EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Magdalena Guillen ART DIRECTOR Niv Ginat PHOTO DIRECTOR William Camargo WEB EDITOR Ethan Hawkes COPY EDITORS Jaclyn Adams Sasha Belani Julia Gutierrez Sara Hiatt Amanda Newell Ashley Ruiz
Letter from the Editor
light coming from a small lamp
photographed surgeries, dental procedures
illuminated the pieces of paper
and physical checkups of the people of San
I had in front of me. As I read
Raymundo, Guatemala. They trekked up the
each story, the darkness that
mountainous terrain and observed the warm
surrounded me seemed to embrace me
colors of the Sarstún sunrise, shocked by
and I was dragged into the depths of each
the grandeur of mother nature.
writer’s thoughts and pain. I was
Inspired by these stories, our editors,
captivated by the words that graced each
designers and photographers envisioned
paper, flowing from agony to amusement,
to illustrate the unfolding of the writer’s life
memories of those whose story was being
onto these pages. The creation of this
told. And while many expect a happily
magazine was a process that unraveled
-ever-after as an ending, most of these
into an overlay of different stories, artwork,
stories reflect that life is a work-in-progress,
photographs and designs created by our
DESIGNERS Trung Do Amonnatt Ladasoonthorn Carose Le
always changing, and ever-evolving.
incredibly talented team. Between many
PHOTOGRAPHERS Mariah Carrillo Ashley Garcia
In this issue of Tusk, we are confronted
nights that turned into days and countless
by the scarring of abusive relationships,
revisions, I am constantly amazed by their
the torment of living with AIDS, going blind,
work. This magazine could not have been
anti-war sentiments and pride over a name.
made possible without my team and the
We are showered with the glittering world
advisement of Arnold Holland and Jeffrey
of drag and what it means to perform for
Brody. I thank each and every one for their
a young man. You will travel a the fork in the
dedication to this magazine.
road, embracing an answer to the burning
WEB DESIGNERS Trung Do
question many women ask themselves, and
year’s editor-in-chief of Tusk, and now, I sit
the struggle of self-identification of a young
here reflecting on our journey. I hope that
woman between two ethnicities. You will
the small light illuminates you with each
sympathize with a runaway wife, jailed in
story. I hope that although, some never
her own home, and with a student who is
reach a happy ending, we see their life
diagnosed with a rare disease, submerged
unfold into a new beginning.
Kylie Vietor MULTIMEDIA Gurajpalpreet Sangha
A year ago, I was chosen to be this
between life and death.
EDITORIAL ADVISER Jeffrey Brody ART ADVISER Arnold Holland TUSK is published annually by Cal State Fullerton Department of Communications. The opinions expressed within are the responsibility of the writers and don’t necessarily reflect those of the university, faculty or student body. This issue of Tusk was printed at Alliance Print & Graphic Services in Orange County. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Published Spring 2014. 2600 Nutwood Ave., Fullerton, CA 92834
Some of our staff traveled down to Guatemala aiding a nonprofit organization, bringing medical attention, clean water and education to impoverished communities. Students encountered the smiling faces of children who did not know the only health care they would receive that year would be through the volunteers of Refuge International. Students reported and
All I wanted to do was fit in. Looking back, maybe I kind of helped the problem by overlooking it. Looking back, I’m happy I never came close to changing my name. Some students I know, asked their parents to change their name because they couldn’t deal with people constantly asking how to spell or pronounce it. Or sometimes because of the abuse they encountered for being “different”. During this phase, I had asked my grandmother a lot of questions about the significance of my name. She answered as best she could, helping and inspiring me to embrace my name and overlook all negative reactions. To help distract my mind from the drama regarding my name in school, I turned to sports.
8 14 18 24 30 36
Queen B. Step into a glittering world of glamour and show. Lights, camera, drag. This is the story of Nomi B.
Between the Shades A young woman feels she doesn’t completely identify with her dual ethnicities. Here, she is in the process of defining herself.
Through a Capped Lens When a photographer’s life is forever changed after contracting AIDS and becoming blind, he doesn’t let his blurred vision affect his passion for the arts.
Lost Soul, Found Heart Scarred by an abusive relationship with her parents and a high school boyfriend, a young woman faces the challenge of breaking free.
Two Roads One woman, at the age of 24, finds herself at a fork in the road between building a career or a family.
Breathless in Rome When a Roman vacation turns deadly, a student must find her way home before her lungs collapse.
42 54 60
The People’s Protest of China Outraged by the 2008 Olympic location, a pastor willingly puts his own life at risk by actively protesting the games.
A Place for Us An eviction notice leaves a family homeless for nine months leaving them to seach for a place to call their own.
Plastic Vows A young woman enters a loveless marriage to gain independence from her mother’s home, only to become trapped again.
u 66 72 76
What’s in a Name? A young man learns to embrace the uniqueness of his name, using it as a way to make him stand out.
Revisiting Refuge In San Raymundo, Guatemala, a nurse returns to a medical mission site, only this time as a patient.
67 Rounds A Kent State alumnus encounters the tragic loss of a friend during the “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable” May 4th Massacre.
HE’S STRONG. SHE’S FIERCE. THIS IS NOMI B.
Story by KRISTIN GOODWILLIE Photographs by WILLIAM CAMARGO and ASHLEY GARCIA
On a warm fall evening in the backyard of a house in La Habra, Calif., Chris Escalera, microphone in hand, celebrates his Hollywood-themed 22nd birthday. Beaming, he excitedly announces the amazing Nomi B. The spotlight is on the stage and the dark night blankets the audience. Britney Spears blasts through the speakers. A high-heeled, blonde prances down the stairs and begins singing and dancing to the pounding music. She squats down, jumps up shaking her hips from side to side, and uses a wooden balcony pillar as a pole to sensually glide her body down. Her presence captivates the audience as she radiates fierceness with her seductive eyes, daring anyone to challenge her. Nomi B. sings the last lyric and the song ends. There is a hush in anticipation for more, but Nomi B. turns and strides off, chest and head held high, each step of those lethal 6-inch heels stomping the ground without a wobble of an ankle.
Performing in drag, she wasn’t about to do another song in the same outfit. While Nomi B. starts walking toward the changing room, a passer-by asks if she will perform another song. Her focused eyes stay on the changing room door as she walks past him, not even acknowledging his existence. “I wouldn’t say that I am a drag queen because to me that is someone’s full-time job,” said 23-year-old Fermin Bello, known as Nomi B. when he is performing. “I don’t do it seven days a week; I just perform in drag.” It has been almost a month since he performed at his friend’s birthday. Fermin sits on his bed and tries to find a comfortable position.
He has just woken up and smiles as he adoringly looks around the room at his collection of extravagant dresses. Fermin shares the room with his younger brother, Jaime. In the closet there is a mixture of boys’ clothes, long dresses and heels with at least three different colored wigs sprinkled around the room. His brother, still in high school, doesn’t mind this invasion of wigs, fake eyelashes or bras. Jaime looks like a thug with his shaved head, oversized white T-shirt and baggy jeans. He once fought a friend of his for calling Fermin a derogatory name related to his sexual orientation. He also attends many of Nomi B.’s shows. Fermin expresses how lucky he is to have his brother, mother and sister supportive of him.
But he did grow up in a strict Mexican Catholic family and Fermin is considered a disgrace to his father. When they pass each other at home, they politely say hello, but his dad barely looks at him. “It made me see my dad differently,” Jaime said. “To single Fermin out for being gay didn’t make sense to me.” Fermin entered into a depressed period after coming out to his family. It was during this discouraging time that Escalera reached out to show his support. Fermin and Escalera were in the middle of a photoshoot with Fermin’s face half in drag and half normal when Madame LaQueer, a well-known drag queen from season four of the popular TV show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” saw them. She walked over to the shoot and asked Bello, “Do you have a drag mother?” “No.” “Well now you do,” replied LaQueer.
“ I just love the
of people who disapprove of how they
A drag mother is a mentor to young men beginning their career in drag. They were more prevalent when it was “unthinkable” to be gay. Drag mothers would let the boys live with them and helped them cope with the social restrictions of being gay. LaQueer mentored Fermin in makeup tips, gave advice on where to perform and directed him to nice dress shops. In drag, it is customary that a new drag queen takes the last name of their drag mother. Thinking it’s a ridiculous custom, Madame LaQueer told Fermin to keep his name as it is. “Nomi is a tribute to the movie ‘Showgirls’ and B. can stand for whatever you want it to be. It could be: Bello, beautiful, bastard, bitch,” said Fermin, who put in a lot of time thinking about his drag name. He sighs as he expresses how happy he is to keep his simple drag name. Fermin likes to keep the “B.” openended because it allows the audience to decide who they want him to be. There are times he has been booed, but now he chooses not to listen—he just doesn’t hear them anymore.
Fermin used to work retail in the Brea Mall. He would wear regular men’s clothes with Jeffrey Campbell heels. When customers noticed Fermin wearing heels, their smiling faces changed to a stone cold look, judgment written all over their faces. “Why do you wear your heels when people look at you like that?” Escalera asked Fermin one day. “I just love the reaction of people who disapprove of how they think things should be,” he responded. Misunderstanding is a common thread with drag queens. Most people think drag queens want to be girls, but, as the definition reads, their goal is just to entertain. With many critics, Fermin thinks the hardest part of performing in drag is becoming comfortable with yourself and not listening to negative inner thoughts. Nomi B. goes through a two-hour process to put on full hair and makeup. She wears a bra, heels and an abundance of jewelry. He is transformed.
“B can stand for whatever you want it to be ...
Bello, Beautiful, Bastard, Bitch.”
Fermin revealed that he often feels like an outcast at shows. Most of the other girls are loud and obnoxious queens, whereas he is mellow and quiet. He also hates dressing in drag when he isn’t performing and takes off his makeup as fast as possible. “The only time I feel different is when I am onstage, then I am Nomi B.,” confessed Fermin. Everyone knows drag queens lip-sync. It is their goal to be so convincing that you don’t see a drag queen, you see Britney Spears or Lady Gaga. When Fermin’s mother, a traditional Catholic woman, went to his show for the first time, her eyes filled with tears as she realized the smiles he put on his audiences’ faces. “I don’t care what people say, all drag queens are actors and acting is my passion,” exclaims Fermin.
Nomi B. gets on the stage at the 340 Restaurant and Nightclub in Pomona wearing a tube top. She begins dancing around the stage and looks down to notice that the flesh colored strapless silicone bra, or chicken cutlets, as Fermin describes them, are showing. Nomi B. looks up with her eyes wide and mouth slightly open, a stricken expression blankets her face. She has already given it away; the audience knows she messed up. Her hands grasp the top of her tube top and she pulls it down, flashing her chicken cutlets to the crowd and dancing around until they fall off. When the song ends, Nomi B. picks them up from the floor, rubs them all over her face and glides off stage. Her fierce, sassy persona is left onstage, awaiting her next performance. TUSK
Torn between two ethnicities, one girl struggles to find her place Story by Julia Gutierrez Photographs by Mariah Carrillo
On every ethnic and racial demographic form attached to a survey or application, I have always stopped and gotten stuck at which option to select. White or Latino/Hispanic? Which one am I? My father is a fourth generation MexicanAmerican and my mother is a mix of various European heritages. My mother, who towers over my father, is amazonian in stature with blue-gray eyes and fair skin. Her maiden name is Rothenberger. My father is a small, dark-haired man with tan skin. Passers-by have often said he strongly resembles Vicente Fernández, a famous Mexican singer. I, on the other hand, have been torn between two racial identities my whole life. A mix of European and Mexican heritages. Between Caucasian and Latino options, I have always gotten uncomfortable. Which am I? What am I more of ? I’m too white for my dad’s family and I’m too brown for my mom’s side. However, being mixed race has always been more of an issue on my father’s side. The night after my first day of kindergarten, we visited my extremely religious, “viva la familia,” Mexican-American grandmother, Mary. “What did you do in school, india güera?” TUSK
“I am not brown enough to be Hispanic, but I am not white enough to be Caucasian.”
