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ing 2017


Hello, Spring One of my favorite places to run in Sacramento is the McKinley Park Rose Garden. My run always starts and ends the same way. I run from my midtown studio down F Street from 27th, beneath the freeway, past the newly remodeled Greek Orthodox Church, to the McKinley Branch Library where I hook a left, and begin my loop round the tennis courts, passing the Shepard Garden and Arts Center and coming back toward the Rose Garden heading toward McKinley Square. Springtime is one of the best times to go for a run or walk in this area. On a routine Sunday, I can often smell fresh laundry as I saunter beyond the apartments. When I get closer to the church, the smell of perfume and cologne from churchgoers milling about the side and front steps wafts through the air. As I hit the dirt track, the scent of fresh cut grass builds beneath my feet, and all sorts of flowery aromas help make my run all that more sweet (or asthmatic, depending on the day). Sometimes the smell of barbecue can be overwhelming, carrying through the trees from people grilling in the park and cooking from the comfort of the nearby homes. Renewal is often the theme of the season, and I agree wholeheartedly. As blossoms grow, I’m reminded of how much growing I have yet to do myself. Many of the stories in this spring 2017 edition of Mainline focus on persistence, the unstoppable drive of all living things to keep growing like new shoots through cracks in a sidewalk. We meet a refugee family who has just relocated from Afghanistan, seeking a more promising future for their children. We learn about one mother’s fight to keep her son from being consumed by a deadly cancer. We learn about local artists, and their mission to bring their passion to life in a song, on a canvas, or even on bare skin. Through these tales of triumph and tragedy, there are highs and lows, births and deaths, and, despite whatever the seasons may bring, the sun keeps rising. So if your own topiary gets a little overgrown, bring out the shears and start snipping away. Chase your dreams, dance in the rain, do the impossible. Don’t keep putting it off. There’s no better time than now. Editor in Chief Vienna J. Montague

Cover Photos Editor in Chief Design Editor

Vanessa S. Nelson (Josh), Mary Sand (Flowers) Vienna J. Montague Mary Sand

Photo Editor

Vanessa S. Nelson


Zach FR Anderson, Aubri Corrie, Nicole Goodie, Ella Morgan, Vienna J. Montague, Vanessa S. Nelson

Photographers Faculty Adviser

Vanessa S. Nelson, Tammy Kaley, Mary Sand Jan Haag

Unique collective provides connection, collaboration among diverse artists Photo by Xoxohadas By Aubri Corrie Awesome Awesome is a group of artists and producers that share an abundance of passion for creating. The need to express through sound waves for others to feel what we feel. The experimentation of words, instruments, electronics, and the gift of curiosity is a blessing. At the end of the day, we are just ‘Souls Here eXtending Thanks.’ — Originating in apartment building 211 located in North Hollywood, roommates Ru AREYOU and Natey were both busy building their artistic careers in 2015. “We started out as a weird bunch, making weird sounds. We were experimenting with music, having private parties and playing beats,” says Rudy Reynon, also known as Ru AREYOU, 2

CEO and founder of the collective Awesome Awesome Shxt. Sacramento native Ru AREYOU is a music artist and producer, a tricker — or acrobatic performer — on the Justin Bieber Purpose Tour, and a former creative martial artist. Besides traveling the world, working on his album A Rare Evening — which he expects to be released this fall — and producing merchandise for his brand REALIZEYOU, he continues to support and contribute to AASHXT. “At the time Natey, who’s like a little brother to me and also a music artist, was working with these other music artists, Domino, Steeziak and Biice, while I was doing freelance gigs with Quest Crew and working on music,” says Ru AREYOU.

Sacramento native Soosh*e is known as a rapper and radio show host on Hot 103.5. | Photo by MC

“So the four of us had a session, and we all made music, and I was like, “Yo, we’re really making Awesome Awesome Shxt.’ And that’s how I came up with the name.” “Shxt” stands for “Souls Here eXtending Thanks,” which reflects Ru AREYOU’s collective aesthetic — to combine a creative group of individuals who support and further each other’s individual talents. “I always wanted a collective, but I didn’t know who was going to be involved. But at that point I was like, ‘Yo, these kids are kids like me. I want to grow with them,’” says Ru AREYOU. The first pop-up party thrown by AASHXT was at Melody Lounge in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in July 2016. Music artists

Biice, Domino, Haz Solo, Whoiskev, Tate Tucker, Natey, Ru AREYOU, Alyssa Bernal, Soosh*e! and Steeziak all performed that night. And like most first-time events, things didn’t go according to plan. “We almost didn’t have a show. It was stressful because we had to figure out how to set up our equipment to the venue’s mixer and speakers,” says Ru AREYOU. “I almost gave up on trying to troubleshoot the setup, but we ended up connecting to the speakers, and the show was actually really successful.” From dropping out of college in Sacramento to producing a beat for Chris Brown and touring with LMFAO in Los Angeles to landing in Las Vegas to perform with the Jabbawockeez, Ru 3

AREYOU has quite the tricker and musical portfolio, making it easy for him to contribute to this collective. “I want to focus on creating and giving back to the world. I want to influence the youth in the best way possible,” he says. Today AASHXT has continued to grow and currently has 18 members, all of whom fit the creative purpose, good vibes aesthetic. Each person in the collective has a specific talent—from music to digital filming and producing or visual arts such as painting. Ru AREYOU, Soosh*e and Testagrossa, some of AASHXT’s Sacramento members, all contribute their unique skills to the collective’s purposeful, projected energy that is put out through music for people to enjoy. “It’s a vibe between artists, creatives and like-minded people,” says Ru AREYOU. “As a team, we inspire other artists to pursue what they want to do, which then branches off to personal collaboration and connection.” Soosh*e! (pronounced like the Japanese cuisine), is a radio personality, former Sacramento City College student and hip-hop artist who has had quite the journey navigating Sacramento’s hip hop scene. Starting out in the city of trees wasn’t easy and booking shows was nearly impossible because of Sacramento’s preference for established hip hop artists and DJs. But after reconnecting with old friends at City College and joining his first collective in 2009 called “The Usual Suspects,” Soosh*e!’s musical opportunities began to quickly multiply. Shortly after joining TUS, he collaborated with Ru AREYOU to produce his first full length EP (extended play) titled “Orientation Day” by The Sweep, featuring eight hip-hop tracks with Ru AREYOU.

“It wasn’t until I worked with Rudy that people started understanding that we really made hip-hop,” says Soosh*e! In 2016, Soosh*e! was invited to be a part of AASHXT. “Rudy texted me as if he’d just had the conversation with the group. It was like he was stepping out of a group huddle,” Soosh*e! explains. “He simply said, ‘Yo, Soosh. We were wondering if you wanted to be in Awesome Awesome Shxt?” Soosh*e!’s response: “I’m down.” “A lot of people don’t know the amounts of drama we all went through to get to where we are now. When Rudy and I were up and coming, there were a lot of older guys in the game that were gatekeepers, so they didn’t want to share any of the information they had with other artists. They were trying to prevent people from doing something new,” says Soosh*e!. “So when Ru invited me to be a part of AASHXT, I took it as our chance to share the knowledge we had learned over the years with others. So being in this collective has given us the chance to share information and help each other grow.” Soosh*e!’s experiences in Sacramento’s music scene have not only prepared him for this industry but also have given him an abundance of experience when it comes to music and its many variations. Soosh*e! hosts or performs at shows almost every day. “Awesome Awesome Shxt is a collective of artists and producers who are pushing the envelope on the sound of electronic soul and hip-hop. A collective is a meeting of the minds between people,” Soosh*e! says. Marcello Fasulo, also known as Testagrossa, explains how he got his musical name. “So [as a baby] I came out head first and my dad was just like, ‘There’s no way that’s my kid — that’s a testagrossa. That’s a big ass

Traveling around the world, Ru AREYOU performs for lively crowds. | Photo by Bobby Gee

