From Tamales to Turkey: Thanksgiving in Two Cultures

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South Kern Sol, Youth Commentary, Yesenia Aguilar

Tamales and Champurrado. That’s the typical Latino Thanksgiving, at least in my household.  That is until three years ago. This was when my family became ‘Americanized,’ and my mom got into a turkey, mashed potatoes, and corn frenzy.

For most of my life, my sister and I would wake up on Thanksgiving and help my mom gather the ingredients for tamales. The day before my mom would’ve gone to buy what we needed. Then the long process begins. The masa is cooked, chicken or pork simmers on the stove, and delicious smells flow through the house. My mom sets up at one station, and my sister and I get ready to take our place in the assembly line. First my mom scoops the chicken into the masa, and I get ready to wrap it. After we make all the tamales, the long, agonizing wait until dinner commences. That’s how my parents have been celebrating this holiday for the past 20 years.

Recently though, the tamales have been replaced with a turkey. My sister and I still help my mom prepare it, then we wait. If you have ever cooked a turkey you know how long it takes. When the turkey is ready, we all gather around the table with our plates overflowing with green beans, pasta salad, corn, mashed potatoes, and of course turkey, and we pray. We thank God for all that he has given us and for having each other. Then we eat.

I would have never expected my family to move from a traditional Latino Thanksgiving to a more Americanized one. I would have never imagined that the delicious tamales and the steaming hotchampurrado (a thick Mexican drink made with hot chocolate and corn masa or flour), both staples during Thanksgiving, would be replaced by a turkey.

I admit that I was more than devastated when my mom told me we weren’t going to be making tamales that first year.  But I am open to new traditions. The change didn’t break my heart entirely because it has helped me appreciate both of my cultures. It helped me see that when you are from two different places, or in my case, three (my dad is from Guatemala) we have to be open to new experiences.

I learned that change can be good and that it all begins with how willing we are to embrace it. It might be only turkey for now, but sooner or later it is going to be bigger things. Moving from eating tamales to eating turkey on this holiday has been eye opening for me because it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on how different cultures come into play in my life. My family is built from several different cultures and what I have to do is accept them. I can’t neglect any of my cultural backgrounds because that is like neglecting myself.

So this year I am thankful. I’m thankful for having my family by my side and thankful for having food on our table. I am thankful for the different cultures in my life and how they have shaped who I am. Most of all I am thankful for being alive. This Thanksgiving, as I eat a plate of turkey and not of tamales, *tear tear* I will bask in the delight of knowing that I’m lucky to have these two special dishes (and cultures) in my life.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and whether you’re having tamales or turkey, remember to be thankful for all that you have.  

Yesenia Aguilar, 16, is a student at Arvin High School, she joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in September. 

To Curb Illegal Dumping, Richmond Turns to Goats


News Report, Nancy DeVille

A goat grazing along North Richmond’s abandoned lots isn’t an everyday scene. But the herd could be an unlikely savior in the city’s fight to curb illegal dumping.

Illegal dumping has plagued overgrown lots in Richmond for years as vacant lots become trash dumps. Offenders leave behind bags of garbage, construction debris, a mattress or an occasional antiquated appliance.

“You name it, they dump it,” said Linetta Copper, a longtime North Richmond resident.

The city’s code enforcement officers collect an average of 12.09 tons of waste in North Richmond monthly, one of the highest amounts in the city.

Now city officials have a new tool that they hope will reduce illegal dumping.

Earlier this month, a herd of goats from the grazing company Goats R Us chomped away at the weeds of an empty lot at 695 Chesley Ave.

“The goats are really a conversation starter to really get community members to come together,” said Kiana Ward, an organizer for the recent event. “It’s a really unique idea that could get people to stop dumping.”

IMG_7087Residents and children from Verde Elementary and the Shield-Reid Community Center gathered to see the goats and learn about ways to stop illegal dumping. Kids colored “Stop illegal dumping” signs that will be placed in locations around North Richmond in hopes of preventing people from littering their neighborhood.

“The problem of illegal dumping in North Richmond is getting to the point where code enforcement won’t be able to deal with it anymore without any help from residents,” said Ward. “For people in North Richmond, it’s really become a big issue.”

