SECRETS OF THE WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE / NFTS IN THE BAY AREA ART SCENE / THE FIVE-DOLLAR GAS COMMUTE / HOW THE 1968 SF STATE PROTESTS WOULD FARE TODAY
For the Love of Neon
SASKIA HATVANY editor-in-chief ALBERT GREGORY managing / copy editor ALBERT SERNA JR. content / multimedia editor MORGAN ELLIS photo editor CASH MARTINEZ social media editor NICOLE GONZALES online editor
SELENA ZHAO art director
NICOLAS CHOLULA ABRAHAM FUENTES PARIS GALARZA BIANCA HEREDIA GARRETT ISLEY KARINA PATEL RENE RAMIREZ ESTEBAN RENTERIA SABITA SHRESTHA MAXIMO VAZQUEZS
EMILY CARDENAS LORENA GARIBAY ANNE KRISTOFF OLIVER MICHELSEN CAROLINE RAFFETTO
SF STATE COMMUTERS BRAVE RECORD HIGH GAS PRICES AS CLASSES RETURN TO CAMPUS
PEELING BACK THE LAYERS OF THE WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE
CLOSE TO THE HEART BAY AREA ARTISTS AND THE GREAT NFT DEBATE
MEZCAL FINDS A HOME IN BAY AREA BAR CULTURE
TRANSITIONING QUEER INDIGENOUS SPACES ONLINE DURING THE PANDEMIC
ON THE COVER
FOR THE LOVE OF NEON
As students file into the classroom, now twice weekly, things have almost started to feel normal again. Sure, we traded floating torsos for masked faces, and mask fashion seems to have gone out the window at this point, but hearing laughter instead of seeing it mimed through a screen makes every bit worthwhile. This marks the first issue of Xpress Magazine that was pitched, written, and edited entirely in person since Spring 2019. It turns out that there is a magic to being together, and to that shared bit of suffering involved in our daily commute (no matter how long or short). That magic is community. These pages come to life thanks to the hours of work invested by the writers and photographers, many of whom traveled across the Bay Area to pursue stories that matter to them. The dedication to storytelling is palpable, as is the slow yet gleeful departure from pandemic–themed stories, which we probably won’t manage to escape before the end of the semester. But one thing is much more certain: this is a budding Xpress staff at its best.
complicated relationship with
free speech How the historic 1968 protests would fare today BY OLIVER MICHELSEN In November of 1968, thousands filled San Francisco State University’s campus in a revolutionary strike to protest racial inequities in the school’s curriculum and admissions. For five months, Ronald Quidachay, a 21-year-old SF State student at the time, skipped class to join the ranks of his classmates, faculty and organizers to shut down the SF State campus in the longest student strike in U.S. history. When it comes to “challenging the establishment, which is what we were doing, we were challenging the establishment” Quidachay, explained “there are consequences to [that].” Despite this sentiment, he and hundreds of other protesters filled the quad day after day as leaders from the Third World Liberation Front and Black Student Union made their demands on the school’s Speaker’s Platform, the first of its kind nationwide. The platform, according to SF State’s archives librarian Meredith Morgan Eliassen, was built in 1962 as a free speech forum sanctioned by the school, free to be used by organizations from on and off campus. During those five months, the platform stood as a rallying point for protesters and leaders of the strike to make their demands of the school. Fifty years later, the triangular patch of grass where the wooden free speech 6
platform once stood now sits empty — a vacant relic of a time that shaped the legacy and culture surrounding protest at SF State. Today, the same strike that established the first ethnic studies department in the country would be deemed in violation of the school’s 2018 time, place and manner executive directive. Executive Directive #89-13 lays out all of the school’s guidelines on assembly, tabling and signposting, also explaining the possible repercussions one may face for violating said guidelines. The document references California Education Code 89031 which notes that California State Universities may establish regulations for the “government and maintenance of [their] buildings and grounds” and that “every person who violates or attempts to violate the rules and regulations is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Chris Trudell, SF State’s Assistant Dean of Students, says that the time, place and manner guidelines are not meant to add any undue stress on students. “There’s a lot of clubs and a lot of organizations, and a lot of third party groups that are not affiliated with SF State that want student’s attention, they want to market to students,” he explained. “The amount of
A photo illustration showing the outside of SF State’s HSS building, 2022, and a photo taken by Tim Drescher, a photographer for Insight Publications, of SF State students protesting outside of the same building during the Third World Liberation Front Strikes of 1968. (Rene Ramirez / 7 Xpress Magazine)
requests that we will get in a given year, if we didn’t have a process, there would be groups that would be setting up at the same time, that would be overlapping with one another.’ Trudell continued on to say that the directive is not in any way aimed at restricting assembly. Instead, he said, its goal is to ensure that there is a process that can organize the varying assembly and speech desires of SF State’s 30,000 plus students and faculty members. David Loy, legal director at the The First Amendment Coalition, a Bay Area based group focused on addressing First Amendment violations and expanding freedom of expression, noted that the school is well within its right to establish reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. The main goal of a college such as SF State, he explained, is to maintain a healthy learning environment. And maintaining that environment may manifest itself in the form 8
of reasonable regulations on the volume and meeting location of assemblies. Loy did express some concern at the trend of institutions such as SF State over criminalizing certain behaviors. “Often, criminal prosecution creates a so-called solution worse than the underlying problem… and [it] has significant equity and justice problems,” Loy explained. He also noted that aside from the obvious consequence of jail time, misdemeanor charges have the potential to impact one’s ability to stay in school, get a house or find a job in the future. “I’m not saying this is true uniquely of San Francisco State; in society at large criminal laws are almost inevitably disproportionately enforced against low income people and people of color, and especially low income people of color.” Time, place and manner guidelines, as they’re referred to in the directive, are not
uncommon on college campuses though, according to Mia Reisweber who is one of the Directors at the Dean of Students office. All California State Universities have some form of regulation on the time, place, and manner of assemblies on campus along with many other colleges nationwide. Reisweber also added that while she was not present for the directive’s establishment, the goal of their office is to help students navigate these and other complicated campus guidelines. Despite the help available to students now, the directive still isn’t the first instance of SF State employing misdemeanor charges as a warning to those who may try to assemble on
Students from LFS lead participants in chants for justice in action to bring awareness to killing of Bataan 5, March 4, 2022 (Oliver Michelsen / Xpress Magazine)
A photo illustration of the outside of SF State’s HSS building, 2022, and a photo taken by Nacio Jan Brown,a photographer for the San Francisco Express Times, of Black Student Union member John Cleveland in a physical conflict with police outside of SF State’s HSS building during the Third World Liberation Front strikes of 1968. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
campus without permission. During the 1968-69 strikes at SF State, as is outlined in a document published by the San Francisco State Legal Defense Committee titled “Insanity at the Courts,” 435 protesters in attendance at a Third World Liberation Front speech outlining the 15 demands of the strikers were arrested and subsequently tried for unlawful assembly. All of those arrested were tried for misdemeanor crimes with a large portion being convicted on at least one of the three proposed charges. Quidachay recalled being arrested in a similar situation as an “insurrection leader” before later being charged with disturbing 9