“Soulection, a record label I like, plays music all around head — that’s not my kid.’ ‘Testagrossa’ means big head in Italian. the world, and it’s music I like to play. But when I play it in a I didn’t know I was going to use that name until I started making Sacramento crowd, they’re like, ‘Where’s my top 40? Where’s music, but I was called that growing up. So it worked.” all the music I know?’” explains Testagrossa. “There’s no Testagrossa is a music producer, executive chef at an Italian eagerness to find, to seek new. And that’s what I hate because restaurant, DJ and former dancer. A free thinker willing to push artists should be able to show people new music. When I talk boundaries, his music is based on any inspiration, big or small. He to my friends, my question is always, ‘How do we make people joined AASHXT in September 2016. want different music?’” “Prior to AASHXT asking me to rock with their collective, there Testagrossa adds, “It comes down to the politics. It comes were a few other people that wanted me to rock with them from LA down to venues wanting to make money and people booking and the East Coast. They wanted me to release beats through them, you because you can get a certain crowd to spend money.” etc., but I was skeptical. I wanted to get to know these people more,” While he may sometimes be frustrated with says Testagrossa. “With Awesome, I had met them, I knew about Sacramento’s music scene, Testagrossa them, and their music was really cool. So it was almost easy for me recognizes that it provides the at that point to be like, ‘All right, I’ll rock.’” opportunity for someone like him to One of the things he likes best explore what he cares about the most about Awesome Awesome Shxt is — music and food. that he is not restricted “I’ve learned with food that the to a particular kind of music. U O Y E most I can do is create a memory. R “There’s nothing tied to AASHXT. A — Ru Music is deeper than a memory. Music There’s complete freedom. It’s just a is deeper than food. It’s a memory, but it can do so much group of people that create dope stuff,” more,” says Testagrossa. “It’s cool because I get to dabble in says Testagrossa. “When I knew what the acronym shxt meant, both, and I’m happy to dabble in both and enjoy both, and ‘Souls Here eXtending Thanks,’ I knew I fit into that because learn about both, and push the limits with both, and just have to me, music is a universal thing. People don’t make music for fun with both.” themselves at the end of the day. Awesome Awesome Shxt to me is a network, a team and a support system.” AASHXT annually performs at Transition, an annual Skilled at making homemade pasta, experimental with his beats event in Sacramento every January. The collective’s website and currently collaborating with other artists, Testagrossa puts out offers more information at as his cigarette after wrapping up the dinner shift and heads to the does its SoundCloud account: back of the restaurant to chat. He reflects on his experience with awesomeawesomeshxt. Sacramento’s fairly conservative music scene.

s, t s i t r a n e e w et It’s a vibe b inded m e k i l d n a creatives people.

Testagrossa’s beats are experimental, but his homemade pasta is a family tradition. | Photo by Matteo Fasulo

By Zachary FR Anderson


Photos by Vanessa S. Nelson

As the clock ticked forward, moving from one day to the next, Sacramento International Airport began to slowly shut down. Starbucks had just closed for the night, and the help desk was left unattended. A maintenance person was replacing the sign on the single-use restroom to indicate that it was now available to all genders. Lights had dimmed, and security gates had been rolled down, leaving just a few employees and agents. I was sitting right below the escalator that passengers would descend to get to the arrivals platform to be picked up. To my left was a woman with a homemade sign that read “SON” while to the right was a young man who alternated his attention between the top of the escalator and his phone screen, eyes nervously darting up and down. Russul Roumani’s attention was also split between her phone and the escalator, watching for a newly arrived Afghan family. She had been waiting for more than an hour and a half after the family’s flight from LAX was delayed. The plane was supposed to come in at midnight, and it was now 1:30 a.m. For just about anyone else, it was a typical late night at Sacramento International. But for Roumani and the family coming to the United States, it was a new beginning for eight people. Earlier that day, March 6, the White House issued an executive order that limited the year’s number of incoming refugees to 50,000 at most. According to the State Department, in the 2014–15 fiscal year that number was 70,000. There are 21.3 million refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees website. Under the new order, only about .2 percent of them will be allowed into the U.S. this year. The family from Afghanistan — whose names are being withheld for their privacy and protection — makes up eight of those 50,000 refugees. They will be integrated into their new community by a Sacramento nonprofit agency called Opening Doors, which assists refugees with housing and other support services. As a caseworker for the agency, Roumani coordinates with local volunteers the family’s transportation from the airport to a hotel where they stay until more permanent housing is arranged. Opening Doors CEO Deborah Ortiz currently serves as president of the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees after eight years as a state senator, two years as an Assembly member and four years as a member of the Sacramento City Council. Last year the California Department of Social Services reported that the state had taken in 7,908 refugees. Of those, 1,299 settled in Sacramento, which has resulted in the city having the third largest refugee community in the state behind Los Angeles and San Diego. According to Ortiz, Sacramento is also the No. 1 destination in the U.S. for special immigrant visa holders from Afghanistan – like the family Roumani was picking up.

“Once there’s a network and welcoming community here,” said Ortiz, “that really enhances the willingness for a person to identify Sacramento as a place they’d like to go to.” At the airport, passengers and crew of the late flight from Los Angeles finally came down the escalator. Most of them went directly to baggage claim, while others went to the seating area to mingle with awaiting family. The nervous young man who had been studying his phone nearly stumbled over a duffle bag trying to reach and embrace a young woman. The woman holding the “SON” sign continued to wait. Roumani was joined by Helen Killeen, a UC Davis graduate assistant who had volunteered to help pick up this Aghan family from the airport. Soon after Killeen’s arrival, Roumani smiled as the family of two parents and eight children, including two sets of twins wearing badges marked IOM — International Organization of Migration — descended the escalator into their new city. The family had arrived, and their two-day journey from Afghanistan to Dubai to Los Angeles to Sacramento had finally come to an end. After greeting the family in their native language – Dari – with welcome and good faith, Roumani and Killeen went to baggage claim to pick up the family’s luggage. The father and his three sons soon followed. As they waited for the conveyer belt to move, one of the young daughters —Russul Roumani, walked over to stand with her father Opening Doors and brothers. She looked up at the sculptures of unclaimed luggage piled high to the ceiling in Seussical fashion and smiled with sparkling eyes and open mouth. When luggage began to flow down the conveyer belt, the father and sons quickly looked for their bags and began to stack them onto the carts with vigorous proficiency. Roumani and Killeen strategized how they would transport the family to the hotel. But this was no challenge for Roumani. She once retrieved four families — 32 people — who arrived at the same time. The family Roumani was transporting that day consisted of 10 people. “I started asking, ‘Who’s your wife? OK, come with me,’ just so we could get all of the kids,” laughed Roumani while leaving the airport. Once sufficient housing is found for this group of new arrivals, they would likely settle in the Arden-Arcade neighborhood where a significant Middle Eastern community has planted roots. “The markets are there, the restaurants are there,” said Ortiz. “That’s where the community resides.”

I know what war is like. I don’t like war.


Russul Roumani (in orange) takes a newly arrived family from Afghanistan to pick up their luggage at Sacramento International Airport.

On a Saturday morning later in March, most of the faculty, staff and student body at Greer Elementary were taking advantage of the weekend. But on that day a few volunteers watched as a class of young refugee children played basketball. The Saturday School Program of the San Juan Unified School District, run by counselor Heather Berkness, offers children of refugees a chance to improve their language and social skills. “A lot of our kids speak Arabic, Farsi and Dari, and they are just starting at the foundational basis of language,” said Berkness. In the 2016-17 academic year, San Juan Unified School District reported that of the 5,233 ESL students, 1,311 – roughly 4 percent – speak either Arabic, Pashto, Farsi or Dari. “This is so exciting for them to be in a place where they’re surrounded by others doing just the same thing,” said Berkness. Because most of the refugee community resides in ArdenArcade, San Juan reported last year that the district had 832 students who were refugees, the largest number in all districts in the region. The staff meets every challenge, large and small, at Saturday School. On this day a volunteer approached Berkness with a young girl wearing a hijab who was crying. She had fallen on her hand. While Berkness comforted her, the volunteer went to find someone who could speak Farsi. Since the program takes place on weekends, Berkness said 8

that it is difficult to find faculty and staff to teach classes for the children. As a result, volunteers — including Berkness’ mother — fill the gap. To best serve the diverse age range of children, Saturday School emphasizes different skills for different age groups. Berkness said they ask the oldest students what they want to learn and what they think is important. The group of older students that week wanted to focus on applying for jobs and properly preparing resumés. The adult refugees have their own version of Saturday School — though it takes place on Friday. Opening Doors offers refugees the chance to attend cultural classes to learn about American society and the Sacramento region. It’s not all fun and games, Ortiz pointed out. The students require more resources due to their experiences in their home countries. “Because these children are coming from trauma and violence, there are emotional issues that [school districts] are seeking more guidance and support for,” Ortiz said. In a Saturday School classroom for a younger age group, the children made collages to help identify what’s important in their lives. “We’re doing some really positive character building,” said Berkness. “We want to continue to have those positive affirmations so kids know that we want them here.” Berkness, who had to leave to attend to the girl who had

We’re glad that they’re here.” These children are coming from trauma and violence.

