ILLUSION VOL. 3
EDITING STAFF Editor-In-Chief Kenzie Aellig
Managing Editor KK Interchuck
Photo Editor Avery Wilcox
Copy Editor Lyn Brook
Online Editor Tèo Mata
Social Media Editor Justin Garcia
STAFF WRITERS Mariana Garrick Nicole Gonzales Saskia Hatvany Ximena Loeza Cash Martinez Gia Opsahl Fernando Pacheco Hunter Troy
STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERS Nicholas Cholula Amaya Edwards Morgan Ellis Garrett Isley Cameron Lee
TABLE OF CONTENTS Letter from the editor p.4-5 / Simulation Theory: How Real is the World Around Us? p.6-13 / Kiana Honarmand: An Iranian Woman’s Journey Shown Through Art p. 14-19 / Deep Down, We’re All Clowns p. 20-27 / Overcoming Mental Health in Latinx and Hispanic Households p. 28-33 / From Female to Male, and Back Again p. 34-39 / The Dreamer’s Path p.40-45 / Closeted: Coming Out in the Modern Age p. 46-51 / The Smoke and Mirrors of Cigarettes p. 52-57 / Living in a Filtered Reality p. 58-63 / A Morbid Curiosity: Why Do We Love True Crime? p. 64-67 /
As we enter the third issue of the Fall 2021 semester, we find ourselves amid a world of chaos and confusion. Throughout our time in college, we’ve experienced a spread of misinformation leading to a nation-wide distrust of journalism — the career we’ve chosen to dedicate our entire lives to. We’ve watched the division of our country play out in real-time across flatscreens in our rentinflated apartments. We’ve adapted our college experiences to abide by the laws of a never-ending global pandemic. It would be easy to succumb to feelings of disillusionment. Instead, we hope to take our feelings of anxiety and exhaustion and create something beautiful and brilliant, representative of the journalism we hope to see in the “real” world. For our third issue, I challenged the Xpress writers and editors to find stories of misinformation, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation. Approaching our future career as journalists with honesty, transparency, and empathy — the values taught to us during our time here at SF State — is the only way to mend the world we live in. Our role is to tell stories, highlight the underrepresented, and focus on solutions despite any challenges that get thrown our way. Editor in Chief Kenzie Aellig
Simulation Theory: How Real is the World Around Us? By Nicole Gonzales A collection of text algorithms and a series of binary codes run on a quantum computer making calculations and storing data, powerful enough to create entire civilizations. Together, it’s all programmed to operate and run a finely tuned simulation — could this be the very mechanism sustaining our current reality? It’s an idea that has been questioned by philosophers, theoretical physicists and inquisitive thinkers alike. Simulation theory, as it’s called, ponders the existential and tangible matters of human life, such as our behavior and the physical world around us. As technology and theoretical discussions advance, the idea that our reality could be simulated is not so strange. What exactly is simulation theory? “It’s the idea that what we think of as the physical world, including the Earth and the universe around it, is all part of a computer-generated or programmed simulation,” said Rizwan Virk, a computer scientist and author of “The Simulated Multiverse.” Virk’s book discusses the possibility of simulated reality as well as the multiverse argument.
Sasha Tishchenko. Photography by Garrett Isley.
“Just because we can’t prove we are not in a simulation, does not mean that we can’t find evidence that we are.” -Rizwan Virk
Virk has worked closely on the development of several virtual reality experiments, video games and tech start-ups.
“Simulation theory is revived to the popular imagination and whether we are able to fundamentally know what we are,” said Salazar.
“While it’s hard to falsify whether we are in a simulation, just because we can’t prove we are not in a simulation, does not mean that we can’t find evidence that we are,” said Virk. “There are a number of scientists pursuing experiments to show that the mysteries of quantum mechanics are implying that we are in a simulation.”
In addition to the philosophical aspects of this hypothesis, some are intrigued by the tangible possibilities.
A 2003 theoretical paper by University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom titled “Are you living in a computer simulation?” sparked simulation theory conversations across the globe. In the paper, Bostrom presents the reader with the idea that we may be living in a coded computer program. “Reality may thus contain many levels,” Bostrom argues in his research. “The metaphysical status of this claim is somewhat obscure — there may be room for a large number of levels of reality, and the number could be increasing over time.” Bostrom’s logic suggests that if we are to entertain the idea of a simulation, it must be multifaceted and intricate by nature.
“I have been involved in making video games and investing in video game companies for the past decade,” said Virk. He, like many others, was drawn to this theory out of curiosity and technological advancements. “It was the evolution of virtual reality and augmented reality that led me to question whether we were inside a computer game.” SF State mechanical engineering major, Sasha Tishchenko, felt similarly. “Watching the whirlwind of technological progress steamroll humanity has always sparked interest for me,” said Tishchenko. “It is fascinating to consider that if reality is a simulation, how does whatever is powering the simulation work?” Tishchenko serves as the president and co-founder of The Futurist Society at SF State, a student organization that discusses scientific, technological and abstract ideologies.
“It may be like a very sophisticated video game,” said Virk.
“It is entirely possible that our understanding of science might seem impressive to us, but could in reality be extremely minuscule,” Tishchenko said.
Why does it interest us?
Science-fiction and simulation theory
Notably, simulation theory is becoming more and more relevant in scientific theories and discussions as technology advances. Why are humans so drawn to this idea that could threaten the very foundation of their existence?
Salazar and Tishchenko, like many others, were first exposed to simulation theory after watching the 1999 science-fiction movie “The Matrix” for the first time as adolescents. The movie follows the protagonist, Neo, as he is shown the inner workings of the simulation. It is apparent that works like this in the media have played a significant role in increasing this theory’s mainstream exposure.
“It is essentially a question of reality and existence. What do we think we know about ourselves and the universe we dwell within?” said Gabe Salazar, a San Francisco State University philosophy and pre-law major.
“Those movies deeply impacted me, and I would think about them often for the next several years,” said Tishchenko. “The action, the aesthetic, the story 9
and ideas resonated deeply with me because I was just beginning to develop an interest in sci-fi genre creative works.” “What really affected me the most was the pondering of the seductive possibility that maybe ‘The Matrix’ trilogy was a non-fiction documentary this whole time,” Tishchenko said. “The easiest way to talk about simulation theory is to use science fiction references, starting with ‘The Matrix,’” said Virk. He emphasizes how this movie, and others like it, played a pivotal role in creating conversations around the scientific discussion. Virk continued, “2021 has shaped up to the ‘year of simulation movies’ with ‘Bliss’, ‘A Glitch in the Matrix,’ ‘Free Guy’ and ‘The Matrix Resurrections.’” Is a simulated reality possible with today’s technology? With the seemingly exponential advancement of technology, many wonder if a computer powerful enough to create a simulation of significant size exists. “It’s more likely than not that we are some kind of simulation,” said Virk. “The computer it might be running on is much more sophisticated than what we think of as computers today. It would be some kind of quantum computational design.” Those in the field of computer science almost all agree that the computing power and size would be difficult for us to achieve today, even with the current projection of technological progress. “Comparing the process for creating a simulated world inside a video game — for something similar to be behind our reality — would be extremely complex,” said Tishchenko. “Almost beyond comprehension.” The 2021 theoretical paper, “Probability and consequences of living inside a computer simulation” written by Alexandre Bibeau-Delisle and Gilles Brassard, examines the computing 10
power needed to potentially sustain a simulated civilization. “It is technologically much easier to create weapons capable of eradicating entire civilizations in the real world than it is to obtain the computing power needed to simulate them in a virtual world,” the authors found. In effect, researchers suggest it would be easier to simulate the destruction of a society than it would be to create an entirely new one. “Consider how much processing power would be required to constantly render all of the insane levels of details, the interactions between things, every single gust of air on every blade of grass, every crawling bug, and every single cell inside every cat, rat and bat,” said Tishchenko. “If our entire reality was in fact a simulation, it would require technology far beyond what we currently have.” Glitches in the matrix Simulation theory continues to evolve and adapt to society’s mindset. Along with it, comes the theory of false memories or stark contradictions of the world around us. It’s a phenomenon commonly referred to as a “simulation glitch,” in which individuals feel they have experienced a mistake or an unusual occurrence in the world around them. Many who become aware of this theory may report having experienced “glitches” firsthand. “It’s similar to the Mandela Effect, which is the idea that some subset of people remember a different timeline where Nelson Mandela died in the ‘80s in prison,” said Virk. “In our timeline, he died in 2013 after being released from prison.” Although no clear scientific research has been done on glitches, many have formed their own theories on this element of simulation theory. “My explorations led me into the theories of Philip K. Dick (American science-fiction writer) who
Gabe Salazar. Photograph by Garrett Isley.