This is the first time Richmond has tried goat gazing, but it’s been effective in surrounding Bay Area cities. The event was part of the city’s Love Your Block, a three-year initiative to engage community members in revitalizing their neighborhoods one block at a time.

“These goats will eat just about everything, but they don’t eat much trash. Let’s make North Richmond trash free in a year,” Mayor Tom Butt said to a cheering crowd during the goat event.

Plans are underway to incorporate goat grazing as a regular tool for the Richmond Code Enforcement to combat illegal dumping. The city already uses state of the art cameras at known littering hot spots to catch dumpers in the act or discourage them altogether.

Richmond officials encourage anyone who finds an illegal dump to report it to the Richmond Public Works Department at 510-231-3043. Call the Police Department at 9-1-1 to report active dumping.



Should 16-Year-Olds Be Allowed to Vote?



Commentary, Anna Tingley

Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote? That’s the question being debated right now in San Francisco, where San Francisco Youth Commission members Oliver York and Jillian Wu are spearheading the fight to lower the voting age in local elections from 18 to 16. And now they are bringing the idea to Richmond.

Inspired by the Scottish Independence Referendum last year in which 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote, Wu, York and other youth activists are convinced that extended suffrage will increase civic engagement.

But when they brought their arguments to the San Francisco City Hall, not everyone was buying it. Some said teenagers didn’t know enough about politics, while others thought they would simply follow in their parents’ footsteps. (The San Francisco teens pointed out that 44 percent of Scottish teens voted differently than their parents in the Scottish Referendum.)

In October, the San Francisco Youth Commission met with the Richmond Youth Council to present the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 here in Richmond.

Chair of Richmond Youth Council Joseph Jackson, 17, says the counci is now exploring ways to bring the idea to Richmond voters in next year’s election.

“Richmond is improving, we’re trying to improve, and this is a step in the right direction”, said Jackson.

Voting at 16 or 17, he said, “gives them more of a reason to pay attention to government and politics, to be involved in civic engagement, more of an opportunity to take part in their community. This isn’t just about voting,” he said. “It’s about educating people and empowering them at the same time.”

For a long time, young people did not participate in the political process in the same numbers as older generations. However, the turnout rate among young adults spiked with Obama’s 2008 campaign, and the voter turnout gap between generations has narrowed significantly since 1972, when 18 year olds were first granted the right to vote.

Experiments with local elections have shown that extending suffrage to 16 year olds would increase voter turnout. When the city of Tacoma Park, Maryland, allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the municipal election, they voted at twice the rate of their older counterparts.

This change is not as foreign as it may seem. In addition to two Maryland cities, several nations have successfully extended the vote – such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom – to allow younger voters to participate in national elections.

As for the argument that teenagers are lacking in political knowledge, interest in local legislation seems to be increasing among high school students. As they become members of high school programs such as Youth and Government, Model United Nations, and Amnesty International, they become aware of the issues we face on a local, national, and even international level.

But there is another reason supporters want to allow young people to vote. It’s the phenomenon that York has coined the “trickle-up effect”: As youth show interest in local issues, formerly indifferent parents will also become more involved. This can especially be seen within immigrant families, whose households make up a majority of non-voters.

When you turn 16, you can’t drink, buy a lottery ticket, or rent a hotel room. But driving a car inevitably leads to independence. The high price of parking in the city impacts you. You don’t only start to know what sales and income tax mean, but its fluctuation starts to directly affect you. You are driving, working, paying taxes. Eighteen may mark the beginning of adulthood, but it’s when you turn 16 that local legislation really starts to matter.

“Seventeen isn’t young when you’re having have kids, paying taxes, or enlisting in the military,” said Jackson. “This is an opportunity to have a say in city government that they never had before, allowing them to represented.”

Losing My Close Friend to Suicide, and No One’s Talking About It

amalia lopez

It’s easy to forget that we are mortal until someone in your life disappears.

My first encounter with youth depression came during my sophomore year in high school. I was only a witness and yet its impact was powerful enough to rip my life apart.