XPRESS MAGAZINE the peace. While he received a fine and no jail time, Quidachay noted that other strikers faced heavier consequences. “The minor thing that happened to me was I flunked a class,” he recalled. “Then other people, if you got arrested, were going through trials.” Quidachay also remembered the brutality of the police at the time when it came to engaging with and arresting protesters. “They just took those batons and beat the hell out of you, and you just didn’t want to get in the way… You were demonstrating, they told you to break up the demonstration, and if you didn’t, you know, they were gonna come and they were gonna get you.” Currently, there is no record that shows any charges have been made against students under the 2018 directive. However, some say that school has limited assembly more than they might admit, claiming the rule introduced an environment of fear that prevents people from organizing. Damara Lopez is a former SF State student and president of the San Francisco chapter of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (or MEChA), a nationwide student political organization focused on bringing awareness to issues affecting Latinx and Chicano students. They noted that after a 2016 hunger strike led by students from the Third World Liberation Front led to the group securing additional funds for the ethnic studies department, the culture surrounding protest on campus changed. Lopez said that even before the time, place and manner directive was established in 2018 they and others were fearful they were going to be prosecuted by the administration. “[E]very student group was feeling this pressure of like, ‘we’re being watched, we’re being surveilled.’ Students would get pulled into interrogations or would be put in like holding cells down in the police station area… there was a really bad culture of fear” Lopez recalled. “I think the only reason why we don’t have it anymore, and why people aren’t so afraid now is because memory is short… the 10
people who were there have mostly graduated, and the people who were not there, don’t know, or just couldn’t possibly understand how intense it was.” Lopez also said they initially felt access to the document was being gatekept, making it harder for their and other political student organizations to understand the newly established guidelines and avoid persecution for violating them. Whether or not this culture of fear is still pervasive on campus today is debatable. The number of political actions on campus has decreased over the past few years but that could also be attributed to restrictions from the pandemic. However, at the beginning of the Spring semester tables for student clubs, fraternities and other organizations filled SF State’s Malcolm X Plaza as they had in years prior to the pandemic Some groups such as the League of Filipino students have even been able to organize actions both on and off campus since the
A photo illustration of the quad at SF State’s campus, 2022, and a photo taken by Nacio Jan Brown, a photographer for the San Francisco Express Times, of SF State students marching across the same quad in the same quad during the Third World Liberation Front strikes of 1968. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
A photo illustration of the quad at SF State’s campus, 2022, and a photo taken by Nacio Jan Brown, a photographer for the San Francisco Express Times, of SF State students raising fists in the same quad during the Third World Liberation Front strikes of 1968. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
XPRESS MAGAZINE return of in-person instruction. Kayla Soriano has been the chair of the League of Filipino Students since June of 2021. This past November she and the rest of the League of Filipino Students led an action in front of the Philippine Consulate in Union Square to protest SF State and LFS being redtagged and labeled as a terrorist organization by the Filipino government. More recently, LFS hosted an emergency action on campus to bring awareness to the killing of five activists dubbed the “Bataan 5” in the Philippines. The action took place in Malcolm X Plaza and brought together about 20 students to join in chants and fill the quad with chalk messages of support. Soriano noted that despite their ability to meet and assemble on campus she still feels the group is treated slightly differently than other student groups. “I mean, there hasn’t been direct like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to give you this because you’re like a political organization’” Soriano explained. “[but] they view us a little different…which I mean, makes sense because political organizing and activism…it leads to change, you know? So, I think at times structures and systems of power, such as SF State and the administration are scared or fearful of that.” While SF State’s administration has not seemingly restricted any one person or organization’s right to free speech with the time, place, and manner directive, organizers like Lopez and Soriano find the practices of the school to be ironic given the school’s rich history of protest and assembly. Amaro Rivera, a current student at SF State and former political activist alongside Lopez, voiced similar sentiments. They recalled first arriving at state and feeling that there was a very strong sense of coalition among student political organizations on campus. However, they would continue on to explain that dealing with the politics associated with the 2018 directive became too mentally and emotionally taxing, causing them to take a break from 12
They just took those batons and beat the hell out of you, and you just didn’t want to get in the way… You were demonstrating, they told you to break up the demonstration, and if you didn’t, you know, they were gonna come and they were gonna get you.
political action. Rivera recalled asking themselves, “am I here to organize? Or am I here to get a degree?.. You forget the reason that you’re in school, and it’s like, at a certain point, I [had] to remember that I have to go to school, and I need to graduate and I need to get out of here someday.” Experiences like these closely mirror those of other former activists like Quidachay. Quidachay, who participated in negotiations with the school to end the strike, ran for student body president after its conclusion. However after a controversial nullification of the election by the school’s atthe-time President Hayakawa, he and others from his camp opted not to participate in the follow up election in protest. Quidachay decided to focus on his studies after that, leaving SF State in 1971 and graduating from Berkeley’s law school in 1974. After the strike, he served as a judge in San Francsisco’s superior courts for more than twenty years before his recent retirement. However he still cites the protests as one of the formative experiences of his young adult life. “Although it was a short part of my life,” he said, “everything I did stayed with me.”
LFS Chair Kayla Soriano chalks a message on SF State’s Malcolm X Plaza during action for justice for Bataan 5. March 4, 2022 (Oliver Michelsen / Xpress Magazine)
Th Ho e M me ex in ican Ba y A Spir rea it F Ba ind rC sa ult ur e
(Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
Camellia Bernal, niece to Room 389 owner Jamie Bernal, pours hibiscus juice, made freshly every day, into a glass as she prepares to make a hibiscus margarita with mezcal in Oakland on March 4, 2022. (Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
BY LORENA GARIBAY Jamie Bernal smiles as he points out the menu located behind his bar. Written in chalk, it reads, “agave cocktails, with tequila or mezcal,” but that menu read differently five years ago. He’s still serving up margaritas but switching out the tequila for mezcal. “We have what we call a speed rail, which is the bottles we grab most frequently. Mezcal has never been there…now mezcal is in the speed rail,” said Jamie Bernal, owner of the Oakland bar, Room 389. The bar is located on Grand Avenue and opened in 2010. Bernal said that when his bar first opened, the popularity of mezcal was nowhere near that of what he calls ‘the big five’ spirits: whiskey, gin, vodka, rum and tequila. That is until roughly five years ago. In 2009 and 2010, U.S. mezcal imports averaged about $1.8 million per year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then, imports rose on average $7.8 million, reaching a total of $85.6 million
yearly imports for 2021. In bars all over the Bay Area, the spirit is all over menus. It’s become so popular that Bernal is working on his own mezcal-specific menu. Mezcal is known for its earthy, smokey taste—which comes from smoking the agave in ovens that have been dug in the earth. The taste of mezcal can vary depending on the agave used and whether the mezcal is distilled in copper or clay pots, wooden barrels or animal leather. Technically all tequilas are mezcals because mezcal refers to any spirit produced from the fermentation of agave, according to Dr. Abisaí José García Mendoza, an expert in taxonomy of Agave from the National Autonomous University of México. However, colloquially, the term mezcal is used to describe the product made from agave smoked in underground ovens, unlike conventionally known tequila, which is cooked in masonry ovens above the ground 15