She has called me that for as long as I can remember as a back-handed term of endearment. It means white Indian, and shows exactly what her perspective of me was and still is. Latina, but not Latina enough. A half-breed. Biracial. “We practiced writing our names,” I said. I scribbled my childlike writing on scratch paper that she left out for me to draw on. “Julia Gutierrez,” I dictated in standard, accentless English. “Gut-i-er-rez.” “That’s not how you say it mija! Roll your R’s.” Mary often scolded me for this. I always stared at her stoically as she tried to force me to “roll my R’s.” Roll my R’s? How the hell does that work?’ My tongue couldn’t find the right place to say my last name the “right” way. But why would it? I lived with a redheaded European and a father who always said, “I’m an American, not a Mexican. Mexicans are from Mexico.” I didn’t know a lick of Spanish. To Mary, my mother ruined my life by not getting me baptized in a Catholic church, throwing me a quinceañera or teaching me how to speak Spanish. For some reason she thought if she forced it enough, I would learn it. She constantly spoke Spanish in conversations with me as if I knew exactly what she was saying. But I had no idea. I just smiled and nodded until she stopped. I love Mary, but I was never as close with her as I was with my mother’s mom, Maureen. Probably because half the time I didn’t know what she was saying. Maureen has always been good to me. She never spoke a language I didn’t understand, she never tried to shove frijoles and sopa down my throat and she never made me roll my R’s when saying any word requiring more than one ‘R.’ But before I was born she was under the impression that I would be born wearing a sombrero, singing “La Bamba.” To Maureen I was a full-bred Mexican. Even though I grew up showing no sign of siding with that part of myself. I loathed Mexican food as a child.
I didn’t speak Spanish and my skin was pasty. I spent more time with my mother than my father, and after my parents separated, I rarely saw the other half of my family. But she still saw me that way. Even though I was ultimately raised by her daughter. So I have one side of the family that looks at me as a white girl and the other side of the family thinks otherwise. I am not brown enough to be Hispanic but I am not white enough to be Caucasian. What am I? I struggled with this question throughout my life. After leaving my cushy private school for a public education, I frequently received comments from my peers about race. I attended a school that was full of ESL participants and kids with Lopez, Hernandez, Gomez, Gutierrez or Rodriguez as a last name. “Are you Mexican?” one student asked. Many students asked this after hearing my last name. “Yes, but only half, my dad is Mexican,” I replied. “Well, what part of Mexico is your dad from?” My peers were usually puzzled as I explained that my father was not from Mexico, and neither was his mother or his father. He has only been to Mexico a few times and last time it was to vacation in Cabo San Lucas with my mother. The racial confusion was also pointed out by my teachers, even throughout high school. When teachers took roll for the first time, they said my first and last name with a Spanish accent, almost as if they expected me to raise my hand and reply saying “Hola.” “Here,” I said, and my teachers seemed confused. I was obviously not who they were expecting to see. Although situations similar to these have continued to occur, I have become less annoyed and more humored by them. I laugh off the awkwardness and choose to not fit into any category. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am just me. I am eclectic. I am just human and I do not associate myself with race or with any specific side of my family. Now when I see a racial demographic form attached to a survey or application, I don’t answer.
After contracting AIDS and losing his vision, one man continues to pursue his dream. Story by Adreana Young Photographs by William Camargo and courtesy of Kurt Weston
His eyes peered through the darkness. In a dimmed room Kurt Weston stared intently at the photography negatives of beautiful models. He was working in the dark room of Pivot Point International, a beauty school in Chicago that produced fashion catalogs, but he dreamed of one day taking the pictures he was developing. On the weekends Kurt worked with models and makeup artists for free to build up his photography portfolio. His bosses eventually saw his work and used his images to fill the small spaces in the catalog. His photos became wildly popular around his office. From the time he began working at Pivot Point in 1987 to 1988, Kurt rose in rank from photo developer to Pivot Point’s lead fashion photographer. Now behind the camera, both calling the shots and taking them, Kurt began traveling to Europe to photograph models. He met the directors of the big names in the beauty industry, and worked side by side with them and earned his own celebrity in the field. Nothing could bring him down, he was at the top of his game. Except for a cold he had recently developed –– or what Kurt thought was a cold. A cold that wouldn’t go away. The coughs never stopped. All night, all day, Kurt would cough. After not seeing a doctor for 10 years, he decided it was time to get checked out. Kurt went to an allergist where he was pricked and poked
with little needles. He had to wait a few days for the results, but it didn’t even take a day for Kurt to wake up in a sweat soaked bed with a raging fever. Something was wrong — this wasn’t just a minor cough. This was something big. Kurt thumbed through his insurance catalog to find a doctor near him and was in the doctor’s office the next day. With a cold stethoscope pressed to his chest, Kurt breathed in and out. Fluid sloshed inside his lungs. The doctor ordered X-rays. He told Kurt he had pneumonia but he needed to do blood work to determine what type. The doctor sent Kurt home with antibiotics, but things continued to get worse. After ten days passed, out of breath and unable to walk from the pneumonia, Kurt asked his sister to take him to the hospital for the results. The doctor walked into the room with a stern look on his face. “Is it OK if your sister hears what I have to tell you?” he asked. “Yes,” Kurt replied softly. “She’s my sister. Whatever it is you have to say to me you can say in front of her.” “I have some very bad news,” the doctor said. “You have full-blown AIDS.” Kurt’s sister wrapped her arms around her ailing brother and wept with him. A normal person’s T-cell count is roughly 1,000 or above, Kurt’s was three. He was wheeled into the hospital to live out what they thought would be the last days of his life. He was 31. TUSK TUSK
When Kurt first entered college in 1977, he was working on his Bachelor of Science; but his real passion was in the arts. Photography inspired Kurt, but his parents told him they wouldn’t support him if he studied art. Kurt received his first bachelor’s degree in 1979, a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising. Toward the end of his time at Northern Illinois University, Kurt began to engage in risky sexual activity. It was then, the doctors believe, that Kurt contracted the HIV virus, 10 years prior to his AIDS diagnosis. After feeling unfulfilled at his job as a fashion merchandiser, Kurt decided to go back to school at Columbia College to study photography. His experiences at Pivot Point fueled his passion for the art, but it all came crumbling down after he survived his four-day hospital stay to treat his first bout of AIDS related pneumonia. In the early ‘90s AIDS and HIV were just beginning to be treated. People thought of the virus as a gay disease; “the gay cancer” some would call it. The ‘90s were a time when many people who had contracted HIV in the ‘80s, like Kurt, were beginning to die from lack of treatment.
YOU HAVE FULL-BLOWN
“Do you want to go back to work?” the doctor asked Kurt. “Well what else am I going to do?” Kurt replied. He couldn’t imagine his life without photography. The doctor told him he could go back to work if he wanted, but to keep quiet about the AIDS. Kurt went back to work and stayed quiet about his diagnosis. He never regained his weight after the pneumonia and began taking AZT, the only drug available in the early ‘90s for the treatment of AIDS, but the AZT only made Kurt feel sicker. While at work he’d struggle to fight the nausea and headaches while trying to keep everyone focused on the shoots. Rumors spread that he had the disease and as time went on it became harder to hide. All Kurt wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep. After working for two more years, it became too much. Kurt had battled his third bout of pneumonia, but the drugs weren’t working. He had to quit his job and go on disability. Two weeks after going on disability Kurt developed another opportunistic infection.
Purple lesions began to develop on Kurt’s body, a physical manifestation of the disease that was killing him. People would whisper under their breath, “that guy has AIDS,” or run away from him in the grocery store. Kurt was beginning to feel like a monster. But rather than sitting at home wasting away he decided to do something positive with his life. Kurt created a support group called Surviving with AIDS Network (SWAN) in 1993. At the SWAN meetings members talked about alternative ways they were trying to combat AIDS, such as ozone therapy and herbal remedies. Some of the makeup artists Kurt used to work with would come in to show the SWAN members how to do their makeup to cover up the lesions on their faces and bodies. Kurt tried some of the therapies himself. He tried ozone therapy where he stayed at a facility in New Mexico for ten days. The doctors injected ozone gas into his veins; the ozone molecules broke apart and filled his body. It only made him sick, it wasn’t a cure but it did, for a time, increase his T-cells.
Years passed and the pharmaceutical drugs weren’t working. Kurt began to see his SWAN friends succumb to the disease. They were dropping like flies. One after the other, all of his friends were dying. He would sit with them in their hospital rooms. The anguish on their faces mirrored his, he was not only watching his friends die, but himself as well. Toward the end of 1993 Kurt began to develop another opportunistic infection called Cytomegalovirus (CMV), a relatively common virus that can be treated with drugs, but because Kurt’s immune system was so weak, the CMV began to destroy the retinas in both his eyes. He was going blind. ‘This is it,’ he thought. ‘My life is fading, my vision is fading, there’s going to be nothing for me to live for anymore.’ The doctors started him on Ganciclovir, a drug to treat the CMV. IVs were inserted into Kurt’s arm and hung there day after day. They connected to a tube where Kurt inserted the Ganciclovir twice a day for two years. The Ganciclovir wasn’t working, so the doctors put Kurt on another drug called Foscarnet, but that didn’t work either.
After three years of taking the toxic drugs, doctors decided to combine them to try to give Kurt a little extra time. For sixteen hours a day Kurt wore a backpack filled with medicine –– Ganciclovir on one side, Foscarnet on the other. The backpack held a mixer that combined the drugs and pumped them into his thin, ever-ailing body. Kurt knew he wouldn’t live much longer. When his brother called him from Brea, Calif. and asked him to move in with him he agreed. Chicago weather was always so dreary; the warm California weather would do him good. When Kurt moved to Orange County in 1995, none of the medications were working. His doctors told him he probably wouldn’t live six months –– the CMV would eventually take over and kill him. But three months later pharmaceutical companies began developing drugs that combined all of the new AIDS treatment that could fight the virus at different stages in its life cycle. Kurt was put on a new AIDS cocktail of medicine, and he began to see the improvement he had been waiting years for. His T-cell count started going up.
The doctors told him his viral load was decreasing. Eventually he stopped taking the Ganciclovir and the Foscarnet. He took the IV out of his arm, and his lesions disappeared. He wasnâ€™t going to die anymore. As he regained his health, Kurtâ€™s desire for photography came back, but his eyesight never improved. He went to the University of California, Irvine medical center to try and get back what the AIDS had taken. The doctors put Kurt on another drug meant to help him regain some of his eyesight. But the experimental drug did the opposite, causing what was left of his retinas to become completely inflamed. Although Kurt had already lost a significant amount of his vision, this
drug did the final number on his eyes. It caused him to go completely blind in his left eye and he lost the central vision in his right eye. With his health partially restored, but with only a small amount of vision left, Kurt had to figure out how he was going to live the rest of his life. Photography was on his mind. He still had a little vision left, a small window of light to see the world through. Kurt went to the Braille Institute to learn how to use low vision devices: thick lensed glasses, monoculars, magnifying glasses, Kurt left the Braille Institute with a small backpack filled with devices to help him see and to help him take photos and edit them.
With his vision tools in hand, Kurt decided to go back to school to get his master’s in photography. He entered Cal State Fullerton’s master’s program in 2005, after learning to utilize the vision tools, a walking cane and his big, fluffy, white seeing-eye dog, Ambros. Kurt’s final show as an MFA student hung in the West Gallery at CSUF in 2008. “Hearts of a Silent Age” included photographs of the elderly, some about to die, some simply aging. The breathing tubes and the endless medication resonated with Kurt. He had been where they were, younger of course, but Kurt had seen death, shook its hand and walked away. His art had transformed from taking pictures of beautiful, made-up models to taking photos of the elderly. Their wrinkled hands, skin spots and earned imperfections contrasted with Kurt’s earlier work, a manifestation of what his own life had transformed into. A week after Kurt took down “Hearts of a Silent Age,” and right before he was set to graduate, he felt a pain in his abdomen, his appendix had burst. He was rushed in for surgery, but it wasn’t only his appendix. Kurt had cancer. He was diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a rare form of cancer that begins in the appendix. He walked across the stage at his graduation with fresh stitches and bandages from surgery.