At the the time, mental illness was something foreign to me, something that I didn’t need to be concerned about because it was one of those things that only happened to ‘other people.’ Until the “other people” included my friends. Then it became personal.

I remember the day depression became a part of my reality. I was thrown in, when I became a bystander to a statistic suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens ages 15-19. This was when I heard from a friend that my friend Jaime had taken his own life the night before.

I couldn’t believe it–I had just talked to him and now he was gone?

Jaime could not be dead. He and I grew up together in the same small school.

Jaime, the person I spent my childhood with. Jaime, who had a little sister. Jaime, who I just saw not a even a month ago. Jaime, who would ask me for help with math, who would complement my drawings with a warm smile. Jaime, who was gone… now.

I remember going about my day as if in a dream, filching every time someone said, ‘Did you hear about that kid who died?

My classmates and I stood there and hugged and cried, saying that we loved each other, because we were hit with the realization that we each could be gone at any moment.

We had all grown up together in this small town, laughed together, learned together, and that day we mourned together. We felt the gravity of Jamie’s death together in silence and thought about the question we were all asking: Why?

The following week, a candle lit was held to honor his memory. So many people shared how Jaime had touched their lives. I had never witnessed such sorrow.

I am forever haunted by wails of his father. He stood there, mortal and broken and reduced to tears screaming, “Why? My baby boy, my son is gone.” The answer still evades me.

The following months were tough. One night my closest friend sent me a text saying he had tried to overdose on pills. I told his mother and he was immediately admitted to a hospital. He later confessed to me that he thought that if he had died before Jaime, he could have shown him that suicide is not the answer. My friend is receiving counseling, and is currently on medication.

If I had not been there I don’t know what could have happened.

Less than three months had passed since I lost someone I knew.  And then I almost lost one of my closest friends to this depression monster.  I feel as if depression is a contagious disease, subtly infecting my friends one by one.

Yet I still don’t fully understand how or why this can happen to someone. Maybe I, and my peers could better understand if mental illness was openly talked about in school. Mental health is an important part of our well-being, and needs to be part of our health education. We need to speak out to break the silence on mental health challenges like depression. This is the only way to reduce the fear and stigma that keeps young people silent about their struggles.

Students like Jamie need to know where to turn for help. Schools need to reach out to students who are struggling with depression and create a safe, open-minded environment for kids to openly speak about the issue.

Depression and self harm  are serious medical issues that are often not taken seriously, resulting in teens not getting the proper treatment they need. We can change this.

If you are concerned for yourself or someone else, don’t keep it a secret. Tell a trusted adult. 


Amalia Lopez, 17, is student at Arvin High School. She joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in September.

Richmond Resident Takes Part in Tribal Youth Summit at White House


By David Meza

A 21-year-old Native American activist from Richmond was chosen from among thousands of applicants to go to the White House this summer. Isabella Zizi, a Northern Cheyenne, Arikara and Muskogee Creek Native, attended the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering on July 9.

The White House gathering brought together over 875 Native youth representing 230 tribes from 42 states. At the gathering Zizi met Native youth from all over the United States as well as eight Congress members, including two representatives from California. She also met Michelle Obama and several federal officials.

“It made me realize that this is the path I should be moving towards,” Zizi said. “I got to connect with other youth age 14 to 24 from different parts of the U.S. and talk about major issues like climate change, education, health and wellness, social justice and huge things that are happening now.”

The gathering was inspired by a trip President Obama made to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2014, where he met with young people who were making a positive impact on the Native community. Obama launched “Generation Indigenous,” also known as the Gen-I Challenge, for all Native youth between 14 and 24 years old, whether they live on reservations, in cities, or in rural or suburban areas of the United States.

Whoever accepted the challenge was charged with retelling their experience and sharing what they were doing for their Native community. In April, President Obama invited Native youth to apply to attend the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.

Richmond resident Zizi, who has been working with the Native community in Richmond, decided to apply.

“In 2009, my mom helped start the annual Princess Powwow in Richmond,” explained Zizi. “A few years after that, I started as a volunteer with the powwow and help support the Native community here.”

