Comfort and Serenity in the Iron Triangle

News Feature, William H. Fraker

In the neighborhood known as the Iron Triangle, comfort and serenity can be found at the corner of 6th and MacDonald, where a once-barren lot is now host to chickens, rabbits, beehives, and dozens of blossoming garden beds. In and amongst this thriving hub of life, a burgeoning community has taken root and found peace.

“I definitely feel like it’s a privilege to grow your own food,” shares Lena Henderson, founder and director of The Garden of Comfort and Serenity and daughter of lifelong Richmond activist Lillie Mae Jones. “It keeps you grounded,” says Henderson. “It’s a nurturing environment.”

But it hasn’t always been this way. Two years ago, the roughly 2-acre plot of land was nothing but an abandoned parking lot, where the only things growing were useless weeds and Richmond’s crime rate. But in the heart of the Iron Triangle, long reputed as one of Richmond’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods, Henderson’s vision has proven itself resilient, transforming the vacant land into a powerful resource for community growth.

Like most things in life, The Garden of Comfort and Serenity started as a seed.

“First she had the mulch, and then she had the beds built,” explains Annette Howard, who lives adjacent to the garden with three of her daughters and serves as the garden’s co-director.

With input from Richmond’s Youth Build and Self-Sustaining Communities, a non-profit organization, the hard work and commitment of Henderson and Howard has resulted in not only fresh produce, but changed lives.

“People just show up,” Annette explains. “We get all kinds of people that come through and sit down and talk their problems out.”

Neighbors come to plant in the boxes; strangers also come, some to sit silently in peace, some to find an open ear and heart; homeless men and women come and receive fresh food; cars pass with a honk; people pass with a smile.

For longtime residents of the Iron Triangle, the change brought by the garden is palpable.

“I was depressed a lot,” explains Howard, struggling to hold back tears, “and Lena used to tell me to come out, because I had lost everything. She used to come and get me, put me in the garden and work me to death, make my problems go away, because once you’re in the garden, your problems go away.”

Her narrative hovers over the soulful tunes of R&B station 102.9fm, resounding through the solar-powered radio that is virtually always on, a signal to passersby that, according to Henderson, says, “welcome to our garden.”

“It’s really nice and soothing to put your hands in the soil and give all your problems to the dirt,” Howard says. There’s something profound about turning pain and sadness into beauty and life, a magic reaction that here only the garden seems to accomplish — a positive alternative to other routes so often taken by Richmonders, those of drugs and violence.

Yet the healing powers of the garden are much more than mental and emotional. By offering nutrition, exercise and relaxation, it has worked miracles for the physical health of those involved in the project. Leonard Tally, a long time friend of Annette, was recovering from heart surgery due to two clogged arteries, when Annette got him to start coming to the garden as a place to relax.

“Instead of just sitting at home, it’s more relaxing at the garden,” he explains. “[Annette] would give a lot of vegetables and different stuff for me to take home, and made sure I eat healthy.” The next time Tally went to the doctor, he was told he had made a marvelous recovery.

“It feels good to know that you grew something,” says Lynette, one of Annette’s daughters. “That the stuff you planted… changed something.”

Cooperativa de Richmond Hace Más Que Arreglar Bicis

Reportaje, Monica Quesada

James Johnson de 20 años es un mecánico de bicicletas. Nacido y criado en Richmond, Johnson ha arreglado bicis en su propia casa por años, mientras soñaba con abrir una taller de bicis donde pudiera trabajar con las herramientas adecuadas, “sin tener que usar martillos y cosas”.

El sueño de Johnson se hizo realidad hace menos de un año – cuando junto con un grupo de otros jóvenes de Richmond, y bajo la dirección de Brian Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de una organización no lucrativa llamada Richmond Spokes – lanzó Spokeshop Bike Lounge, el único taller de bicis en la ciudad.

“Spokeshop no es el taller típico de bicis”, dijo Johnson. “No hay muchas tiendas de bicis donde puedes entrar y en vez de comprar cosas solo pasar el tiempo, hablar con el personal, usar el wifi gratis, y leer revistas de bicis y otras cosas en paz, sin que gente te moleste”.

Además de su ambiente amable, Spokeshop tiene otro elemento que lo distingue de los otros negocios en Richmond: Es una cooperativa, donde todos los miembros son propietarios y empleados – aunque, hasta ahora, ninguno de los ocho miembros de la cooperativa están recibiendo un salario por su trabajo.

“Aún estamos ajustando los sistemas”, dijo Johnson. “Definitivamente quiero… ser pagado, pero básicamente estoy satisfecho de que actualmente tengo mi tienda, porque de todos modos a ese fin estaría usando mi dinero”.

Mientras se acerca el primer aniversario del taller este mes, miembros de la cooperativa siguen presentándose para dar su tiempo de voluntarios para ayudarla a convertirse en un negocio exitoso.

“Es más como compartir las ganancias”, dijo David Meza de 20 años, un miembro de la cooperativa. “Todos decidimos de igual manera que debe ser reinvertido al taller, y que debería ser para nuestro beneficio personal. Pero [nosotros] ponemos al taller primero”.

Ayudando a la Comunidad de Muchas Maneras

“Me gusta trabajar en las bicis porque creo que es un trabajo que realmente ayuda a la comunidad de muchas maneras”, dijo Roxana Alejandre de 21 años, una mecánica de bicis en el taller.

Alejandre comparte como muchos otros miembros, que ven a su taller y su trabajo como servicio comunitario; una manera de ayudar a que Richmond sea una mejor ciudad. Andar en bici, dicen, no es solo una buena manera de mejorar la salud comunitaria al hacer el ejercicio divertido, pero también una manera más económica de andar por la ciudad, encontrar mejores oportunidades de trabajo y conseguir mejores fuentes de alimentos.