XPRESS MAGAZINE Alex Gómez Uribe poses with a bottle of mezcal from Mezcal Totoy in Oakland on March 11, 2022. Gómez Uribe first tried mezcal during his first visit to Oaxaca back in 2007 and recalls instantly falling in love with it. (Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
and further processed in stainless-steel stills. These are some key elements that distinguish mezcal from tequila and the use of wild agave in mezcal production versus cultivated agave azul, which is commonly used in tequila making. “When you’ve tasted various of the two types [industrial and artisanal mezcals,] you can feel the taste of the copper. Even the producers who distill in copper tell us that they love the taste of the mezcal distilled in clay pots,” said Alex Gómez Uribe, an Oakland resident and one of the business partners in Mezcal Totoy. Now patrons of Room 389 are ordering drinks traditionally made with tequila and replacing the spirit with mezcal instead. One of those drinks is the classic Paloma cocktail, which is usually made with tequila, squirt and grapefruit. Bernal said the bar’s most popular drink in the last couple of years is their signature Hibiscus Mezcal. 16
“We take dry organic hibiscus flowers and soak them in a big vat of mezcal for days. It gets a really rich color, and we use that to make a margarita base essentially,” he said. His niece, Camellia Bernal, has been working in her uncle’s bar since 2017 and said that her customers keep ordering mezcal or replacing tequila in drinks for mezcal. At first, Camellia thought it was just a trend, but after working for five years at her uncle’s bar, she said that it now seems to be commonplace in other bars. “I go to a few different bars around here that have a bigger selection. When I go to those bars, they’re able to give me more information on exactly what each thing [mezcal] is,” Camellia said. Both of these spirits were designated with an appellation of origin, which means that in order for these to be considered authentic tequila and mezcal, they must have been completely produced in the geographical area
MARCH 2022 designated by the Mexican government. This is meant to protect the production of these traditional spirits. The same way that Champagne can only be produced and labeled as such if it is made in the French region of Champagne, and that Parmigiano Reggiano cheese must be produced in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy. As of October 2021, the states that account for the name of origin are: Guerrero, Oaxaca, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Morelos, Puebla, México and specific municipalities in the states of, Tamaulipas, and
recently Sinaloa, according to a resolution by the Mexican Secretariat of Internal Affairs. “I feel that there is a lack of cultural knowledge about how to drink mezcal… because there’s so much culture and tradition behind mezcal. Every place that distills mezcal has its own story,” said Fredy Chávez, a master mezcalero and founder of the mezcal brand Totoy, from the Sierras of San Pedro Totomachápam in Oaxaca, México. Chávez produces his artisanal mezcal in his palenque, a place where mezcal is produced, that’s located in Totomachápam. His town has been producing artisanal mezcal for centuries
Alex Gómez Uribe, a Jalisco native, holds a bottle of mezcal from Mezcal Totoy in Oakland on March 11, 2022. The contents in the bottle were produced by Antonio Leon, a “Maestro Mezcalero” and the maguey used to make this particular mezcal was Jabali. (Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
and where tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. His great grandfather was a shaman, a spiritual healer in Mexican culture, and began making mezcal for medicinal use. Mezcal is used in some rituals as a healing remedy. Mezcal Totoy began in 2021 and uses wild agave or maguey that grows in the mountains of the community of Totomachápam. Sometimes the people who search for the wild agave have to carry it on their backs because the horses and donkeys can’t make it to where
the agave is found. Then they take the agave to the palenque, which is the place where the master mezcaleros shred the agave by hand in a wooden canoe, ferment it and turn it into mezcal. Chávez hopes to one day export his mezcal and expand his brand in the Bay Area. Gómez Uribe is tasked with promoting the brand in the Bay and was roommates with Chávez in Alameda back in 2014 before Chávez moved back to Oaxaca. “I’d like to see mezcal reach the best top 17
Jamie Bernal, owner of Room 389 in Oakland, poses inside his bar on March 4, 2022. Room 389 opened in 2010 in the Adams Point neighborhood. (Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
kitchens so that people can value what mezcal is,” said Chávez. “I compare it with the best whiskey or cognac, and I think mezcal has that potency and potential.” The craving for mezcal in the Bay Area continues to grow, but it could have environmental consequences. García Mendoza, an expert in agave taxonomy, gave a presentation on the history, uses and environmental impact of agave in México on April 24, 2021. He explained the risk of having a high demand for agave products. Agave takes a long time to mature. As a result, the plants are often cut before maturity or are cultivated in monocultures — large plantations of the same species of plant that are often used for industrial tequila and 18
I’d like to see mezcal reach the best top kitchens so that people can value what mezcal is.
mezcal production, according to Mendoza. In monocultures, the soil loses fertility over time and can decimate other plants and agaves. However, artisanal mezcal is not necessarily more sustainable as it relies on wild agave that has to be harvested. “The whole world wants to sell mezcal. We need to be careful with the loss of wild agave because there are people who cut them but don’t continue to cultivate them. That can lead us to the loss of some of the species,” said Sindy Silva, who is also a partner in Mezcal Totoy and lives in Oaxaca. Mendoza, who has been studying agave for over 30 years, also touched on the issue of wild agave harvesting. He warned that people should be careful with the over-exploitation of agave if Mexico wants to continue to have this plant as a national and cultural heritage. Wild species have begun to disappear, and there has been a large transfer of agave outside of their area of origin, according to Mendoza. “The boom of mezcal has been a positive thing for the regions that produce mezcal, but in many cases, it has been a negative thing for the species and the natural areas in which they grow,” said García Mendoza. The positive impact leaves Gómez Uribe feeling caught between emotions. He, along with his partners, understand the environmental impact that the high demand in mezcal is causing. He also knows that the people who produce mezcal are protecting their heritage and traditions as well as feeding their families. “The truth is that for the people, [mezcal production] is often the only way that they can progress,” said Gómez Uribe. Steven and Emily Sadri opened their
Jamie Bernal, owner of Oakland bar Room 389, moves over two bottles of El Mero Mero mezcal, his personal favorite, as he makes room for a bottle of whiskey on the bar shelf on March 4, 2022. (Bianca Heredia / Xpress Magazine)
specialty shop Tahona Mercado in February of 2021. The married couples’ shop is located in the San Francisco neighborhood Nob Hill and offers an array of agave spirits and specialty Mexican food products, as well as sandwiches, quesadillas and more. “The pandemic hit, and it was really rough. We wanted a better way to support all the producers of mezcal who were reaching out asking us to buy batches,” said Emily Sadri. Together with business partner Marsilio Gabuardi, they want to offer a platform for the mezcaleros to showcase their mezcal. The Sadris opened their first restaurant Tahona in San Diego three years ago. They also opened Tahona Baja in Ensenada, Baja California and another Tahona Mercado in Tijuana. “The idea between all these locations is that it’s all synchronized together, it’s all about
sharing the same story,” said Steven Sadri. “We truly believe every one of these producers that we stand behind, all these beautiful bottles that you see should be having their story told every single day.” Mezcal and agave are important symbols in Mexican culture. They are present in moments of joy, sadness, birthday celebrations, job promotions, graduations, weddings and funerals. “This is a platform where we get to present not only mezcales, tequilas and Mexican spirits, but we are also a platform for Mexican wine and hyper-local products,” said Gabuardi. “It basically allows for anyone of any background to come in here and have a Mexican experience.”
A detail image of a neon sign located at Neon Works in Oakland on March 10, 2022. The different colors in neon signs are visible depending on which noble gas runs through the glass tubes that make up the design. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
The Passionate San Francis
scans Keeping the City Aglow.