“If we are simulated beings, are we supposed to be ‘entertaining’ to our makers? Are we meant to do something specific in this existence, and can we ever understand what we genuinely are?” -Gabe Salazar
believed that glitches in the matrix were based on remembering a previous run of the same events,” said Virk. These ideas, however, depend on the individual. “I think an occasional false memory is just a side effect of the insanely complex brain processes we take for granted as we perform them without any conscious effort,” said Tishchenko. Simulated reality or not — would it make a difference? If the world around us is simulated in a computer program, the consequences — or lack thereof — of what we believe to be tangible on Earth rests on whether or not we believe a simulated reality would lessen the validity of our world. This begs the question, would it change anything?
Salazar continued, “If we are simulated beings, are we supposed to be ‘entertaining’ to our makers? Are we meant to do something specific in this existence, and can we ever understand what we genuinely are?” There may not be a current definitive answer to simulated reality, yet that doesn’t stop humans from pondering. “Our brains are always curious,” said Tishchenko. “We keep peeking behind that next curtain — the next ‘What if?’ We should hopefully, one day, not consider it taboo to discuss simulation theory and other metaphysical discussions about the nature of the reality we experience.”
“Everything that is an ‘it’ is actually based on bits of information,” said Virk. “In a simulated reality, it would be made up of zeros and ones.” Theories can vary, and whether or not we’d be able to maintain our awareness of the computer program is unknown. Some believe these simulations can still exist and function on small, everyday scales. “Now, you can literally spend a few hundred dollars on an Oculus Quest VR headset and enter a simulated reality in your living room,” said Tishchenko. Examples of everyday micro-simulations can include social media, video games and more. “Virtual reality technology is outpacing AI, as all around the world we find new ways to manipulate our senses in ways that we can validate much better than a mimicked consciousness,” said Salazar.
Kiana Honarmand. Photograph by Nicolas Cholula.
Kiana Honarmand: An Iranian Woman’s Journey Shown Through Art By Hunter Troy
Kiana Honarmand places a wearable sculpture on her head. The black laser-cut felt covers her eyes, leaving the viewer with only glimpses of her face. “The title for the series is called ‘Wearing My Burden,’” she says. “They are sculptural forms that are made to be worn. When I wear them, they block my view, limit how I can move and at the same time, I can use them as a place to hide.” Honarmand, 33, left her home country of Iran nine years ago to pursue a master’s degree in Fine Arts from Pennsylvania State University.
Since then, she and her husband Pooya, who met as teenagers in Iran, moved to Mountain View, California for job opportunities. Honarmand uses her artwork to represent issues such as Iranian women’s rights, surveillance, censorship and immigration.
She describes Honarmand as a kind, proactive, honest and authentic person.
“‘Wearing My Burden’ is about the different labels and baggage that come with living in this forgotten or rejected Middle Eastern body,” she says. “Being an Iranian woman, growing up in Iran, there are just so many limitations that we have to deal with.”
Turner says that her favorite work of art is when Honarmand recorded herself sewing with a long red piece of thread to mend holes in her shirt.
Unlike women in Iran, Honarmand is no longer required to cover herself, including her hair. Mitra Ara, an associate professor and founding director of the Persian Studies Program in the department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Middle East Studies Program at San Francisco State University, says that by law, Iranian women and young girls are required to cover themselves from “head to toe” when in public. “The current Iranian government began enforcing re-Islamization of the nation, and that included the legal, cultural, physical and occupational gender segregation, along with the eradication of the existing women’s rights,” she says.
“Kiana is able to address some very powerful things that are happening in Iran without victimizing herself,” says Turner.
“The gesture is very sensible,” Turner says. “It makes you feel that she’s almost sewing something inside her. It’s more than just clothes; it’s like she’s sewing her guts or heart.” Honarmand began studying mathematics and physics in high school when she lived in Iran, but she soon realized that her passion lies within art. After enrolling at Penn State, she fell in love with photography. “My approach became more conceptually driven. I started doing sculpture and mixed media,” Honarmand says. “I get my inspiration from everyone around me that I see, other artists from Root Division.”
Ara also states that “the ‘Islamic Republic,’ established in 1979, is the first form of the theocratic government in the millennia-old history of Iran.”
Phi Tran from Oakland, California oversees the design and marketing at Root Division. She describes Honarmand as a selfless and thoughtful person. Tran also loves her sewing performance, describing it as subtle and calming.
“It was basically the reversal of the previous rights, prior to the formation of the current government,” says Ara. “Women in Iran had the freedom to choose their own public attire, choose any field of education and profession, travel without a written permission or chaperon of a male relative and (they) had reproductive rights.”
“Kiana has impacted my work at Root Division more so than any other artist in the program. She often reaches out to offer help in any way she can — basically constantly,” Tran says. “We’re an organization that’s framed to celebrate and validate volunteer work and community connections. She just embodies that so well.”
Angélica Turner, who lives in San Francisco, has known Honarmand since 2019 when they met at a local nonprofit art studio called Root Division. The two became quick friends and continue to inspire one another through their artwork.
Another concept that Honarmand expresses throughout her work is censorship and surveillance in Iran.
“‘Wearing My Burden’ is about the different labels and baggage that come with living in this forgotten or rejected Middle Eastern body,” – Kiana Honarmand
Kiana Honarmand. Photograph by Nicolas Cholula.
“She’s very skilled at making all things beautiful.” – Rachel Fawcett
Kiana Honarmand. Photograph by Nicolas Cholula.
“It’s a weight to carry knowing that you can’t say anything on the phone with your family. I’m sure that must be very heavy in her soul every day,” says Turner. Ara states that security, surveillance and censorship within Iran is “governed and enforced” by the Supreme National Security Council, which is an entity created, funded and administered by the government. “The surveillance and censorship include all forms of communications and media, including film and cinema, social platforms, newspapers, publications, textbooks, individual internet activities, individual personal and public events and so on,” says Ara. Rachel Fawcett from State College, Pennsylvania has known Honarmand since 2014 when they met at Penn State. The two are close friends and visit each other whenever possible. Fawcett describes Honarmand as a kind and loyal person. “She’s consistent. We text literally every day. I don’t have another friend that does that,” she says.
“Right in the beginning of COVID, I started to read a book called, ‘How to do Nothing,’ which has nothing to do with my art concept,” Honarmand says, smiling. “But there was a part where the author wrote that water is an immigrant and that really stuck with me.” One video from her series consists of the pitter-patter of rain as it seeps into the ambient background music, while Honarmand cleanses her hands in a clear glass bowl full of water. “Water, too, is an immigrant,” Honarmand says in the video. “Water witnessed all that has ever come to be before we had civilizations, breakouts, wars, people prospering, suffering, kindness, cruelty and injustices. Yet, it keeps giving life to all in its path.” Honarmand’s newest work revolves around embracing what the new normal is during the pandemic. The pieces, combining images of her eyes along with photos of places she’s traveled to before, are on display at Kearny Street Workshop in San Francisco until November 14th.
Fawcett also says that most people probably don’t know that Honarmand is “the ultimate hostess.” She says that Honarmand makes the most perfectlooking Persian dishes. “We are very different humans in all senses. But we share a love for people and art, which is beautiful,” says Fawcett. “She’s very skilled at making all things beautiful.” When the pandemic started in 2020, Honarmand also began to work on a series of videos that highlighted her viewpoints on immigration.