“La mayoría de [negocios] dan oportunidades de empleo, pero la cosa que no te dan es una manera de llegar a ese trabajo”, dijo Johnson. “Pero con las bicis, no solo le estas dando un trabajo [a una persona] pero también [les] estas dando transportación, para que no tengas la escusa de, ‘No tengo manera de llegar al trabajo’”.

Llenando un Vacío

Spokeshop Bike Lounge es uno de los proyectos de la organización no lucrativa Richmond Spokes, cuya misión incluye promover el desarrollo social y económico a través de usar bicicletas.

Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de la organización, dijo que jóvenes llegaron a él porque habían oído que el era a quien acudir si querían desarrollar una cultura de bicicletas en Richmond.

Llegué a Richmond y me di cuenta de que no había una comunidad de bicicletas visible, (pero) hay una grande comunidad clandestina de personas que usan su bici hasta que se descompone y luego consiguen otra bici”. Además de crear oportunidades saludables para los jóvenes, él dijo, “La idea era de conseguir reparación de bicis económica aquí en Richmond y entrenar a las personas a construir y a mantener bicis”.

Aparte del Spokeshop Bike Lounge, Richmond Spokes también maneja otros proyectos y servicios, como valét de bicicletas para eventos públicos y privados, lo que Drayton espera aumentara la concientización de la creciente cultura de bicis en Richmond.

Oportunidad para Jóvenes

Gerardo Lopez de 12 años, es el empleado más chico en Spokeshop. Asiste a la escuela, pero pasa cada momento libre que tiene en Spokeshop ayudando a clientes, manteniendo limpia la tienda, y a veces asistiendo a los mecánicos. “Mi mama piensa que esta bien porque puedo tener una lección en la vida [de cómo] construir mi propio taller y como mantener mi propio negocio”, dijo Lopez.

Como cada otro trabajador en el taller, Lopez no recibe un salario por su trabajo.

“Realmente no me importa el dinero”, dice Lopez. “Yo solo quiero ayudar a la comunidad. No vengo aquí por el dinero”.

Sin embargo, durante el descanso de invierno él trabajo tan duro que los otros miembros de la cooperativa decidieron darle un regalo de agradecimiento, una bici BMX negra que le gusto. Ahora Lopez dice que tiene nuevos amigos, tres bicis y la experiencia de participar en la lluvia de ideas que ocurre en la cooperativa.
Los miembros de la cooperativa describen el taller de bicis como un incubador de lo que podrían ser futuros negocios de Richmond mantenidos por jóvenes.

“Yo tuve una idea para un estudio de diseño”, dijo Jari Smith, una voluntaria en el taller. “Llegue aquí y eventualmente creció”. Ahora Smith tiene planes de lanzar su estudio, que seria la primer empresa filial de la cooperativa Spokeshop.

“Si tuviéramos un café dentro del taller, finalmente ese café quedaría chica para el taller y sería tiempo de lanzar su propio negocio”, explicó Smith.“Quien sabe que tipo de negocios pueden crecer de ahí, de gente uniéndose en el café, soñando, creando metas, poniéndole límites a esas metas y creciendo”.
Según Drayton, Spokeshop ya tiene todo lo necesario para empezar un café, pero les falta el dinero inicial para invertir.

Aumentar la Base

Uno de los retos más grandes que enfrenta la cooperativa, dijo Drayton, es atraer nuevos miembros y mantenerlos activos. Si una persona quiere unirse, él o ella tiene que comprometerse a 6 meses de voluntariado en el taller, mientras reciben entrenamiento de los miembros actuales.

“En comunidades desfavorecidas, es difícil desarrollar a la gente”, explicó Drayton, “porque dura 6 meses para entrenar a alguien y no tienen otra fuente de ingresos, perdemos a personas”.

“Cuando la gente se da cuenta de lo que estamos haciendo, se entusiasman con ello”, agrego. “Pero todos tenemos nuestras vidas personales, tenemos la renta y la comida y los gastos y cosas que se acumulan, entonces es un reto de estar encima[ de todo]”.

En el futuro cercano, Drayton espera encontrar financiadores mas grandes que puedan apoyar una estructura de salario para los miembros de la cooperativa, aún cuando están entrenando, para sostener el modelo de Spokeshop y mantenerlo en operación”.

Jóvenes Reaccionan Al Desastre de la Refinería de Chevron

En primera persona, Varios

La noche del lunes, 6 de agosto, a los residentes de Richmond, California, se les aconsejó buscar refugio debido a una serie de explosiones que resultaron en un gran incendio en la refinería de petróleo de Chevron, la refinería más grande del norte de California. El fuego envió columnas de humo negro hacia el cielo, cuales se elevaron lo suficientemente alto como para ser vistas por millas a través del Área de la Bahía.
Inaugurada en 1902, la refinería de petróleo hace mucho tiempo hizo a Chevron el mayor empleador de la ciudad de Richmond. La refinería también ha sido culpada por las tasas históricamente altas de la ciudad de asma y otras cuestiones de salud asociadas con la contaminación, las toxinas y residuos industriales, que es un subproducto de la industria.