The interior of Neon Works in Oakland on March 10, 2022. This full-service shop and XPRESS MAGAZINE warehouse have had a huge and varying array of clients since the company’s conception in 1989. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
A work table with an unfinished sign at Neon Works in Oakland on March 10, 2022. In addition to commissioning new signs for clients, Neon Works also offers restorative services. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
BY JUSTINE BRADY As the warm golden glow of the San Francisco sunset exits the city, the Castro is once again lit up by the mesmerizing, bright light of the multicolored neon lights of the Castro Theater. At almost 100 years old, the iconic sign is one of the remaining pieces that represent a time in history when the city was once aglow with the colorful haze of neon. “Neon is just so amorous. I mean, it just attracts you,” said Jim Rizzo, the owner of Neon Works located in Oakland. Rizzo has been perfecting his glass bending craft for over 32 years and has previously helped to service and restore the neon sign for the Castro Theater. In the 1930s, the streets of San Francisco basked in the phosphorescent light of neon signs. Market street was completely lit up
once night fell. Businesses from restaurants to clothing boutiques and nightclubs had customized neon signs that defined their business. After World War II, neon became even more affordable and the craze continued, but in the 1970s, those bright, glowing signs began to fade, replaced by a dimmer fluorescent light alternative. Neon has continued to come around in waves of resurgence throughout the years. In the last 10 years, the signs have been popping up everywhere from small businesses displaying signs in their windows to people creating DIY projects to warm up the ambience of any bedroom. And while many of the iconic signs have vanished throughout the years, the timeless appeal of them has not been lost on everyone. 23
The interior of Neon Works in Oakland on March 10, 2022. The 17,000-square-foot space houses lit up neon signs, along with works in progress, retired signs and all the tools necessary for bending and maintenance. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
As young, adventurous children exploring San Francisco, graphic designer Randall Ann Homan and her photographer husband, Al Barna, would always be in awe walking around different neighborhoods admiring the colorful neon signs leave their ambient glow in front of stores. The most memorable to Homan was one that represented “five donuts falling from heaven, splashing into a cup of coffee.” When Homan started to notice that many of the lights she once adored were disappearing, she along with Barna, made it their mission to preserve and document the remaining signs in San Francisco. “Neon is a topic close to our hearts. The remaining signs are a part of the city’s legacy,” said Homan. “It does have that feeling of being alive, almost. Some people say that neon light has a soul.” 24
Today there are over 300 old neon signs that decorate the city, according to Homan. Areas like Chinatown, the Tenderloin and the Mission have plenty of radiant signs that illuminate the night. To ensure the legacy of these signs are not forgotten, both Homan and Barna dedicate their time to the San Francisco Historic Sign Preservation, which promotes tours, talks, and special events about neon signs. Together, Homan and Barna have four books dedicated to the history of neon in San Francisco, with their last book titled Neon: A Light History that was published on March 12, 2021. “Neon light at night really does transform your neighborhood corner into a film set. It’s just the quality of light is so cinematic, and creates so much ambience and atmosphere. But it’s really the vibrancy from the light itself
Adam Taylor, a glass bender at Neon Works in Oakland, conducts repairs at the shop on March 10, 2022. Taylor has been working with neon and glass bending as a medium for approximately five years. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
that makes you feel like something’s happening and that something is special.” The neon craze began to die out in the city when LED lights became the cheaper alternative for signs. On average, LED signs are about 10% cheaper than neon according to Neon Creations. Although neon signs may be more aesthetically pleasing, the lower price range of LED is more feasible on the wallet. “When making an outdoor sign, we use what’s called magnetic transformers, and they’re basically motors. They draw probably about four amps versus an LED sign withdraw, maybe half an amp. So, it’s significant,” said Rizzo. “If you had a good size outdoor neon sign, you would probably spend 300 bucks a month electricity versus, you know, 20 bucks a month.” Marco Sierra, an employee at Sam’s Signs in San Leandro, noticed that even though LED lights
are more cost-friendly than neon, neon signs are still a popular request for their store. For 40 years, Sam’s Signs has adorned the Bay Area with different custom signs like banners, channel letters, neon, and vinyl decals. Their neon signs are handmade to give a long-lasting quality. “Recently, I would say we have had a demand for neon signs. I think [people] like the traditional aspect. It’s just a matter of preference,” said Sierra. Although neon did experience a drop in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the demand has slowly crept back up in recent years. The Worldwide Neon Signs Market reports that neon signs are expected to experience substantial growth from 2022-2031. Pinterest stated that neon rooms had an 800% increase year over year in searches and was named one of the top trends in 2021. Social media platforms like TikTok, have also made neon signs an interior design must-have for vibrant decorations. 25
The iconic Castro Theater sign lit up in the heart of the Castro neighborhood on March 12, 2022. Neon Works, a neon sign shop and warehouse in Oakland, has contributed to restoring this historic landmark. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
With some of the historical neon signs dating back 70 years or more, skilled glass benders who appreciate the beauty of neon like Rizzo have to be completely engrossed in their work to make the proper refurbishments. Neon signs are unique because they are all handmade and it takes careful craftsmanship from a glass bender to heat and bend the glass tubes into a given design. Once the shape is formed, the tubes are filled with inert gas to generate a color. Specific noble gasses are used to produce different colors. Pure neon gives a strong, red glow, Argon is light-blue, Helium is pinkish-red, Xenon is lavender and Krypton is a whitish-yellow. Mercury vapor and phosphors are also needed to help achieve the exact glow the glass bender wants. “Neon gives off this classic, old-school presence. The colors in neon signs are vividly brighter. For the interior work, the neon aesthetic over the LEDs wins every time,” said Daniel Kuppe. Kuppe has been making and restoring
Adam Taylor, a glass bender at Neon Works in Oakland, holds a tube of glass ove a design that will later light up as a colorful neon sign on March 10, 2022. (Morg
MARCH 2022 neon signs in San Francisco for 30 years. Before the name change to Oracle Park in 2019, he had previously done repairs for the old AT&T Park sign when it was neon. When Kuppe is not busy restoring signs, he teaches neon courses at The Crucible, an industrial arts school in Oakland. Kuppe moved from Minneapolis to California in the early 90s to continue his work with neon. Although he has experienced both the highs and lows of the neon market, Kuppe knows that neon will always be here to stay. “The people that are coming to me and wanting to learn about neon, that’s the future of neon,” said Kuppe. Even though neon sign renovations are a meticulous process to go through, it is well worth it for both Rizzo and Kuppe, knowing that their glass bending passions are continuing to allow future generations to see the legacy of the city’s neon lights. “To be able to bring that old stuff back to life, it’s just so beautiful,” said Rizzo.
It does have that feeling of being alive, almost. Some people say that neon light has a soul.
er a flame to start bending it into gan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
A fountain located on the front lawn of the Winchester House in San Jose on March 8, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
Peeling Back the Layers of the Winchester Mystery House
BY CAROLINE RAFFETTO As Janan Boehme walks through the intricately decorated adjacent twin dining rooms of the 136 year old Winchester Mystery House, she remembers what the rooms looked like for most of her lifetime. “This room used to embarrass me when I would bring people through,” said Boehme, historian at the San Jose landmark. “It was so bad.” The twin dining rooms of the 160-room house had been stripped down to their bare bones and left untouched for over 100 years. Ninety-five years after original owner Sararh Winchester’s death, Boehme decided it was time to bring these dining rooms back to life. The exposed wood ceiling beams coated with spider webs became a detailed cream28
colored paneled ceiling with green molding with symmetrical gold line designs. The uneven wood boards that covered parts of the unfinished walls in the North Twin dining room are now swathed in green, embossed lincrusta wall coverings and decorative wallpaper with gold flowers, matching green leaves and birds. Once engulfed in darkness, these rooms are now lit by stained glass skylights and elaborate chandeliers. Renovation experts say that for old homes like the Winchester House, there is always something that needs to be done. These houses hold secrets of their past which, when revealed, can show modern generations how to take care of them. These secrets are revealed through old, original items within the house that
when mixed with modern technology, serve as blueprints for what the house once would have looked like. Whether it be through an old piece of wallpaper found in the walls, or a treasure trove of stained glass windows hidden in storage for years, the house’s keepers are constantly uncovering clues to the house’s past hidden in the labyrinth-like architecture the Winchester Mystery House is so famous for. Legend has it that Winchester believed she was being haunted by the ghosts who met their demise at the hand of a Winchester Rifle, also known as “The Gun That Won the West”. During the 38 years of nonstop construction work, Winchester turned the eight-room farmhouse into an elaborate fortress with zigzag staircases, endless corridors and doors to nowhere in an effort to confuse these spirits. Many believe that Winchester would channel these spirits in her seance room and they would instruct her on how to alter the house. In 2019, the renovation of the North dining room was underway and the secrets of the house came alive. Boehme and her team of restoration experts reached into a hidden pocket-door wall that had been left untouched since 1884. What they found changed the course of the whole restoration. “It was a much older room, even before Sarah’s time, so I didn’t feel bad about kind of taking it back to an older design,” said Boehme. Boehme carefully extracted the 8 inch wide by 9 feet tall sliver of original wallpaper that had been perfectly preserved inside the walls of the mansion. The green and black geometric block designs were still legible even through the many chips and cracks, and the red and gold floral designs were as vibrant as they had been in their day. The discovery of clues and puzzle pieces found scattered throughout the house did not stop there. In the past 6 years, Boehme and her team of restorers have returned 24 of the original stained glass windows to their original spots in the house. Boehme explained that these windows would have been removed and placed in storage during Winchester’s time due to her
One out of 24 original stained glass windows in an upstairs room of the Winchester House in San Jose on March 8, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
On the lincrusta rolls, we saw the signatures, handwritten notes and manufacturer dates from the person who rolled it up around 1894. I think it hadn’t been unrolled since.
