proposition 215).  The act made it legal for “seriously ill Californians” to “obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes,” along with protecting patients from being punished for using or possessing the drug.
Caregivers are also protected under Prop 215, and can’t be punished by California law enforcement for possessing or growing marijuana plants. Under the law, a primary caregiver is “an individual designated by the person exempted under this act who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that [patient].”
According to, you can get a medical marijuana card if you have a major illness or condition that substantially limits your ability to conduct one or more major life activities, as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336) and if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health.” If you have back pain you can receive the same marijuana as a cancer patient.
According to Stephen Rechif, the manager of a Mission District cannabis club, more doctors are willing to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. Doctors were afraid that they would lose their license if they wrote the prescriptions, but since this form of treatment has become more acceptable and the punishments for using the drug have lessened, they aren’t afraid to write someone a prescription if they really need it. In 1996, Prop 215 guaranteed that these pot doctors couldn’t be punished for writing any prescriptions, and the floodgates have been open ever since.
Legally Lawbreaking
HopeNet's Steve Smith magnifies a bud of marijuana to show the details of its crystals during a demonstration of how to create their concentrated form, called keif, in December of 2010.

Zenia Gilg, a renowned marijuana rights attorney, says that once a doctor issues you a medical marijuana card, no one can take it away except the doctor. Prescriptions tend to expire after one year and are easily renewed with another visit to your doctor. Rechif says that most doctors only require one visit, which is when you get the prescription, and then follow up visits are always optional unless you have a serious health problem.

“Patients who have something serious like leukemia have regular visits to their doctor,” Rechif explains. “But people with ADHD don’t need to check in with their doctors as often. [They] usually just wait until they need to renew their prescription.”
Once you get a medical marijuana card, you’re free to head over to a licensed dispensary (which is the same thing as a “pot club”) and buy whatever medicine you need. California Cannabis Club’s directory says that there are more than thirty clubs spread throughout San Francisco, including the Green Room, which is right in the middle of downtown’s shopping and hotels, and Medithrive, which is a few  blocks from the 16th Street and Mission Street BART stop. With a valid card, you can buy pretty much anything you want: hybrids, sativa, indica, edibles, pre-rolled joints, and clones. Whatever you want, a dispensary probably has it.

Medithrive is one of the more popular dispensaries in the Mission, if not in the entire city. If you aren’t looking specifically for the club, you will easily miss it. The only thing that announces it is a small easel that has Medithrive’s basic contact information.

There is absolutely no distinctive marijuana odor leaking out when the door opens, and no scent lingering in the lobby. Heck, there isn’t even any smell by the display.

Why doesn’t this medical marijuana dispensary smell like pot? It’s probably because there isn’t anywhere to actually use what you’ve just bought. Anything you buy, you have to take home with you, because unlike some other clubs there isn’t a lounge. That is probably a good thing too, since there isn’t a lot of extra square feet anywhere in the facility. As of right now, the owners of the club are turning the garage into an office for staff to work and relax in, since the room (which is really more of a closet) they have now isn’t cutting it.

Seven months ago, Russell Vasques decided that he wanted to do more than just use Medthrive’s products, so he started working for the club. While he works, he stands vigil next to the door, opening it for anyone he sees through the only narrow window. He asks people for their cards, types the information into the computer and if it checks out, the patron is free to go in and buy whatever they need. Vasques says sometimes people come in with fake cards, hoping to sneak past him, but he’s never worried that they’ll actually succeed.

Once you get past Vasques, you’re free to wait in line and buy what you need. Rechif, the store’s manager, says that Medithrive’s line of edibles is by far the most popular product. They have brownies, chocolate bars, caramel corn, truffles, lollipops, peanuts, pretzels, and even hot sauce, most of which are sativa dominant. The store’s line of flowers is readily displayed in little vials on the counter, which Rechif says gives the customer a better idea of what they’re buying. There’s no set customer favorite between indica flowers (the more calming, mellow type) and sativa (more energizing and happy).