Richmond Pulse colecto los siguientes blogs y reacciones en las horas inmediatamente posteriores al desastre de la refinería, el cual según la Agencia para el Manejo de Emergencias de California, soltó dióxido de azufre, química óxido de nitrógeno, óxido de hidrógeno, ácido sulfúrico y dióxido de nitrógeno al aire.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto, 22:

Cuando las sirenas sonaron, me levanté de mi asiento y casualmente cerré las ventanas. Mi mamá, cansadísima mentalmente y físicamente de cuidar a niños todo el día, me preguntó por qué cerré la ventana. Por que no es el miércoles, dije (la refinería de Chevron suena una alarma de prueba todos los miércoles) … y esto es real. Ella me miró, confundida por el tiempo y el sonido, y finalmente escuchó las sirenas.
Llevé a mi mamá y mi papá afuera de nuestra casa y vimos el embudo de los humos negros creciendo. Al haber vivido esto antes, sabíamos que hacer. Cerramos las puertas y ventanas, y colocamos trapos debajo de los huecos que habíamos fallado de asegurar completamente durante las reparaciones de la casa.
Por supuesto, la tele estaba prendida. Y el teléfono no paraba de sonar durante el pico de la quema. Parientes en San Francisco llamaron a preguntar si papá (él trabaja cerca de la refinería) había llegado a casa. Papá les aseguró a los familiares que estaba a salvo, y bromeó con los amigos del trabajo por el teléfono. La quema fue banal como un hecho natural, sin embargo, dejamos la televisión prendida, para presenciar el acto que había provocado un torbellino de atención de los medios.

La casa rápidamente se convirtió muy caliente y sofocada. Me sequé el sudor de mi frente, y sentí la humedad que se acumulaba en el borde de mi camiseta. Antes de las sirenas, mi mamá estaba friendo pescado y olía delicioso. Ahora, el calor se junto en la cocina y lleno la casa con el sonido del chisporroteo del aceite sobre el fuego abierto como su propio sonido de advertencia.
Esta casa fue construida en la década de 1960 y siempre ha tenido mala ventilación. Atrapa el calor y el frío según la estación. En parte por la resignación y el humor negro, mis hermanas y yo bromeamos sobre si la explosión fue una señal definitiva de mudarnos de nuestra casa. En el último año, hemos estado pensando en mudarnos de nuestra casa, ya que su valor ha disminuido dramáticamente, mientras que la hipoteca sigue siendo alta. Y las casas embargadas en nuestra calle sólo han añadido a una mayor devaluación del barrio. Me apoyé en la ventana porque se sentía fresco, e imagine por un momento cómo sería vivir en algún lugar de la naturaleza, alejado de las llanuras y en lo alto de las colinas. Pero incluso esos lugares se prenden en fuego a veces.
La hora mágica, en la producción cinematográfica, es cuando el sol se apaga en la oscuridad y no hay un resplandor en el cielo. Afuera era como una película, y adentro estaba muy caliente y pegajoso. Abrí la puerta principal y salí a la calle para ver los humos. La calle estaba en calma; el interior de las casas encendidas con luz, el aire por encima de mí pintado con tonos de púrpura, azul, anaranjado y negro.
Mis padres salieron de la casa y se pararon en el patio. Caminé hasta el centro de la calle y con mi cámara de 35 mm y tomé una foto de mis padres y el humo que cierne sobre ellos. Sonrieron y me llamó la atención. Vivimos cómodamente en el humo … y eso, es la cosa más innatural.

Adrienne Cheney, 17:
He vivido en Richmond toda mi vida, y estoy muy acostumbrada a escuchar la sirena de prueba de Chevron cada primer miércoles. Como muchos otros, sospecho, ya no hago los pasos de refugiarme en práctica para una emergencia cuando escucho esas sirenas. Sin embargo, esto es algo que es muy problemático, especialmente en situaciones como el incendio de la refinería de Chevron.

Al igual que muchos otros residentes de Richmond, me quede contemplando durante unos segundos pensando, “¿Es esa la sirena de Chevron?” y pensando, “No se son las 11 am en el primer miércoles. ¿Es una [emergencia] real?” Después de un minuto de pura confusión, la lógica entro y fui a investigar. Había oído dos explosiones fuertes sólo unos minutos antes, y cuando miré hacia afuera, podía ver la columna de humo negro elevándose hacia el cielo. Sólo entonces fui a cerrar todas las ventanas.
El siguiente paso para mí era llamar a ciertas personas. Un vecino mío sólo ha vivido en el área de la bahía por un rato, y me pareció que era muy importante llamarle y asegurar que sabía lo que significaba la sirena, y que se dirigiera hacia la casa y cerrara sus ventanas. Después de unas cuantas llamadas más, me senté y empecé a ver las noticias. La cobertura en vivo mostraba el fuego, y me enteré de que efectivamente se trataba de la refinería que se estaba quemando. Y entonces simplemente era sentarse y esperar, ya que cada media hora, las sirenas se repetían, y se oscureció el cielo, y poco a poco empecé a preguntarme cuánto tiempo duraría este fuego, y por cuánto tiempo duraría el peligro del humo tóxico sobre mi casa.