XPRESS MAGAZINE constant need for change. However, during these endless renovations, she would leave clues behind as to where these original pieces once sat through their intricate and odd details. “None of the doors are standard,” Boehme said. “They’re all different sizes. So, if the door actually fits in the doorframe, there’s a good chance that’s where it went.” Boehme came across a red stained glass door sitting in storage–also called the $25,000 room based on the value of its items at the time–and asked the house for help to show her where it fit. Sure enough, she found a door frame, which had been converted to a window, that fit the dimensions of the stained-glass door perfectly. Not only did the paint treatment on the walls match the sides of the door, but the hand painting and graining matched too. “It’s kind of like a little puzzle that I’m trying to put back together,” Boehme said. “I love trying to figure out what Sarah was up
to and in some cases, I’ve been successful. I’ve just been trying to put things back in the house where they belong.” Boehme expressed that the renovation process is often a guessing game, and although the clues from the past would guide them, much was left up to their interpretation. While working on the north dining room in the house, , Boehme and the renovation crew discovered a boarded-up trap door in the ceiling that looked like a light shaft that went all the way to the third floor. Since there was a skylight in almost every other room of the house, they inferred that’s what it was, and placed the matching stained-glass they found there. The house revealed its secrets once again to husband-and wife duo Cris Mead and Heidi Wright Mead when they found rolls of original lincrusta wallpaper, a textured wall covering that was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, sitting in an attic of the Winchester
The hallway near the dining room of the Winchester House in San Jose on March 8, 2022. Above the wood panels are green embossed lincrusta wall coverings that can be found in and around the main dining room. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
31 The main dining room on the first floor of the Winchester House in San Jose on March 8, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
A detail image showing the front window curtain of the Winchester House in San Jose on March 8, 2022. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
MARCH 2022 Mystery House. Mead co-owns Wright Mead Inc, a construction company that focuses mainly on the restorations of old homes, and handles the construction side of renovations and Wright Mead handles the wallpaper restorations. “On the lincrusta rolls, we saw the signatures, handwritten notes and manufacturer dates from the person who rolled it up around 1894. I think it hadn’t been unrolled since” Mead said. For Wright, who is a wallpaper hanger, these lincrusta rolls were like hitting the jackpot, however they also presented a new challenge. According to the couple, these rolls had not been preserved correctly because they were sitting in an attic and exposed to extreme heat and cold for around a century. “It took a lot of coaxing to unroll,” Mead said. “This roll had been sitting there for like 100 years so it was just stiff.” After hours of precise and tedious work, they were finally able to unroll the lincrusta, but found that only parts of it were salvageable. Mead discovered that he could recreate the textured, outdated style using
modern techniques. After making a silicone mold of the original lincrusta wallpaper, he was able to replicate it using resin, in place of the traditional mixture of a gelled linseed oil paste and wood flour base. “Sarah Winchester used the most modern technology available at that time,” Mead said. “So, in a sense, we’re doing the same because we’re using the most modern technology available to do this project. Just like Sarah did.” These modern techniques are also usually more cost efficient. “It’s always a balance of budget versus design,” Mead said. “Building the way they built in the 1890s and 1920s is very expensive to do today.” Even though these historical homes require a great deal of maintenance and may be expensive, to those who take care of them it is a labor of love. The house has just always fascinated me from the first time I ever saw it, I can’t really explain it,” Boehme said. “But you know, learning the story made it even more interesting. So it’s just the whole package. It’s just so fascinating.”
Janan Boehme, the Winchester House historian, poses for a portrait on March 8, 2022, in the garden hallway leading to Sarah Winchester’s original bedroom. (Maximo Vazquez / Xpress Magazine)
A view of the PacificXPRESS Ocean MAGAZINE from Heartlife and his family’s living room. The ocean will eventually reclaim the historic structure if global sea levels continue to rise, he said. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
Close to the Heart David Heartlife has Made a Living as an Environmental Performer; Now Climate Change is at his Back Door BY SASKIA HATVANY On a misty San Francisco morning in front of a crowd of excited children, David Heartlife stuffs a plastic bag into a magician’s hat and taps it with a magic wand. But this time, the disappearing act won’t work — and that’s exactly the point. Acts like this represent his life’s work. For over 20 years, Heartlife has been a passionate environmental educator, performing in schools around the country through his and his wife’s company Earthcapades. The plastic bag, emblematic of a worldwide plastic pollution problem, is one thing that even they can’t make disappear. “Even if our message doesn’t get through, if we are spreading joy, and kids are out 34
there laughing...I feel like my work is done, and I really love it,” Heartlife said. “The world needs laughter.” Heartlife, who is nicknamed “Hearty” by most of his friends, has sported a heart-shaped patch of hair on the back of his head for the last 10 years. Only his mom still calls him David, he said. While traveling through Tennessee in the early ’90s, he met his wife, Lissen LevChaya, who was 22 years old at the time and a selfdescribed hippie. Ever since then, they’ve been living, traveling and performing together. Occasionally, their 14-year-old son Kai makes a juggling cameo in their shows. Their home, tucked away in a hidden
MARCH 2022 Bay Area cove among a collection of historic buildings, is as unique as their career. The coral-colored house is perched on wooden stilts, much like the 6-foot stilts that LevChaya stands on when she disguises herself as a great towering tree for a piece about the importance of protecting forests. “We have the best TV in the world,” said Heartlife, gesturing to the sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean, perfectly framed by a large rectangular window in their living room. Clad in rust-colored wood, the walls are reminiscent of the interior of an old sailboat. Juggling clubs and original artwork line the wall, and the dining room table looks out at yet another glittering panorama of the water. He stumbled upon the unique living situation in his 20s when he moved to San Francisco from the East Coast. A man sitting next to him on the flight struck up a conversation and invited him down to the beach to surf. Shortly after, he moved in and has lived in the tight-knit community ever since. “As soon as I saw this place, I was like this is home, this is the place of my dreams,”
Being connected to nature is a very important part of my work. It’s my identity...and it’s important to me that what pays the bills is doing a good thing that I feel good about.