Zizi also calls herself “an activist against climate change.”

“After the explosion at the Chevron refinery happened [in 2012], I got more involved with fighting against oil refineries,” she said. “In 2014, I joined a group called Idle No More SF Bay and I started to help organize the refinery healing walks that go from Pittsburg all the way to Richmond.”

The series of walks, led by Native American elders, highlight the impacts of the five oil refineries along the Northeast San Francisco Bay.

Last month Zizi was awarded a Proclamation of Recognition from the City of Richmond for her participation in the Washington, D.C. meeting as well as for the work she’s done locally through the refinery healing walks.

She says being recognized for her work was an honor. “Not everybody knows I went to D.C. and hugged Michelle Obama and talked about climate change and gave Richmond a voice about the refineries out here and what’s going on,” Zizi said.

She says she hopes to start a youth group in Richmond for Native Americans and their allies.

“Being able to connect and network with youth people out there made me think I can do this out here,” she said. “This is what we’re going to be dealing with in the future, especially climate change. It’s really serious and not a lot of the youth are focused on it.”

Should I Give Up Eating Meat?


Photo • flikr/cookbookman17
Editor’s Note: A new report linking processed meat to cancer hits close to home in Richmond, where fast food is easy to come by. Writers Ronvel Sharper and Karina Guadalupe say this new information makes them want to change their own eating habits. But it won’t be easy.

Meat Is Murder — Or, At Least, Slow Suicide

By Ronvel Sharper

A new report from the World Health Organization says that bacon, sausage and other processed meats now rank alongside cigarettes and asbestos as known carcinogens — and red meat likely as well.

This proves just how unhealthy the typical American diet, with meat at the center, has become. Many people don’t know how what they eat could be damaging their health, or they think the bad effects won’t apply to them. As a meat eater myself, I knew bacon was unhealthy, but thought it only made you fatter, not that it could kill you.

I’m appalled that meat companies give people a slow death and profit from it. So what if the food tastes good? Do you want cancer? Do you want some meat company taking your money as you die by their food?

The WHO classified processed meat as carcinogenic on sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer — the second most lethal kind in the United States, causing 50,000 deaths a year. This especially affects communities like Richmond, where we have so many fast food options and our median income remains low. Fast food isn’t generally healthy, but the prices are suited to us. Instead, we should push for more fresh and healthy food in Richmond. The produce we do have is overpriced, and often isn’t even fresh.

In addition, a new Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study finds that diets incorporating fruits and vegetables now will benefit the hearts of young adults when they’re older. They’ll be less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries, which can lead to hardened arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

“People shouldn’t assume that they can wait until they’re older to eat healthy — our study suggests that what you eat as a young adult may be as important as what you eat as an older adult,” said the author of the study, Dr. Michael Miedema, a senior consulting cardiologist and clinical investigator at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.

After reading this, I actually want more fruits and vegetables — and, for the most part, I’m someone who can’t stand them. However, I enjoy a few, such as corn, bananas, blueberries, and other sweet ones. But they’re expensive, and I love my fast food!

So I can’t promise I will eat nothing but fruits and vegetables; it will take determination and willpower, and I will try my best. Just wish me luck, reader! And, maybe, you’ll eat more veggies and fruits yourself.


To Meat Or Not To Meat?

by Karina Guadalupe

For the past six months, I have contemplated changing to a vegan diet — not only for my health, but also for the environment. I’ve learned about the impact that eating meat has on our planet: consuming meat remains extremely wasteful, causes pollution, and animals undergo abuse and trauma before they are brutally murdered, just to mention a few reasons. And yes, I know that should be more than enough. However, it’s not that simple for me.

Considering my traditional meat-eating Mexican background, this has been a difficult change to make. My mom is an amazing cook, so I’m not sure how I’ll get through without her mole, pozole or tamales. Most traditional Mexican dishes have meat as their main ingredient. But I thought that, at the very least, I would try to become vegetarian.