‘I lived through AIDS and blindness, I got my master’s degree, and now I’m dying of a rare form of cancer,’ he thought. Kurt’s sister convinced him to contact a psychic who told him he would survive his cancer, but he needed to get out in nature. So he did, and he brought his camera with him. He shot a series called “Seasons in a Prayer Garden,” that showcased the vibrant colors of the leaves in fall, and blossoms of flowers in spring. In 2010 Kurt won the Arts Orange County artists of the year award. Five years after his diagnosis with cancer, Kurt hasn’t developed any more tumors. He still sees a specialist at the University of California, San Diego where he is being treated, but Kurt is surviving. To this day his left eye is covered by a black eye-patch, he takes eye-drops every day, swallows countless pills to treat the AIDS, and visits his doctor at UCSD every year for his cancer. But his work, “Seasons in a Prayer Garden,” “Hearts of a Silent Age” and his most famous, “Blind Vision,” has been sold and shown internationally in museums, and won him awards such as OC Metro magazine’s artist of the year. On Nov. 30, 2013, Kurt married his partner of 13 years, Terry. After wading through a life of pain and hardship and with his vision almost completely gone, his life now, like the flash of a photograph in a dark room, has never been brighter. TUSK TUSK
Found Story by Jennifer Nguyen Photographs by Eleonor Segura and Ashley Garcia
I first told people how I truly felt about my parents in fifth grade. My friends and I sat at the same table in class throughout the year, and we always had something to talk about while working. One day everyone was talking about how they interacted with their parents. They would go to fun places, like the beach, Mammoth Mountain or Knott’s Berry Farm. They spoke of the love they had for their mother and father, how they couldn’t live without them. The conversation was great until I spoke up about my parents. "I'm scared of my parents." That was probably one of the most puzzling things they had ever heard. I expected them to totally understand why I was scared of them. I even said it nonchalantly, like it was nothing out of the ordinary. “Why?” they asked, giggling at me. All I could say was that my parents were super strict.
My friends must have thought I was absolutely insane. Scared of your own parents?! Hello, they’re your parents! Sure, they are strict, but they can’t be the only ones! You’re not supposed to be scared of them, even if they’re strict! Later on in life, I discovered the difference between being strict and being abusive. Unfortunately, my parents were the latter and it was extremely difficult not having the proper parent-and-child connection with them that I had always yearned for. I went through 20-something years of life thinking my parents were simply more strict than most others. I thought that it was normal for me to not be able to express myself and be treated and beaten like an animal. If I accidentally spilled water on the kitchen floor, my dad would push me around or kick me in the back and legs.
Who would do such a thing to their child? What is wrong with them?
My mom would slap me across the face, beat me with a wooden spoon or pinch me until I was bruised if my apology didn’t seem genuine to her. I suffered the same physical consequences for laughing “too much,” talking before being spoken to, leaving my bedroom without permission, and spending more than 15 minutes on homework, just to name a few. Even after the physical abuse stopped when I was 11 years old, my parents still abused me verbally and emotionally, and I thought this was “normal.” When I would hear of child abuse on the news, my automatic reaction would be sadness and anger. Who would do such a thing to their child? What is wrong with them? But when it came to my situation, I actually believed I was doing something to deserve this. Otherwise, why else would they treat me like that? There were always feelings of guilt inside me. It never occurred to me that what I was going through at home was abuse until my second year of college. Everything I did was wrong. If I did do something right, it was not good enough for my parents, especially my mother. I was made to feel like a failure in life, like I was the problem. Much of my childhood was spent in an environment filled with pain, abuse and negativity, and that was all I knew. Many of the friends I made in high school were gang members or gang affiliated. After a few years of hanging out almost every week, I became familiar with all the things a gang member in Anaheim would know.
I knew all the gangs in the city — as well as their colors, gang signs and neighborhoods they were located in. I knew a lot of people who were in jail for attempted murder or because they actually did kill someone. My boyfriend at the time was a gang member as well. When we became a couple in May 2009, I had no idea; he was just someone I saw around school throughout the years. I didn’t know until a few weeks into our relationship that both he and his family belonged to the Anaheim Travelers City Gang, but that didn’t stop me from being with him. I accepted him for who he was and took pride in doing so. We went on dates to the movies and restaurants, and he gave me gifts like little teddy bears, perfume and jewelry. He introduced me to his friends and family. This was my first serious relationship and things started off well, or so it seemed. After just two weeks, he was asking multiple times a day when we were going to have sex. I was a virgin at the time, which was a major turn on for him. He was excited about “feeling a tight vagina,” and said he would feel honored taking my virginity. He claimed to be okay with waiting until I was ready, but still often asked, “So when do you think you’ll be ready? I can’t wait another week or two, babe, that’s too long.” I felt uncomfortable, pushed beyond my limits. The first time we had sex was a month into our relationship. I wasn’t ready. I agreed to it just to make him shut up. It was one of the most awkward moments in my life, but I gave in so he wouldn’t get more upset than he already was. As a virgin, I worried about my own sexual performance. Satisfying his sexual needs was all I was good for. He saw giving hugs, having long conversations, playing sports and just about anything not sex-related as “gay” and “stupid.” He had high expectations set for me and I always failed to reach them. Even when I was in the mood for sex, I still did a horrible job at pleasuring him. “Man, you suck at sex.” “I don’t feel shit when you’re sucking on me. You need to take some lessons on that.” “I could just go find some other girl who will do better than you. You don’t do anything good, man!”
Although there were times the sex was consensual, most of the time he had to force me down on his bedroom floor. If I tried fighting my way out of his grasp before he could push me to the floor, he would grab me and pin me to the wall with his body, hand around my neck. “You’re gonna be glad you got some today. You won’t ever meet anyone like me, so you should be grateful I do this to you, babe,” he always said. Intercourse was painful and it sometimes got bloody. He liked that. If I protested for him to stop, he kept going anyway, saying, “Come on, you know you like being raped. You don’t have to pretend, I know you like it.” I didn’t like it. I hated it, and he hated me for hating “rough sex.” He believed that if he kept it up, I would eventually “learn to enjoy getting raped.” When I’d try pushing him off, he’d push me back down, choking me and punching me on the side of my face. “What the fuck are you doing? I’m trying to make love to you, babe. Isn’t that what you want?” he asked. “You’re no fun!” He became more angry and violent with me as months passed. The more I tried fighting back, the more he threatened to kill me. And if I ever broke up with him, he said, he would kill me too. During the seven months we were together, I had two pregnancy scares, both following non-consensual sex. Although he always used condoms, there were some occasions where they broke from rough penetration. My last scare came in early October 2009, just two months before I left him. I hadn’t had my period since late August, and I refused to get a pregnancy test because I was scared to see the results. I was terrified. I tried to plan out how I would tell my parents if I was pregnant. I knew they would kick me out of the house, and as much as I couldn’t stand them, I couldn’t afford to live on my own yet. As for my boyfriend, he said if I was pregnant, he would kill the baby and me.
It was one of the most awkward moments in my life, but I gave in so he wouldn't get more upset than he already was.
Fortunately, the pregnancy test I finally took came out negative. In the first week of December, my period arrived, but it was a lot heavier than usual, with many clots. I usually handled the pain of menstrual cramps just fine, but it was almost unbearable this time. I also felt dizzy and nauseated, something I never experienced with past menstrual cycles. I never considered miscarriage as a possible cause of these strange events, but when I sometimes look back, I wonder if that’s what happened. In the end, all that mattered was that I wasn’t going to have a baby with a guy I felt ashamed to call my boyfriend. I left him for good on Christmas Eve that year. I told him through MySpace that we were over. It was the safest way to go about it to avoid his violent ways. I didn’t care if I ruined his Christmas and New Year; all the things he did to me caused far more damage than breaking up with him ever will. I was often confused during this relationship, if you want to call it a relationship, that is; it felt more like a slow death for me than anything. Shortly after the breakup, I often had vivid nightmares where I’d relive the sexual abuse. Today I still experience them at least once every two months. Just as I had dealt with my parents’ abuse, I believed I did something to deserve all the pain from my boyfriend. It puzzled me that someone else I trusted and felt comfortable with, treated me the way he did, so I blamed myself. I can’t say that I didn’t know what to do, because I did. I needed to leave him. But, I thought I would be considered a strong person to just take it – like I had with my parents. To take the pain like it had no effect on me, to make him see he wasn’t as strong or powerful as he may have thought he was.
I was tired of being seen as weak. But I was trying to win a fight that was not worth getting into in the first place, and this fight almost completely destroyed me. It’s strange that I was romantically involved with someone who treated me the same way my parents did. One would think I’d immediately stay away from someone who displayed the same aggressive behavior as my parents, but a negative environment was all I knew. After 20 years of abuse, living in a state of fear became almost second nature for me. I’ve struggled with trying to be perfect all the time, mentally beating myself up for making even the smallest mistakes, just as my parents and ex-boyfriend had done to me. It’s hard for me to trust people. And I’m especially terrified of hurting those I care about most, always keeping a close eye on everything I do and say. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any more traumatic event since then. In fact, my life started to get better as of early 2010. I was no longer in an abusive relationship. I stopped affiliating myself with gang members all together. I changed my major from graphic design to journalism and I graduated college with a B.A. in communications in December 2013, a long-awaited milestone. As a whole, plenty of good things have happened throughout the past three years, but it’s a bit of a challenge for me to be happy at times. It’s a foreign feeling. Sometimes, when I’m in a good mood, there is a voice in the back of my mind telling me it isn’t right for me to be happy. Instead of dwelling on my past and how things came to be, I’ve taken small steps toward improvement, which have been anything but small. I am talking more, smiling more, and laughing more.
By allowing myself to no longer be a prisoner of my past, the results have been incredibly rewarding. The majority of the effort has been mine, but I didn’t get to this point in my life all on my own. I met someone special who continues to show me what a healthy relationship is, and I couldn’t be more grateful. From the first day we met in 2010, he has always been a genuine person. Through the many ups and downs we’ve had during the past four years, he has taught me the importance of being myself, how to be affectionate, how fear doesn’t get me anywhere, and best of all, what it’s like to be treated with care, love and respect. Whenever I feel down on myself, I reflect on the long journey I’ve been on since 2010. I especially keep in mind what I aim to accomplish, and that is to be at peace with myself. I have found the existence of a positive state of mind that was once lost. So as amazing as it would be for this story to end with me living happily-everafter, I’m still a work in progress; it may not be a cliché happy ending, but it is my happy ending.
In the end, all that mattered was that I wasn't going to have a baby with a guy I felt ashamed to call my boyfriend. 28
ROADS wHY YOU SHOULD
BE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR FERTILITY AT
SARA HIATT TELLS ALL! hER EDUCATION, HER DREAMS, AND
HER BIG DECISION
Story BY sARA HIATT PHOTOGRAPHs BY MARIAH CARrILLO
“There are two roads to walk down and one road to choose.”
These words, from some song in an old Kate Hudson romantic comedy had been twisting through my head for weeks. I was having fun in my 20s in a glittering new city, while everyone else I grew up with was picking corn and getting pinned down by mortgages and babies. I had moved to Los Angeles from Nebraska when I was 18 and never looked back. So I went out. I mastered the art of shooting vodka, learned not to drink rum, and became a fine wine connoisseur - one bottle at a time. I dated a lot of guys. I kept a lot of the wrong ones around and probably sent some of the right ones packing. I searched for myself in night clubs, penthouse apartments and sometimes in beds that weren’t my own. After all the mistakes I made, I felt like I was finally figuring myself out. I wanted to spend a semester in Paris. I wanted to move to New York and work at Seventeen magazine. I pictured myself as an independent power girl. The type of girl women trapped with five kids and a minivan would envy. I pictured myself running around New York City like Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City.”
This fantasy was shaping itself into a solid possibility, I couldn’t wait for this glamorous part of my life to begin. It was late on New Year’s Eve, three months away from my birthday. I was caking two pounds of foundation on my face and slapping on enough eyeliner and mascara to last for days. I was thinking about the upcoming year - when it hit me, “Holy shit! I’m going to be 25 this year!” It was like I had bellyflopped into a pool of bricks. How the hell did this happen? When the hell did this happen? I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t been doing anything with my life. I had graduated from fashion school when I was 20 and worked retail to pay rent on my own rundown overpriced apartment. I attended community college, biding my time until I could afford to attend a university to get a degree in journalism. I was almost a quarter of a century old. I was single, with a cat. The only money in my bank account was from student loans and sympathy Christmas cash my family knew I still needed. Somehow time escaped me; 25-yearolds are supposed to be adults. They’re supposed to have serious careers, a serious relationship and, where I come from, kids! TUSK
Yes, it took five little words to open my eyes to a possibility I never considered. Let’s be clear, I would never be crazy enough to consider myself too pretty to work. I’m fairly average. The thought of anyone not having to work because of their hotness is insane. Even Victoria’s Secret Angels have jobs. I never saw that guy again, but the words didn’t affect me any less. If I didn’t work, I’d be like a stay at home mom, right? Is that an acceptable life choice? I wondered. Growing up with working parents who shared financial responsibility, the thought of becoming “just a stay at home mom” wasn’t even an option.