Christina Lewis. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Deep Down, We’re All Clowns By Saskia Hatvany
On an early Sunday afternoon in a San Francisco warehouse, an unusual scene takes place. A young woman stares at a purse on the floor before gingerly placing her left foot inside of it. Across the room, a middle-aged man walks with his arms outstretched, blinded by the giant stainless-steel cooking pot he is wearing as a hat, while another pushes a wine glass across the hardwood floor with the handle of a feather duster. The entire performance unfolds to the tune of what might best be described as “circus music.” For over 20 years, Christina Lewis has been helping people discover their “inner clown.” Lewis, 60, has been single-handedly running the Clown School of
San Francisco ever since the previous owner, Arina Isaacson, gifted her with the school in the late ‘90s. “(Arina) taught this particular type of clowning where you create a personal clown character based on your own idiosyncrasies and your personality and your walk,” Lewis said. “And then using that character, you create theatrical material drawing from what’s going on psychologically.” Unlike the stereotypical clown, Lewis doesn’t encourage her students to wear makeup, or even to wear elaborate costumes. Instead, it’s all about the red nose, which she likes to call “the smallest mask in the world.” 21
“The mask allows us to unmask ourselves. It’s just enough distance from our pain or our story to be able to express it,” Lewis said. Throughout her courses and workshops, Lewis encourages her students to look within themselves and their lives to find inspiration for their character and performance, even if it means acknowledging trauma and grief. Lewis grew up in what she describes as a serious home. Her father was a philosophy professor and her mother an Austrian World War II survivor. When it was time for her to go to college, she felt a responsibility to choose a conventional intellectual career. But when she enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio, she was drawn to the college’s mime troupe. There, Lewis secretly struggled with an eating disorder. Her first original performance piece was about a girl who would anxiously sneak into the kitchen to raid the cabinets until she was eventually devoured by the refrigerator. “It was funny, everybody was laughing and everything, but the people who knew me knew that I had just exposed my deepest shame. And I found that there was an experience of great healing, being able to take what was secret and hidden and shameful inside and be able to externalize it, and make it into something,” Lewis said. Since then, clowning has been an inextricable part of Lewis’ life. Her wedding invitation photo, which sits on a mantle in her San Francisco home, shows her and her husband striking dramatic poses, both dressed in full clown. Below is a snapshot of her daughter when she was a kid playing violin wearing a hat and a red nose. In her living room, an inconspicuous bench sits atop the trap door that leads down to her storage area, where Lewis keeps a lifetime’s worth of costumes and trinkets that she’s collected over the years — a giant heart-shaped pillow, the tiniest music box and an endless assortment of hats and costumes.
Lewis was inspired by Isaacson’s unique way of teaching clowning and went on to get a master’s in drama therapy and then work as a special education teacher. Over the years, she became more and more interested in finding a way to combine clowning with therapy. She wasn’t the only one who was drawn to Isaacson’s work. Twenty-five years ago, Susan Prindle was going through a divorce from a marriage that had left her feeling repressed, so she signed up for the clown school. What she didn’t expect was for the experience to move her to tears. “It was so emotional for me because I had no idea I could do that,” said Prindle. “I just got totally hooked on it.” Prindle’s clown character is named Rosie. Unlike some clowns, Rosie always wears the same outfit — a vintage red wool overcoat with white trim and bright yellow stockings that peek out from under a blue and white polka-dotted dress. Only Rosie’s hat changes to pair with one of a large collection of different-sized red vintage suitcases. “I definitely feel like (Rosie is) that part of me that deep inside that I am afraid to let out, but as a clown, I get to do it,” said Prindle, who is now in her 70s. “As I get older, I’m thinking, ‘Screw it. I’m just going to be who I am, and I am very playful and silly.’” All of Prindle’s performances have been inspired by an element of her life, whether it be tragically trying to put the severed limbs of her childhood doll back together or lamenting the pollution in her Portland neighborhood by packing one of her red suitcases with trash and angrily pretending to shoot it with a rifle. “It’s often very touching,” said Lewis. “I really believe that clowning is not necessarily just about being funny. The clown also really touches the tragic element of life. Tragedy and comedy meet at that point in the middle, and the clown is a beautiful opportunity to expose and access that point.”
Christina Lewis. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Christina Lewis’ student. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Rachel Milner. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Every year, Lewis leads a five-month workshop that culminates in a group performance. The two most recent performances, respectively titled “Clowndemic” and “Clown Immunity,” were forced onto Zoom after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But Lewis has embraced the medium as a cinematic element of the performances. In chaotic synchronicity, clowns of all stripes weave in and out of rectangular boxes, pop their heads through doorways and peer inquisitively into the camera.
Now, Milner works with Prescott Circus Theatre in Oakland, a nonprofit organization that serves schools in underserved communities in the Bay Area. The organization is one of many using clowning as a means for social activism. Hospital clowning has long been a fixture of children’s hospitals and retirement homes, and the nonprofit organization Clowns Without Borders has sought to use clowning as a means to bring joy to children in war-torn countries.
David Heartlife, who began taking Lewis’ workshops during the lockdown, said that he started to explore different forms of therapy in order to address inner anger and traumatic events that he experienced as a teenager. He often experiences moments of deep sorrow when performing as a clown.
Moshe Cohen, who works with Clowns Without Borders and the Medical Clown Project, a hospital clowning organization, believes that clowning provides a unique means to make a strong connection with people because it removes them from the rational world.
“The deep sadness is something that I don’t show a lot, or also don’t always have access to, and I would say this is probably the biggest reason why I do this, to really keep access to my feelings,” said Heartlife.
“If you’re not using words, then people have to use other senses to interpret what you’re doing, and so the relationship in the best of circumstances between you and that audience is going to be one of a broader human connection,” said Cohen. “People only laugh when they feel connected.”
Unlike many of Lewis’ regular students, Rachel Milner moved to San Francisco in the hopes of becoming a professional clown. But when she got there, she suffered an unexpected breakup. “I felt like a joke, like I moved out to San Francisco to go to clown school, left my family and community behind and then got my heart broken. I was like, ‘Damn, this is so ironic,’” said Milner. Milner studied at the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco, where people train to become professional clowns. During her yearlong course, she developed her character using the somatic clown method, a process by which people identify their characters through exploring their own idiosyncrasies and quirks, and the process was unexpectedly emotional. “Part of my clown journey really let me explore gender in a way I really didn’t have permission to before, without me even really knowing it. Because the clown provided this really gender-neutral palette,” Milner said. “I would never allow myself to play in drag, but this clown could just do that.”
Cohen got into clowning when he quit his job at the San Francisco Stock Exchange at the age of 27, packed his suitcase with some juggling equipment and flew to France. While visiting friends in Annecy, an Alpine town not too far from Switzerland, a few friends convinced him to try a street performance in town. “I was not a very good juggler. I had no performance experience. But I had fun,” said Cohen. That fun was what led him to pursue his career in clowning. Still, after a long successful career, he said that he often feels misjudged when he tells people what he does for a living. Cohen even set up a google alert for the word “clown,” which he said mostly comes up with references to the 1980s rap group Insane Clown Posse, sports articles that use the word as an insult and evil clowns, but said he rarely ever gets an alert for theater performances. 25
He believes that the commercialization and lack of cultural preservation of the craft have led to an overall lack of understanding and respect for clowning, particularly in the United States, where the cliché American clown character is often portrayed as white-faced, ghastly and evil in most clown-themed Hollywood movies made after the 1980s. But this caricature is a far cry from the nuanced performances of Emmett Kelly in the 1930s, who helped popularize clowning through his character “Weary Willy,” based on the hobos of the Great Depression. The clowns of the early 20th century United States were the epitome of entertainment and performance art, and yet, in the 21st century, they have almost become synonymous with horror. But the worldwide clown scene is far more nuanced than the stereotype lets on. From those who are using the craft as a means of self-exploration to those who simply want to bring joy to others through a meaningful art form, clowning is a highly personal endeavor. Lewis believes that she is part of a growing movement of people who are discovering clowning as a means for personal growth, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
Rachel Milner. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Moshe Cohen. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Moshe Cohen. Photograph by Saskia Hatvany.
Alexiz Romero. Photograph by Cameron Lee.
Overcoming Mental Health in Latinx and Hispanic Households By Gia Opsahl Nina Nazario, 23, struggles with discussing her post-traumatic stress disorder with her father. She feels it’s harder for older generations in Hispanic culture to share comfort surrounding mental health. Suffering in silence has been known as a way to cope in Latinx and Hispanic communities for generations. According to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), mental health issues are rising in Latinx and Hispanic communities for people between the ages of 12 and 49. SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that works to reduce the impact of substance abuse as well as mental illness. “There’s just so much shared trauma that older generations from Hispanic families have gone through that is not spoken about,” Nazario said. She explained that it wasn’t until she was officially diagnosed that she felt her father could finally grasp that she was struggling with PTSD.