William Hayes, 20:
El asma, el smog, toxinas – estas son sólo algunas de las cosas que afectan a mi ciudad, Richmond, California. Se trata de una “ciudad puerto”, el hogar de una comunidad de diversas personas que han venido de diversos países, con diferentes convicciones y actividades. Pero la mayoría de la gente de mi comunidad sabe poco del peligro en que se colocan, simplemente por respirar el aire de aquí.
Por esa razón, he tenido una campaña personal en contra de Chevron toda mi vida, antes de que yo supiera lo que era una refinería de petróleo.
Gracias a Chevron, yo crecí en una comunidad donde el asma se considera normal y el smog se pensaba ser una parte del clima. Cuando yo era joven, mi hermana y yo vimos el humo blanco saliendo de las chimeneas de Chevron y los apodamos “los que hacen las nubes”. No sabíamos, que estas nubes blancas de humo aparentemente inofensivas eran en realidad la causa de la mayor parte de los riesgos de salud ambientales a los que estábamos siendo expuestos a sin saberlo. Por unas pocas semanas durante mi infancia hasta tuve que usar un inhalador para el asma, que en ese momento pensé que era algo muy bueno, pero en retrospectiva, es una imagen triste. No me gustaría que mi hijo este en una circunstancia donde tenga que usar un dispositivo para respirar.
Como nativo de Richmond, el reciente incendio de Chevron no me sorprende en lo más mínimo. Mi pregunta a los funcionarios de Chevron es, ¿Cómo siguen adelante después de esto? Estoy seguro de que no pueden asegurarles a los residentes de Richmond que algo así no vuelve a suceder, como estoy seguro de que tienen este tipo de accidentes contabilizados como el costo de hacer negocios.

No estoy demasiado preocupado acerca de quién tiene la culpa. Estoy más preocupado por lo que son los siguientes pasos para prevenir que este tipo de cosas se vuelvan a repetir. ¿Van a tomar en cuenta a los residentes de Richmond? ¿Puede alguna cantidad de dinero o donaciones para becas ser suficiente para que Chevron su merecido? Supongo que sólo el tiempo dirá.

Molly Raynor, de 25 años:
Maldita sea. Hoy ha sido una locura. En medio de nuestro taller de Romeo y Julieta, se escucharon las sirenas de Chevron y miramos por la ventana para ver una enorme nube de humo negro levantarse de la refinería y avanzando hacia nosotros. Tuvimos que refugiarnos en el lugar de Making Waves con mis estudiantes y mi primo que esta visitando la ciudad, filmando un documental sobre RAW y nuestro próximo show: una versión moderna de Romeo y Julieta situada en Richmond. “Verona”, sin duda estaba alumbrada hoy. Escapamos de las toxinas de Chevron, sintiéndonos mareados y apretados en el pecho, pero al final vamos a estar bien.

Estoy más preocupado por mis alumnos que regresaron a sus hogares bajo la nube negra y brumosa, quienes respiran Chevron todos los días. 50% de los residentes de Richmond tienen asma. Y eso es sólo una de las injusticias ambientales de tantas. Como Donte dijo ayer: “Ya sea humo de mota, de pólvora, o Chevron”. Estoy esperando que las nubes se aparten, esperando el sol. ¡Manténgase fuerte Ciudad Rich!

New Hope for Undocumented Students with Deferred Action

News Feature, Iraida Santillan

Alejandra was only nine years old when she left Jalisco, Mexico with her mother and younger sister to join their father in the United States. Alejandra’s father was already living in Richmond, CA along with three of her uncles.

She crossed the border with a fake birth certificate and once she made it to the other side her father was waiting for her to take her, her mom, and her sister to their new home.

Now 23 years old and a Contra Costa College student she dreams of working with young children and running her own daycare. This dream is now becoming possible with the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program established by the Obama Administration.

This program will allow eligible youth to submit an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services to obtain a work permit and avoid being deported. The program started on August 15, 2012, and the application fee is $465.

“This opens doors for me and other undocumented students because it will allow us to work and reach our goals,” says Alejandra. “However, I feel that even though I am taking a step forward with this new action I am also taking a step backwards if I don’t qualify.”

Carlos Martinez, one of the CLOUD leaders wants everyone to be clear that the deferred action is not amnesty. “And it is definitely not the Dream Act,” he says, He wants everyone to be clear that is for those students who do not have a criminal background, and that anyone up to the age 31 can apply for the Deferred action. As long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 16, graduated high school, have a GED, or demonstrate that they are still in school.

Alejandra and other undocumented students can find out more about the Deferred Action at an information fair hosted by Community Leaders Organizing Undocumented Dreamers (CLOUD) on Thursday, August 23 at 6:30 p.m. at 1833 Church Lane San Pablo, CA. There will be lawyers providing information and answering questions as well as helping the youth fill out the application correctly.

Bored at Home? Hidden Gems Offer Summertime Fun in Richmond

Feature, Adrienne Chainey

With summer under way, many people find being cooped up inside to be a downer. But wait! Whether you like to do things outdoors, or just don’t want to be in the house, there are actually lots of things for you to do, right here in Richmond:

The Richmond Plunge is located at 1 East Richmond Avenue and offers open swimming and swim lessons. So head on down to the Plunge and enjoy a splash filled day of fun! To view the current Plunge schedule, click here.

Various YMCAs in the Richmond area — like the one located at 263 S 20th Street — offer both gym access as well as pool access to members. “The Y” offers memberships, as well as daily passes and financial aid. Contact the local Y at (510) 412-5647 or email them at wccinfo@ymcaeastbay.org if you have any questions.
Looking for outdoor activities? There are tons of beautiful parks and nature sites for Richmond citizens to enjoy, in the City itself as well as in the greater East Bay Area:

In East Richmond, there’s Alvarado Park, located near the intersection of McBryde Avenue and Park Avenue. Alvarado Park offers plenty of trails for hiking, biking and nature viewing, as well as picnic and barbeque areas, and a play structure enjoyed by many children over the years. There are lots of Eucalyptus trees, and Wildcat Creek lends a hand to making this park a beautiful feature of the East Richmond area.

Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is another great location for both new and experienced outdoor adventure seekers. Named after the big cats that live there, it’s a lovely little retreat for day hikers.

In nearby Tilden Park, in the City of Berkeley, there is refreshing Lake Anza, a man-made lake that offers a beautiful location for family swimming and picnicking. Tilden Park also offers overnight passes through the Regional Parks District for camping out.