Now the World Health Organization has announced that processed meats cause cancer — even comparing them to cigarettes. I didn’t know it was that serious. So now I have more than enough reasons to commit to “the change.” I’m not so naive to think this will happen overnight; I know I have a long, hard journey ahead of me, and I’ll have setbacks, but I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve made up my mind.

I’m hoping for a healthier lifestyle, and to feel better about what I contribute to this world. I can only change myself, and that’s where I will start.




Two Out of Three People Under 50 Have Herpes


Image courtesy of

by Keisa Reynolds

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report with information that many of us—but certainly not enough—already knew: having herpes is very common. WHO estimates two-thirds, or 67 percent, of the population under 50 years old are living with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

HSV-1 is mostly spread orally, including non-sexual contact. Many people may have contracted it as children (when they come in contact with an adult who has herpes).

So if it’s so common, why it does it still carry a stigma? As an advocate for sexual health education, I have found there is a severe lack of information.

So here are a few things you need to know:

There are two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both are easily spread and both are incurable. HSV-1 is the type that usually causes cold sores around your mouth, though it can also be spread to your genital area during oral sex. HSV-2 commonly causes genital herpes.

This information should not scare people into a frenzy. It’s just a reminder to pay closer attention to our bodies and take preventive care as needed.

Those who are sexually active should be cautious of how they engage in oral sex. There are barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams. But before you get to that, the first step is open communication with your sexual partners.

At the beginning of a new relationship, a partner of mine was very nervous when they disclosed they had oral herpes. They were used to people not wanting to be intimate with them and making assumptions about how they came in contact with it. We had a conversation about the risks and how to minimize contact. I was relieved they felt comfortable enough to let me know, and they gave me space to process the information (which was unnecessary since I knew herpes is common). They were a great person; having herpes was not a deal-breaker for me. And I wanted them to feel that our relationship was a safe space, as relationships should be. We maintained a healthy relationship where we could address personal issues, especially anything that could impact the other partner.

While communication is important, this does not mean anyone should be shamed into disclosure about herpes or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some people mention stereotypes, for example, that people with STIs are sexually irresponsible—as if being infected with an STI were a punishment for having unprotected sex or having multiple sexual partners. Actually, sexually transmitted infections are so common that they are not an individual issue; if anything, the widespread occurrence of STIs shows that they are a cultural issue. And the solution is getting accurate information so you know how to protect yourself and be responsible.

I believe all of us need to advocate for more education about sexual health. Sexual health education is necessary and is often not as accessible or accepted as it should be.

We have to remind ourselves to remove any stigma around STIs. As a culture, we should create space for people to share information about their sexual health without fear of being shamed. Normalizing herpes and other STIs is one way to start. After all, two out of three people under 50 already have it. It’s time we started talking about it.

If you think you have been exposed to herpes, go to your doctor’s office to get tested. If you are concerned about privacy, there is a Planned Parenthood in Richmond, located at 340 Marina Way. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about sexual health. They have probably heard it all and are there to help!

What Happens When Everybody Has a Gun?


Commentary,  Dr. Joseph Marshall

Guns are in the news again. The recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon thrust the issue of guns squarely back in the public eye. Guns are once again front and center–as they were after the Newtown school shooting three years ago and both gun control and gun rights advocates are once again pressing their cases.

However, this isn’t a piece about gun control or the 2nd Amendment or the right to own a gun. It’s not about legal guns or illegal guns or good guns or bad guns. And It’s not about politics or studies or research. This piece is about the kids I deal with and some of the things that I’ve encountered with them when it comes to guns.

Many of the young people I have dealt with over the years firmly believe in carrying a gun. It’s actually a commandment that they live by–“Thou shalt carry a gun for protection” is the way they put it. It’s dangerous in the neighborhoods they live in they say and they don’t want to be caught ‘slippin.’ They’d rather be caught with it than without it because you never know what’s on the other man’s mind. And they’ve been told that if you pull a gun, you’d better use it. Young people also say that there are way too many guns on the street and in their community–but their answer to the “way too many” is to add another gun to the mix, because quite frankly they’re scared.