Nazario understood that this developed from her father’s own trauma, her grandfather’s trauma and possibly her great grandfather’s trauma, all of which was never brought to light within their family. “I think it also stems from times in his life where he didn’t have anyone to turn to, so it just became normal for him to look forward and move on,” she added. Not only is generational trauma a large aspect of stigmas surrounding mental health in Latinx and Hispanic communities, but generational age gaps are as well. Alexiz Romero, 22, realized they are not alone in this process. They explained that the huge generational gap between them and their 59-year-old mother affects her understanding of Romero’s depression. “With her being born and raised in Mexico and me being born and raised here in the U.S., being a Chicano compared to a Mexicano is a very different experience,” Romero said. “It’s a very different way of learning and growing.”
Romero also mentioned how the role of machismo, which is strong or aggressive masculine pride, plays into mental health and how prevalent it is in Mexican culture. They said that not only is machismo heavily rooted in gender roles, but it’s also a mindset that contributes to men needing to “act like men” and not show any emotion. “It’s really hurtful to have to live up to that because we’re humans, we have emotions,” they added. Dealing with this stigma growing up took a toll on Romero. “I was very emotional, I cried a lot,” they said. This was looked down upon by their mother and classmates. Romero believes that the large stigma in machismo culture can make mental illness be seen as a joke or exaggerated.
Along with Duncan-Andrade, Nazario believes that the use of religion in Latinx communities does a lot for people’s mental health. However, she feels like it can come with some challenges as well. In a Rutgers University-New Brunswick study, it was found that religious beliefs may discourage many Latinx people in the U.S. from seeking treatment for mental health disorders. “When you come from a family like that, it’s even harder for them to understand that you’re going through your own thing and praying can’t really help,” Nazario said. Latinx and Hispanic people are more likely to seek help for a mental disorder from a primary care provider rather than a mental health specialist, according to a 2017 study by Mental Health America.
Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Latino/a and Race and Resistance Studies professor at San Francisco State University, believes that society has eroded the infrastructure for mental health services.
This is due to the lack of access to health care and mental health care for minorities in America, as well as the racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care, as is shown in an article published by Health Affairs. The article states that not only are “The schools that serve our Latinx children have minority patients more likely to receive poor taken away counseling, they’ve taken away art and quality care when treated but that they are also music, they’ve taken away things that are therapeutic less likely to receive the best available treatments to mental health,” he said. for depression and anxiety. According to a Salud America! research review, 22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms. Duncan-Andrade explained that the places young people used to get institutional support for their mental health are now gone. He also stressed the aspect of religion and the safe space it gives to Latinx and Hispanic communities, mentioning that it provides a consistent social space and structure. “Prayer is, to some degree, a form of meditation,” Duncan-Andrade said. Nazario agreed, adding that her aunt’s devotion to her religion is what she credits when it comes to her well-being and peace of mind. 30
Romero, who grew up in Oxford, California, a predominantly Mexican town, experienced the hardships of health discrimination first hand. According to Romero, minorities aren’t able to get the help they need or even recognize what mental health issues they may need help with in the first place. “If you have Medicaid, you’re not given good treatment at all. It was really hard,” they said. In another study done by Mental Health America, it was stated that there is a perception in Latinx and Hispanic communities that discussing mental health can create shame for the family. This can also result in fewer people seeking treatment.
“Machismo culture can make mental illness be seen as a joke or exaggerated.” -Alexiz Romero
Alexiz Romero. Photograph by Cameron Lee.
Oscar Jimenez, 29, deeply resonates with the struggle of feeling embarrassed within his family. He expressed that growing up, it was common for things to be swept under the rug. It wasn’t until Jimenez’s mid-20s that he confronted his childhood trauma and began to speak openly about it. Jimenez’s mental health was depleting and he faced severe depression, so he made the decision to see a therapist for the first time. “I still haven’t mustered up the courage to tell my family or my parents that I’m going to a therapist, because I do still feel that stigma that they’re gonna judge me,” he said. Jimenez added that although he knows seeing a therapist benefits his life, he still feels that it’s something he can’t talk about with his family. “I feel like when we can discuss those things and acknowledge what’s happened to us, we can break the cycle and start something new,” Jimenez said.
From Female to Male, and Back Again By Cash Martinez
For five years, Alia Ismail identified as a transgender man — until one day, they didn’t. At the start of 2021, Ismail, now 26, began “detransitioning” — in simple terms, the process of reverting from a transgender identity back to the gender identity an individual was assigned at birth. For them, the decision to do so was deeply personal, just as much as their first transition. However, Ismail says, neither journey came without careful consideration and research. “Every decision I made, I did it with my happiness first,” they say. Ismail says that they still struggle to understand their gender identity. Ultimately, they say, putting a label on it doesn’t matter, as long as they feel like themselves. “I just feel like a human,” they say. “That’s still a label and identity in itself, too, but we can only get so far from it.”
Detransitioning typically involves reverting changes caused by hormone therapy, surgery and social transition. The process can be long, frustrating and often just as difficult as transitioning in the first place. A study conducted this year found that among 237 detransitioners, 70% realized their gender dysphoria was related to other issues, thus inspiring their detransition. The same study also reported health concerns, social pressures, financial concerns and a change in political views as other reasons. Ismail, who also goes by Issa online, is a social media influencer and YouTuber. They shared their initial journey of transitioning from female to male with their audience in 2018, eventually documenting the process in a film titled “A Year in Transition.” Since the start of 2021, they have publicly shared their experience detransitioning with an audience of over 6,000 followers on Instagram and two thousand subscribers on YouTube. On their TikTok, Ismail discusses issues of self-esteem, gender identity 35
and self-acceptance with their followers, considering the platform to be their “little diary.” At 16 years old, Ismail had come out as gay. Shortly after, they began to feel more comfortable expressing their masculine side. In retrospect, they say, it was more likely a desire to fit in with binary gender roles than anything else.
“It’s just a very personal experience that is overly generalized into, ‘Everyone will feel this way.’” -Una Chang “The relationships around me — it was always a masculine person and a feminine person, a man and a woman,” they say. “When I found myself drawn to very feminine people, I started to take on the masculine role, in a sense.” Throughout high school, exploring their queer identity further, Ismail found common ground within online LGBTQ communities on platforms like Tumblr.
Una Chang, 20, a sophomore at San Francisco State University, views these videos as potentially dangerous for the wellbeing and safety of the transgender community. “I understand people talking about their personal experience, but doing so in a way that’s so public and cautionary, it feels like fear-mongering. It creates a lot of anxiety and self-doubt,” he says. “It’s just a very personal experience that is overly generalized into, ‘Everyone will feel this way.’” In September 2020, Chang was prescribed testosterone for hormone replacement therapy and received top surgery less than a year later in July 2021. For him, the road to receiving genderaffirming healthcare was long, tedious and littered with roadblocks. “People change, obviously. But it confuses me, for how many hurdles you have to go through to medically transition to then realize, ‘Oh, I guess this is not what feels right for me,” he says. While Chang recognizes the importance of people sharing their experiences, he says that these stories are co-opted into anti-trans rhetoric, like that of author Abigail Shrier, whose book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” dominated mainstream LGBTQ discourse in 2020.
These days, on Youtube, TikTok and Instagram, detransition stories abound.
In her book, Shrier writes about the existence of gender dysphoria, particularly in those assigned female at birth, as being a temporary fix for other mental issues, including eating disorders, depression and anxiety. Additionally, she argued that transgender influencers, like Ty Turner and Sam Collins, encourage young girls to pursue hormone therapy, disown or snub their families and lie to receive gender-affirming surgeries.
One video, titled “I’m Detransitioning: My struggle with Gender and Self Acceptance,” by creator Graysons Projects, clocks in at 1.2 million views. Another, “Detransition: My story, and what I wish I knew,” has racked up 1.5 million views in a few months alone.
The book was hailed by a number of conservative commentators and journalists, including Ben Shapiro and Madeleine Kearns, as a defense for Christian family morals. On the political Left, the book was denounced by LGBTQ advocates as pushing transphobic and anti-science rhetoric.
“I think I was just connecting with a community and trying to find myself,” Ismail says. “That was all I had to base my thoughts and ideas off of — who I was and my identity.”
Alia Ismail. Photograph courtesy of the source.
Alia Ismail. Photograph courtesy of the source.