There are also a number of historic sites scattered about the Richmond area:

The relatively recent Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front offers a glimpse of what life was like in Richmond during the World War II era, taking patrons back in time to experience the beginnings of Rosie the Riveter, and the legacy created in her aftermath.

Another destination point is the SS Red Oak Victory — the last victory ship built in the Richmond Harbor. It’s located in the historic Shipyard #3 in the Port of Richmond. Ship tours educate patrons on the history of Richmond as a shipyard, and shed light on a part of Richmond history often forgotten by its citizens.
As you can see, Richmond offers a number of opportunities for adventure and fun, so hopefully you’ll be able to get out of the house to explore and experience some of these this summer!

Richmond’s Latina Center Supports a Growing Community

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Wearing white caps and gowns, 25 women — ranging from young to middle-aged — pose for photographs in front of a water fountain at San Pablo City Hall. They call their group a sisterhood, born out of a need to speak to others but ultimately enabling them to reach themselves. For most of the women, graduating from the Latina Center’s 2012 Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a milestone, marking two years of involvement with the Richmond-based organization.

“Now, embrace the person next to you!” directs Yenny Velazquez, a program coordinator at the Latina Center. The women joyfully face the classmate beside them and giggle, “Hi, how are you?” and “What’s your name?” as if they were strangers to each other. “Come over here!” they laugh, breaking with formality as they hug like reunited family.

“We have students who received only an elementary education and others that are university graduates and professionals,” says Alejandra Escobedo, who coordinates the Women’s Health and Leadership Program. Yet, she explains, they have two core similarities: “First, these are women that want to progress and will progress. And the other similarity is that upon arriving in this country, they feel anxiety over how to survive in a society completely foreign to them, and (anxiety over) how to contribute and be significant.”

The Latina Center was founded by Miriam Wong in 2002 to serve Richmond’s growing Latina community. Today, the center offers support groups, domestic violence prevention workshops and leadership programs to women in need of healing, empowerment and understanding.

Despite the importance of the work, mental health services like thoseoffered at the center are yet to be fully embraced by the immigrant Latina community. The National Alliance of Mental Health, a policy research non-profit, reports that fewer than 1 in 20 Latino immigrants use mental health services. Breaking through the stigma of treating mental health issues is especially difficult among Latinas, who are 46% more likely than Latino men to experience depression, according to some estimates.

Overcoming the taboo of seeking mental health services, while also trying to build trust and guarantee privacy, is a challenge for mental health providers – but The Latina Center seems to have devised a successful approach. In their model, women can participate in support groups while also being trained as promotoras, or community health leaders. But before they can take part in the leadership trainings, the women must undergo the group process. The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is one of those leadership programs – it is now graduating its 12th class.

The group of 25 line up near the entrance of Maple Hall before entering. They look attentively toward the main room, trying to catch a glimpse of arriving family members. On each table, adorned with deep purple tablecloths, are quotes from the graduates. One reads, “I am a leader who has achieved changes in my neighborhood. I am proud of myself.”  The ceremony’s MC, Martha Cuevas, a graduate of the Latina Center’s programs, welcomes the audience and signals to the 25 women to enter the room. They enter, applauded by their community.

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The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a yearlong program with a new class offered every July. Students are required to devise a community health project, research their topic, conduct a presentation or workshop to peers, and finally execute the project to the proposed audience. This year’s projects included anger management classes, financial literacy workshops and even do-it-yourself cleaning solutions that are ecologically safe. No matter the topic, the program demands research from the students, and the experience has encouraged many graduates to continue community work beyond the program.

Teresa Palafox’s project on co-op business models led to her and some classmates attempting to open a restaurant called Fusíon Latina Restaurant. “More than anything, the program prepared us to initiate the co-op,” says Palafox. “I’ll continue taking classes and attending conferences on how to manage co-op businesses and gain extra income.” Palafox and the other women involved in Fusion Latina Restaurant are now being expertly advised by Arizmendi Bakery co-founder, Terry Baird. “We’ve received a lot of help from different [people],” says Palafox.

The experiences of other graduates have been more internal, but no less life altering. “I am nothing compared to who I was before The Latina Center,” says Maria Gamboa, a middle-aged woman who describes herself as only caring for her family, and always being at home. It was her first time participating in any type of support program.

For her project, Gamboa decided to share her expertise in tailoring by offering free classes to the public. “I discovered many qualities I already had in me,” she says of the process. “I want to continue opening doors to people like me who only care for their children. There is so much more one can do to help their community.”

After receiving their certificates, the class of 2012 welcomed the next class of women, who will begin developing their projects as early as August. The new class includes students not only from Richmond, San Pablo and Contra Costa County, but as far away as Solano and San Joaquin County. There is no other organization like the Latina Center, say the graduates.  No other that transforms, with love and friendship.

The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue in Richmond. The center accepts walk-ins, and appointments can also be made by phone, at (510) 233-8595

Cantando A Través de las Paredes de la Prisión

Comentario, Sean Shavers

Más de 50 personas se reunieron en el centro de detención de inmigración del Condado de West Contra Costa en Richmond el 18 de julio para expresar nuestra solidaridad con los inmigrantes indocumentados que están cautivos ahí. Esta vigilia mensual fue organizada por la Coalición Interreligiosa para los Derechos de los Inmigrantes para traer atención sobre la situación difícil de los detenidos y sus familias.