Shoes are stacked at the kitchen door of the family’s home. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
Heartlife and his son Kai pose for a photo before heading out for a routine surfing session. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
Heartlife said. His childhood was spent immersed in nature. Growing up in New Jersey, just steps away from the beach, he fell in love with surfing and the ocean. When he eventually went to college in Vermont to study environmental education, he fell in love all over again — but this time with the circus arts. That’s when he decided to combine the two things he loved, a hybrid that he now likes to call “edutainment.” “Being connected to nature is a very important part of my work. It’s my identity... and it’s important to me that what pays the bills is doing a good thing that I feel good about,” he said. 36
The reality of climate change is something that Heartlife faces every day — quite literally. Each year, the beach outside his living room window grows narrower with the rising sea levels. In years past, waves have been so powerful that they’ve ripped garage doors off, imploded windows and one time even swept a dead seal into a neighbor’s garage. But he’s determined to stay as long as possible, even until the ocean eventually reclaims the structures. “We’re all happy as long as he surfs, so staying near the ocean is really important,” said LevChaya. Despite living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, the pair have enjoyed a
MARCH 2022 modest yet sustainable income as performers. In recent years, their company Earthcapades has been funded primarily through grants provided by local water districts and other organizations with a vested interest in environmental education. As the pandemic shut schools nationwide, they quickly adapted to online performances, turning the downstairs laundry room into a live performance studio complete with a large green screen and studio lighting. But last year, as the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference unfolded, Heartlife couldn’t help but feel an overall sense
of disappointment — one he’d been feeling for quite some time. “I was really scared that people were gonna get COVID and die, and at the same time, I was feeling a sense of relief because airplanes weren’t flying and cars weren’t driving so much. Like, wow, maybe there’s a ray of hope, maybe people will realize...that our climate crisis can be improved,” he said. “And I just feel like it didn’t happen.” Last year, he started taking classes at the Clown School of San Francisco — which is less of a professional theater course and more as an exploration of therapy through clowning.
Heartlife stands in the dining area of his family’s two-bedroom home as he prepares to go for an afternoon surf. Having grown up in New Jersey just steps from the beach, he fell in love with the ocean through surfing. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
XPRESS MAGAZINE Heartlife said that the course helped reveal his deep sadness around the state of the environment. In the school’s bi-annual performance in late 2021 — aptly titled “Clown Immunity” — Heartlife performed a dramatic piece in which his clown character goes for a swim at the local beach, only to find the sand littered with trash. In his Zoom-sized rectangle and to the backdrop of an impossibly littered beach, his character attempts to ‘clean up’ the trash in a futile and tragic effort. “I think in general, my character has always been pretty silly…but there’s also a deep sadness,” Heartlife said. “The deep sadness part is something that I don’t show a lot or don’t always have access to.” But it’s only another motivator for Heartlife, who dreams of someday giving people educated tours of the cape and the local environment to which he feels deeply connected. “I don’t have any really big desires to make a lot of money. Although lately, I’ve been thinking about retirement...I’d like to have some sense of security,” said Heartlife. “But, we’ve been comfortable. We’ve been good. We love our life.” Due to unsafe public access to the cove, its specific location was omitted from this article.
Heartlife heads out for his afternoon surfing session with his son Kai. His partner Lissen LevChaya said that being near the ocean is an essential part of their lives and happiness. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
A view of the collection of homes that line the beach of the Bay Area cove that Heartlife has called home for over 20 years. (Saskia Hatvany / Xpress Magazine)
Bud Snow holds a physical version of one of her NFTs in her studio in West Oakland on March 10, 2022. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
Bay Area Artists and the
Great NFT Debate
Art supplies belonging to Andre Jones in his Oakland studio on March 14, 2022. Jones is the founder and current executive director of the Bay Area Mural Program (BAMP). (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
the internet dissolves, we’re always going “toUnless have proof of ownership, a kind of authenticity
of creation made for each piece. It’s really putting a lot more power in the pockets of the artist.
BY ANNE KRISTOFF For 20 years, Bud Snow has wanted to do only one thing: create art. In the last few years, she decided she wanted to pursue public murals, but sShe had one issue: funding. Then, in March of last year, inspiration struck. “It dawned on me to fund my public art using NFTs,” said Snow, who is an Oaklandbased contemporary artist. NFTs, otherwise known as Non Fungible Tokens, were invented in 2014 as a new way of buying and selling art online. Once somebody purchases Snow’s art as an NFT, she then goes into the physical world and paints their purchase as a mural. By selling them virtually she is able to fund her public mural projects in Oakland. “It’s kind of a win-win for everyone: the artist gets paid, the collector gets to fund public art and then there’s public art in the world for people to see and enjoy,” Snow said. This is just one of the many ways that NFTs can be used. In simple terms, it is a secure way for people to store and sell their physical items online. Before NFTs, online art could easily be
copied, reused and reuploaded without credit. NFTs prevent this because they contain a permanent and secret digital code that allows the original creator to authenticate their work. Technically, almost anything that can be stored as data online can be turned into an NFT, inluding art, music files and property listings. Since they began to gain traction in 2021, NFTs been a hot topic of debate. Some artists, like Snow, have claimed that NFT’s are a way to generate wealth and create opportunities. While others believe that they are more harm than help. “You own the province to your work so when you sell an NFT it’s logged on the blockchain and that is a public ledger that’s reported permanently,” she said. “Unless the internet dissolves, we’re always going to have proof of ownership, a kind of authenticity of creation made for each piece. It’s really putting a lot more power in the pockets of the artist.” The blockchain is a type decentralized database that was invented alongside Bitcoin in 2008 as a digital ledger to record 41
XPRESS MAGAZINE currencie’stransactions. Blockchain technology is considered far more secure than traditional centralized databases — which is partially what has given cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin their value. Just like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are stored on the blockchain and therefore cannot be replicated or owned by multiple people at once. Most NFTs are stored on a blockchain called Ethereum — the second most traded cryptocurrency after Bitcoin according to
Director and Oakland-based mural artist believes NFTs to be “more hype than anything.” In the beginning he wanted to jump on board because it seemed to be a great opportunity for artists to take control of their distribution and ownership of their art. “I feel like a lot of the big hype behind the big sales and NFTs are already people who have money that are creating hype. I hate to say it, but it’s almost like a Ponzi scheme,” Jones said.
coinbase, one of the leading cryptocurrency trading platforms. “I don’t see it as distracting away from the contemporary art scene. I think it is building on it, and it’s creating new avenues for artists to create new types of work,” Snow said. “So I think it’s a really cool thing that’s happening, and I’m happy to be alive for it.” As the realm of NFTs develops— with over four million people in the U.S having bought or sold an NFT as of June 2021, according security.org, a technology product and concept review and research site — so does the opinion of them for other Bay Area artists like Andre Jones, aka Natty Rebel. The Bay Area Mural Program Executive
Once the owner of an NFT sells, the new owner can then resell it. However, they don’t make the full commission since the original owner takes a predetermined percentage. Each time someone resells, the original owner continues to make money off of it — a system that some point out is reminiscent of a Pyramid Scheme or “Ponzi Scheme”.. Jones and the Bay Area Mural Program have used NFTs to host workshops on the topic to mainly get artists and people through their doors. He said that it sparks other types of conversations about murals, fundraisers and more from initially discussing NFTs in the creative space. Jones was put off selling his art as NFTs when the digital marketplace he was
Bud Snow, a west Oakland-based artist, poses for a portrait wearing one of the masks she makes in her studio on March 10, 2022. Snow is a supporter of NFTs and sees it as a new avenue for artists to explore. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
using, Hic et Nunc, crashed. Jones had lost his pay, his profile, and any of the NFTs he sold. There are no checks and balances,” Jones said. “It can just disappear into the Metaverse and there’s nobody you can call. If you forget your Meta wallet password, you have no access to your money. There’s no 1- 800 number where you can call somebody and be like, “Hey, I forgot my password. Can you reset it?” There’s none of that.” Jones also criticized was the lack of representation for people of color. He said that he hasn’t seen any people of color that have created or fully benefited from the use of NFTs. “It’s going on but around us and not involving people of color just because we
like a lot “ ofI feel the big hype
behind the big sales and NFTs are already people who have money that are creating hype. I hate to say it, but it’s almost like a Ponzi scheme.