“Those stories tend to really affect the way that cis people view (transgender people),” Chang says. “It’s frustrating to have (cisgender people) constantly talk about trans issues when (they’re) not really part of the community anymore. It takes away the voices of a lot of trans people who aren’t heard as much.” For some, such as Carolina Osoria, 21, the prevalence of these narratives can lead to people delaying aspects of their transition out of fear, anxiety or concern. “I’ve heard about individuals (in the LGBTQ community) who transitioned and regretted their transitions,” she says. “I was very hesitant. It’s a huge commitment.” Still, Osoria says, the desire to be her true self ultimately overpowered her fears. Months later, she says there’s very little she would change about her transition. For Ismail, the stigma around detransitioning — on both sides of the discussion — initially made it difficult for them to open up about their life on social media. Despite the negative feelings and depression they experienced during their initial transition, Ismail still views the experience as a positive one. They note that this deviates from what a lot of people perceive detransitioning to be like. “Of course you can always say, ‘Ugh, I wish I didn’t do that,’” Ismail says. “There are certain things we have to go through in order to learn a lesson, evolve more or become a better person.” Through their work on social media, Ismail hopes to advocate for more awareness and visibility of detransitioners, as well as the diversity that exists within the community. They want to show that no matter what, people can love who they are — transgender, cisgender or anywhere else on the spectrum.
“There are certain things we have to go through in order to learn a lesson, evolve more or become a better person.” -Alia Ismail
The Dreamer’s Path By Fernando Pacheco The sun illuminated the pavement of Sproul Plaza at the University of California, Berkeley, where the columns would raise students’ eyes to the sky. The Latin phrase fiat lux, meaning “let there be light,” resting at the top of Sather Gate was the only star in sight. Luis de Paz Fernandez could see himself there, within the university tour guide’s story that detailed the life of a busy student being greeted by the slap of the sun on their dilated eyes after exiting an hourlong class inside a dimly lit lecture hall. “Oh yeah, I’m going to apply here,” Fernandez said. At the age of 22 in 2012, Fernandez applied to be a DACA recipient and became a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, which grants permission to live and work in the United States for a two-year period. Recipients can renew this with an update of their civil standing and progress for $495. The desire for a future resonates with all “Dreamers,” yet the journey towards stability seems impossible 40
due to the expectations and restrictions put on Dreamers via conditional residency, work permits and frequent renewal dates. The term Dreamer is derived from the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act. The Act is meant to grant temporary conditional residency and work authorization for young immigrants and, if qualifications are satisfied, permanent residency. The Act has been introduced various times in Congress since 2001. Although the term Dreamers has advanced into everyday vernacular, the Act has not been passed into law. “I started a family, was married and had my daughter, but it was stressful when my DACA was about to expire,” Fernandez said. “Do I keep working? What’s going to happen? Sometimes it takes forever to renew. Then you start realizing that you’re building something but the foundation is very shaky, because any second that can be taken away.”
Luis De Paz Fernandez. Photograph courtesy of the source.
Luis De Paz Fernandez. Photograph by Morgan Ellis.
“You start realizing that you’re building something but the foundation is very shaky, because any second that can be taken away.” –Luis de Paz Fernandez
The DREAM Act and DACA are both intended for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old and were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012. It doesn’t ensure that a recipient’s parents, nor other immigrants who arrived at a later age, will be granted conditional residency. Jairo “Vanni” Castillo, a 27-year-old San Francisco State alumnus, was hesitant to apply nine years ago when DACA was first approved. “We were sharing such delicate information such as your full name and address. We went from this place of being unknown to being known,” Castillo said. Castillo applied, feeling unsure but hoping DACA’s proposal would be accomplished. If so, there’d be an expansion of employment options with a greater increase. “I already knew I was undocumented and the opportunities to find a job were going to be more limited,” Castillo said.
“You are leaving everything behind just to try.”
Castillo did not want trouble, nor could he afford to risk getting fired from his primary job. Similar to Castillo’s feelings of restriction, Fernandez grew up feeling a level of limitation. Most of his behavior derived from his experience as an immigrant. During Fernandez’s time in K-12, he noticed how students who “misbehaved” wouldn’t be taken seriously and their commitment to their education would be questioned. “I was afraid that if I got in trouble I’d get deported or would bring attention to my family,” Fernandez said. As a result of the restriction, Castillo questioned if he had assimilated himself to match his coworkers. He’d mirror others’ mannerisms, speak English with certainty, except he wouldn’t talk politics nor debate other’s beliefs. Castillo focused on getting through work by keeping himself sheltered beneath his skin. Safeway just wasn’t his safe place. “You are leaving everything behind just to try. You don’t even get a guarantee that you’re going to be accepted by this group of people,” he said. “You’re risking a lot for nothing.”
Castillo is not convinced he assimilated. He believes to assimilate is to resign from one’s cultural roots, –Jairo “Vanni” Castillo leaving behind one’s origin language, like trying to pull out a root embedded deep within the soil. DACA offers an expansion of job opportunities by providing a work permit through a conditional “We don’t exist other than just as a number to make social security number that an employer can verify. a profit. We don’t exist as humans that make this country better, for our creativity and the work that Castillo says the benefits of DACA are a privilege we do,” Castillo said. “They want our culture, but that many other undocumented people aren’t they don’t want our people.” typically granted. Fernandez is now the executive assistant to SF State In 2017, Castillo was working at a Safeway grocery President Lynn Mahoney. He was previously the store. Red hats and “Make America Great Again” coordinator for the Dream Resource Center. He shirts would often make an appearance and create didn’t apply to Berkeley but is considering the UC animosity between co-workers who would express as a potential for a doctorate. Instead, The Skyline personal and political beliefs. Community College alumnus completed his bachelor’s and master’s at SF State. 42
“They want our culture, but they don’t want our people.” –Jairo “Vanni” Castillo
Jairo “Vanni” Castillo. Photograph courtesy of the source.
Jairo “Vanni” Castillo. Photograph courtesy of the source.
The Campaign for College Opportunity reported that over 64,000 undocumented students are currently enrolled in a California Community College, California State University and University of California systems. The same report found that one out of five undocumented adults ages 25 and older attended college, 10% of which earned a bachelor’s, master’s or professional degree. Sharet Garcia became a DACA Recipient in 2017 after being told she did not qualify for DACA in earlier years. She had been paying for school entirely out of pocket up until that point.
Sharet Garcia. Photograph courtesy of the source.
“It’s a feeling of excitement when at least one door opens to you within the DACA program, but then you come back and realize that door can close any day,” Garcia said. Garcia was facing a difficult time in school. On top of being a full-time student, she was also working a full-time job. At school, she was constantly advocating for herself and explaining her livelihood to professors. Two years before becoming a DACA recipient, Garcia felt overworked. She questioned whether or not she’d been wasting her time pursuing her education. At the time, she wasn’t seeing any progress in her citizenship status. She debated going back to Mexico until she met with an immigration lawyer, one who could not change her status but made her feel understood. “She reminded me by saying, ‘I know you’re frustrated and this is upsetting, but you have worked very hard to be where you are right now. I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you that you wouldn’t want all that to go to waste,’” Garcia said.
Sharet Garcia. Photograph courtesy of the source.
She left the immigration office knowing her lawyer was right. She exercised patience and started to advocate for herself at school and work and eventually graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles County.
Through DACA, Garcia was able to find jobs more suitable to her liking, but a feeling of disconnection from her community was amplified once she entered the professional field.
For some undocumented individuals, they’ve stopped waiting within the uncertainty of citizenship and started creating their own path to a stable future.
In 2019, Garcia founded The Undocuprofessional Network, a network aimed to provide new levels of employment and educational opportunities for the undocumented community.
Castillo explains that the path to citizenship would grant people the opportunity to reconnect with their families — a desire craved by people who can travel out of the U.S. but don’t have a secure return route.
Even though Garcia was experiencing doubt, she still wanted to create a platform to provide support for thousands of undocumented individuals. According to Migration Policy Institute, approximately 45,000 undocumented people reside in San Francisco County and an estimated 951,000 in Los Angeles County, with an approximate total of 2,739,000 in California. The Undocuprofessionals Network provides a mentorship program that connects undocumented mentees with undocumented professionals. The network has a mixed-status community, meaning there are people who are DACA recipients, TPS holders, undocumented or in the process of adjusting their citizenship status.