“People definitely have a favorite,” he says. “But our sales are pretty much fifty-fifty.”

Right now, Medithrive has around 24 thousand clients, many of whom are regulars. For such a popular business, it’s hard to believe that it almost never opened. San Francisco’s zoning laws say that marijuana dispensaries cannot be within one thousand feet of schools, and what’s behind Medithrive? Marshall Elementary School. But thanks to a monthly contribution to the school and other community organizations, Medithrive was allowed to open its doors with the school’s blessing.

But don’t think you’re completely safe smoking your joint just because you have a shiny new medical marijuana card. Zenia Gilg says that federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency can come in to California and arrest anyone they see using marijuana. Medical marijuana is perfectly legal in California, but it’s still illegal on the federal level. Despite this, Gilg doesn’t think that the federal laws will beat state law.

“All indications are that if this issue comes before the Supreme Court, the Court will find that the state may decriminalize the medical use of cannabis while the federal government continues to prosecute,” Gilg believes.


If you don’t have a card, don’t be too afraid. In 2011, California’s Health and Safety Codes added section 11357 to decriminalize possession of weed. Under the code, anything less than 28.5 grams is punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time. Anything more is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $500.

In 2010, California lawmakers tried to pass the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act (better known as Prop 19). If the law had passed, it would have made possessing and using pot legal in private places and establish a public place to legally purchase the drug (kind of like a dispensary without a prescription).

Local governments would be able to regulate how much cannabis citizens could possess or sell, and be able to tax whatever cannabis they allowed. The law also details harsher punishments for anyone who sells the drug to minors. When it came time for Californians to vote on Prop 19, 46.5 percent of voters wanted it passed.

Walking down a picturesque street, complete with a white picket fence in front of a blue single story house and a child walking a fluffy black Shih Tzu, no one would ever expect what is going on inside one of the cars parked along the sidewalk. Specifically the dark blue Subaru Impreza that would look brand new except for one or two scratches marking its rear door. The tinted windows prevent passersby from looking in the car and seeing the naughty activity going on inside it. The smoke could also be a factor in what outsiders see. It’s not too bad now, but the party can’t start yet.

This car belongs to Erik, who doesn’t want his last name to be revealed because of what he and his friends are doing. His friend Tony pulls a slightly used joint out of an empty box of Marlboro cigarettes as Erik reaches into his pants pocket to pull out his scratched and well-used lighter. After a few seconds of shuffling around, he finally reveals his prize and turns around to hand the lighter to Tony, who greedily takes it and lights up. After a long drag, Tony reluctantly passes the joint to Erik, who takes an even longer drag. This back and forth continues for a few minutes, and a few hazy exclamations of “dude,” until Tony decides that he’s late for work and needs to leave. Apparently, that’s Erik’s cue to kick his friend out of the car, which he does all too willingly.

Legally Lawbreaking
Balls of keif, marijuana in its concentrated form, spread across a table at HopeNet dispensary in December of 2010

Even though he just turned 18 and has been using pot for the past two years, Erik hasn’t bothered to get a card.

“Why would I do more [work] than I have to?” he asks, as he runs a hand through his freshly cut hair. “It’s too easy to find a dealer and get it without one. [And] it’s not like cops care.”

“Even my mom doesn’t care,” he laughs. “As long as she doesn’t smell it, she’s ok with me smoking. Well, maybe not ‘Ok,’ but whatever.”

But until the recreational use of marijuana is legalized in California, it’s probably safer just to go to a doctor and have him write a prescription. Who knew a doctor’s note would ever be useful outside of school?

Making the cover of Xpress

Xpress has often taken a single photo approach to create the cover for the magazine. This semester, Julio Cortez helped design a cover that was a little more daring. Here is a behind-the-scenes video on how the cover of Xpress Magazine came about.


Special thanks to makeup artist, Sarah CoySuiGENERIS, and all the models.