don’t have the initial buy-in. We don’t have the overhead. We don’t have the platforms to really showcase.” San Francisco-based graphic designer Kevin Sandoval has had his focus on the future of NFTs and the reactions they have invoked within the art community. “Why wouldn’t you want people to be able to receive the fruits of their labor? I’ve been in the art world for a long time and I see it all the time. Artists are always mad at other artists for being successful and it’s never made any sense to me,” Sandoval said. “Artists are out there suffering, and there’s this idea that suffering is virtuous. I think that’s a huge problem.” Though he hasn’t used NFTs personally, he feels confident that within a year a lot of 43
Aerosol spray-paint cans sit on a shelf in Bud Snow’s workshop in West Oakland on MarchXPRESS 10, 2022. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine) MAGAZINE
people that are mad about the situation will have their own work up on these platforms. He mentioned that he might even upload some of his own work in the future. Sandoval saw instant similarities between the transition towards NFTs to the transition to digital in the early 2000’s. He said that many artists were apprehensive about uploading their work online because they didn’t understand it. He saw the advancements in the art world as opportunities for artists to set themselves up for future success. ”I think we’re having a really tough time coming to terms with what having digital assets means,” he said. “Don’t just see these and get mad at people for getting money, first off. That’s ridiculous… If you’re going to have a take on something, do some diligence on it.” Not all Bay Area artists are rooting for the use of NFTs. San Francisco-based illustrator, Marvin Velasco, is one of those that are against them. 44
“I actually spent a lot of time trying to get on it early and a lot of these things were invite only,” said Velasco, who applied to be a part of NFT markets in the beginning and waited several months to be accepted. “I’m glad it took that long. If I had made one that early, I wouldn’t have been too happy with it. My opinion has changed so much.” One of Velasco’s biggest concerns was about online privacy and security. He thought the use of a decentralized network was a good idea because it gave people the opportunity to stray away from the control that banks and institutions have on money but once people started losing their funds and there was no support system, his opinion began to change. “Anybody could send you anything and you click on the thing, and it’ll just wipe out everything that you own. All you need is the person’s wallet serial number and you can put anything you want into that person’s wallet,” he said.
MARCH 2022 Another big concern for Velasco was about the culture. He goes as far as calling the NFT culture “toxic.” To him it seems more about promoting mass generated art so people can “buy into the club” and gain credibility amongst their peers than supporting artists. “It turns everything into a stock market,” he said. “Everyone’s in it to make money. They’re not in it to support artists. They’re not in it to buy artwork that they enjoy. As much as they’d like to say it’s about empowering artists, I really don’t think it’s about that.” Selling NFTs online, as some have said, share a similar dilemma that many artists have dealt with when selling their work in art galleries or exhibitions. This dilemma is people that aren’t the creators being in charge of how much their art should be sold for, leaving the artists to be stuck with whatever others believe their art is worth. He mentioned that the best way to support artists is to not only ask them how to support them but to also purchase something from their stores. “I personally like it when someone asks me to do something for them and I could send it over and mail it over and stuff like that; something physical so they can have it.” Velasco said, “Whenever things like this happen…here’s always a sense of the fear of missing out. Just really do your research and don’t go around throwing money into a speculative market.”
x Andre Jones, the founder and current executive director for the Bay Area Mural Program (BAMP), looks at digital versions of his artwork in Oakland on March 14, 2022. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
h g i H d r o c e R e v a r s B u s p r m e a t C u o m t m o n C r u e t t e a R t s e SF S s s a l C s a s e c i r P s Ga 46
MARCH 2022 BY EMILY CARDENAS
Ricardo Sanchez watches the gas pump sales and gallons spike up as he fills up his car at the Chevron gas station on March 9, 2022. (Paris Galarza / Xpress Magazine)
Three days out of the week, Jonathan Torres wipes the sleep from his eyes in the early hours of the morning. At 5 a.m., he stays as quiet as he can, careful not to wake up his girlfriend and six-month-old daughter while he gets ready for his day at school. “You never want to wake up a sleeping baby,” he said. For Torres, the next three hours are dedicated to the 44-mile commute to his 8 a.m. class at SF State. After leaving the house in Martinez, Torres drives to Richmond to drop off his car at his parents’ house. From there, he either gets dropped off at the BART station or somewhere his friend, Ricardo Sanchez, can pick him up. Torres said they started carpooling once the campus opened up following the COVID-19 pandemic. “We don’t have to rely on no one, just ourselves,” Torres said. “We just both agreed to say ‘Fuck it, let’s carpool together.’” Like many other SF State students, Torres faces a long and often expensive commute to the university. According to the 2021 SF State Common Data Set, 98% of the undergraduate population lives off-campus and most need to find their way to their in-person classes. Torres’ commute costs more because of events that resulted in rising oil prices. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 25, 2022, prompting the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia, global gas prices surged to record highs, according to the American Petroleum Institute. As of March 17, the AAA Gas Prices website reported the average in California was $5.79, making commuting for SF State students more of a financial burden. “I don’t have the luxury to fill up my tank,” said Torres. He does not put more than $35 in his gas tank at a time when he buys fuel every other day, but those $35 are taking his car fewer and fewer miles. A year ago in San Francisco County, the average price of unleaded gas was $3.76, but as of March 17, the average price was 47
From left, Jonathan Torres and Ricardo Sanchez pose in front of Sanchez’s car on top of the SF State parking garage on March 2, 2022. Torres and Sanchez started carpooling to SF State once in-person classes resumed. (Paris Galarza / Xpress Magazine)
$5.90, exceeding California’s highest recorded average price of $5.79. Rising gas prices have affected Sanchez in various ways, like having to constantly refill his tank just to make it to school throughout the week. He said he lives paycheck to paycheck, so like Torres, he also has to stagger his gas station visits to make it between his pay periods working part-time at Amazon. “I come to school at least four days a week. I had to put at least $30 every other day in my truck to make it over here.” Sanchez said. “Depending [on] if it’s three or two of us, it makes it a little bit faster if we take a carpool, but it’s a big hit on my budget.” Sanchez said he could take public transportation more often, and the BART fare would even be $10 cheaper. But his need to make smart economic decisions and manage risks — such as car break-ins and unreliable 48
BART schedules — leads to tough, everyday choices. “I don’t have a safe place to leave my car [at] BART, so that’s another dilemma that I have,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes my car is better [and] sometimes when I’m really broke I’d rather take BART, but then I have to come even earlier than when I usually come.” Torres and Sanchez are not the only students at SF State who are financially affected by the rising gas prices. Vanessa Lopez commutes to the university from Marin County, which takes approximately half an hour without traffic. Though she describes her commute as relatively short, it is still biting into her wallet and changing significant aspects of her life. On top of paying for gas, she also has to pay a rising Golden Gate Bridge toll, which is currently $8.05 for FasTrak users, $8.60 for one-time payments and $9.05 for toll
had to use a lot of “ myI’vescholarship money
just for parking, for transportation,” Lopez said. “Because if I wasn’t able to have that money, I just wouldn’t be able to finish school, honestly. Or at least I would have to delay it for a bit.