“A lot of them are entrepreneurs in different fields.”
He reminisces about family members that have passed away, of funerals he wasn’t able to attend and of goodbyes he’s given over the phone. “It’s for the nostalgia, being able to stop remembering and actually going back to relive the experience, after, who knows, 20-30 years of not being able to go back to their place,” Castillo said. For some people, “going back” means reconnecting with family in a way an international call can’t. “I think it’s the fact that people want to see their families again, especially since a lot of them have passed away,” Castillo said. “And not being able to say goodbye physically, has become one of the biggest challenges for the undocumented community.”
“There are actually a lot (of people) in the community that are completely undocumented, no DACA, and are professionals. A lot of them are entrepreneurs in different fields,” Garcia said. According to the 2020 State of Latino Entrepreneurship Report, there has been a 34% increase of Latinx-owned businesses in the span of the past 10 years. 45
Marianna Lira. Photograph by Cameron Lee.
Closeted: Coming Out in the Modern Age By Nicole Gonzales and Cash Martinez
Embracing your sexual and gender identity can come with a whirlwind of emotions for those who are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Fear, anxiety, guilt and relief are among the most common feelings when it comes time to share your identities with the people around you. Queer people today have recognized “coming out” as a unique experience, not uniform to one standard. Members of the community make one thing clear: people aren’t born into a closet — they are placed in one by the societal expectations around them. “Coming out is really not made for the gay person in mind, it’s more for the straight person’s comfortability,” said Gordy Nipper, a San Francisco State University student. “Straight people don’t come out of the closet, why should gay people have to come out?” The term “the closet” may trigger a wide variety of emotional and mental responses for those who align
with LGBTQ+ labels. Nipper explains how being placed into this space resulted in negative feelings around his own identity. “I felt hidden (and) ashamed thinking about how nervous and literally mortified I was to come out to my parents,” said Nipper. He recalls seeing his heterosexual counterparts simply being able to exist and engage in romantic relationships with ease without having to grapple with some form of their identity. “Meanwhile, I had this entire life-eating guilt and shame,” said Nipper. “It adds a lot of pressure that does not need to be there.” For some members of the LGBTQ+ community, coming out can feel more like an endless experience rather than an isolated event. They feel as though coming out is continuous when placed in new environments, whether for work, school or clubs.
“The idea (of the closet) isn’t accurate because you don’t just come out once, you come out over and over and over again,” said SF State student Ryann Haskins. “It’s not just a one-time situation, it’s continuous and infinite.” Officially coming out, however, does not always validate someone and their identity. “I already knew and that’s all that mattered to me,” said Haskins. “I don’t think telling other people made it more real.” Haskins recalls coming out to their parents in high school, who took it very well. “It was very casual because that’s how (my parents) made it seem,” said Haskins. “They had always given me the space to be whoever or whatever I wanted.” After moving to San Francisco, Haskins said they felt like they had the ability to be more openly expressive with their sexuality and gender. “There’s a lot more queerness and a lot more openness in my life,” said Haskins. “(In my hometown) there wasn’t an option to center queerness.” SF State’s Associated Students President Joshua Ochoa felt similarly after moving from his less progressive hometown. “Safety was an issue if I did come out publicly,” said Ochoa. “I feel much safer mentally and emotionally here in San Francisco because there are people here that I know will support me regardless of what I identify as.” Ochoa recalls having difficult feelings around coming out to his mother and brother in high school. He waited several years to come out after initially realizing he was part of the queer community. “That was hard. I know that (my mother and brother) were very supportive and loving but it’s never easy telling anyone,” said Ochoa. “I wasn’t mentally ready 48
for the release of all that stress and anxiety and angst.” 2010 qualitative study titled “Family Acceptance A in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults” assessed the significance of having a welcoming environment to come out in. Researchers examined family behaviors in relation to their child’s sexual orientation. They found that how people around you react to you coming out can oftentimes be an indicator of how you feel later in life towards your own sexuality and gender. “Family acceptance predicts greater self-esteem, social support, and general health status,” researchers concluded. “It also protects against depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.” Having a positive coming out experience has been shown to provide positive impacts in all parts of life. Nipper vividly remembers the night he came out to his eighth-grade best friend. “I was literally sobbing because they were like, ‘You are so loved. You are so valued.’ It went super well.” Societal pressures can also impact an individual’s queer experience, whether they may feel pressured to come out or are allowed to explore other identities. “I never felt like I had to come out to my parents,” said Marianna Lira. Lira works as the director of the SF State Queer and Trans Resource Center. The office provides programs and support for the university’s LGBTQ+ students. Lira explains how defying traditional societal expectations of gender allowed them to become more comfortable with their identity. “Gender does not really exist, it’s all a performance,” said Lira. “I don’t want something that’s just a performance to dictate my life.” Experimenting with pronoun usage was an outlet that Lira explored.
“You don’t just come out once, you come out over and over and over again.” –Ryann Haskins
Marianna Lira. Photograph by Cameron Lee.
Marianna Lira. Photograph by Cameron Lee.
“I started using she/they pronouns at first, and then I got really comfortable with ‘they’,” said Lira. “I actually started preferring when people would use that for me so then I fully changed (my pronouns).” Publicly coming out with your sexuality, gender, or pronouns does not always guarantee labels and identities will be respected. “It hurts so much more if I did tell them and they were still misgendering me,” said Lira. Notably, societal expectations to come out have changed over time. With the increase in representation as well as the presence of social media, it’s easier for queer folks to find each other and form a community. “(There are) platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, where people can see each other,” said Nipper. “You can meet so many people who are so similar to you.” Like Nipper, Lira recalls embracing societal setbacks with their community and working to form a welcoming and accepting culture. “A lot of the people who come into my office are 18, 17 sometimes, and they’re scared,” said Lira. “A lot of them are like, ‘My family is not going to accept me,’ especially queer and trans people of color. I will tell them, you’re about to meet a whole other family [that will be] everything you would ever want. The best thing about being queer is having chosen family.”
By Teo Mata
The Smoke and Mirrors of Cigarettes
Dressed in an all-black vintage Givenchy satin dress, Audrey Hepburn holds a drink in one hand, and in the other, she has a cigarette holder that looks like an extension of her body near her shiny necklace. She dances the night away with a man dressed in a red silk ascot neckpiece, white dress shirt and a fitted blazer. Occasionally, she puffs at her cigarette, sending a cloud into the air, filling the room with smoke. “Glamorous” is how David Jimenez, a 24-year-old San Francisco State University alumnus, described this scene from Blake Edwards’ 1961 film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” He said that Hepburn’s cigarette holder acted as another accessory to accompany her dress and jewels. “It’s not so much about her smoking, it’s more about the way she was holding it and how cool she looked. It was all about the fashion and its use as an accessory in the movie,” Jiminez said. “It was perfect for that outfit.” For decades, fashion models, actors, teenagers and more smoked for effect. Nicotine is part of the reason why, but the other is how smoking makes someone look. Whether it’s Audrey Hepburn’s classic sleek cigarette holder or Clint Eastwood’s rugged and shredded cigar, they evoke an aesthetic for each user — power and playfulness, sophistication and sloth. Smoking, both historically and at a young age, is often seen as a social activity to look cool and to fit in. Over time, societal perceptions of smoking have changed and, as people get older, it has become a force of habit that people come to regret as the illusion they once had worn off.
For Jimenez, smoking has provided him a sense of identity — a feeling of glamour. He feels like a movie character out of the ‘50s when he smokes and dresses his best. It makes him feel high class and part of his favorite era; he is heavily inspired by the looks of that time. A 2003 study by the University of Western Australia examined the connection between films from the ‘90s and teenagers’ perceptions of cigarettes used in films. The characters smoking in the films were perceived as normal, which allowed teens to ignore the consequences of smoking. They compared smoking to other socially acceptable acts, like drinking tea or having a cup of coffee. The study states, “The acceptability (of smoking) as part of a ‘cool’ image was also noted. Positive images of smoking in the media have the potential to downplay the serious health consequences of smoking by portraying it in a way that young people interpret as a normal part of everyday life.” Sixty-year-old Bay Area resident Maria Nocete remembers growing up in the ‘60s when smoking was socially accepted. The sophistication of models smoking in films and ads led Nocete and her friends to start smoking cigarettes at the age of 14. She said the ads during her youth targeted younger generations. Cigarette advertisements showing actual smoke were banned in 1971, when Nocete was 10 years old. She still remembers the Newport cigarette billboard ads. She said the ads made her want to smoke with her friends and it made her think of the positive slogans that were accompanied by the graphics.