It didn’t cross my mind I could be one. Who would want to be just a stay at home mom anyway? And when did the “just” part get added in? Modern day parents would have to excuse themselves to take a Xanax and cry into a pillow if their little girl announced her dream was to become just a wife and mom. No parent wants to hear that their daughter is throwing away her education and career goals to pop out a few kids and cook for her husband. “You’re too pretty to work.” Those five words changed me. Suddenly I pictured my life differently. I pictured myself as a modern day homemaker, decked in a Kate Spade fit and flare. I pictured myself placing flowered headbands into my future daughter’s hair and taking her to the park. I pictured myself baking “homemade” cookies with the help of a Betty Crocker just-add-eggs-and-water
Started fashion school at FIDM
“You’re too pretty to work.”
Left Nebraska for California
In a moment, my worries of what to wear and who I would kiss at midnight turned to worries about fertility. Oh God, my fertility! My mom had trouble getting pregnant when she was in her 30s. As a result, I have an older adopted sister, and by some mathematical improbability my brother and I were born. It was something that lingered in the back of my mind when I thought about having kids someday. That night, that moment, the road I was on ended and I had no choice but to pick which way to go. There was nothing in between. The fork I had been avoiding since I was 19 appeared in front me and I could no longer ignore it. I was frustrated it had to come to that point. If it had not been for a random guy, on some random summer night, who said something so insane, I would have never been standing there.
What comes next?
Graduated from CSUF
Got back together with boyfriend
Tried online dating... and failed
People from my hometown always said this to me. I’m from Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s not a small town, but it has small town values. Jesus, corn and family are the three most important things and the fact that the football stadium becomes the third largest city on Cornhusker game days is something the state prides itself on. The kids I went to high school with are married, own houses and have several kids. Knowing this would be my only possible future, I booked it out in a Dodge as soon as I graduated high school. It was a bigger risk to stay and be miserable, than to pick up and leave alone.
Friends had grown to know me as a driven and career-oriented person. I loved being single and going out. I even shuddered when marriage and kids were brought up on first dates. I cursed and yelled, “Are you effing kidding me?!” every time someone else became engaged. I cringed when Facebook friends posted pictures of their pregnant bellies. Can they seriously think that baby is cute? Still, at times I had a mother’s instinct that was difficult to ignore. When I was 20, I adopted a kitten named Bella from an animal shelter. I loved her so much I couldn’t leave her. I dropped a class at school just so I could stay home more and be with her. I worried about her constantly when I wasn’t home. If I couldn’t leave my cat at home, I doubt I could ever leave a child.
“Oh my God, you’re like Carrie Bradshaw.”
Started university at CSUF
Got her own apartment
Graduated from FIDM
instant box. Mostly, I pictured myself being happy and fulfilled with that life. I was no stranger to a women’s studies class. My bra-burning teacher once stood in front of the class and argued with anyone who disagreed homemakers were anything but abused puppies kicked one too many times. I had heard the jokes that “so and so” is going to college to earn her M.R.S. degree. I’d been told the lack of purpose housewives have destroys their confidence. Housewives are shown on TV and in movies with a lack of depth, and more modernly as unintelligent, diamond-crazy trophy wives. I’m not stupid. I understand that a homemaker's life is not always glamorous. And I can see that not having career goals outside the family could make me feel inferior to a career-driven husband, if I let it.
How could I justify staying at home? How could I throw away everything I had been working for - and am still working for? To cook, clean and look after a family? In the weeks that followed New Year’s, I realized that somehow, after all my schooling, after years of climbing my way up to my career goals, after all the student debt, the internships, I felt like I had already done what I had set out to do. I came to California and accomplished everything I had wanted, what came next? After my revelation I canceled my semester in Paris and joined Match.com. Now I had to explain my decision to my circle of friends. “So what’s your dream job when you graduate?” My friend, who has had her career goals for her entire life mapped out, asked. “Honestly, I want to get married and have kids.” “So where are you going to work?” “I just want to stay home and raise my family.” She looked at me like she had just found out Mary Jane Manolos never existed.
“But you can do both.” Doesn’t everyone say this? This “you can have it all” baby boomer mentality is to blame for the sleepless nights and panic attacks of moms everywhere. It’s to blame for the guilt moms feel when they send store-bought cookies
to their kid’s bake sale. It’s to blame when moms take on extra work that should be fulfilling, but instead end up feeling guilty for not feeling guilty. Yes, I could have it all, but why on Earth would I want to? I don’t want to do anything halfway. I don’t want to put 50 percent of myself into my family and 50 percent into my career. I don’t want to be stretched thin. I would much rather look back at my life someday and think about how I was a good wife and mom - not just a successful career woman. Some women can do it all, maybe I could do it all too. I just don’t want to. It might be uncharacteristically old-fashioned, but this is what I want. A few months after I turned 25, and after several horribly tragic tries at online dating, I got back together with my boyfriend I had met when I was 19. Currently, we plan on getting married and talk about financial challenges we need to be prepare for when I stay at home with our kids. I understand the risk of not pursuing a glamorous career when I graduate. I understand I may end up single someday with giant gaps in my résumé. I even understand the horrified looks I will get when I say I want to stay at home and take care of my family. But as I stood at the fork in the road that had abruptly appeared on New Year’s Eve, deep down . . .
I knew exactly which way I’d choose.
I pushed my way through the crowded Roman bus station, unable to speak one word of Italian. In fact, I couldn’t speak at all. My throat was swollen shut. I looked and sounded like a 50-year-old chain smoker. “Dove è il prossimo bus?” I croaked. Determined to find the correct bus stop I carefully recited the Italian phrase for, “Where is the next bus?” that my roommate, Alicia, taught me. I wish I paid more attention when she practiced speaking Italian in the morning. One of the friendly guards pointed toward the west end of Rome’s Termini bus station. Short of breath, I weaved through the crowds. I was a 5-foot-nothing Mexican girl bundled in a thick winter coat, wool scarf and matching gloves in the middle of the warmest Italian summer on record. In the background people cheered me on, but I couldn’t look back. I had to keep running. I was alone in Italy with a high fever and a sore throat, carrying more luggage than a girl my size should. I had the trip many 20-year-olds only dream of. Alicia left Cal State Fullerton to study abroad in the spring and asked me to join her in Rome to explore Europe.
gone I had always heard stories of Eurotrips that thing of kind the as wrong, but dismissed them Italy, gh throu led trave We ies. only happens in mov ng in Spain. France, Malta and England before landi le trip orab I was determined to have a mem e thes g ythin ever in Europe. I wanted to see ric histo the at d gaze We . countries had to offer and er Tow l Eiffe the bed clim m, sseu Roman Colo rode the London Eye. historic In Madrid, we set off for a tour of the used to ’t wasn I ees. degr 85 was Spanish capital. It a fever. ing fight was and ge chan ate clim the constant n. My body was telling me to slow dow a sunny Our tour group met in Plaza del Sol on hit. m stor sand e lscal smal a n June morning, whe too was I but r, cove take to d ucte instr We were swelled late. My allergies were set off and my eyes up like balloons. el? “Do you wanna go back to the host said. a Alici ” hell, like You look “No, I’m fine. Keep moving.” cough I didn’t want to ruin our trip. I bought y mac phar l loca the at s drop medicine and eye , room our to back got we time the By instead. took I . thing I felt dizzy. I couldn’t control my brea to bed. the cough medicine and went straight
te up in a frantic I woke my roomma a.m. Sweating 3 d cry for help at aroun at ched for anything th and shivering, I rea d are sc ’t sn . If I wa could keep me warm k on Alicia’s face loo s ou rv ne e before, th nicking. After pa s did the trick. She wa l layers of sweat era sev in wrapping me up ep she resolved to sle pants and blankets, red ive sh I at. he dy on top of me for bo t. ou ed ck bla I until left early the next Our flight to Rome e lped me through th morning. Alicia he d. ate dr hy s wa re I air port, making su d me to no avail. She attempted to fee en shut, forcing us My throat was swoll il. th a pen and penc to communicate wi cy ma ar ph e th to After various trips e th , s of antibiotics and countless dose . at finally went down ro th swelling in my me ho ht flig rly ing an ea I thought about tak o ht was scheduled tw flig r he – a ici with Al days before mine. self to leave. I couldn’t bring my I would get better. I convinced myself t me in Rome with Reluctantly, Alicia lef . tibiotics to stay alive an enough water and an ali -It -to her English I wish she had left o. to dictionary
My new found health was sho rt lived. My throat began to swell up agai n once I was alone. I felt lethargic and struggle d to get out of bed to use the bathroom or eat. This was the first symptom of Lemierre’s syndrome. The bacterial infe ction creates an abscess – a pocket filled with blood – near the tonsils, causing severe swelling around the neck. I figured it was just feve r. It would go away. I romanticized the enti re situation in my hazy trip. Being sick in Rome was better than being sick in middle of nowhere, Cal ifor nia. It was 8 a.m. and I couldn’t stop sprinting through Termini. If I missed the bus, I would have to find a cab to Leonardo da Vinci– Fiumicino Airport for the heft y price of 50 euros. I cursed Alicia’s name a thousand times. Why couldn’t she convinc e me to leave? I made it to the west end of Ter mini to the Ter ravision stop. Tears of joy ran down my face as I saw the brig ht pur ple bus awaiting my arrival. My bloo d ran cold when I realized the bus was emp ty. No one was allowed to board because of maintenance. The next bus would depart at 10 a.m. I had to move quickly. I ran back across Ter mini to catch a cab , knocking people over. The cheers that fille d the bus station moments ago quickly turn ed into angry shouting. Once at Fiumicino Airport, I ran to the check-in desk. “I’m here to che ck in for the 11 a.m. flight to Los Angeles.” The flight attendant was visibly annoyed.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to see the front desk. We stopped checking that flight in eight minutes ago.” “No!” I cried. “Please, you have to let me board. I can’t stay here. Please, you don’t understand.” By then a crowd had gathered at the check-in booth. I saw security coming and tried my best to pull it together. I couldn’t help it – tears filled my eyes. I was experiencing photophobia, the second symptom of Lemierre’s syndrome. Photophobia causes temporary blindness. Patients report seeing bright colors before blacking out. The security guard caught me before I hit the ground. I quickly snapped back to reality. The guard let me stand by myself. I didn’t let them call a doctor. I needed to go home. The flight attendant switched my seat to the next available flight in 12 hours. I set up camp in the airport, determined to stay awake. I was not going to miss my flight again. I found a spot on the cold ground. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it would have to do. As I dozed off, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. This is the third symptom of Lemierre’s syndrome. Bacteria makes its way down a pulmonary vein and into the heart vessels. Many patients experience sharp pains and shortness of breath, leading to severe pneumonia. I struggled to breathe steadily, which caught the attention of a friendly looking couple nearby. Before they had the chance to say anything, I got defensive. “I’m fine. It’s just a cough, it will go away,” I said. They smiled and turned away. Once I could check in, I dragged my bags to the front desk.