Now what strikes me is that everyone else seems to pretty much believe the same thing. They all say they need a gun (or sometimes lot of guns) to protect themselves. They all live by that same commandment–“Thou shalt carry a gun for protection.” The athletes and entertainers say they need one because they’re famous and they’re a target; the homeowners say they need one because their homes might get broken into; school staff and teachers say they need to carry guns on school grounds because they have the right to protect themselves; students themselves carry guns to school because they’re having a problem with somebody at the school site.

Suburban communities see disturbances in Ferguson and Baltimore and they arm themselves to protect against…well actually I’m not sure who. And then there are those citizens who are concerned that the government will take away their rights or impose some kind of martial law–and they’ve got to protect themselves–and they store caches of weapons to do so. Quite frankly, it looks like everybody else is scared too!

So what do you do when everybody’s scared and everybody’s got a gun? Good question. And what do I say to the kids who are smart enough to look at everybody else and see that everybody else’s justification–to protect themselves–is pretty much the same as theirs?

We have a lot of great talks–the kids and I. They put their thoughts out there, I put out mine and we go back and forth. We have to because this is serious stuff and I’m trying to keep them Alive & Free.

One thing that really gets them to thinking though is when I talk about what it was like when I was their age–you know back in the day. They really find it hard to believe when I tell them that I did not go to one funeral of a peer when I was a teen. That I didn’t wear any T-shirts with dead homies’ names on them and that I didn’t have a scrapbook full of obituaries. There were no makeshift street vigils with teddy bears and balloons. Yes there were a lot of fights, but there weren’t a lot of deaths. Why? It’s really pretty simple. Nobody had a gun!

I remember the first time I saw a gun. I was 16 years old and I went to the playground to play basketball. My friend had a .38 and showed it to me. Absolutely freaked me out. The instrument of instant death was right there in his hand. It made me look at him in a whole different way because I knew I had a chance if we ever had a fight, but I knew I had no chance if he had that gun.

As the years went by it began to get all bad in my neighborhood and the neighborhoods around me–from nobody having a gun to everybody having one. From fights to shoot-outs. From no funerals to nothing but funerals. All because of those damn guns. All because everyone was scared and trying to protect themselves.

“It’s not like that anymore Dr. Marshall, but I sure wish it was,” the kids tell me. “I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about that here.” And they’re right. I figured out a long time ago that in bringing together and working with all kinds of kids–gang members, drug dealers, friends, enemies, turf rivals and everything in between–I really only had one thing to worry about. You could bring your attitudes, your past behaviors, your fears, your concerns, your different backgrounds, your belief in your need to protect yourself–all of that–but the one thing you couldn’t bring with you was a gun.

So I did my own form of gun control–I banned them. And if they brought them and I found out, I took them away and then I told them they could come anytime but the gun was not welcome. And then we talked about risk factors for violence–the gun being number one–and we talked about the mentality you have and the power you feel when you’ve got one. And we talked about being afraid and how to handle it when you’re feeling that way. And we watched movies like Juice and South Central and we analyzed them. And I told them that in spite of what everyone else was doing the worst possible thing they could do was have a gun. And then I gave them our number one Rule for Living–The Rule of Life: “There’s nothing more valuable than an individual’s life.”

So tell me have I been wrong all this time? Should I have let them bring their guns because they felt the need to protect themselves? And further was I wrong myself in not having a gun to protect myself and them in case someone came in here to harm me or them? I need to know because I want them to stay Alive & Free, and if I’m not doing it the right way please tell me.

What I can tell you is this. It’s been 28 years and 1456 Tuesday night meetings and 200 college graduates produced and not one gun death here. Not even a fight. Imagine that! It’s almost like the old days, huh?

Yes I know everybody’s got a gun. But not here. Stay Alive & Free.


Dr. Joseph E. Marshall, Jr. is a noted author, lecturer, and host of the Street Soldiers radio show on 106MKEL. He is both a MacArthur genius award recipient and an Ashoka Fellow recognized for his pioneering work in the area of youth violence.

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Using Cosplay to Get Through Anxiety

Using Cosplay to Get Through Anxiety

New America Media, News Feature, Stacey Arevalo

Photos by: Nicolas Heredia

Her heart rate starts rising. Her hands begin to sweat and shake. She paces back and forth.