Empezamos la reunión formando un círculo, un símbolo de nuestra unidad, fuerza y poder como uno solo. Empezamos a meditar, centrándonos en las personas que han sido deportadas o están en espera de deportación. Cuando cerré mis ojos, pude visualizar los espíritus a mi alrededor, las caras, los sonidos, incluso la gente dentro de la instalación. Después de cinco minutos de meditación, un hombre mayor hispano lideró el grupo en varios cantos, cantando canciones poderosas de la libertad, la esperanza y un cambio para el futuro.

Podía oír el dolor en la voz del hombre, la preocupación y la compasión que sentía por las personas encerradas en el interior. A pesar de que no podía ver a los detenidos, sentí como que podían escuchar nuestras canciones, casi como si estuvieran cantando con nosotros detrás de los muros de la prisión.

Me sorprendió ver tantas organizaciones diferentes, los programas y las confesiones religiosas, juntos por una causa. Vi a los ministros, pastores, diáconos y demás personas que no forman parte de la comunidad de la iglesia.

Yo también estaba contento de ver a los jóvenes en la vigilia. Me hizo darme cuenta, por primera vez, cuántos jóvenes se ven afectados por los problemas de inmigración. Pero después de pensarlo mucho, tiene sentido que estos jóvenes se verían afectados – ver a su mamá o papá detenidos por el ICE, o ir a visitar a sus padres dentro de las instalaciones. Como un afro americano supongo que nunca me di cuenta de lo difícil que es simplemente no tener papeles.

Después que terminamos de cantar, un hombre joven con pelo negro corto y tez morena, quien formó parte del círculo, dio un paso adelante. Él empezó a hablar, y el público de inmediato se concentró en él. Estaba tan tranquilo que sólo se podía oír su voz y la gente que respiraba a su alrededor. Su nombre era Robert Sagastume, y era un estudiante indocumentado de Honduras.

A la edad de diez años, cuando todavía vivía en su país, fue violado y obligado a guardar silencio al respecto. Pocos meses después, a su madre se le concedió un visado de viaje, después de haber luchado durante quince años para conseguirla. Después de mudarse a los EE.UU., Robert dijo que se sentía como si finalmente estuviera a salvo y libre de la persecución que sufrió en Honduras.

”Me dio una sensación de libertad, saber que deje a mi atacante atrás”, dijo.
Años más tarde, la visa de la familia se expiro y la madre de Robert le pidió guardar silencio al respecto. Fue un punto de inflexión en su vida.

”Fue entonces cuando me di cuenta que ya no tenía diez años y que no tenía que guardar silencio de nada”, dijo Robert. “Fue entonces cuando me decidí a luchar por mis derechos como estudiante indocumentado”.
Al escuchar el testimonio de Robert estuve impresionado. Este joven tuvo el valor, el poder de vencer tantos obstáculos. Sólo tenía unos veinte años, sin embargo, él estaba al mando de la atención de la gente el doble de su edad.

Después de que habló Robert, una joven dio un paso adelante. Era bajita, con una cara bonita, pelo castaño-rojizo y una camiseta negra. Su nombre era Jessica Hyejin, tenía 20 años de edad, y su familia emigró al sur de California desde Corea cuando ella era apenas un niña. Después de años de asistir a la escuela en los EE.UU., finalmente pensó que iba a graduarse e ir a la universidad.

”Yo aplique a 24 escuelas y sólo fui aceptada en una, pero después que se enteraron de mi estatus de inmigración, ya no podría asistir”, dijo.

Buscando apoyo, Jessica se acercó a su comunidad de la iglesia y comenzó a asistir a los servicios. Pero después de varios meses se dio cuenta de que la iglesia no pudo cambiar la forma en que realmente se sentía por dentro. ”Traté de hablar con la gente acerca de mi estatus, pero nadie sabía realmente qué hacer. Me sentía impotente”.

Las historias de los jóvenes “Dreamers” como Jessica y Robert deben contarse, y la gente necesita escuchar. La gente necesita escuchar sus voces y darse cuenta de que un número de seguro social no debe determinar si comes o mueres de hambre, si consigues un título o no.

Después de escuchar dos testimonios maravillosos, todos nos pusimos de nuevo en un círculo, cantamos una última canción, e hicimos un ruido estruendoso enorme, para que los detenidos adentro nos escucharan y supieran que alguien acá afuera los está apoyando.

Richmond Mayor Seeks Full Transparency in Determining Cause of Refinery Fire

Press Release, City Hall

Residents in Richmond and the surrounding area were reminded last night of the ongoing risk of living in close proximity to a major oil refinery. Tens of thousands of people were advised to “shelter-in-place” as a level 3 health warning due to fire and explosions in the crude unit at Chevron’s Richmond refinery. Huge billows of black smoke were spewed for miles into Bay Area air, impacting residents in Richmond, North Richmond, San Pablo, and El Cerrito. As far away as the Oakland hills, people were advised to stay indoors. The shelter-in-place lasted throughout the night while firefighters worked to contain the fire.

This morning the shelter-in-place has been lifted, although a health advisory remains in place. Chevron has announced that the fire is contained and the situation is under control. However, controlled burning continues, which remains a big concern to local residents, especially the most vulnerable with respiratory conditions such as asthma and other breathing difficulties.

Thankfully, Chevron employees experienced only a few minor burns, but hundreds of Richmond residents were seen at local hospital emergency rooms for respiratory problems and difficulty breathing. According to a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency, the fire released sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide into the air. A Chevron representative has stated that “diesel grade materials” from the crude unit was the source of the combustion.

Three local BART stations (Richmond, El Cerrito, and Del Norte) were closed for hours, but all are currently operating.