“It’s fun and it’s high fashion. And so I think the irony there is really powerful. They just are a cool prop to have around.” –Rebecca Grace
Nocete also mentioned how cigarettes during her time were used as a way to fit in as well as an easier way to make friends when joining someone for a smoke. But as she got older, smoking was no longer for social purposes and instead became a habit. “I found myself smoking more than usual. When I was 25 I started smoking every day,” she said. The invention of e-cigarettes has opened smoking up to a younger demographic. A 2018 study by McGill University found that 42% of American youth in high school have tried an e-cigarette at least once. This product targets youth by incorporating different colors and flavors. Its form resembles a USB port and only needs a cartridge and battery to use. Much like the traditional cigarette, this form has already become socially acceptable. Rebecca Grace, a 19-year-old e-cigarette user from San Francisco, remembers being highly influenced by the 1978 film “Grease” and high-end fashion houses to smoke. She remembers the Moschino capsule collection from the Fall 2016 collection. She found it clever how the brand was able to use cigarettes as an accessory again without actually showing anyone smoking.
The cigarette pose that dominated early magazine covers often comprised the image of a young woman or man holding a cigarette and looking in the opposite direction. The cigarette is placed in the hand of the model posing with a cloud of smoke. This imagery has stayed in Grace’s mind. She started by smoking cigarettes with friends and has now shifted to e-cigarettes. She also carries her pink e-cigarette as an accessory. “It’s fun and it’s high fashion. And so I think the irony there is really powerful. They just are a cool prop to have around. Almost like, ‘Hey I smoke too, what’s up?’” Grace said.
David Jimenez. Photograph by Amaya Edwards.
Rebecca Grace. Photograph by Amaya Edwards.
Emma Weissensee, a 20-year-old psychology major at SF State, explained how social smoking can make someone feel part of a group. She added that humans are social creatures who naturally want to fit in and be accepted, making them easily influenced by the social activities others do. “It plays like you are part of the in-group. Smoking can make them feel ‘cool’ in social settings. Then, the addiction makes them smoke alone and makes it difficult to quit,” said Weissensee. Weissensee also mentioned that smoking ads purposely target the youth. According to Healthychildren.org, tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year to promote their products. Research shows that these efforts strongly influence teens and children. The fashion industry is starting to realize the influence it has on popular culture; the cigarette has been pulled away during ads and photoshoots according to Altorrin Mcintyre, a stylist based in New York City. Mcintyre said the fashion industry has tried to move away from the cigarette as an accessory. He mentioned how cigarettes add on to a model’s character during a shoot but that he has never come across a mood board that mentions the use of a cigarette as a prop. “If the theme of the look is classic, then I would consider the use of the cigarette as a prop. But the industry has moved away from it and does not want to promote the use of cigarettes like before,” said Mcintyre. “But the reality is, it’s not considered chic like before. The idea of it being glamorous is left behind.”
“The reality is, it’s not considered chic like before. The idea of it being glamorous is left behind.” –Altorrin Mcintyre
Jurnee Hernandez. Photograph by Amaya Edwards.
Living in a Filtered Reality By Mariana Garrick
Plump glossy lips, a perfectly-contoured button nose, defined cheekbones and wrinkle-free skin are features that are easily attainable in just a few swipes thanks to the filters that have made their way to Instagram, Snapchat and other popular social media apps. Though appearance-altering filters have the possibility to make people “look better” temporarily, they also have the potential of making people feel worse. By altering the way people look through a filter, the issue that appearance-altering filters cause has been coined by experts as “selfie dysmorphia.” Before social media, constant comparison was derived from seeing retouched models on magazine covers. Now, seeing heavily-edited and filtered Instagram models, as well as the appearance-altering filters we use on our own images, is a newfound source of insecurity. In a recent survey conducted by Consumer Reports, 59% of Americans find beauty filters “troubling.”
“I’d say that filters aren’t the best for boosting confidence,” explains 22-year-old Gabriella Silva. “Yeah, you look good when you put them on. But as soon as you take it off, you feel a little insecure about the way that you look.” When filters first rose to popularity, they were known to only change the colors of photos. Instagram’s 2012 look was filled with the signature sepia tone filter for a vintage feel while Snapchat’s “fun” filters changed users’ faces into various types of animals. Appearance-altering filters first became popular and widely used in 2012 when Silva was in middle school. Not only was she excited for the more playful filters, but she was thrilled to see that some filters added makeup, brighter eyes and long eyelashes. The more she used these filters, the more Silva realized that she could not hide behind them in real life — there’s a real-world outside of filters. 59
As an Instagram and Snapchat user, Silva feels as if some of the filters on both apps push specific beauty standards. “I feel like the filters are made so that they specifically make us look the way that society wants us to look in the moment, as far as whatever’s trending or how people are doing their makeup at the time or even nose sizes,” says Silva. “I think that’s why it lowers our confidence when we take them off.” Twenty-year-old Kaelen Tabasa agrees that appearance-altering filters can be harmful if used too much. In connection to Silva’s statement, Tabasa thinks that some of the filters enforce specific appearances as trends. Recently, the fox-eye makeup trend has made headlines not only for its ever-growing popularity in the social media makeup world, but for its appropriation of Asian features. In order to replicate Asian features, eyeshadow or eyeliner is used to create a sharper and slanted eye versus a wider eye. Certain filters featured on Instagram and Snapchat have been slammed for cultural appropriation, while other filters have the tendency to push Eurocentric beauty standards.
When appearance-altering filters became popular on Instagram, 18-year-old Jurnee Hernandez realized at first glance that she looked nothing like how filters made her look. Not only did it make her lips appear much bigger than they actually were, but it also made her skin lighter. With the lightening of the skin and changing the color of people’s natural eyes, Hernandez realized some filters were pushing the Eurocentric beauty standard and “trendy” features. “I just feel like it made me look fake,” Hernandez says. “More like a Barbie doll or something rather than my actual self. The filters alter your whole face and it makes you look extra light. In a way, that’s problematic.” Hernandez explains that others can be sensitive to the dramatic change that filters do to their outward appearance. She wishes that there were filters that fit everyone’s unique face rather than attempting to convert their face into someone else’s. Tabasa expresses that depending on filters isn’t the best thing to do. At one point, she claimed that she used filters too much and eventually lost her perception of herself.
“When I look at my Snapchat memories, I don’t know what I really looked like when I was a freshman or sophomore (in high school) because I only used filters.” – Kaelen Tabasa “I think it’s pretty harmful,” Tabasa says. “I feel like it makes different appearances a trend, like with the fox eyes or making your lips bigger. A lot of times it kind of further emphasizes features into ethnic features. I feel like they’re more catered to more Eurocentric people. A lot of people don’t look like that on a normal basis. I just don’t think it’s very good for our self-confidence.” 60
“When I look at my Snapchat memories, I don’t know what I really looked like when I was a freshman or sophomore (in high school) because I only used filters,” Tabasa says. “I think that using filters too much made me completely unaware. I just had to get used to myself and really think, ‘Oh, this is how I look.’ And realize that it’s okay. I’m never gonna look like those filters.”
Gabriella Silva. Photograph by Amaya Edwards.
Jurnee Hernandez. Photograph by Amaya Edwards.
“There’s only so much authenticity that can be on those platforms because you’re showing snapshots of your life.” -Lindsay Walden
After her realization, Tabasa made a change on her social media accounts and began to use lightlyfiltered or barely-edited photos. The only type of filters she uses now are the ones that smooth her skin. In her experience, she’s become more comfortable and confident with herself. Tabasa believes her confidence level has also helped her younger sisters. As their role model, she wants them to feel comfortable in their own skin, too. Though her younger sisters don’t use Instagram as much as others, they are still enamored by how cool some of the filters are. Tabasa reminds them that filters are not going to make them look better than they already do. “I think kids right now are influenced even more than we were with social media,” explains Tabasa. “It’s just kind of a slippery slope. If they’re gonna keep thinking, ‘Oh, I only look good with this filter,’ or ‘I only look good with makeup,’ they’re not going to be comfortable with how they really look.” Unlike most of Gen Z, Hernandez wasn’t exposed to social media at an early age. When she was in elementary school, her mother didn’t allow her to use apps that contain filters in order to protect her confidence levels. “I’m glad that she did that,” says Hernandez. “I’ve seen what it did to a lot of people around me. I’ve seen people have a lot of self-esteem issues being on social media. When I was finally allowed to have social media, I finally saw what she was trying to shield me from.” Because Hernandez wasn’t exposed to the constant comparison on social media growing up, she felt that she never struggled with confidence as much as her peers did. She realized that social media is just a filtered lie and it shouldn’t define us.