“I feel like something is going to happen to me but nothing is really there,” she says. “[I tell myself,] ‘There is nothing wrong. It’s okay. This is just your body being weird again.’”

This is what an anxiety attack feels like for Karina Perez, a 20-year-old student at Pierce College.

She started having the attacks while she was involved in an abusive relationship. She also fell into a depression. The relationship is over, but the anxiety attacks have continued.

“During my first year at Pierce I went through an abusive relationship that no one knew about,” Perez says. Her boyfriend, she says, was emotionally abusive, controlling, and unfaithful.

The emotional strain made it hard to focus at school. “I was 18 at the time, very young and inexperienced, so it really hit me,” she says.


“It was a pain to go to school and try to concentrate when my mind was being blown up by everything else.”

Even though Perez was determined to succeed in college, her inability to focus led her to drop all her classes during her first semester at Pierce. Then she decided not to take classes the following semester, setting her back a full year.

“It was shocking to see my grades so low because I was always used to seeing good grades. When I was younger I graduated with honors,” Perez says. She started losing weight.

Her internal struggle wasn’t apparent to the people around her. “People thought I was just taking a year for myself,” she says.

Dr. Janina Scarlet, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management and Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, says there are many popular misconceptions about depression.

“Many people think that a person who is depressed is sad all the time, is unable to laugh, is ‘weak’ and/or suicidal. None of these are true of everyone,” Scarlet says. “Many people with depression might not be ‘obviously’ depressed. They might laugh and appear happy while struggling on the inside.”

Perez agees. “You can be the most active person in the world and be depressed,” she says. “Look at Robin Williams; he made so many people happy and looked like such a happy person but he was struggling with so much.”

“I lost so much weight. I basically lost interest in everything,” Perez says. “I was still trying, but there were days when I didn’t have the will to get out of bed.”

Dr. Scarlet says that symptoms of depression include a low or sad mood, as well as difficulty enjoying things one used to enjoy. Individuals may also experience fatigue, trouble eating or sleeping, thoughts about being worthless, thoughts of suicide, and withdrawal from social activities.

Over time Perez was able to deal with her depression and anxiety in a unique way.

“I realized that my life was going nowhere,” she says. “Therapy was alright, but I realized that putting my mind into projects was helping [more]. I would dance, focus on school projects, and then I started cosplay.”

In cosplay (“costume play”), people dress up as fictional characters whom they like or admire, says Perez. Cosplayers go to gatherings and conventions and meet with others who have similar interests.

“It is a very open and loving community that I fell in love with,” Perez says.

Dr. Scarlet says that an activity like cosplay can have an important role in some people’s healing process.

“There is research that shows that meaningful social engagement, such as what cosplay provides … can potentially reduce depression and help buffer the individual against depression,” Scarlet says.

Scarlet has herself pioneered a type a therapy she calls “Superhero Therapy,” the goal of which she says is to “help patients become the very kind of hero that they want to be despite any limitations they might face.” She incorporates concepts around superheroes and other fictional characters into her therapy practice, which she says can help patients better identify with their own struggles. It’s common for people to relate with fictional characters, she says, and she uses those characters’ vulnerabilities to help her patients realize that everyone experiences them.

Due to the positive feedback Perez was receiving on her costumes, she started a Facebook fan page called KPM Cosplay where she posts pictures of the costumes she creates. She has over 4,500 followers and makes appearances at conventions.

“Cosplay [has been] my own form of therapy,” Perez says. “It [has been] nice to bring so much happiness to others. It was unexpected.”

Perez’s costumes portray characters she identifies with, both female and male. They’ve included Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones, Batman, and multiple characters from the X-Men.

“The X-Men are made up of people that fight for acceptance so I relate to that,” Perez says.

After graduating from Pierce, Perez plans to attend law school. Her dream job would be working on a legal team at SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, which manufactures and launches new kinds of rockets and spacecraft.

“This company brings a lot of science into reality. I want to be in a place where I can merge different parts of my life and be completely happy,” Perez says.