Concerns remain about inadequacies and delays in the communication system which reportedly notified only some residents about the shelter-in-place, and not in a timely manner.

While the situation seems to be under control, the investigation is just beginning.
Chevron will be holding a Town Hall meeting tonight at the Richmond Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, at 6 pm. All are invited to share concerns and ask questions.

“We live with this risk day in and day out. I will be seeking a full investigation and analysis from both Chevron and independent sources. I am calling on Chevron for full and complete transparency and accountability in determining what caused the health and safety of our residents to be jeopardized,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who will attend the Town Hall meeting tonight. “Our community is rightfully concerned and we shall continue to seek full cooperation from Chevron regarding all aspects of their day-to-day operations of this inherently dangerous and complex process of oil refining.”

Youth React to Chevron Refinery Disaster

First Person, Various, Posted: Aug 10, 2012

On the night of Monday, August 6, residents of Richmond, California were advised to seek shelter indoors due to a series of explosions resulting in a large fire at the Chevron oil refinery, the largest refinery in Northern California. The fire sent billows of black smoke skyward, which rose high enough to be seen for miles throughout the Bay Area. 

Opened in 1902, the oil refinery has long made Chevron the City of Richmond’s largest employer. The refinery has also been blamed for the city’s historically high rates of asthma and other health matters associated with pollution, toxins and industrial waste that is a byproduct of the industry.

Richmond Pulse collected the following blogs and reactions in the hours immediately following the refinery disaster, which, according to the California Emergency Management Agency, released sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide into the air.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto, 22: 

When the sirens boomed, I rose from my seat and casually closed the windows. My mom, mentally and physically exhausted from taking care of children all day, asked why I closed the window. Because it isn’t Wednesday, I said (the Chevron refinery sounds a test alarm each Wednesday)… and this is real. She looked at me, confused by time and sound, and finally listened to the sirens.

I led my mom and dad outside our home and we saw the funnel of dark fumes growing. Having lived through this before, we knew the drill. We shut the doors and windows, and placed rags underneath the gaps that we’d failed to fully secure during our house repairs.

Of course, the TV was on. And the phone was ringing off the hook during the peak of the burning. Relatives in San Francisco called and asked if dad (he works near the refinery) had made it home. Dad assured the relatives that he was safe, and joked with friends from work on the phone. The burning was banal like a natural occurrence, yet we left the television on, to witness the act that had caused such a whirlwind of media attention.

The house rapidly became hot and stuffy. I wiped sweat from my forehead, and felt moisture collect on the brim of my tank top. Before the sirens, my mom had been frying fish and it smelled delicious. Now, the heat collected in the kitchen and took over the house with the sound of oil cracking over open fire as its own warning sound.

This house was built in the 1960’s and has always had poor ventilation. It traps heat and cold according to the season. Partly out of resignation and dark humor, my sisters and I joked about whether the explosion was a final sign to move out of our home. Over the last year, we’ve been considering a move out of our home, since its worth has dramatically decreased while the mortgage remains high. And the foreclosed homes on our street have only added to the neighborhood’s further devaluation. I leaned against the window because it felt cool, and imagined for a moment what it would be like to live somewhere in nature, removed from the flatlands and up high in hills. But even those places catch fire sometimes.

The magic hour, in film production, is when the sun dies down at dusk and there is a glow from the sky. Outside was like a movie, and inside was too hot and sticky. I opened the main door and walked outside to see the fumes. The street was calm; the inside of houses lit; the air above me painted with hues of purple, blue, orange and black.

My parents came out of the house and stood at the porch. I walked to the center of the street and with my 35mm camera took a picture of my parents and the smoke looming above them. They smiled, and it struck me. We live comfortably in smoke… and that, is the most unnatural thing.

Adrienne Cheney, 17:

I’ve lived in Richmond my entire life, and I’m very used to hearing the Chevron siren tests every first Wednesday. Like many others, I suspect, I no longer go through the motions of taking shelter as practice for an emergency when I hear those sirens. However, this is something that is very troublesome, especially in situations such as the Chevron refinery fire.

Like a lot of other Richmond residents, I sat contemplating for a few seconds thinking, “Is that the Chevron siren?” and thinking, “It’s not 11am on the first Wednesday. Is this an actual [emergency]?” After about a minute of pure confusion, logic set in and I went about investigating. I had heard two loud bangs just a few minutes earlier, and when I looked outside I could see the huge pillar of black smoke rising up into the sky. Only then did I go about closing all of the windows.

The next step for me was calling certain people. A neighbor of mine has only lived in the Bay Area for a little while, and I felt it was very important for me to call and make sure that they knew what the siren meant, and that they headed inside and closed their windows. After a few more calls, I sat back and started to watch the news. Live coverage was being shown of the fire, and I learned that it was indeed the refinery that was burning. And then it was just sit and wait, as every half hour the sirens repeated themselves, and the sky darkened, and slowly I began to wonder how long this fire would last, and how long the danger of the toxic smoke would loom over my home.

William Hayes, 20:

Asthma, smog, toxins – these are just a few of the things that plague my city, Richmond, California. It is a “port city,” home to a diverse community of people who have come here from various lands, with different convictions and pursuits. But most of the people in my community know little of the danger they place themselves in, simply by breathing the air here.

For that reason, I’ve had a personal vendetta against Chevron my entire life, before I even knew what an oil refinery was.

Thanks to Chevron, I grew up in a community where asthma was viewed as normal and smog was thought to be a part of the weather. When I was young, my sister and I saw the white smoke coming from the Chevron stacks and nicknamed them “cloud makers.” Little did we know, these snowy, seemingly harmless puffs of smoke actually were the cause of much of the environmental health risks that we were being unknowingly exposed to. For a few weeks during my childhood I even had to use an asthma inhaler, which at the time I thought was pretty cool, but in hindsight it is a sad image. I would never want my child to be in a circumstance to have to use a device to breathe.