—Heather Berkness, San Juan Unified counselor volunteer-with-refugees.

—Deborah Ortiz, Opening Doors

Deborah Ortiz, CEO of Opening Doors since January 2016, hopes to empower families seeking a safe space. Russul Roumani (in orange) takes a newly arrived family from Afghanistan to pick up their luggage at Sacramento International Airport. fallen on her hand, walked down the hallway as children inside the multi-purpose room sang. “This Land is Your Land,” which they would perform at an open house the following week. “They’re an asset to our system,” said Berkness of the refugees. “We’re glad that they’re here.” After meeting the new arrivals at the airport, on the drive to the family’s hotel, Roumani described her own experience with Opening Doors. It wasn’t long ago that she had someone waiting for her at the bottom of the escalator. In 2008, after a co-worker in Baghdad was killed by unknown assailants, Roumani and her children fled Iraq and were resettled by Opening Doors. In 2011, the agency hired her. “[Opening Doors] was small when I first started, but now we’re getting bigger and bigger,” said Roumani, one of five employees – including the department head – in the agency’s Refugee Resettlement Department who were also once refugees. Ten days before picking up the new arrivals, Roumani had returned from a visit with her parents in Baghdad. The house she lived in, she said, was gone. “The situation hasn’t changed,” said Roumani. She became a citizen in 2013 but chose not to vote in last year’s presidential election, believing that both candidates

would continue conflict in the Middle East. “I know what war is like,” she said, “I don’t like war.” Though the Trump administration twice tried to impose a travel ban to the U.S. by nationals from six Muslim-majority countries, SIV holders are exempt regardless of country of origin, according to Ortiz. Ortiz said that SIV holders differ from other refugees in that they have worked for the U.S. government or military in a capacity, such as translators, that would put them and their families in danger. “They are at greater risk because they helped our government,” said Ortiz. Ortiz also said that SIVs are typically skilled as engineers or medical professionals in their home countries. In the case of the arrivals Roumani was picking up, the father of the family was a cook for the U.S. government in Kabul. Opening Doors was founded in 1993 by the Interfaith Service Bureau as the Sacramento Refugee Ministry to resettle refugees from the former Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991. It wasn’t until a decade later that it changed its name to Opening Doors. Ortiz came into her role as Opening Door’s CEO when her predecessor, Debra DeBondt, stepped down to volunteer in Africa for the Peace Corp in 2016. “Refugees, especially during this time in history, are a really 9

vulnerable population,” said Ortiz. “It’s a passion to serve, and this is the organization that fuels this passion.” The staff at Opening Doors are not the only people in the region concerned about refugees. In late March a group of former and current stateworkers and lobbyists hosted a picnic for about 200 recently arrived families that was catered by local businesses. It was originally supposed to be held at Land Park, but due to rain, B’nai Israel, a nearby Jewish synagogue, volunteered its recreation area so the event could take place. “I still feel people across the country are compassionate and feel the need to do something and be welcoming,” Ortiz added. “Real people have a sense of goodness and compassion,

and we’ve seen it every day here in Sacramento.” At the hotel, Roumani headed for the front desk to get the family checked in. While the new arrivals waited in the lobby, the father went across the room to get coffee for himself and his wife. As Roumani finished at the front desk, a man pushing a cart full of boxes of baked goods came into the lobby. After asking Roumani if the family spoke Arabic, the man welcomed the family in Dari before pushing the cart into the back. After checking in, Roumani and I assisted the father and his sons in bringing their luggage up to the room. Roumani gave them a cell phone as well as a few take-out boxes that contained

Refugees, especially during this time in history, are a really vulnerable population. It’s a passion to serve, and this is the organization that fuels this passion. —Deborah Ortiz, Opening Doors CEO

“I know what war is like. I don’t like war.” —Russul Roumani, Opening Doors caseworker

A refugee mother holds her child as she leaves the airport in her new country.

hot food from a local Afghan restaurant before saying goodbye. I asked Roumani how to say goodbye in Dari. “Kuda Hafez,” she said. I repeated the phrase as best I could to the father of the family, and immediately the hotel room filled with laughter. The father patted me on the shoulder and said, “That was good.” Then Roumani and I left the hotel and went out into the night, which was actually a new day for us all. Two weeks after picking up the family – by this time sleeping in their new home – Roumani was back at the airport waiting for more new arrivals. This time she was not alone. “A lot of families are coming in tonight,” she noted, observing the large number of Afghans and caseworkers below the escalator. This time the flight wasn’t late, and the escalator soon

filled with people wearing IOM badges. Roumani smiled and walked up to greet the new Afghan family of six she was picking up. After getting their bags, the group of seven headed out the doors to Roumani’s van. Gripping their parents’ hands, the young children occasionally fell behind, lost in wonder of the new world that the wings of a dream had taken them to. Roumani and the newcomers walked out the airport doors and headed for a friend’s house to begin their lives in what Walt Whitman called the “center of equal daughters, equal sons.” Volunteers make a big difference to Opening Doors. For more information, see volunteer-with-refugees.php


By Nicole Goodie

Sacramento artists thrive on creativity over profit

It was nearly impossible to go through February without picking up some snippet of conversation about Art Street, the multidisciplinary art project that took up 65,000 square feet of warehouse and outdoor space plastered with art as diverse as Sacramento itself. The seed of Art Street was last year’s Art Hotel, a hotel-sized installation straight out of a Lewis Carroll novel. Located in the old Jade Apartments on Seventh Street, with winding staircases and a new world around every corner, Sacramento residents flocked to get a peek and raced to fill their senses with all the art they could. In contrast to the whirling vertical world of Art Hotel, the sprawling maze of Art Street was disguised as a gallery show. With rooms transformed into phantom palaces, psychedelic dreams and hallways of social horrors, the space gave artists a chance to express themselves and highlight social injustices in one setting. One artist built an entire hallway people could walk through and read stories from sexual assault victims, view a photo series of the same subject, and participate by adding a red dot to stories that reasonated with readers. The cramped hallway forced readers to dwell on the dark subject matter as they stood uncomfortably pressed against each other, with nowhere to escape, much like the victims in the art piece. Most left the red-spotted hallway with misty eyes and a new sense of awareness plastered on their faces. Another artist put her battle with mental illness on full display for everyone to see by using her own antidepressant prescription as the highlight of her piece. Someone even used live lichen and moss native to Sacramento to make actual living “paintings” of Northern California’s geographic topography. Within the whispers of Art Street, many expressed how they fell in love with this so-called emerging art scene. “What? Emerging? No, we’ve always been here,” exclaimed Sacramento City 12

College Art Professor Gioia Fonda, sitting in her office at the college with shelves full of tiny towers of art and supplies teetering one upon the other, looking as if the whole thing might collapse or burst into a new art piece. “I think that to call it ‘emerging’ would be a disservice to all of the work that people have done up until this point,” Fonda said. Although the art scene has been here for decades, a lot of big things are taking place in the Sacramento art community right now — new energy, new investments and, some would say, a new scene altogether. However, Sacramento is more than pre- and post-Art Hotel with a unique and everchanging vibe. “I love the energy that’s in town right now,” said Fonda, who is known to ride around town on her bike wearing her bright turquoise helmet. That energy transfers in the excitement and passion in the artist’s animated voice and in her love of bright colors and unusual projects. Fonda is the creator of Give A Fork, an art project to engage Sacramento residents in conversation about the community relationship to food, according to the Give A Fork website. She created a dollhouse-like kitchen for Art Hotel to go with the project. Her project for Art Street gave her a different challenge — a freestanding, giant kaleidoscope that viewers could interact with. “I don’t think there is any wrong way to be an artist,” Fonda said, “and there’s a lot of different ways to make it work.” Some artists prefer working alone, while others enjoy collaborating. With various “coworkings” popping up and interactive living spaces like the Warehouse Artist Lofts, there is an abundance of collaboration going on in Sacramento.