I made quite an impression on the airpo rt staff. The woman at the counter from the day before pulled me to the side. She seem ed apologetic as she instr ucted me to follo w her to the back. The head of airport secu rity – a tall, proud-looking man with a thick , black mustache in a neatly pressed royal blue uniform – greeted me at the entrance . “What are you doing in Rome?” he aske d. “I’m on vacation.” “I heard about your situation yesterday . Are you sick?” I panicked. “No, I mea n I had a slight cough but it’s gone now.” He explained that I could not board the plane if I was too sick, not wanting to put the other passengers in danger. After a brief conversation, he instr ucte d the woman from the front desk to thor oughly inspect my bags. He turned to look at me as he walked away. “I have eyes throughout the entire airpo rt. I want you to know, we’re all keeping an eye on you,” he warned. I leaned against the wall, trying desperately to keep from collapsin g. “Great,” I grumbled to myself. “They think I’m a terrorist.” The woman handed me a chair as soon as the security guard was out of sight. She must have pitied me as I watched her tear apart the neatly packed bags. Once I was cleared, she escorted me thro ugh a second round of security and onto my seat on the plane. I arrived at the Los Ang eles International Airport, at 9 p.m. My mother and grandfather welcome d me at the airport with open arms. I hugg ed them as tight as I could. “Mom, I need to go to the hospital,” I said. She looked puzzled.
at’s wrong?” she said. “Mija, you’re pale. Wh ped for air. The ter minal spun. I gas ptom of Lemierre’s sym This is the fourth ia spreads from your syndrome. The bacter gs, causing tiny lesions heart and into your lun fluid in and around the within the tissue. The lapse. lungs causes them to col an ambulance right led cal e I should hav scare my grandfather. away but I didn’t want to wait to call the hospital I persuaded my mom to It was an hour drive . until we got him home to San Bernardino. University Hospital’s I arrived at Loma Linda . p.m and was quickly emergency room at 10 care unit. It took three ive admitted to the intens ography (CT) scans and days, two computed tom doctors to diagnose my daily blood work for the me is extremely rare illness. Lemierre’s syndro to as the “forgotten ed – it’s commonly referr rate is 0.8 cases per disease.” The incidence pulation. Doctors say million in the general po lthy young adults, it’s most common in hea such as myself. ough my body. Tubes and wires ran thr her side to drain the I had a chest tube on eit lapsed lungs. fluids that filled my col ryday during my twoeve se I had a new nur er got tired of seeing week hospital stay. I nev their faces as they the bewildered look on e’s syndrome was. wondered what Lemierr ease in front of me. dis the Some even googled are. They blamed It was a parent’s nightm mess. My mother themselves for the whole how she shouldn’t ut constantly mumbled abo the first place. in e rop have let me go to Eu priest in to sprinkle me Terrified, she brought a with holy water.
illness was lost The severity of my ver l ita sp stay. Death ne on me during my ho an th re I was annoyed mo crossed my mind. le. tab or mf co make me un anything. Hospitals ys, da 15 r fo d be a ned to I hated being confi own. my on lk wa to unable , the doctors ordered sed ea Once I was rel strapped stay indoors. I was me to relax and to inser ted ly ral he rip ugh a pe to a machine thro at fed C) line in my arm th central catheter (PIC eks. we ree an additional th me antibiotics for sing ap oll rec gs my lun The possibility of ur n ret y ma me ro nd er re’s sy is very real – Lemi apt ad to e. I’ve been forced at a moment’s notic ing ok sm and even quit a healthier lifestyle, quit doctor. My father my of at the behest ty. smoking in solidari fice, ort of the doctor’s of Despite my discomf ed rn lea e I’v s. dy’s warning I can’t ignore my bo ek se to re tu stubbor n na to tone down my oblem. the first sign of a pr at n tio en medical att ds and en support of my fri The overwhelming ugh ro th t ge me that I can family has shown time, n ve Gi se. ea e lung dis anything – even a rar l recovery. body will make a ful I am confident my
STORY BY Kymberlie Estrada ILLUSTRATIONS BY Katie Melrose
flickering light bulb dangles above a wooden table accompanied by two chairs facing each other; it’s an interrogation scene straight out of a mystery movie. Three police officers in civilian clothes, two wearing vibrant, kitschy Hawaiian button ups and one wearing a white shirt and jeans, grasp the bruised and unbathed man. Two lock onto his arms, while one grips tight onto his shirt collar. Edward Perez Romero is pulled into the cold, dimly lit square room and handed off to a tall, husky Chinese female officer.
“Hand over all your belongings,” she demands, while the officer in plain clothes inspects his belongings. He notices his phone has an existing phone call. Eddie looks up. “You know everyone in the world knows exactly where I’m at right now.” The female officer aggressively searches his device. “SIM card!” She pushes the phone to his face. “Find it yourself.” She winds up her backhand and strikes Eddie across his face before releasing several blows to his stomach, legs and chest.
July 13, 2001 Eddie flips the channel to ABC News and learns that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing, The People’s Republic of China. “How could this be?” the outraged 58-year-old, Mexican-American pastor and philosophy professor at Mt. San Antonio College asks his wife. “They don’t even measure up to minimal human rights standards. How could the IOC give this to them?” But with the rush of anger, came a calming sense of peace. In a moment of time, Eddie saw a powerful vision from God; the call.
In his vision, he saw himself protesting in the middle of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Within another moment, Eddie’s vision faded and all that was left was the memory of it. He made a promise to answer and to reconstruct what God had set out for him to do. Like a sculptor, Eddie was faced with an untouched marble stone waiting to be transformed into a masterpiece. He had a grand image in mind, but before chiseling away he knew he had to hammer out each detail of his elaborate plan. For the next seven years leading up to the Beijing Olympics, Eddie met with Chinese and international leaders, and traveled the world to make sure his piece of marble was ready to be sculpted. And with clarity came the depth of passion. Eddie sought help from devoted Christians of the church. The biggest challenge would be getting his wife, Rosemary, on board. He approached Rosemary with the proposal of holding a protest alone in Beijing to see if she would be comfortable with the idea, and if she was as passionate as he was. She held a long pause. Eddie tried to read past her poker face, but even after 31 years of marriage, he was unable to see through it. “If God can speak to you about China, he can speak to me too,” she finally answered. “Fair enough, fair enough.”
In 2002, Eddie and Rosemary had discussed religious persecution while on vacation in San Francisco. Eddie could tell she was developing a sense of understanding and sympathy. When they arrived back home Eddie introduced Rosemary to several people who went to prison for their faith. As Rosemary came face to face with their families, Eddie started to see a transformation. “What about in 2007 we take a trip to Beijing to check out the layout?” Rosemary proposed. After meeting in 2004 with Bob Fu, founder of China Aid, a Christian human rights organization committed to religious freedom in China, Eddie assembled a team of six church volunteers to help answer the call. They gathered to lay down ground rules. First, they agreed not to interfere with the Olympic Games — the protest would take place before Aug. 8, when the games begun, and after Aug. 24, when the games ended. Second, Eddie needed to be a “needle in the haystack.” He needed to blend in with a city that would soon swell with tourists. Third was “the point of no return” policy. Since China had won the bid of the Olympic Games in 2001, no significant progress in China’s human rights was made. Eddie’s calling had a purpose and he couldn’t turn back.
From 2007 to 2008, the IOC went back on their promise to allow demonstrations during the Olympics. Now they required the demonstrators to fill out an application that would need to be approved. Seventy applications were filed. Seventy were rejected. In a particular situation, two elderly Chinese women applied to hold a protest after being forced out of their home to make space for a building for the Olympic Games, and weren’t given the money the government promised them. They were arrested just for filling out an application. Eddie’s decision solidified in 2006. Prominent leaders from all over the world including Prince Charles, the prime minister of England, Tony Blair, Ai Wei Wei and Steven Spielberg said they would no longer attend the Beijing Olympics. The team of six chiseled out the project’s details. The first part of the process was “morphing” hotel rooms into “interrogation dungeons,” which included lifelike human effigies and wall paintings. The team drew up three images that would upset the People’s Republic of China. The first was the iconic running man handing off a black heart, instead of a baton, to his Olympic teammate. It read, “Release Pastor Zhang Rongliang (House Church Christian), Xu Na (Falun Gong practitioner), Hu Jia (Internet Buddhist activist), Shi Tao (journalist) and Guo Feixiong (self-trained “barefoot” lawyer),” all of whom were imprisoned for their faith. The next image was a spin on the 2008 Olympic anthem, “One world, one dream.” Instead, they used 46
“Our world, our nightmare,” which was also translated in Chinese characters with “Ratify ICCPR (International Covenant of Civil Political Rights)” below. The last image read “Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Proverbs 31:8-9. The team also decided everything would be recorded live on Skype. Eddie knew the call required both physical and mental preparation. He practiced by hiking up the Azusa Canyon with a backpack loaded with 24 water bottles, beef jerky, nutrition bars and other survival essentials. Eddie had no doubt in his capabilities of surviving the 18 days of hiding leading up to the Olympic’s end. As a former Marine sergeant and in great shape for 58, surviving was the least of his worries. However, he needed a plan. In 2007, during Eddie and Rosemary’s trip to Beijing, they familiarized themselves with the layout and made a list of necessary supplies he needed to set up the artwork of the interrogation dungeons. The last weekend before his departure, Eddie practiced morphing a room in the church five times. He needed to complete each room in two hours or less. Eddie had a final meeting with his team of videographers, helpers and “lifeline,” the only person he would contact directly.
The plan could go many ways, and each was a win-win. Eddie presented three situations he predicted could happen. The first option, was dying in custody, good for the cause, but bad for him. The second option, was being taken into custody and sent to prison for two to 10 years, good for the cause, but bad for him. The last option, was being deported, bad for the cause, but good for him. He had to accept he was a “dead man walking.” Eddie’s strong willed mentality was weakened by the thought of the worst possible scenario. However he regained his strength again after reflecting on life in the Marines. “Half of you won’t come back. Half of you will come back in bags,” he remembers being told. He thought at 18 years old and at the height of the Vietnam War, he was willing to give up his life for nationalistic reasons. How much more sacrifice, as a Christian, for the kingdom and eternity itself? With this he was able to embrace the dead man walking mentality. He, along with his family, friends and church, had to believe he wouldn’t be coming home. After paying off the house mortgage, providing a savings account and taking necessary precautions for his family and church, he boarded a one-way flight to China, with no promise of returning.
Aug. 2, 2008
Eddie arrives in China with nothing but the clothes on his back. He texts his lifeline “Dinner was great,” code for “I am okay.” Eddie checks into his home base hotel, the Sino Swiss. He sets up Skype and finishes the evening with spaghetti and a glass of red wine.
It was the big day. Eddie would put seven years worth of planning into action. He shops more and stocks up on Chinese and Olympic flags, tourist paraphernalia, to convince hotel concierge he was just a regular tourist. He orders a comfort meal for dinner: a hamburger, fries and a soda. Eddie’s anxiety keeps him from finishing his meal. He takes about five bites of his burger and a sip of his Coca-Cola, leaves the cash on the table and proceeds to his homebase. Down the deep green, gold imperial carpeted hallway, he sees his door is wide open. 'Did I leave it open? Did I leave it unlocked?' He’s almost certain he turned the locks. He hesitantly enters his hotel room and sees a police officer and a hotel representative conversing in a corner of the room near the draped curtains. “What’s going on guys?” Eddie says, unsure of what they know. “Your money was left on the desk.” The officer holds a thick stack of yuan.
Aug. 3 Eddie goes to Orient Home, China’s version of Home Depot, to purchase paint and scissors to morph the hotel rooms.
Aug. 4 He purchases the rest of his supplies from stores near his home base hotel — four brown suitcases and some duct tape. Eddie heads back to his room and divides his supplies into the cases. He is now ready for the mission that has consumed his life and brought him to China.
He knew he was a DEAD man walking. TUSK
“It was called to our attention by the cleaning lady. The money should be kept in the safe.” Eddie lets out a silent sigh of relief. “I appreciate it. Thanks for letting me know. Looks like everything is here.” He tries to hurry them out the door. The officer seems suspicious, slowly making his way out. “As I was here I noticed you had things you shouldn’t have in this hotel,” he points at the paint. Luckily, Eddie had already devised a plan just in case he was questioned. “It’s waterbased, they’re non explosive,” he says. “I have friends going to a sports display in Beijing. The paints will be out in the morning, you don’t have to worry about them at all.” It wasn’t completely a lie. The paints would definitely be out in the morning, but Eddie was now walking on a tightrope. 'What if they know more? Did they open up the suitcases?' Still, Eddie had to go on with the plan. That night he checked into the other hotel rooms. Eddie left one suitcase in his
home base room, but brought along the other three cases, and called a taxi to the Marriott West. He arrives at the hotel’s entrance where the bell-hop assists him. Slightly uneased, Eddie plays it cool. As they walk further into the Marriott’s decorative, lavish lobby, past the two-story open bar surrounded by large, white stone pillars, the room begins to narrow. Down the hallway, Eddie spots six security guards facilitating airport-like scanning machines. He thinks on his feet. “What hotel is this?” he asks, dumbfounded. “The Marriott West,” the bell-hop replies perplexed. “Oh! I was supposed to go to the Novotel Peace!” Eddie dramatically puts his palm to his forehead and shakes his head in disbelief. The bell-hop assures him it is a common mistake and waves down a taxi. It’s 4:30 p.m. when Eddie checks into Room 1602 at the Novotel Peace. One less hotel, one extra suitcase in hand. This time he tells the taxi driver to wait. He peeks in,
checking every corner of the spacious, open lobby. No scanners here. He picks up the suitcases in the taxi and enters the second hotel room. Eddie repositions the bathroom dish soap, unwraps the complimentary shampoo and conditioner and ruffles up the bedding to make the room appear lived in. He checks into the last hotel room at 5:30 p.m., carries out the same procedure and heads back to his home base. Eddie returns to the Novotel Peace, Hotel No. 1, at 6:20 p.m. to start the morphing process. He seals the doors with duct tape to ensure the paint fumes don’t seep through. Eddie was met with the point of no return. If he decided to back out now he would have committed no crime. Up until this point, Eddie was innocent. He lays out the suitcase’s contents — scissors, duct tape, paint, brushes and clothes for the prisoner effigy, onto the bed. He takes out a paint brush and bucket of black paint to start the running man design.