Now that Perez has found a way to take control of her anxiety and depression, she encourages people suffering with depression to seek help with friends and family.

“Don’t be afraid to accept that there is something wrong going on,” Perez says. “How else is anyone supposed to help you if you don’t say it?”

She also recommends that students seek help at Pierce’s student health center, which offers individual therapy sessions.

“There will be times when things will be bad,” says Perez. “But you can’t let anxiety or depression stop your life.”

At this point, Perez says she’s learned to embrace her anxiety.

“If the anxiety went away [completely] I would lose a part of myself,” Perez says. “It is a part of my personality and a part of what pushes me. It is not necessarily a positive thing in my life, but I’ve learned to turn it into one.”

NAM’s community college initiative on youth depression is supported by the California Health Care Foundation. Additional support for expanding ethnic and youth media coverage of mental health issues comes from The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, The Orchard House Foundation, The Parnassus Fund, The Arthur Rock Foundation, The Wallace A Gerbode Foundation, and The Zellerbach Family Fund.


Residents Voice Hope, Concern Over New Continuation School


News Report, Nancy DeVille

District officials are hoping the merger of two West Contra Costa schools into a new high school with more academic and behavioral resources will give students the edge they need to succeed. But the move in September to combine Gompers and North Campus continuation high schools into the new Sylvester Greenwood Academy has some Richmond community members concerned about potential gang violence.

“To have people from North Richmond coming into central (Richmond) that may be part of rival gangs, that’s a concern for the community,” said Rev. Donnell Jones, interim executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community (CCISCO), an organization that works to curb gang violence.

“The crime and violence in our city is territorial. That’s publicly known and the evidence is in the homicide records of the city,” said Rev. Jones. “This could be devastating.”

Lt. Andre Hill said the Richmond Police Department did have some initial concerns about the merger but said so far things are going well. Since Greenwood opened for the new school year in September, he said there have been no reports of violent incidents on campus. The school has one school resource officer.

“The district gave those students coming from North Campus an option and some of them declined to come. Some of the parents were not comfortable and they opted to out and they were placed at charter schools within the district,” said Lt. Hill.

Marcus Walton, spokesman for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, said safety is always a top concern and measures are in place to ensure the students are safe. He noted that all of the district’s high schools have students from different neighborhoods throughout the city.

Sylvester Greenwood Academy shares its campus with Leadership Academy, a charter high school. Greenwood is housed on Chanslor Avenue while Leadership Academy faces Bissell. Both schools share joint use of a gymnasium and health center located in the center of the campus. A fence separates the two schools.

“A lot of work was done prior to the student bodies being combined,” Walton said. “The principal met with every single family and student and if there were any concerns, they were addressed.”

The district has implemented a wide array of programs at Greenwood to ensure that students succeed, including mental health services and group counseling, conflict mediation, after-school enrichment and tutoring and one-to-one conferencing with Principal Vincent Rhea and counseling staff.

“The board wanted a state-of-the-art campus for its alternative high school education programs,” Walton said. “This is a campus with the facilities to house students to educate from both campuses as well as provide the instructional resources necessary to make sure students are able to succeed.”

Gonzalo Rucobo works with Bay Area Peacekeepers, an organization that offers mediation and mentoring to youth at Greenwood, Richmond High and Helms Middle School.

He says he is hopeful that things will remain calm on the new campus.

“My biggest concern is that some kids might not feel safe to come to Greenwood Academy from other neighborhoods,” he said, “and then we risk those kids not being enrolled in school.”

An attempt to merge the two schools at a Hilltop site in 2004 was met with stark criticism and the district tabled the plan. Rev. Andre Shumake, a police chaplain and community activist, opposed the district’s merger plan in 2004. But he now supports Greenwood Academy. He believes the school’s increased programs will “promote better alternatives to resolving conflicts.”

“Some of these students have been convinced they can’t succeed and I now see the district’s commitment in working to shift the students’ mindsets,” he said. “This is a second chance and an opportunity for students to get on the right track and the district seems committed to making that happen.

“If we can get these students to get excited about learning,” he said, “then we will see a tremendous drop in the level of violence that’s taking place throughout our city.”