I don’t think there is any wrong way to be an artist. —Gioia Fonda, artist and City College art professor

Fonda creates in her studio at Verge Center for the Arts, surrounding herself with various materials that can be used at any moment. | Photos by Vanessa S. Nelson

Chris Daubert, City College art professor, shows his passion for art history and local art by overseeing the Kondos Gallery on campus. | Photo by Vanessa J. Nelson Both said they feel like their collaborations have helped each other grow as artists. Two very different artists sit side by side “I think the best work comes out of people just doing what they love in a booth at the crowded Golden Bear patio to do compared to what they feel like what they need to do,” Mora said. finishing each other’s thoughts about what it means to work in collaboration with other artists. Chris Daubert, the chair of the art department at City College, also “You can choose to participate if you want oversees the Kondos Gallery on campus and is an informal historian for the to, but you can also chill and do your own thing Sacramento art community. He said that Sacramento has always had a certain and not feel overwhelmed with being part of what’s individualistic attitude that can’t be ignored. going on the wave or whatever. That’s why I like Even though Art Street was multidisciplinary, Daubert says Sacramento Sacramento,” said 34-year-old local artist Tyson art is anything but disciplined. Anthony Roberts. He sipped an IPA, sunglasses “It’s studiously unstudied — there’s not a whole lot of art history hanging precariously at the tip of his nose, covering involved. Mostly it’s just individuals making their own stuff,” he said. another set of prescription eyeglasses sitting farther up Daubert explained that Sacramento artists have always known how to the bridge of his nose. make something out of nothing. Roberts’ focus is creating painted canvases or walls “It is largely a DIY culture, has always been. That’s one of the neat of freehand flows of abstract botanical themes, using strengths of it,” Daubert said, adding that Art Street really represented anything that will help get the job done, from spray the self-reliant spirit of Sacramento art. He talks about Sacramento art paint to house broom brushes. That’s a very different style as if it’s a person he truly admires. compared to his friend and teammate, 32-year-old local Some of the actual artists he admires are legends Wayne artist and graphic designer Matthew Mora who spends his Thiebaud and Gregory Kondos, who both taught at Sacramento free time making multimedia art (pen and ink, pencil and City College. The college art gallery was named for Kondos upon graphic design) in an illustrative and surreal style. his retirement in 1983. Roberts and Mora became friends through Instagram Daubert enthusiastically explained how from the 1930s to and eventually began combining their talents. They worked the 1950s, City College’s art department was the main hub of together on a painting for Art Street and are currently working the local art scene. Then as now, he said, there was room for all on a mural with their collective, Funder Fam, for Outlet kinds of artists. Coworking, a 10,000-square-foot collaborative environment “There’s a sense that it’s both accepting and encouraging where artists, startups and entrepreneurs can work communally. and fun — always has been. That hasn’t changed for a really “For myself in particular, I can be a hermit,” Mora explained, long time. That’s the one thing I can see continuing on.” talking about how Roberts helped him get more connected to the However, Daubert said, “There’s always been this kind art scene. 14

of funny little art scene, which is off the beaten track. One thing that there’s never been is a strong collector base.” Fonda agrees. “If you’re trying to sell work, then this is a terrible town,” Fonda said. “There’s not really a lot of buyers around here, but if you’re trying to create work, it’s a great town because nothing is in your way of creating.” Studio space is affordable and available in Sacramento, Fonda said, compared to other art scenes in the Bay Area. Because of the lack of a consistent commercial art scene, Daubert and Roberts, artists from different generations, each said that Sacramento artists don’t seem disturbed by the difficulty of selling their work, freeing them up to focus strictly on creating. Roberts added that that kind of freethinking is something that makes Sacramento art beautiful and unique. “We know one artist who does amazing work who doesn’t sell his work, and I think that’s just as awesome. Honestly, I respect that,” Roberts said. Daubert, who attended UC Davis and was a teacher’s aide for Thiebaud in the late 1980s, recalled that he asked the famous artist “what the deal was with Sacramento?” since Thiebaud’s art was selling in New York. “He put it really well. He said, ‘You know, if you’re in the middle of the New York [art] scene, you can’t help but start to become an employee.’” That is, Daubert added, “because of the business of it. That world is so strong, they try to make everybody try to do the same thing.” Sacramento has managed to hold onto its DIY roots for decades and local artist continue to create their own styles in the face of commercialism.

There’s a sense that [the local art scene is] both accepting and encouraging and fun — always has been. That hasn’t changed for a really long time.

—Chris Daubert, City College art department chair

Art Street, a temporary installation in a local warehouse in February, was a maze of individual and unique installations when viewed from the rafters. | Photo by Tammy Kaley

“What are artists supposed to do if selling their work is not part of the equation?” Daubert asked. “We’re not going to stop making it. We’re not going to make our work to fit into another vocabulary that we either don’t understand or especially don’t like. So we end up — and I think it’s a positive thing — being kind of self-generating.” Denise Benitez-Gonzalez, a 44-year-old double majoring in graphic design and art at City College, moved from New York to Sacramento nine years ago. She said she still feels as if she is on vacation here as an artist and loves the “happy-go-lucky” feeling of Sacramento. Benitez-Gonzalez bubbled with excitement and genuine appreciation, thoughtfully reaching for the right words. “I felt like it was at the beginning of something special,” she finally said. She even explained how her art began to transform into happier and more colorful pieces, a stark contrast to her all-black attire and multiple piercings. “…I feel like we’re really starting to hit a stride, and I feel like the scene now is becoming more noticed.” Roberts agreed. “I feel like this is

I think the best work comes out of people just doing what they love to do compared to what they feel like what they need to do. — Matthew Mora, artist/graphic designer

the next evolutionary step for Sacramento, because I feel like Sacramento is trying to grow,” Roberts said. “You have the arena; you have the farm-to-fork capital. I feel it is trying to reach and become this bigger city than it has been. Part of that growth and what’s going to help it become more of a hub is going to be the arts.” Decades ago, when Sacramento was considered primarily a government city as the capital of California, art wasn’t really on the radar, Fonda said. She believes that attitude is shifting. “I think the thing that is different right now is that the city has a little bit of momentum and [has] kind of been working on a new identity,” Fonda said. “We’re trying to figure out what that is, and it looks like there might be a place for artists to be a part of that.” Mora said there is no pressure to meet a certain standard as a Sacramento artist. The nonjudgmental vibe, he said, lessens the competitive atmosphere and allows for more openness for collaboration. “I feel in Sacramento you don’t necessarily have to [collaborate], but I think it’s an interesting time,” Roberts said. “Just the feel in general is becoming more collaborative 16

— not just in art but people coming together for causes or injustices or just to show what cool things can come about working together.” Fonda also wants to see collaboration, not only between artists but also between entire communities — artists, business owners and residents working together to publicly and privately fund the arts. “I think that there’s room for everybody to do a little bit more,” Fonda said. “Artists are everywhere — creative people are everywhere — and will find a way to make it work, but I think it’s good to think collectively about what we want that to look like.” One of the biggest shifts that needs to happen for the art scene to thrive is a true investment and interest from Sacramentans, Fonda said. “Sacramento does have that two percent rule when a new building is built they have to some money on public art, and that’s fantastic, not every city has that,” Fonda said. “But if you look at other cities that are really thriving when it comes to the arts, their investment into the arts is much higher than ours.” She said that it starts with the citizen’s voice to make a change. “We have an opportunity to craft our whole community here.” She said it could be as simple as a slight increase in budget and people taking the time to go to city council meetings to fight for the arts. Fonda said that people need to also make a mental investment in local art. “Go to spaces,” Fonda paused, “where you feel a little bit weird going.” It’s important, she added, to look at art not just as entertainment but as part of one’s community. “I wish it wasn’t always pleasure first or liking it,” Fonda said. “I wish that people would approach viewing art as more of an intellectual exercise or an emotional exercise.” Mora said he would love to see people embrace some of the oddities in the local art scene, which does not typically happen. “They can enjoy something that’s strange, but they’re not looking to put money into strange — they’re looking to put money into something that’s safe,” Mora said. But Fonda sees people’s opinions shifting. “Sacramento — we don’t have the money, we don’t have the sprawl, so we’re kind of in a unique position, and I think that people finally are willing to embrace what we do have in a way that they maybe weren’t before,” Fonda said. She would like others to get involved in the art scene, whether they are artists or not. Reflecting her philosophy, which comes out in her projects and lifestyle, Fonda said, “I live it, this is what I do. I go to art shows and lectures and community meetings and I teach, I’m immersed, I’m doing my part.” She emphasized how supporting and creating art requires the simple act of just doing it. “Anyone who feels like they want to do something, they should try to figure out a way to do it,” Fonda said. “There’s a lot of stuff that can happen that’s not official and not invented, yet, and it just takes people giving themselves permission to try it out.” Unlike Art Hotel, the 2016 public art project in an old residence hotel, Art Street’s courtyard displayed giant sculptures and street art that couldn’t be contained inside the warehouse. | Photo by Tammy Kaley