“Let’s say it loud,” he tells the people back home all tuned in on Skype. He jumps onto the bed with a paint brush dipped in black paint. “Here we go.” A sense of enjoyment and adrenaline pumps through his body. The paintbrush dipped in black touches the surface of the wall and in a moment of time, Eddie hit the point of no return. The memory he had in 2001 reappears. He knew he had to finish what he started. He paints the first wall of the running man image with demands underneath asking the Chinese government release Pastor Zhang Rongliang, Xu Na, Hu Jia, Shi Tao and Guo Feixiong. He hears people convening outside his door. He freezes, careful to not make a sound. Eddie was pushing his time frame. It was well over an hour and he still hadn’t started on the human effigy. Practicing it was one thing, but doing the actual thing was taking an emotional drain on him. He was exhausted, but knew the call needed to be answered. After creating the effigies, which were made out of the hotel’s sheets and shaped into a prisoner, he takes a taxi to The Traders Hotel, Hotel No. 2. It is now 8:56 p.m. Eddie sits in the back seat of a taxi. His phone vibrates. It was his team back home, following his every move. “Keep talking to us. Describe what you see. We got to keep this streaming.” Exhausted, Eddie morphs the second room. This time he paints, “Who is my neighbor?” on a fourth wall. Over Skype, he explains, “Unless you truly understand the people around you and let your heart open up to their pain and do something about it, you would see that this is not as dramatic as it could be.” Eddie makes it back to his home base and says to his team, “I am much more tired, even though I practiced this, I didn’t plan the emotional exhaustion. If you think the cause would be better served by me morphing this third room, I will do that. No questions asked, no argument from me.” Eddie’s team advises him to rest for he will need energy for the upcoming days. He takes a long hot shower, shaves and cuts his hair so he is somewhat unrecognizable. For the next four hours he lay comfortably on the soft cushioned mattress. TUSK
Aug. 6 Knowing the next few hours and several days would be filled with chaos, Eddie calls room service and orders The Capital: eggs, potatoes and fresh fruit. He consciously chews his breakfast, going through the plans. He grabs his bag of water bottles and food and heads to the lobby. He eyes a bowl of fruit sitting at the receptionist table, bags two apples and an orange and walks out the revolving doors and waves down a taxi. He finds a small park and briefly contemplates if it would be a good hiding spot. But Eddie was no longer a needle in the haystack. The park was full of Chinese families, with no tourists in sight. A cameraman and host from CCTV, China’s main television broadcast network, approach Eddie. “Can we interview you for CCTV tonight?” He entertains the idea of playing hide and seek on television. He imagines the police officer assigned to figure out where he was while eating dinner and flips to the image of the man he’d been looking for. He chuckles and politely denies their request. Through the park’s lush green trees and dewy grass lawn, Eddie could see the sun was now setting. He had to find shelter. He memorized Beijing’s street layout from his trip in 2007 with his wife and remembered passing by hills surrounded by tall trees and thick bushes. Eddie knew that would be the perfect spot. He waves down another taxi to take him to the 5th Ring Road to exit 43. They exit the road, driving straight until they come to a T-intersection. He sees the foothills in the distance, but isn’t quite sure how to get there. The driver looks at him for directions. Eddie looks to his left and right. “Right.” They come across another intersection. “Right.” Eddie has no idea where he is. As they drive through the curved road, they pass by what looks like low-income housing. ‘Is this a neighborhood, a campground?’ He was confused. The driver pulls up to the end of the road. About 100 yards in front of him is a guard station blocking the entrance to the hills. “Turn left into the parking lot.” Across the parking lot is another guard station. Eddie tries not to panic, but realizes it’s getting darker and he must find a spot, and fast. He pays the driver, grabs his backpack and races through the parking lot, praying the guards wouldn’t notice him. 50
He gets through the parking lot and encounters a 7-foot-high wall. He lifts his arms and springs over the wall and jumps to the other side. Eddie is now invisible. He follows the creek that meets a paved road. To the left is the entrance to the hills and to right is an entrance to a park. He turns left and comes to a sign reading “DO NOT ENTER.” ‘I’ll play stupid. It’s worked before.’ As he heads up the slanted road he sees another guard station about 200 yards away. In a quick turn he heads back down. He hears footsteps drawing closer, faster, louder. Eddie looks back and sees three young, fit shirtless men wearing khaki cargo pants and laced boots jogging down the road. All three make eye contact with Eddie. He shrugs a lost, helpless facial expression. As they pass Eddie, the middle jogger gives him a double take, but Eddie was no longer in sight. He bends at the nearest corner and sprints up a 60 foot path. Now at the top of the hill, he stops to catch his breath. He walks down another path, crosses a gulley and finds an open area that looks like an abandoned garden. To the right — tall grass and a large granite memorial statue, to the left — bushes and trees. He hits the ground and crawls along a low brick wall, dodging spiderwebs and insects. He finds the perfect spot. A hole big enough for his 5-foot4 inch stature laid between thick brush and the wall. ‘This is perfect! Thank you Lord. I can’t imagine a better spot than this.’ Eddie knew this was a gift from God. He puts his bag down and makes the dirt hole his home.
Aug. 7 Eddie peacefully wakes up to the distant sound of gongs and chanting at 4 a.m. He turns his head in every direction, and his surroundings were much clearer in daylight. He peeks down the hill at a row of housing quarters. He speculates that it may be a retreat camp. He hears people talking and stretches his head a little further out. Eddie hears several military vehicles driving up and down a winding road nearby. Chanting? Gongs? Military vehicles? The clues weren’t adding up.
He decides to explore the area and discovers a park with many temples. He spots a mom and pop convenience store, orders a bowl of hot noodles, stocks up on water and Oreo cookies. Throughout each day, Eddie heard people doing physical training and marching. “Aha!” he realizes. He pieced together the clues. He was hiding on China’s very own military base. He had already got through three guard stations. He couldn’t believe it. Eddie was certain he’d never be found.
Aug. 16 The sky was gray and intimidating, and the Chinese government seeded the clouds. They needed rain to clear out the heavy smog so it wouldn’t interfere with the Games. Eddie’s mylar blanket, which retains 80 percent of body heat, wasn’t enough to endure a thunderstorm. Torrential rain began to pour. Eddie was now huddled in a pool of mud, convulsing. “I can’t make it tonight,” he texts his lifeline, which meant “I am not okay.” He counted the lightening strikes and measured the sound of thunder to see if it was moving closer. Both disappeared within time.
Aug. 24 Eddie had spent 18 days hiding on China’s military grounds. With a dwindling food source, a beaten body and a tired soul, but with an undying passion, Eddie crawled out of the hole. Today marked the end of the 2008 Olympics. He waves down a taxi. Eddie’s entire body is covered in dried mud, cicada bugs are stuck to his beard and head and he reeks;exactly how 18 days in the jungle with no shower would smell. The driver is expressionless, but rolls down the window closest to Eddie. He is dropped off at the nearest Starbucks. Still unshaven and reeking of sweat and mud, Eddie orders a venti chai tea latte. The cashier and customers stare at him. “Ahhh.” He takes a sip of civility. He finishes his warm, delightful welcome back to civilization. Eddie walks across the street to Wal-Mart and purchases a plain white T-shirt, denim jeans and a razor. He washes up in the restroom, trying to rid the stench and dirt tacked to his skin. He takes a cab to Tiananmen Square and stands across the street from The Great Hall of the People where he envisioned his protest. It’s 10 p.m. The fireworks display sparks across the sky, celebrating the end of the Beijing Olympics. This was Eddie’s cue. To his left were military soldiers and to his right were police officers, standing in files according to their rank.
Eddie captures a picture of himself with the message he ends each church service with: “To the King, His Kingdom and His son appearing, God bless you.” He raises his voice. “The Lord says let my people go and they may worship me. I’m asking you to release Pastor Zhang Rongliang, Xu Na, Hu Jia, Shi Tao and Guo Feixiong and to ratify the ICCPR.” He repeats this in Chinese, Mandarin and English. A crowd of tourists and natives swarm toward him taking pictures and capturing him on video. Two Chinese men wearing touristy Hawaiian shirts are yelling at everyone to back up, confiscating cameras in the process. Eddie walks over to the military. “You guys can do something about this!” He heads over to the officers, “You can do justice here!” Both sides are caught off guard, still frozen in position. A 6-foot-tall man wearing jeans and a plain shirt puts his arm around him. In broken English he says, “Let’s talk.” “Are you a police officer?” Eddie is on fire. “No.” “Then don’t touch me. I will submit to a police officer, but I will not let you touch me,” Eddie spins out of his hold and continues to protest. Four casually dressed men chase the crowd away. “Come with us,” they tell him. “Are you police?” “No.” Two of the men grip his arms behind his back, one tugs onto his shirt collar, and the other stands in front. “Then don’t touch me.” They back off. Eddie pushes the man in front of him. “Send a police officer to me. I want to be arrested.”
Within half an hour, a police officer approaches Eddie and takes him down the street to a tent to be searched. He empties his pockets and is careful to put his phone face down. The officer takes all of Eddie’s belongings — his money, passport and phone, which is still audio live streaming. “If you cooperate, we’ll get you out of this mess,” the officer says. “I don’t want to talk.” He knew they were playing good cop, bad cop. “The only way you can help me is if you arrest me. I broke your laws.”
“I want to see your system of JUSTICE with my own eyes.”
Another officer enters the tent. “Is this the guy who did the hotel rooms?” A sense of pride curses his lips as he releases a subtle grin. He keeps them guessing. “I want to talk to my lawyer.” The same four men that bothered him during his protest at Tiananmen Square escort him to into a sleek, black Audi A6. Eddie slides into the back middle seat of the clean, leather interior of the car. Two sitting in the driver and passenger seat, and the two men in Hawaiian shirts sitting next to him.
“You can’t deport me. I BROKE your laws. You have to arrest me.” Eddie knew the reason the men weren’t in their uniform. The men kept their faces forward, while Eddie glanced in each direction. He felt uncomfortable. “Nice car!” He briefly broke the silence. He knew he was a dead man walking. The driver revs the engine and jolts off the curb. The phone was still on. Eddie had to keep his team and everyone else listening and cued in. “Looks like we’re heading northbound, we’re turning left.” The men in Hawaiian shirts look at each other and shrug. “The Forbidden City is on my right. We’re turning left into an alley. This is no police station.” Eddie could only imagine what his wife, kids and team were thinking back home. They pull into a dark secluded area and stop in front of a worn down, abandoned building. The only light source was a house about 100 yards up. Eddie was thankful the officers hadn’t noticed the phone. The two men sitting in the front get out of the car. The other two sitting next to him stay. Six police officers in uniform come out from behind the building and give the two in Hawaiian shirts a signal to proceed. Eddie knew exactly what this was It didn’t look like a prison, nor was he arrested. This was a black site, an off the radar illegal prison, where these men were able to do whatever they wanted to him.The two men took both of his arms, pulling him into the building. Dead man walking.