As a native of Richmond, Chevron’s recent fire does not in the least bit surprise me. My question to Chevron’s officials is, where will they go from here? I’m sure they can’t reassure Richmond residents that something like this won’t happen again, as I’m sure they have such accidents accounted for as the cost of doing business.

I’m not too concerned about who’s to blame. I’m more concerned about what the next steps are to prevent things like this from ever happening again. Will Richmond residents be accommodated in any way? Can any amount of money or donations to scholarships be enough for Chevron to pay its due? I guess only time will tell.

Molly Raynor, 25:

Damn. Today was crazy. In the middle of our Romeo & Juliet workshop, we heard the Chevron sirens and looked out the window to see a huge black cloud of smoke rising from the refinery and moving towards us. Had to go into shelter in place at Making Waves with my students and my cousin whose in town filming a documentary about RAW and our upcoming show: a modern day rendition of Romeo & Juliet set in Richmond. “Verona” was definitely on fire today. We escaped the Chevron toxins light-headed and tight-chested, but ultimately we’ll be fine.

Photo by Adam Kruggel

I’m more concerned about my students who went back to their homes under that hazy black cloud, who breathe in Chevron every day. 50% of Richmond residents have asthma. And that’s just one of so many environmental injustices. As Donte said yesterday, “Either weed smoke, gun powder or Chevron”. I am waiting for the clouds to part, waiting for the sun. Stay strong Rich City!

Youth and Depression: What to Look For, Where to Go For Help

News Feature, Adrienne Chainey

Clinical depression is a very common and very serious occurrence, yet it often goes misunderstood by young people — as well as the adults who care about them.

There are many types of depression, including Major Depression, Chronic Depression (or Dysthymia), Bipolar disorder, Manic Depression and many others; all of which can be experienced by teenagers, although mistakes are often made in diagnosing a young person with depression.

The mistake is in assuming that a teen isn’t actually depressed, but that they’re merely upset or overwhelmed with school or work or life in general. Chances are, they could be feeling all of these things. However, that doesn’t mean their depression symptoms should be dismissed as short-term problems, or childish emotion.

Suicide is one of the most common causes of death for young adults in America, and the majority of those involve teens suffering from depression. This can often be avoided by actions and interventions on the part of family, friends and classmates.

There are two ways that depression can go:

Take for example a teenage girl, Jane. Jane is feeling depressed. Jane relives bad memories of bullying as a child, and now begins to feel lethargic, as if no one likes her, and as if she should stop trying. Someone notices a change in Jane — she isn’t being as perky or happy-go-lucky as she was when she first entered high school. They mention it to a school counselor, who has a meeting with Jane, and suggests she see a psychiatrist. Jane meets with a doctor, and is prescribed a medication, and after a few weeks, begins to act happier and more like her old self.

Now, let’s look at another example, John. John’s parents begin to have marital issues, and often argue. John used to avoid his arguing parents by going to football practice, but this year he didn’t make the team. John begins to act reclusive at home, and doesn’t leave his room except to go to school. To make things worse, John’s mother begins to blame his father for the way John is acting, which makes John feel more and more hurt, scared and depressed. John thinks he’d become a laughing stock at school if he went to a counselor to talk about his problems at home. So John’s grades begin to suffer, and he loses his place at the private school he attends, forcing him to go to public school where he fails to make new friends. John, thinking he is the problem to his parent’s fighting, and feeling a lack of worth in life, takes his father’s gun and kills himself.

Scenarios like these are extremely common, and completely viable. To avoid the second scenario, friends and family should immediately take notice if someone they know begins to act strange. If they begin to lose interest in life, if their performance at work or school begins to suffer, if their diet changes drastically, or if they begin to either lose sleep, or sleep much more, then the person may be experiencing depression. There are many other symptoms of depression, and if you suspect that someone you know may be suffering from it, contact a psychiatrist or local counselor, and talk about your concerns.

Dessye Dee Clark is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who has been active in the Washington State Youth Suicide Prevention Taskforce, and was one of the original peer counselors to respond to struggling teens through The Whole Earth Suicide Switchboard (a forerunner to the Suicide Prevention Hotline). She believes that anyone can help out those they know, and she encourages readers to believe that they have the ability to help someone else, rather than “pass it along to somebody who is trained.” She also emphasized the fact that those struggling don’t often relay all that they are feeling to a friend or a parent.

“Often, the suicidal person doesn’t tell anybody the ‘whole story’ of the depth of their despair and suicidal thinking, rather choosing to drop ‘hints’ here and there,” she says. “So a parent might hear one comment, a friend another, and a teacher or bus driver another comment.”

So, I encourage the citizens of Richmond to take action if they see someone they know exhibiting any symptoms, or if they mention anything to you that seems out of the ordinary. Try mentioning it to someone else who you know also cares for the person in question, and see if you both believe they could be depressed or suicidal.

If you yourself are feeling suicidal, and feel you have no one to talk to, there are many suicide hotlines that are available for you to call 24 hours a day:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255; The Contra Costa County hotline is 925-646-5726; The Contra Costa Crisis Center (offers a variety of numbers you can call if you feel the need to talk): for crisis and suicide call 800-SUICIDE (por Español: 888-628-9452), for grief call 800-837-1818, for homeless call 800-808-6444 and for youth call 800-833-2900.

For information about different types of depression symptoms, visit http://www.webmd.com/depression