District locksmith Steve Noah keeps college campuses in working order

Twenty-one brassy and well-used keys on locksmith Steve Noah’s key ring reflect light from a granite backdrop. | Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

By Vienna J. Montague The afternoon sun filtered through the clear glass panes keys to a kingdom in chaos, said, “I can get you anywhere in the new Student Services building on the City College you need to go. campus on a fall Thursday afternoon. The building had been open to students less than a month, and while the Today Steve Noah is one of two men who can access almost bustle of incoming college students kept the lines long any building, class or closet in the Los Rios district, from downstairs, just a few quiet classrooms filled the second campuses to outreach centers. As of April 2017, he has worked floor. I was the only student in the upstairs office area. As for the district for more than a decade, with no plans to quit any the news editor for the campus newspaper the Express, I time soon. He covers locations from Elk Grove to City College was working on deadline to put together a story. But the to American River College, as well as the El Dorado center in events of that afternoon changed the subject of my next Placerville and the Davis center. And although his work life article. For the next month and a half I would be focused usually verges on the mundane, a life working around students on one event — the day a student was shot and killed on the always provides the occasional adventure. City College campus, Sept. 3, 2015. “I usually get…,” he pauses as he thinks aloud, “probably Just four people worked in the office area that two campuses in a day. There are times when I end up at one afternoon: photojournalism professor Randy Allen; campus and stay there the whole day, but then sometimes I get journalism professor and newspaper adviser Jan Haag; a bounced around to three or four places. man who was the sole locksmith and glazier for the entire “Last night some idiots decided to break some windows at Los Rios Community College District, and me. Working American River College, so I went out at midnight and boarded at her computer, Haag saw a social media post by a fellow up a window, and while I was at that call, I got another call saying professor and yelled to me, “There’s been a shooting they had a lock issue at Folsom, so I didn’t get home until almost reported on campus.” I called the television station where I 5 o’clock [in the morning],” he says with a blend of amusement work as a producer for more information. and irritation. Yes, I was told. There had been a shooting. For our interview, we meet in the same Three suspects. Two suspects. Both on the run. room where I met him in 2015, behind the No, just one person on the run. Information changing same glass door he was working on at the constantly as it always does during breaking news. time of the shooting. When we arranged a I started to take note of the room where we worked, time to speak, Noah suggested the spot as a scouting for possible locations to take cover should place we both knew. It would be during the a shooter walk in. Where would we go? The door evening, when the door to the office would and frame connecting the offices to the second floor be locked. I panicked for a moment after overlook, designed as a photography gallery, were made hanging up the phone. — Steve Noah almost entirely of glass, along with the floor-length “How would I get in to meet him?” I windows, providing an easy view of the break room. thought. “Of course! He’s got the key.” The main glass door leads into an open room with a couple While describing his day-to-day routine, the 58-year-old of workspaces and connects to six faculty offices. I was sitting locksmith twiddles his thumbs, his hands appearing strangely at one of the workspaces out in the open. The computer desk smooth for a man who works with them so much. His beige where I was working was big but not very deep. There would shirt and fair skin fade into the cream walls behind him, along be nowhere to hide. So unless the glass was bulletproof, with his thinning white hair. His bright blue eyes twinkle, somebody determined to get in could do just that. looking up to the ceiling, searching for answers as he plays back As more information became available, we learned his day in his mind. the main suspect had fled the campus. Allen grabbed He tells me he typically clocks in around 10:30 a.m. and wraps his camera and bid us goodbye to make his way across up around 7 p.m. Because of a slightly later start, he stays up well the campus to see if he could capture this sinister Kodak past the witching hour, sometimes until 2 in the morning, which moment. He was and is, after all, a photojournalist. And I makes him an obvious choice for after-hours emergencies. was, and am, a journalist. I wanted to see what was going on “I’m up at night. I answer the phone,” Noah says. “If for myself. So I grabbed my notebook, prepared to cross a something is necessary, then I will go out and take care of it.” campus teeming with police warning everyone to stay inside. His day shakes out like this: Pick a work order or two, head Haag, worried for my safety, hesitated as I was about to leave. to the campuses that need repairs, get emails from the shop on That was when Mr. Steve Noah, the man holding the more projects that need to be completed, and check in with each

I really like what I do. I just really like my job here.


operations or custodial supervisor to see what little things need to be done that can be added to the order and get crossed off the list. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, while you’re here, I got this and this,’” Noah says. “‘This door needs attention,’ or ‘This lock is having problems.’” For the most part, Noah gets to go about his business and keep to himself, which he likes just fine. In fact, he prefers it. He’s not alone, though. Because of what he does, he’s often hidden in plain sight, not seen, or at least not acknowledged by the students who often pass him, heads looking down at their smartphones, ear buds in place, and the subject of the last class fresh on their minds. This means Noah gets a front row seat to hordes of humans who don’t know they’re being watched. The same goes for the teachers. This can be both inspiring, and sometimes a bit worrisome. “It’s kinda fun to watch students sometimes. People watching is interesting,” says Noah. “Human behavior, you know, something comes up and it’s like, seriously, how has mankind survived with stupid people like that, and it’s hard to believe some of these people can function in day-to-day life. They just don’t come across as smart, but they are intelligent people. “I’ve always had this theory that there are two types of intelligence,” he goes on. “Intelligence to me is the ability to learn information; smart is the ability to apply information, and not all the intelligent people have the smart part of that down. It’s like, it’s a good thing you’re teaching because you probably wouldn’t survive if you had to rely on the smart part of that. It just seems like they overthink things.” Although his incendiary prose paints a picture of a borderline curmudgeon, conversation is light and easy, just a hint of a barely-there bittersweet attitude, and nothing but praise for his boss, coworkers and the job itself. “I really like what I do. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years. I just really like my job here,” says Noah. “I’m able to get in, take care of things, work with my hands. I have a very good supervisor, and he gives us things to do, and relies on us to take care of things.” Noah, who grew up in the Sacramento area, says he’s always been mechanically inclined. He started out as a certified welder, but learned about locksmithing work after making a deal with his friend’s boss, offering to do some welding work for the company if he could learn locksmithing while he was there. After taking a few odd jobs here and there, he started his own locksmith business, which he owned and operated for around a decade. He gave up the business to go back to school to learn about aircraft maintenance. But like so many things in life, it didn’t work out as planned, so Noah fell back on his locksmithing chops and got a job with the Elk Grove Unified School District. During this time he also worked as a teacher’s assistant for the construction program at Cosumnes River College. Not 20

long after the program wrapped up, he learned the Los Rios district had an opening for a locksmith. Noah applied, interviewed, got the job and has been working with the district ever since.

When Noah has free time now, he chooses to spend it remodeling his Sacramento home, and visiting his two grown daughters and grandchildren. “I usually take a vacation day or two, and go visit them so I can spend the whole day with them,” Noah says, talking about his daughter and grandchildren who live in Plumas Lake. He sees his other daughter a bit more often, since she lives in Natomas. “As a matter of fact, I’m going over to her house for dinner tonight.” Noah also enjoys cooking with his two daughters. He tries to take a college course each semester, and this semester a culinary class was at the top of his list. “It’s [about] baking bread, yeast

It’s kinda fun to watch students sometimes. People watching is interesting. ­­—Steve Noah

dough and pastries,” Noah says. “Things that I thought were real difficult are not — you just kinda dig in and start working with [it]. Bread is fun.” Noah graduated from high school in 1976, and has since taken classes at all the Los Rios colleges, except for Folsom. “I always find something interesting at the campuses. If I want to learn something, I always look for something within the district,” Noah says. “I listen to people complain about it, but if you think about what you get for your dollars here, the buildings, you get heat and air given the season, you get access to faculty members and for what you pay for tuition — it’s cheap. “Locksmithing is my trade, and I’m going to do this until I retire, but as far as learning new stuff, there are so

Locksmith and glazier Steve Noah stands proudly at City College, one of the many Los Rios campuses he has served over a decade. | Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

many different venues, you don’t have to look far to find something interesting.” Those classes could play into a possible second career for Noah, who says he’s considering opening a bakery with his two daughters to help finance a future for his grandchildren after he retires. “I’ll set my kids up with something that will take care of them as long as they take care of it,” says Noah. As we end our meeting, the first time we’ve seen each other since the day a student lost his life on the City College campus, we walk down the stairway together and through the same doors that were guarded that infamous day by students warning us to stay inside. When Noah and I told them our minds

wouldn’t be changed, the students wished us luck and safety. We were fine that day; the danger had passed, though we didn’t know it at the time. Now, a year and a half later, Noah and I say our thank you’s and goodbyes as we step outside. Two people. Two meetings. One room. And just one college campus shooting that brought us together for a surreal moment in time.