The tall female officer gives a final kick to Eddie’s gut. Fully conscious, he bites his tongue refraining from saying, “Is this as tough as it gets?” He felt like he was being spanked by his mother. He holds back his laugh. The four men rush in to pull her away and out of the room. By the third round of interrogations, the police officers’ eyes were half open. It was some time around 3 a.m. Eddie wouldn’t give them any information unless he was put in jail. “Don’t you know we can make you disappear?” an officer threatens him. “We can do things to you. We can put you in prison with criminals that will rape you. If you don’t cooperate with us, we will make sure you disappear. Do you understand?” He kept his head down. In the Marines, he learned how to act under interrogation. “Don’t look at their face. Show respect and be firm in your answers,” he remembers his former Marine sergeant yelling. He tells the translator to tell the officer, “With all due respect, I will not answer his questions until I have my lawyer here with me. I want to be arrested. He said he can put me in jail, let’s start with that right now.” The translator begs him to change his answer. Eddie adds, “I want to see your system of justice with my own eyes. Tell him
exactly what I told you and don’t sugar coat it.” The translator obeys and repeats his message. The officer stomps out the room in fury. Eddie can hear him screaming with two other guards from behind the shut door. It is now dawn. By the end of the fifth, and final, interrogation round, the guards had discovered where the SIM card was. TheyWWtable. He knew he had to get rid of it. One guard steps out for a cigarette, while the other naps. Eddie takes the SIM card, chews it up and presses it in between two openings in the wall. It’s now noon the next day. Three officers, whom Eddie had never seen before, walk into the room. “A decision was made. You’re going home.” “You can’t deport me. I broke your laws. You have to arrest me.” This was the last win-win Eddie wanted. “You have no say.” The officer hands him a stack of papers to sign. “It’s in Chinese. I can’t read this.” The officer explains it’s merely an inventory of his things and in order to get them back, he needs to sign them. Eddie refuses, trying to think of a way to get into jail. Eddie is escorted into a police car with one police car driving ahead to clear a path and another trailing behind. He thinks of ways he can stay in China. “You know, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves … as a police force,” he taunts the two officers. “What do you mean?” “I’m a 58 year old man and you guys couldn’t find me. Shame on you.” “Nevermind that. You’re leaving.”
Eddie could see from the rear view mirror the officer driving was a little bothered. “That would never happen in America.” The officer’s head springs up, but he controls his anger. “Do you know where I was hiding for 18 days? You couldn’t find me, a 58-year-old man?” “Where?” “On your military base.” The officer doesn’t believe him and tells him to name the place. “Barachu. And I can tell you exactly how I got in, slipped through your guards and hid there for 18 days.” The officer’s eyes widen and he grips onto the steering wheel, making a quick swerve. He calms down. “Nevermind. Nevermind. You’re leaving.” The police car pulls up to the China Air airport and takes Eddie through a backway to the next flight to San Francisco. “I’m from LA though.” At this point Eddie knew he was going home and tries to tick the officers as much as possible. He asks, “I’m a club member of China Air. Can I get these miles added to my membership?” They look at him in disbelief. The officer puts both hands on top of his head.
“Are you crazy!?” Eddie smiles and boards the flight to San Francisco. After taking another flight to LA, he is welcomed by friends, family and media at the airport. Eddie arrives at the church in La Puente. It’s not how he left it. Members of the church had painted the building red, from top to bottom on Sunday, Aug. 17. Across the side of the building they painted, “Gadfly Project. Let my people go.” They named this day, “Red Sunday,” in honor of Eddie’s heroic actions. Media outlets such as the San Gabriel Tribune, CNN and the Associated Press interviewed Eddie, who received the Human Rights Award by the Asian Pacific Rights Foundation. Later that month, Bob Fu, director of China Aid, called Eddie proposing to open up a West Coast office for China Aid and named him director. Now the West Coast director for China Aid, Eddie is the safe house for religious refugees who have fled their country. He is currently expanding China Aid’s efforts to Persians and Iranians who have also been persecuted for their beliefs. Eddie paid for the hotels’ “damages” out of his own pocket. However, the goal was never to cause destruction, but to make a statement about human and religious rights around the world.
Story by Ashley Ruiz Photographs by Mariah Carrillo
A PLACE FOR US
“I’ll drop you off last on the way home,” my friend Shae said as she picked me up first for the movies. She knew I did not want her boyfriend and his friends to know where I lived— in a simple Huntington Beach motel located a couple blocks away from my old house. One month ago, I had lived in a comfortable twobedroom, two-story townhome with my brother and mom. We lived there for five years and originally my dad lived with us too. He moved a year before because his alcoholism tore him and my mom apart. Upon moving out, he worked on living a sober life and helped my mom with half our monthly rent. When it became evident that he would not be allowed back in the house, my dad stopped contributing his half. My mom struggled to pay the $1,500 rent all alone. Too young to help her, I watched her stress. April was an especially hard month. My sixteenth birthday was in April and my brother’s birthday as well. Despite the circumstances, my mom and dad took my friends Beth and Daniel, my brother, and myself to dinner at Macaroni Grill. My mom gave me a ring with a small white heart-shaped diamond and told me that she wanted my first diamond ring to be from her. For my brother’s birthday we invited the neighborhood kids over for cake and ice cream, had pizza and played "Rock Band". The landlord and my mom had a deal that month, that she could give him the rent a week late. Then we found an eviction notice posted on our front door. My mom spoke with the landlord and even took him to court, but her efforts were to no avail. We had to move. Move? I loved our house. My friends lived nearby. My 8-year-old brother, Jo-Joe and I spent so much time with some of our neighbors I even considered them family. I pretended it wasn’t happening. I ignored my mother’s requests to start packing. But little by little boxes filled the house and a month later the day came. We loaded our belongings into the back of a U-Haul truck and drove to the storage facility my mom rented. My mom and dad piled the contents of the truck — the contents of our whole lives — into storage.
By the time they finished the room was so full we could hardly pull down the metal gate to close the unit. The rest of our things, a minimal amount of clothes, pots, pans and school supplies, were piled high in my mom’s car. Exhausted after a long day, we drove to a motel that would be our home for the next two weeks. Stale air filled the motel room, but as we turned the light on I realized that the room was not all that bad. We still had a roof over our heads and we had each other. I took a tour of the room that lasted all of one minute: one bed, a TV, a kitchen area with a stove, sink and table, and a bathroom. It was about the size of our old living room and dining room combined, but it was comfortable and it was a place to stay. As a sophomore in high school, I didn’t want people to know where I was living. It would be embarrassing if anyone found out, so I only told my closest friends. My brother and I would walk quickly to the motel after school, hoping that nobody would see us. Good friends of mine, like Shae, reassured me it wasn’t a big deal and that everyone went through hard times. From then on it was the simple things that made us happy. Two-for-one dollar Jack In the Box tacos after school and a large drink; sitting on the bed together and watching American Idol while eating dinner, doing my homework at the kitchen table. Everything was the same, yet so different. Just before the move my boyfriend of one year and I broke up. That was hard. Then after the move, my best friend, Beth, and I had an argument and stopped being friends. That was harder. Beth and I had been friends since seventh grade. When we first moved to the motel, my mom would drop me off at her house every morning so we could walk to school together like always. This routine disappeared, as well. I began to accept that change was an inevitable part of life and held on even tighter to the only constant in my life—my family. The next eight months were filled with moves. We loaded all our stuff into the car and drove to my Uncle Christian’s.
He had a one-bedroom condominium in Newport. While my uncle, who had lived with us for many years before our move, welcomed us into his home, his girlfriend did not. Upon our arrival, she interrogated him on why he was letting us move in. Hearing their conversation, my mom told them to forget it, we would find somewhere else. We piled into the car and drove down random streets in Huntington Beach, looking for a motel. We finally settled for the one we were at before. In June, we moved in with our old neighbors. We could no longer afford staying at motels and wanted to stay close to our schools. I could see my old house from the window of their room. I gazed at the lone house that I so often took for granted during my time there. New people began moving in; I couldn’t stand to look at them.
How dare they take what was meant to be mine? During the last two weeks of school, right in the middle of finals, we moved to my cousin’s house in La Puente. The drive to school took more than an hour. My mom’s drive to work, at London Coin Galleries in the Mission Viejo Mall, took an additional forty-five minutes. We stayed at my cousin’s for what felt like the longest summer of my life because I was away from my friends. My mom, brother and I shared my younger cousin’s room and slept on a bunk bed. During the day, my 31-year-old cousin and I would talk about life and he became the father figure I was missing. Finding a new place was difficult. When we had a place to live, it seemed like we saw “for rent” signs on every corner. But when we needed one most, there were none.
Money was an issue and my mom was desperately trying to save. My mom’s credit, ripped to shreds from the eviction notice, made it difficult to land a home. Luckily, my mom’s boss owned properties in Newport Beach and allowed us to live in two of his houses at a reduced cost until he found other renters. During these moves we didn’t bother to completely unpack because we knew the moves weren’t permanent. We spent Halloween in a two-bedroom house that was walking distance from the beach. Two parallel arched doorways gave a view into the unfurnished kitchen, dining room and living room. The single piece of furniture that we brought into the house was a flattened queen mattress that seemed unworthy of the gleaming wood floors that it rested upon. Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment near Corona Del Mar High School. From the outside it wasn’t much, but the inside was newly renovated. Wooden walls combined with cold winter nights made the apartment feel like a cabin in the mountains. Although we were on the second floor, we lugged part of our L-shaped sofa up the stairs for our stay here.
At Christmas time we bought and decorated a tree and the apartment began to feel like home, despite the bare living conditions. We knew this move wasn’t permanent, but my mom desperately tried to make sure that the next one was. After dropping Jo-Joe off at school one morning in January, my mom took me to McDonald’s instead of school. I was puzzled as to what we were doing, but excited that she was letting me ditch school. We bought two iced coffees and in between sips, she told me the big news. “We got an apartment,” she said and dangled the keys in front of me. We left McDonald’s and headed straight for our new home. We barreled our way up the stairs. It was within walking distance from my school. A sliding glass door allowed the sun to fill the living room and gave a glimpse to a small patio. We moved down the carpeted hallway and peered into the two bedrooms. My mom told me that I could take the smaller room and that she and my brother would share a room. I explored my new room and walk-in closet. I was overcome with joy. I started planning out where everything I could finally unpack would
go. Exhausted from the sudden rush of excitement I laid on the ground and, to my surprise, my mom joined me. The heavy hearted woman I had spent the past several months with was gone, and replaced with an eager little girl. Five years later, now a senior in college, I have not forgotten the hard times that I’ve been through in life. I’ve forgiven those who did us wrong when we were in need, but find it harder to forget. Most importantly, I will forever cherish the bond that was created between my mother, brother and me when we lost everything but each other. We now live in a comfortable fourbedroom manufactured home one mile away from the beach. We’ve lived here for two years. My Uncle Christian lives with us and has a much nicer girlfriend who often stays over. My friend Beth and I made up, and she is moving in at the end of the month. We still drive by our motel sometimes and my brother always gazes out the window and tells us, how much he misses that place.
A young bride seeks freedom through marriage only to become a prisoner Story by Elizabeth Muñoz Photographs by Eleonor Segura and courtesy of Luz Sandoval
The music begins and everybody rises to their feet. Rows of people in dresses and ties look back, beaming with smiles. Luz Sandoval walks forward, her uncle at her side. The decorations and flowers go unnoticed, a hazy blur in front of her. Sounds of sobs emanate from the back of the church, competing with the wedding music. Luz glances toward the sound, already knowing who it is. She sees her mother dressed in black, tears falling down her face. Luz reaches the altar, where she is given away like a sacrificial lamb to her groom dressed in a white tuxedo. No loving and happy looks are exchanged between the two. There is no eye contact. She stares at the floor, and tugs at the dress she designed; sweat clings to her body. The ceremony begins. The long traditional Catholic mass drags along, while Luz dozes off, fading in and out of her surroudings. She hears something that jolts her back into consciousness. The sound of the priest conducting the wedding.
“Repeat after me,” says the priest. “I, Luz, take you, Agustine, to be my lawful husband.” She recites without a second thought until there are words she cannot utter. “…until death do us part,” says the priest. The smiling faces in the pews evolve into concerned looks. The silence is palpable. The bridesmaids and the priest lean in as she repeats, “…until death do us part.” She is frozen. She tears her gaze from her groom’s feet, and sees a crucifix directly behind him. She prays in desperation. “I know I don’t love him, but this is my only way out. I know there have been many marriages made without love. Help me to learn to love him.” Dramatic sobs invade her ears and she regains feeling in her hands, placed in his the entire time. She looks at him for the first time since the night before. And like a leap into an unknown abyss, she repeats after the priest.