Missouri-based licensed professional counselor and therapist Lindsay Walden describes the detrimental effects appearance-altering filters place on those who use them every day. “It’s almost like the version of ourselves that lives on social media is not completely grounded in reality,” Walden says. “There’s only so much authenticity that can be on those platforms because you’re showing snapshots of your life. It’s a lot of pressure.” According to Walden, we are constantly seeing a mirrored reflection of ourselves. When we compare ourselves to that reflection versus what we see in an altered photograph, we’re going to notice a difference. As a result of that difference, we may become unrecognizable to ourselves because what we see in the mirror is not the same as what we see in a photo. Walden explains that the realization of this can be jarring. “If you’re not okay with who you are from the inside out, you can make whatever cosmetic changes you want to the outside,” Walden says. “But there will always be something that you go to pick out or that you think needs to be different.” The biggest issue, according to Walden, is when people don’t like how they look without the filter, to the point that they’re constantly comparing themselves to others or want to hide from society. “Skin is skin,” Walden says. “It has pores, it has blemishes at times and there are wrinkles that naturally appear on our face as we get older. These elements are blurred away or enhanced in some way. Without significant cosmetic procedures, you’re not going to actually look like that. I think filters give a really unattainable sort of image.”
“They’re called filters for a reason,” says Hernandez. “They’re supposed to change the way you look in a way, but you just have to be confident enough to know that that’s not real life.”
A Morbid Curiosity: Why Do We Love True Crime? By Ximena Loeza
Kiarra Dolan. Photograph by Nicolas Cholula.
Mary Mayone puts her headphones on and turns to her bedside table to turn off the light. She lays her head against her pillow, picks up her phone and presses play. The story of a gruesome murder plays through her headphones in the form of a podcast as she drifts to a peaceful sleep. Some people turn to true crime as a form of comfort and relaxation, just like Mayone. They will listen to these crime stories at any time of the day, whether it’s to help them fall asleep, during a long drive or while doing homework. True crime podcasts can give people a sense of comfort, similar to that of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), where videos are made to stimulate the mind in the form of audio sounds. But why do people turn to the retelling of violent and morbid crimes? Mayone, 23, just graduated from San Diego State University and currently lives in Monterey. She listens to her favorite podcast, Morbid, more than she listens to music. Morbid is a true crime podcast that focuses on different cases in each episode. She laughs as she
mentions how almost every time she picks up a friend, they open her car door to the sound of this podcast blaring out of the speakers. “I really am so embarrassed, I don’t even listen to music anymore,” says Mayone. “I always tell my friends, ‘You can put something on, I’m sorry.’” Kiarra Dolan, a 21-year-old student at California State University East Bay, is an avid true crime fan and also laughs at her morbid yet fascinating hobby. She enjoys how these podcasts break up information in cases and present the most important parts, making it easier to digest. Her favorite podcast is also Morbid. “I’m obsessed. I feel like it’s kind of weird,” says Dolan. “Now it’s a little bit more socially acceptable. I feel like a lot of people have a true crime addiction.” Looking up the term “true crime” on Spotify, hundreds of results pop up. On Netflix, they have several categories for true crime such as Dark True Crime Documentaries and Biological True Crime Documentaries. The results of true crime media seem endless.
The first popularized case of true crime was a serial killer known as the Jack the Ripper. His crimes started in 1888 on the East End of London. He killed and mutilated five women, all of the lower class. This case took over not only England but the entire world. It covered the newspapers all over the world and continues to captivate people even to this day.
for 10 years along with two other girls before escaping. Dolan thinks she enjoys true crime so much because of her fascination with the idea that someone can commit these crimes.
“In the era of the invention of the newspaper, when that was a lot more important than it is today, in terms of mobilizing public opinion, we know that things like letters to the police, and media coverage of that goes back at least to the Jack the Ripper murders in London,” says Jonathan Simon, a legal studies professor at the University of California Berkeley.
She has even gone as far as reading through pages of court transcripts, such as the transcripts of Ted Bundy’s 1984 case. There are hundreds of pages of documents connected to this case, and Dolan has read them all. Dolan enjoys coming up with her own hypothesis on unsolved cases, almost like a puzzle.
People were outraged by Jack the Ripper’s heinous crimes, and the police received an influx of letters from concerned citizens. When asked about the progression of true crime, Simon immediately compared how the Jack the Ripper case was covered versus how cases are covered today. Committing crimes is not a common occurrence for most people, so listening to stories of people committing them can be fascinating. It can give people comfort in the fact that they are not enduring these heinous crimes. This is something that Jeffrey Snipes, a criminal justice professor at San Francisco State University, hypothesizes. He talks about how a love for true crime can stem from wanting to help with these cases and gives people this feeling of suspense and thrill. “We like to be scared, it’s like watching a horror movie from the comfort of your own living room,” says Snipes. Mayone mentions how she likes true crime because it feels more like a “controlled scare.” She gets to control when she gets a “jump scare” and she knows what happens at the end of the story. She calls it a “controlled anxiety,” something she is able to find comfort in. Dolan wonders about the origins of her “obsession” with true crime. Some of her favorite true crime cases are that of serial killers like Ted Bundy or the disappearance of Amanda Berry, who was held captive
“It’s just totally crazy to me to imagine people having the capacity to be so evil,” says Dolan.
The Zodiac Killer, one of the most popular unsolved true crime cases, has dozens of podcast episodes on the case and even a live-action movie, “Zodiac,” made in 2007 starring Jake Gyllenhaal. This serial killer killed at least five people in California, but it is rumored to be many more. Two of these murders occurred in the Bay Area. Recently, a group known as the Case Breakers, with over 40 members of retired FBI agents and forensics experts, came out with a new potential suspect for the Zodiac, Gary F. Poste who died in 2018. This case is still unsolved and holds an immense amount of history and interest in it. Paul Drexler is a 73-year-old crime historian that focuses on the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the director of the Crooks Tour of San Francisco, a walking tour through San Francisco’s most famous and notorious crimes. He has also written several columns at the San Francisco Examiner about the Zodiac Killer. Drexler recounts how Tom Colbert, a Hollywood producer working with Case Breakers, called him on the morning of September 26, 2021. Colbert spoke to Drexler about the theory that Poste could potentially be the Zodiac and Drexler pondered its validity. Drexler refers to a community that has been built around the case of the Zodiac Killer, almost religion-like. “‘Zodiology’ is the study of the Zodiac crimes. It’s all over the world, it’s like there’s a number of different religious sects, each with their own candidate. And I
do notice there’s a certain kind of tunnel vision that comes across people who seriously tried to solve this,” says Drexler. The motivation for starting a true crime podcast can vary from an intense hobby, to a real criminal justice background or even to a personal connection. For Angel Lee Turner and her producer Maria Martin, the start of their podcast They Called Her Georgia Lee started with a drive for people to understand her sister Georgia Leah Moses’ case and, most importantly, who her sister was as a person. They have about 2,500 active listeners per episode and have had almost 27,000 downloads since they started in July 2021. Turner and her sister were born in Buffalo, New York, and later moved to Sonoma County, California. Moses lost her life in August of 1997 at the age of 12 in Santa Rosa, California. The police ruled that she died of strangulation. It was later called a cold case. Moses was a role model to Turner — someone Turner saw as her guardian angel, hero and big sister. Turner was seven years old when she lost that role model.
Kiarra Dolan. Photograph by Nicolas Cholula.
“She was a natural leader. I always joke and say, you know, because she practically raised me and when I look back over my childhood, she was my mom. She was the one that taught me how to swim, she taught me how to tie my shoes,” says Turner. “She was really instrumental in making sure that my childhood was to a certain standard.” Turner hopes that her podcast reaches people. Tuner believes that if no one is paying attention to a case, like her sister’s, it will not gain the traction it needs to be solved.