By Ella Morgan It had not been a week since my 18th birthday when I got my first tattoo. I waited excitedly on a December afternoon at the White Rabbit Tattoo Studio, one of the best shops in New York city. Tattoo artist Bradley Teitelbaum, a master of his work, spent nearly four hours completing my piece—which cost a pretty penny, I might add — a detailed dot-work spider with a geometric center located just below the nape of my neck in between the shoulder blades. One of the most painful experiences I had ever had. The crippling pain lasted almost a week, but the cost, the pain and the terrified look on my mother’s face was all worth it. It was a time in my life filled with melancholy, so the little (or not so little) critter on my back shone some

light on my veiled disposition, pushing me in a new direction. I used to envision people with tattoos like Lisbeth Salander, the character from Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series. The character Salander stands out; she often dresses like a boy and does not conform to society’s norms. She keeps to herself, her computers and has a rather grotesque demeanor. Salander, an outlaw in her society, is covered in tattoos and piercings. In the past, many (including me) thought of those covered with ink as freaks, outcasts and rebels. For many people this impression has changed. Mine certainly has, considering I

have three tattoos and am nowhere near finished. Tattoos have become prevalent today in many societies where they were once disdained, in western societies in particular, loosening a heavy taboo from the necks of those who have always been

drawn to the art form. Though some may go under the needle for the hell of it, my tattoos are an extension of myself.

Folsom Lake English Professor Josh Fernandez, poet and former City College student, uses tattoos and writing as a form of self expression. | Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

Despite becoming more common, tattoos in the workplace are often still frowned upon. In jobs requiring faceto-face interaction, tattoos are often not allowed to be displayed,

and employers usually advise employees to cover up. Even corporate companies with minimal to no public interaction have tattoo policies. According to

Theresa Cuny, an interim director of human resources for the Los Rios College Community District, the district does not have regulations or strict rules against having body modifications. This includes tattoos and piercings. Folsom Lake College English Professor and former City College journalism student Josh Fernandez is covered (literally) head to toe in tattoos. He is a poet, a writer, an ultra runner, and is happily married to City College Interim Public Information Officer Crystal Lee. They have a young son and a daughter on the way. Growing up, Fernandez was raised in a household where tattoos were

not welcome. “I grew up in a pretty judgmental household,” he explains chuckling. “My mother still does not like my tattoos.” At around the age of 17, Fernandez got inked for the first time — an image of the cowardly lion from “The Wizard of Oz” on his leg. “I just loved ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and that’s why I got it,” Fernandez explains. “I knew getting the tattoo was not going to be looked at as a good thing, but I didn’t care. I was, and still am, a punk who likes tattoos, punk and hard core music.” It was just the beginning. Today Fernandez has many tattoos — “more than I can count,” he says. Knowing that he sometimes gets funny looks from people has yet to stop him from


embellishing his body with ink. tattoos never stopped him from pursuing His most recent tattoo is the word his goal of becoming a college professor. “I KERSED, displayed across his forehead for had some pretty shitty jobs,” he recalls. “I all to see. According to Josh, “It’s from a laid carpets for the Transit Union for a little ceremony song that begins with ‘Pack your bit, and after that I was a dishwasher for the fists full of hate, take a swing at the world.’” Department of Corrections, but, in jobs like His favorite tattoo was done by a former those, no one cares if you have tattoos.” student, an aspiring tattoo artist who used The only time Fernandez had to cover Fernandez as a canvas. himself was when he was “My favorite tattoo working as a barista for is my worst tattoo — Starbucks, which has tattoo artistically speaking, regulations. When he began the worst. She came teaching at Folsom Lake over with her [tattoo] College, his experience was gun and practiced,” he a little different. “It was said smiling. “It was funny, actually — on my meaningful because first day as a professor, the she was a great student campus security wouldn’t let and became close to my me on campus.” He laughs family. She babysat about it now. my son.” “I know people judge —Josh Fernandez Fernandez sees me, and that’s fine, their tattoos as a form of self-expression that judgments are probably right, too,” are often used to show a person’s creative Fernandez explains. “But why put yourself side. Still, he says, he, too, succumbs to through that scrutiny when you don’t the stereotypical response to body ink, have to?” assuming that individuals with tattoos have Like Fernandez, City College English “lots of problems.” Professor Jodi Angel has an array of ink. Fernandez loves teaching, and having Angel has 15 tattoos, including her newest

I knew getting the tattoo was not going to be looked at as a good thing, but I didn’t care.

heart tattoo, placed prominently on her left hand. Angel got her first tattoo at the age of 21 after her daughter was born, a sea creature transforming into a human, representing metamorphosis and change. After attending American River College and UC Davis to become a writer, her path brought her back to college to teach as an adjunct professor. She now teaches full time at City College. Although she sees an artistic side to tattoos, she’s also aware of negative reactions to them. “There is still a stigma about tattoos, although society is becoming more widely accepting of the matter,” she says. Angel also went through a few jobs where tattoos were frowned upon. She feels fortunate to be at City College where the ability to display her ink is accepted by most. “I’m sure other faculty members don’t look kindly on my tattoos, but, for the most part, I am not concerned,” says Angel, a noted fiction writer who also advises the City College literary journal Susurrus. She adds that students are often shocked to see an English professor with so much ink. “I think when people see other people with a lot of tattoos, they assume

City College English Professor Jodi Angel presents the theme of appearence vs. reality to students in her classroom, her new heart tattoo proudly displayed on her left hand. | Photo by Tammy Kaley

track — society is becoming more accepting that they are less capable or less intelligent “I personally wouldn’t say I don’t have — but there is still this implicit judgment.” or less successful,” Angel says. “When an issue with tattoos,” says Denise Corvo, Angel advises that anyone getting a people see me, I think they assume I lack Togo’s franchise owner and manager, “but it tattoo or even thinking of getting tattoos intellectual capabilities.” depends really. What is the image depicting?” needs to “think about the commitment, There is also a stigma against parents Corvo says she meets all sorts of because [tattoo] removal is not an option.” with tattoos. Angel proudly talks about applicants. Having tattoos is not a factor in her grown daughter who also has tattoos, including one Fernandez sees tattoos as a form of self-expression that are often used to show a identical to her mother’s, the “paradoxical frog, tadpole.” person’s creative side. Still, he says, he, too, succumbs to the stereotypical response According to Angel, the frog to body ink, assuming that individuals with tattoos have “lots of problems.” is the only “animal” larger than its parents — like her Angel says half jokingly, “Once you look daughter, who is much taller than Angel whether or not she chooses to hire them. down, they are there forever, and you can’t (who is 6-feet-2). “As an employer, I understand why not see them.” Angel admitted that even she, like others [employers] would look at someone Fernandez, makes judgments when and not want tattoos, but there are other More and more young people with she sees others with tattoos. However, things to worry about,” Corvo says. “I Angel says her concern for young people tattoos are coming into the workforce; some have hired some people with tattoos, and is whether or not they can make wise know the struggles of getting a job while they have provided the best service, and choices regarding this permanent body tatted up, and others have yet to experience I have also hired young people without modification. the lack of appreciation for ink. The Togo’s any, and they have provided a really poor “Young people who are making these franchise located on Freeport Boulevard service. As long as they have a clean cut decisions are not at the level to make that has had an array of young workers. While appearance, I have no issue.” kind of commitment,” she says. “I don’t many large chain corporations often Corvo’s advice to millennials or think young people understand how have restrictions on the display of body anyone wanting to get tattoos is to think others look at tattoos or judge you if modifications, Togo’s does not have any thoroughly about it, especially if they plan you have them.” policies about tattoos, but it does, however, on working as a professional. She adds, “Socially we are on the right have regulations on piercings. “I would say that you should go out

Tattoo artists describe people like Josh Fernandez as a body suit, someone covered in tattoos from collarbones to ankles. | Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson

Ryan Tanton, co-founder and owner of The American Tradition in midtown, works on a client. | Photo by Tammy Kaley

and get interviews and get a feel for how employers feel about tattoos before getting any.” She also advised to not get tattoos on impulse. “If you decide to get one, then make sure it is coverable so you do not have to worry about employers worrying about it,” she says. Neill Little, the editor in chief for the Express, the City College newspaper, agrees. “Because of possible jobs I could have, that is the only thing that is stopping me from having full sleeves,” says Little, who has a tattoo of Orion’s belt on his right shoulder. Current City College journalism student Rose Vega has a few tattoos and will soon enter into the professional workplace. The 19-year—Jodi Angel old aspiring writer now works in a small cafe and coffee shop and has six tattoos with the hope of more to come.

getting more or, so far, prevented her from getting a job. “If someone doesn’t want to hire me because I have tattoos, then that’s not the job I want,” says Vega. In her current job as a café barista Vega recieves a variety of inquiries about her pieces. “I once had this really old customer tell me that no one would want to marry me if I had tattoos.” She may not be married, but her boyfriend, she says, doesn’t seem to mind her body art. She also adds, “I have a lot of customers asking me about my tattoos. I even had one guy tell me I should come to his shop and get a tattoo.” As for her personal opinions about others with ink, Vega says she does not often judge them. “I’d like to inquire about their tattoos — like, why do you have boobs or nudes on your shoulder, or why do you have neck and head tattoos?” she says. “That is there forever.”

Socially we are on the right track — society is becoming more accepting — but there is still this implicit judgment.

“Each one of my tattoos has a meaning,” Vega says, pointing to her first tattoo — an outline of a hummingbird surrounded with flowers. “I got it for my grandma after she died because she was important to me. She used to watch [hummingbirds] all the time. When she passed, they stopped coming to the house. I cried when I got the tattoo — not because it hurt but because of what it meant.” She and her best friend also have matching tattoos. “Even if we do not end up staying friends, at least I have a nice tattoo,” Vega says. On what looks like the humble beginnings of a decorated sleeve on her right arm, an image of Frida Kahlo outlines a series of flowers. She also has an anchor holding fast to her right ring finger. “It’s supposed to symbolize being grounded,” Vega says laughing, “because I am not a grounded person.” Her tattoos do not stop her from 26

Indeed, they are forever, and for people like me, that is OK. People often ask me why I got a spider tattoo. Someone very dear to me once told me that this creature was going to guide me through life. Spiders represent change, which is inevitable, and one must simply accept that. In the natural world, when an arachnid forms a beautiful web and the web is damaged or destroyed, it is up to the spider to fix what was taken. The spider will never spin the same web again, but to move forward, it will create a new web. Perhaps one day societal views of tattoos as belonging only to the uncouth will be torn down and swept away, much like a spider web — and the web we choose to rebuild will be stronger and more accepting of a more complex array of humanity — whether individuals have tattoos or not.

Tattoo Terminology Source:

Autoclave – A machine that uses high

pressure and hot water to sterilize equipment used for tattooing before and after each session.

Body Suit – A full body tattoo that

usually starts at the neck or collarbone and covers the entire body to the ankles; hands and feet do not usually get tattooed.

Cadaver – Someone who does not talk while getting a tattoo.

Carving – Another name for tattooing. Cockamamie – A design or decal prepared on special paper for transfer to another surface; temporary tattoos applied by wetting the paper backing and pressing against the skin. Irons – A tattoo artist affectionately will refer to a tattoo machine as the irons.

Jailhouse – A tattoo that usually is done

with a makeshift gun at home or in jail.

Dealers – Customers who try to bid down the price of their tattoo.

Scratcher - An awful tattoo artist who inks too deep or has an unsteady hand.

Showcase – A customer who wears a lot of

one particular artist’s work.

Wrastler – A person who is getting a

tattoo who faints but comes up fighting.

Tac – Another name for a tattoo, as in “tac it on.”

Artwork lines the walls of American Tradition Tattoo shop in midtown Sacramento. | Photo by Tammy Kaley


Vanessa S. Nelson and Joshua C. Nelson on Christmas Eve 2007 pose for a portrait session sponsored by Moment by Moment, an organization that provides family portraits for families of children with life-threatening illnesses. | Photo by Lynn Green

A mother’s intimate recollection of her son’s cancer experience By Vanessa S. Nelson In October 2007, a little boy sat on a hospital bed wearing his daddy’s newsboy-style black hat and a Spiderman PJ set. I pointed a camera at him and told one of the strongest people I know to smile for a picture — a picture that would become a favorite of close friends and family for years to come. His name was Joshua Caleb Nelson, known to everyone as Joshie, and his story began June 23, 2003. That summer day was one of the happiest of my life. In my arms I held my third child, who had a head full of black curly hair and deep dark eyes that took in the world around him. Over the next four years, Joshie grew into a little ball of fire. He was an energetic kid with a sharp mind and an infectious laugh. His first four years were full of some of the greatest memories our family ever made. Looking back, nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. On Sept. 27, 2007, my little boy was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer. I had never heard of neuroblastoma, but it didn’t take me long to realize how serious this disease was. Two weeks before Joshie was diagnosed, he woke up with a fever, something that isn’t unusual for a 4-year-old, but what was unusual was that he also couldn’t walk. He was suffering from severe leg pain, so I called his pediatrician, Dr. Carl Hsu, who wanted to see Josh within the hour. I packed up my little guy and headed to his office, not really thinking too much of it. I thought it was some kind of infection or something that would get better with antibiotics. When we arrived at Dr. Hsu’s office, we were probably there for 15 minutes before he sent us to Sutter Memorial Hospital. At this point I was really starting to worry. When we arrived, the intake nurses were waiting for us. Joshie was admitted to the hospital for evaluation and testing. After several tests the doctors were a little baffled as to what was going on with him. Joshie started to improve, so they decided to release him, but they decided to do one last test: a bone marrow aspiration. The doctors said they were just taking precautions and would have the results in a few days. We took Joshie home and, though he was able to walk, he still was not his normal spunky self.

A week later we got a phone call telling us to pack a bag and bring our little boy to the hospital. Over the phone, the staff was reluctant to tell us anything specific about the bone aspiration results, which compounded our worry. I remember jumping in the shower and praying to God over and over again to let my baby boy be OK. At this time my husband Fred and I had three other children — Angelica, 8, Peleke, 5, and Nathan, 18 months old. We loaded them into the car, and off to Grandma’s house they went. When we arrived at the children’s hematology and oncology department of Sutter Memorial Hospital, my husband and I were more scared than we had ever been in our lives. We were ushered into a room where there was an oval table and a camera and TV set up. Joshie had been given a little toy motorcycle to play with and was busy with that when Dr. Yung Yim, head nurse Cindy Bertoldi, and social worker Ann Kelly came into the room with faces that no parents ever want to see. By this time I was sitting at the edge of my seat. When Dr. Yim told us our beloved boy had neuroblastoma, I remember looking at him and thinking, “Well, give him some pills and let us go home.” The word was new to me. Then devastating words came: “Your son has cancer.” Our whole world became that little conference room, and it felt as if the walls were going to fall upon us at any moment. I looked down at Joshie playing with that toy motorcycle as any 4-year-old would and looked at the doctor and told him, “No, that can’t be right. Since he was born, we have done everything right: taken him to the doctors, got him his shots. Everything you doctors have told us to do with him we’ve done.” Dr. Yim reassured us that there was nothing that we had done or hadn’t done. But as a parent you think, of course, there was something I could have done to prevent this. At the time of the diagnosis Joshie’s bone marrow was 90 percent contaminated with the disease, and there was a softball-sized tumor on his adrenal gland. Dr. Yim informed us that Joshie’s chance of survival was 40 percent, which meant he had a 60 percent chance that of succumbing to the disease. But with prayer and the doctors’ help we were hoping for 100 percent survival and recovery. Our world seemed to come to a halt that day, and the next few days seemed like a dream. Joshie was admitted to the sixth 29