Vanessa Lopez poses for a portrait on top of the SF State parking garage on March 2, 2022. Lopez received a scholarship from SF State, but uses most of that money on parking and transportation. (Paris Galarza / Xpress Magazine)
Ricardo Sanchez puts the gas handle nozzle in his car, getting ready to pump gas at the Chevron gas station on March 9, 2022. (Paris Galarza / Xpress Magazine)
invoices, according to the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. “I’ve had to use a lot of my scholarship money just for parking, for transportation,” Lopez said. “Because if I wasn’t able to have that money, I just wouldn’t be able to finish school, honestly. Or at least I would have to delay it for a bit.” She carpools with her high school friend, Caroline Van Zandt. Van Zandt said that after Lopez finally got her license last fall, they started carpooling. They found out their schedules worked out with each other, and they could save a lot of money by driving together. Even though swapping driver and passenger seats has saved them money, they still have to make choices such as avoiding morning stops for coffee in order to cut back on any extra mileage. Beyond the commute itself, rising gas prices have caused Lopez and Van Zandt to make significant changes to their daily life and education. Van Zandt has skipped paying for lunch, been compelled to skip classes on days with just one class and even purchased the virtual parking permit for the long-term savings. Both recounted often setting aside half an hour to get gas from the cheapest station in their area. “I just try not to get gas in the city,” Van Zandt said. “Which makes things a little bit more nerve-wracking, because I’ll be running on fumes into a gas station in Marin.” Both pairs of friends have to pay a high amount for gas, bridge tolls and school parking. Torres, Sanchez, Lopez and Van Zandt do not have much confidence that the high price of gas will decrease or even stop increasing any time soon. Torres speculated that electric vehicles or transitioning to hybrid learning could help alleviate commuter costs, but he was ultimately unsure if it would make a difference. “It’s crazy. Gas is going up; everything is going up,” Torres said.
The gas pump reading after Ricardo Sanchez filled his tank at a Chevron gas station on March 9, 2022. (Paris Galarza / Xpress Magazine)
Queer Indigenous space move online during the pandemic Vick Montaño logs in to their laptop from bed in Oakland on March 10, 2022. Montaño is a Two Spirit Yaqui and Mexica, also spelled Mexikah, designer and activist born and raised in Oakland. (Nicolas Cholula / Xpress Magazine)
BY EMILY CARDENAS Prior to the pandemic, Sharon Marcos attended the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits, BAAITS, powwow. She enjoyed being surrounded by her friends, scanning through rows of booths where vendors sold handcrafted goods as the sound of traditional music filled the air. The BAAITS powwow is a gathering where Indigenous people come together from different tribes to celebrate being Two Spirit, a term used to describe people who naturally possess and express both masculine and feminine spiritual qualities. Two Spirit can refer to sexuality and gender identity across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but is not limited to those identifiers. For Marcos, who identifies as queer and is from the Q’anjob’al Maya tribe in Guatemala, going to the powwow and physically connecting with friends was a form of healing.
But COVID-19 robbed her of that tradition — at least in person. Because lockdown limited physical interaction, those in the queer Indigenous community have found ways to connect with others all over the world. The group hosted its 10th Two Spirit powwow via YouTube, where traditional dancers and musical performers filmed their routines. In-person powwows are often vivid experiences. They are sacred ceremonial gatherings held by many American Indigenous communities to dance, sing and honor their respective cultures. Whether by going to digital powwows, such as the one hosted by BAAITS, or beading online with people like Marcos, platforms such as Discord, Zoom, YouTube and Twitter have allowed queer Indigenous communities to connect with others virtually to build and maintain community in order to sustain their 51
XPRESS MAGAZINE mental health. According to a 2021 Penn State Center for Collegiate Mental Health study, 76% of college students surveyed who identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 79% of people who identified as queer, reported their mental health worsening and feeling isolated due to COVID-19’s impact. Marcos said she is thankful for the virtual spaces, such as Twitter group chats with her queer Indigenous friends, that allow her to feel safe and get a sense of community. Marcos has also found joy beading and playing Animal Crossing with her online friends, dressing her character up in traditional Maya clothes and building her digital environments to mirror ancestral land in Guatemala. She said that beading with her online friends or spending time with them virtually has a beautiful and grounding effect in her life. As they bead, they share different techniques and help each other out emotionally. “Finding my own online community has definitely helped me feel OK and feel like what I’m feeling is normal,” Marcos said. “The online queer Indigenous spaces have definitely been a safe place for me.” Similar to how Marcos found spaces with other queer Indigenous people online, Vick
Carolann Duro sits on the balcony via a virtual portait shoot of her home in Highland, Calif., on March 3, 2022. Duro identifies as a Two Spirit Maara’yam and Kumeyaay who likes to write poetry in her spare time. (Nicolas Cholula / Xpress Magazine)
Montaño — a Two Spirit artist with ties to the Yaqui and Mexikah communities in Mexico — found ways to connect and create on social media. Montaño started posting his art more frequently in 2020 and kept in contact with others through social media. He said that using social media to broadcast his art has allowed him to converse directly with other queer Indigenous artists — which is how he discovered BAAITS. “If it wasn’t for social media, I would not know about certain people,” Montaño said. “I think social media definitely is playing a huge part in it — it’s where we make [art], it’s what we use it for.” Artist Leo Gaona, who is transgender and Muisca, said he posts his art on Instagram— where he has over 68,000 followers. Much like Montaño, one way Gaona uses social media to connect with others in the queer Indigenous community is by looking up the hashtag of his tribe, “#Muisca.” Gaona feels that he is a part of a community, despite the pandemic preventing physical gatherings. “The more we see each other—on Zoom, FaceTime, whatever—the more we get familiar with our feelings or wants or needs,” Gaona said. “[Life] feels closer to what it used to be.” Despite this, the limitations of digital
Finding my own online community has definitely helped me feel OK and feel like what I’m feeling is normal.
From the right, Sharon Marcos and her partner Roman Loera pose for a portrait outside of their home in Oakland March 8, 2022. Marcos and Loera met at the Unversity of California, Berkeley, where they participated in an indigenous organization. (Nicolas Cholula / Xpress Magazine)
platforms does not compensate for the intimacy of shared physical spaces for some. “It’s kind of emotional being like, ‘Oh, I can’t really hug you, [or] have that physical touch but it’s still somehow like we’re being safe and can still hold that space online,’” Marcos said about the virtual spaces. Carolann Duro, a content creator who is Two Spirit Maara’yam and Kumeyaay, founded the Indigenous Book Club on Discord in 2020, which now has over 500 users and over 3,000 followers on Instagram. Determined to prioritize more marginalized Native voices, she wanted to read Two Spirit authors as well as make space for Black Indigenous and AfroIndigenous folks. Duro then created a channel in the Discord server specifically for Two Spirit literature. Duro described past club meetings as “beautiful” because its members say they rarely see themselves represented in literature and media in general. Like Duro, these online spaces for queer Indigenous people have also helped Marcos to feel more comfortable with how she identifies. She said that finding support in others who have had similar experiences has enlightened her about her own identity — something important to Marcos, who was brought up in a
strict Catholic household. As the pandemic winds down and restrictions are lifted, queer Indigenous people, such as Marcos and others like her, wonder what these spaces and events will look like in the future. According to Jim Eagle, a Two Spirit member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, in the upcoming years, the BAAITS powwow will be held both online and in-person. He noted how easy it was to get the event online via sites such as Zoom and YouTube. BAAITS used to put “little bits” of their performances online, through social media platforms such as Facebook Live. Duro, Marcos, and Gaona all pointed out that even though the transition online has been difficult for some, online spaces have one major advantage: accessibility. Marcos, who is partially deaf, said that online events usually have captions, which make it easier for her to engage and follow along with others. She added that these online spaces exist as another way for communities to interact with one another in a creative way and that makes her happy. “There’s so many forms of accessibility [that] can be met with virtual and physical stuff together,” said Marcos. “So I really hope that a lot of safe spaces bring those two things together. I feel like it will definitely increase the amount of people who can attend it.”