Joshua C. Nelson with his parents, Frederick J. and Vanessa S. Nelson, who pose with their third child battling neuroblastoma. | Photo by Lynn Green

floor of Sutter Memorial Hospital where a catheter for medication was inserted into his little chest, and chemo started later that afternoon. As I sat there holding my boy and watching the chemo drip from the IV, I honestly could not believe what I was seeing. Here was this little beautiful boy who just a few weeks before was full of energy now sitting on a hospital bed receiving chemotherapy. I mostly felt fear — fear of the unknown, fear that the treatment wasn’t going to work, fear that I was going to lose my baby boy. The doctors formulated a treatment plan that involved nine rounds of invasive chemo. Because Joshie had a “high risk” form of neuroblastoma, his treatment plan included very high doses of chemo. The next step was to reduce the tumor as much as possible in order to remove it. The final step was to harvest Joshie’s stem cells and have him undergo a stem cell transplant at UC San Francisco. The chemo was the worst. To try to save Josh, the chemo would wipe out every white blood cell he had. Then he would have to have shots to boost the white cells again and wait to recover for the next chemo round. During the time when he had no white cells, Joshie would have to stay behind a set of glass doors because he was “neutropenic” — meaning that because of his low levels of white blood cells, he was very prone to infection that his body could not fight off. Even though his white cells were low, and sometimes my poor buddy would be so tired he’d sleep for hours, there were many times when his spunky self 30

appeared. One time he unhooked his IV, darted through those glass doors and started running down the halls of the hospital laughing while the nurses and I chased him. It’s a memory I hold close to this day. The first round of chemo was the most difficult and terrifying of them all. In addition to the newness of it, Joshie became horrifically ill. I thought I was going to lose my boy right then and there. His fever was off the charts, he was physically weak, and he was just so sick overall. I prayed, whole churches prayed, and, like the fighter he was, Joshie came through that first round. Shortly after the chemo started to change Joshie’s appearance and his hair began to fall out, Fred, as well as our boys Peleke and Nathan, had their heads shaved, too. Two week after Joshie was diagnosed, Fred and I learned that I was six weeks pregnant with our fifth child. During the biggest trial of our lives, we were blessed with a little piece of joy. The pregnancy proved difficult at times because, to protect the child inside me from radiation or chemo exposure, I wasn’t able to be with Joshie. Though we often went together, Fred

accompanied Joshie on those occasions, which I hated to miss. Over the next two years Joshie would undergo several rounds of chemo, countless pokes, prods and tests. Through it all, our little guy fought like a champ. Angelica and Peleke would often come stay overnight in the hospital with Joshie and me. We tried to make him feel as if he was living a regular life. Sutter Memorial was equipped with gaming consoles, movies, lots of ice cream, toys — anything to try to boost patients’ and parents’ spirits. Sometimes when he was feeling well enough, we would have game tournaments. Angelica would go into the little kitchen and make root beer floats, I’d get a gaming console, Peleke would pick out Joshie’s favorite games, and we’d stay up into the early morning

hours playing Mario 64, Joshie’s favorite game. Joshie loved those nights. He would lie there and laugh, and sometimes he’d join in. At times he would even start jumping all over the place — he was so happy to have his brother and sister there. Joshie’s cancer didn’t respond to the chemo the way we would have liked, and it took a little longer for him to be able to have surgery. Eventually, doctors removed the whole tumor. Though we were joyful about that, the news was tempered by the fact that Josh’s bone marrow was still largely contaminated, and we still had a stem cell transplant to face. And face it we would. We packed up our family to move to San Francisco where Joshie would undergo his transplant at UCSF. Things started off well, as far as these types of things go, but then took a dramatic turn for the worse. Joshie’s liver stopped functioning due to an adverse reaction to the extremely high doses of chemo he received

as part of the transplant. He rapidly gained 13 pounds of fluid and was essentially suffocating due to the fluid buildup around his lungs. To give him more time, in hopes that his liver would start functioning again, the doctors punctured his chest to drain some of that fluid. As days passed, his liver still did not respond. Finally the doctors pulled Fred and me into a meeting and informed us that our little boy might not make it through the week. Our hearts shattered at the news, though we held on to our faith and each other more than ever. We stayed close to Joshie’s side listening to every breath, watching every move, scared every moment that it was going to be his last. There was one last shot: a non-FDA approved drug that would have to be flown in overnight from Europe. Getting this drug was not as easy. The oncologist, Dr. Horn, quite literally

Joshua C. Nelson teases his siblings Peleke I. Nelson and Angelica E. Nelson by threatening to put his boogers on them. | Photo by Lynn Green

put her license on the line to get that drug for my son. Because of Joshie’s kidney function levels, the FDA would not approve the use of the drug. If something went wrong, Dr. Horn could’ve been blamed and lost her license. I still remember her exact words: “I don’t care about my license if this little boy dies.” But Dr. Horn secured the drug, which proved to be a success. That evening Joshie’s liver started to function, and our whole family felt reborn. So much of the pain and anxiety we’d been experiencing all of those months gave way to joy and hope. Even though we knew it might only be temporary, for a time we felt like everything was going to be OK.


in his brain at this point. He would start radiation, but that would be only to manage the size of the tumors and their effects, including seizures and loss of basic physical abilities. It was agonizing watching our beautiful boy suffer and lose his ability just to be a boy. Joshie continued to fight. But within about eight months we had to place him on home hospice care to make things as comfortable for him as possible. Through it all I would always tell Joshie to fight. I would say, Joshua C. Nelson wears his daddy’s newsboy-style cap as he sits atop his hospital bed at Sutter Memorial “You fight, papa — we’re Hospital recovering from his second round of chemotherapy in 2007. | Photo By Vanessa S. Nelson going to beat this.” Finally one evening I cradled him in my arms, kissed him all over and with a heart ready We stayed at UCSF as Josh finished his transplant treatment to burst, I told my little boy that he didn’t have to fight anymore. I for another month without incident, and when it was complete, told him that we would all be OK and that we would see him soon we were happy to bring our boy home and hopeful that the in heaven. He slept peacefully that night and on the morning of transplant would be a success. Aug. 12, 2009, my beloved son Joshie passed away in my arms. That Joshie was released from UC San Francisco on July 4, 2008. precious creature that the doctors placed in my arms only six short On July 15 we welcomed a beautiful healthy baby boy into our years before would never take another breath again. family. We gave him Josh’s middle name, Caleb. For me, that day will always be the day that the earth stood still. About two weeks later, we received some of the most astonishing news we could’ve hoped for. Joshie’s bone marrow Sometimes in life there are before and after moments that was cancer-free! We had waited almost two years for that to define who you are, what you believe and why you do what you do. happen. My boy was going to be OK! To make things even For me, everything in my life can be easily identified as happening better, Joshie had a Make-A-Wish trip to Disneyland coming either when my boy was still here or when my boy passed into the up. Not only would he be able to go, but we all would be able to heavens. do it without the sinking feeling that this might be our last trip Three years after Joshie’s passing we had our sixth and final child, together. little Aiden, the darling of the house. Angelica, Peleke, Nathan, Caleb, We had a blast at Disneyland. We were just so happy Aiden, Fred and I never stop talking about Joshie; his name is heard and hopeful about Joshie’s prognosis. But that happiness and daily in our home. When I’m asked how many children I have, I say six hopefulness turned out to be short-lived. Almost two months because I will always be a mother to six children. after our trip, Joshie woke up in the middle of the night with a To this day I wear a camera pendant with a tiny photo inside of headache and vomiting. He was immediately admitted to the Joshie wearing his daddy’s newsboy cap. If people are curious about hospital where they ran multiple scans. We weren’t ready for the what’s inside, I open it and show them my third son, who is always news we received the next day: Joshie had a legion of tumors in with me. his brain. We were so worried about his bone marrow that no one — none of us — thought to look at what was happening to Vanessa Nelson is the photo editor of the Express newspaper his brain. and Mainline magazine at City College. She is also the official I couldn’t believe it. I cried, I yelled, and I just despaired. photographer for the Sacramento Gold and also works as a freelance There was no cure. No treatment would rid Joshie of the cancer photographer for Capital Public Radio. 32

Mission Statement Mainline magazine is published as part of the Sacramento City College Journalism Department and produced by students in the Journalism 403 and 407 courses. The views expressed in Mainline do not necessarily reflect those of the City College Journalism Department, Sacramento City College, or the Los Rios Community College District. Mainline Magazine was founded in 1995 by two former City College students: Doug Heendon and Paul Estabrook, with the idea that the magazine would complement the student newspaper, Express. For more information regarding Mainline magazine, Journalism 403 and 407, of the City College Journalism Department, contact: Jan Haag Sacramento City College 3835 Freeport Blvd. Sacramento, CA 95822 916.558.2696 Find us on the web at

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