*** Luz walked in the front door, juggling a stack of books against her body, tired from the exhausting bus ride home. Once inside, she searches through her mental checklist. Take off uniform, hang it up. Help mom cook dinner and biology homework. Her thoughts are disrupted when she finds her mother standing in front of the couch with a stack of envelopes in her hand; a grave look on her already stern face. “Hi mom. I’m home,” Luz said. No greeting is given in return. “I want to talk to you.” Luz placed her books on the coffee table and they remain standing, silence in the air. “I understand that you’ve been accepted to colleges. Especially ones out of state.” Luz’s heart jolts as she sees the envelopes in her mother’s hand, realizing what they mean. Looking down at her shoelaces she replies, “Yes mommy, I did.” “You are only going to leave this house two ways: In a white dress or in a coffin. I gave you life and I have the power to take it away. If you leave any other way, you stop being my daughter,” her mom said sternly. Luz watched her mother, speechless. Nothing could be said. It was a statement of fact and there was no refuting it. Luz watched her mother walk away into the kitchen, envelopes in hand. Without saying a word, she walked into her room, took off her uniform, and hung it impeccably in the closet. She never saw those envelopes again.
*** It was a Sunday morning after church. Luz and Agustine sit across from each other in uncomfortable chairs with breakfast and coffee on the table. It’s a busy day at the diner. The sound of bacon sizzling follows his narcissistic ramblings while she remains quiet, listening, and picking at her food absentmindedly. As if it was the most natural thing to bring up at breakfast in a public place, Agustine proclaims, “I had women right up until the day that we got married.” Luz snaps out of her daze, shocked. “What?” He shrugs off her reaction, smirking. “Well you wouldn’t have sex with me. So I had to get it somewhere,” he chuckles, taking a bite of eggs. Luz looks around to make sure no one is listening. He said it with such ease. She releases the tightly held fork, while the rest of her body cripples in disbelief. “Did she know about me?” “No. She didn’t find out until she found out that I was getting married.” “How could you do that? I can’t believe you.” “What? She was used goods. I got what I needed from her.” He dismisses her reaction and continues with his breakfast. Luz waits for him to finish, her hands folded on her lap. He sits back with a satisfied look on his face and both get up in silence. They walk out of the restaurant, leaving two plates on the table. One empty and one filled with bacon and eggs.
Once they reach home, Luz heads straight into her sewing room. The only place in the entire house she feels comfortable in. She opens the door to a room with white walls and one narrow window, high up on the far wall. She takes a piece of champagne colored fabric and drapes it on the mannequin. Her hands experiment with shapes as they glide over the velvety quiana. She pins it so that it falls and flows effortlessly down the bodice. She lays down a brown piece of butcher paper on the hard linoleum floor and kneels over it. A pattern is soon traced out and she begins to cut the delicate fabric with a sharp razor blade, following the lines, taking her into another world. She sits in the center of the room until her legs are void of feeling and her cutting is complete. She lifts herself up and continues until a piece of clothing is finished on the mannequin. It is dark outside. After a Sunday morning of thick silence and avoidance, they tolerated each other during mass, acting like a happy couple. Once home, Luz got out of the car and walked in after him, heading directly toward their room. The masks came off and tension filled the air. There had been no fight. They hadn’t spoken to each other in a week. She sat on the bed. The light from the window shone on her face. But it was soon extinguished by a large dominating shadow.
He was standing in front of her, towering. She raised her chin to look at him while he said in a blunt, matterof-fact tone. “You know, we haven’t had sex in a week,” he said expectantly. “Yeah, so?” She crossed her arms and scooted a little further back onto the bed. He took a slight step forward, closing the distance. “We haven’t had sex in a week,” he repeated, “And you made a vow when you became my wife. You need to honor it.” Challenging him, she said, “Well I don’t want you to touch me. I didn’t realize that I vowed to have sex with you against my will.” “You’re my wife. I own you.” “I can’t believe you would take me against my will.” As if she hadn’t said anything at all, he took half a step backward and started to unbutton his shirt. His gaze seared into her skin and all she did was look away from him. He shifted his position to remove her clothes, letting the light back into the room. She gazed into the light, while every nerve in her body shut down. Her limbs became lifeless, succumbing to his direction, shifting to his every whim. He lowered his demanding body over her bare skin and took what he believed was rightfully his. He finishes and removes himself, leaving a broken woman laying on the bed. Luz turns over onto her side, covering whatever she can on her body. Tears being to slide down her face, dampening the tainted sheets. Her eyes follow the specks of dust illuminated by the sunlight. She searches her mind
for answers to her question. Where am I going to go? *** On a scorching summer day, three cars pull into the driveway. Nobody gets out. The anticipation of four people rests on Luz’s shoulders. She sits in the passenger seat of the first car with her right hand frozen on the door handle. She doesn’t realize that everybody is waiting for her. She glances to the window on the second floor where she spent so many sleepless nights. She then focuses on the door that she dreaded walking through every day. One last time, she tells herself. She reaches the white door after climbing the three stairs leading to the front
door. Her friends timidly wait behind her. She takes a deep breath, grabs the cold doorknob and turns it. The silence dissipates and everybody starts moving in a hurry. “Get those books,” Luz says, pointing. “And those CD’s at the bottom of the shelf.” Luz passes the crystal vases she loved. She sweeps her hand over the kitchen table, looking at it longingly. She jerks her hand away and enters the room where most of her prized belongings were kept. In a nervous rush, she grabs all her clothes and stuffs them in the suitcases with the hangers still on. Nobody even bothers to neatly pack anything. “What if he comes home early from work?” says one of her friends.
“He won’t,” Luz replies, speeding up her pace. The last piece of clothing is wrapped in a white garment bag – the same dress she wore when she entered this world. Her fingers extend toward the zipper. Before they reach, the fingers fold into her palm and she snatches the bag off the rack, throwing it in with the rest. She scavenges the house for photos. Any sign of their marriage couldn’t stay. The frame with a marriage license was shoved in a box with her photos. It looked like a bachelor pad, as if she was never there. “We got everything,” said another friend. But the house didn’t look ransacked in the slightest. All the furniture remained intact. No sign of removal was apparent. Luz enters the kitchen, opens the cabinet above the stove and grabs the pots and pans her mother gave her as a wedding present and closes the cabinet. She turns away and walks toward the front door. Her friends are already in their cars, filled with clothes and books. Anxious. This is the last time I will step foot in this place, she promises herself. She glances at the couch. The marked impression on the left cushion is visible. He always sat there, beer in hand, waiting for dinner or sex. The throne of tyranny. She could almost see him sitting there, demanding that she replace his beer. She is startled by a honk outside. She tightly grasps the door knob, pots in hand and closes the door on four years of her life.
Story by Gurajpalpreet Sangha Photographs by Mariah Carrillo
he first day of school is always exciting. Especially in primary school when you go over expectations for the year, play games or do icebreakers to learn about your fellow classmates. It’s all fun and games until the teacher takes out the class roster to see who is in attendance. That’s when I want the day to be over. You ask yourself, “Why, Gurajpalpreet Sangha?” Well, as you read, my name is not one of the most common on classroom rosters. It certainly doesn’t live up to the easy names like Jacob Johnson, Sean Armstrong or even Derek Williams. During roll call, I find out how good my teacher is with pronunciation. I already know how things will turn out, but I still hold out a glimmer of hope that she might say it right. In fourth grade, a friend suggested, “Why don’t you change your name to Jake or even Benjamin?” I thought long and hard about it, and wondered; why not? But the why not thought quickly evaporated when I realized how ridiculous it would sound if an Indian-born kid had one of those names. Can you imagine how I would be treated within the Indian community? I’d be the laughing stock of the neighborhood. It’d be a Russell Peters comedy skit — times three! In Indian communities, some of the biggest trash talkers are relatives of the subjects. Some of my relatives even bad-mouth my cousins who don’t have Indian names or don’t speak Punjabi — one of many languages in India.
You wonder, where’s the love, right? It is a tough life surviving in an environment where it seems like everyone and their mother has some sort of an opinion regarding someone else’s household. If the mother doesn’t teach her children Punjabi, relatives are going to talk behind the mother’s back until the child is 18 years old. But to be serious, I am proud of my name. My grandmother, Naranjan Kaur, gave it to me. Gurajpalpreet means, “You’re God’s treasure.” She always tells me I’m only the second person in the world to have that name (Some research through Google confirmed she’s right). -- In India -Born in Kala Sanghian, Punjab, India, to Kuldip Singh and Manjit Kaur, I am one of three children. I have an older brother and a younger sister. My brother’s name is Sukhjinder Sangha and my sister’s name was Sabrina Sangha (1994). Try saying those names correctly on your first try. While I attended school in India, teachers had no problems saying my name. I sometimes even wished that teachers didn’t know my name; like when I got into trouble. But I guess that comes with the territory. I heard my name everywhere I went (I’m kind of a big deal). For an 8-year-old, I was living the life — whatever that meant at the age of eight. Probably had unlimited juice boxes.
All I wanted to do was fit in. Looking
helped the problem by overlooking it.
back, maybe I kind of
Then my parents informed me of the news that would change the course of my entire life. We were moving to the United States. I didn’t know what to think. I had heard some good things about America, but I didn’t know what was in store for me. My emotions were mixed. I was delighted at the thought of what the opportunity would provide for my family — the possibility of a better life. It would allow my brother and I to set and achieve goals we never imagined possible and most importantly, the change would help break the family trend of farming. The sad part about the relocation was starting over from scratch, not knowing anyone outside my family. In 1999, my grandmother, who was already in the United States, helped the family move to Woodland, Calif. -- In the United States -In January 2000, I entered the third grade, I didn’t know any English and had no idea if my teacher could say my name. Probably not. Not knowing English was hard enough. But I looked drastically different to what the students were accustomed to. My brother and I had a Kesh, since we were born, for religious purposes. Kesh is the practice of an individual allowing their hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. My hair was about 15 inches long and everyday my mom would groom it and place a rumal (a small cloth similar to a handkerchief or a bandana) or a patka (a small garment that is tied around the head to cover the hair and keep it neat). I had a trifecta going for me: my name, not knowing English and a Kesh. My fellow classmates taunted me, and I didn’t know why. I kept telling myself that the cruel jokes, and occasional fights would pass, but they didn’t. All I wanted to do was fit in. Looking back, maybe I kind of helped the problem by overlooking it. Looking back, I’m happy I never came close to changing my name.
Some students I know, asked their parents to change their name because they couldn’t deal with people constantly asking how to spell or pronounce it. Or sometimes because of the abuse they encountered for being “different.” During this phase, I had asked my grandmother a lot of questions about the significance of my name. She answered as best she could, helping and inspiring me to embrace my name and overlook all negative reactions. To help distract my mind from the drama regarding my name in school, I turned to sports.
I most frequently turned to basketball. I started following the Sacramento Kings right as they became an up-and-coming team. Once, I remember the Kings playing the extremely talented Los Angeles Lakers. During the game, I cheered for both teams. My favorite players from the Lakers were Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. One day, while I was waiting for a Lakers playoff game to start, I was watching a feature on Shaquille O’Neal. He talked about his childhood years and how he didn’t like his name because it was different from everyone else’s. He was also embarrassed of his height as he towered over his peers. During the interview, O’Neal mentioned something his mother had once told him: “Make them remember your name, make them remember you.” Those words opened my eyes and struck a chord in me. After a couple of seconds, I whispered to myself, “You make people remember your name and remember you.” It was at that moment I felt content with my name and so whenever I met with people, I’d make sure they knew my name. Fourth grade came around and the same three kids from third grade continued to have a field day with me. But this time, I remembered that if I didn’t stand up for myself, no one would. I stood up and corrected the main bully.
He was not fond of me correcting him and felt like I was belittling him. I was trying to avoid a confrontation, but he wasn’t. He grabbed me by my Kesh and moved me from one side to the other like his personal whip. The school principal broke up the one-sided fight and the kid got suspended. That was the last time the kid bullied me, and that would be the last time I was involved in a fight regarding both my name, or the way I looked. -- In school -As years passed, I made it my mission to never involve myself in any type of altercations, to stay levelheaded and to try to defuse any disagreement peacefully with words. When I’m not defusing confrontations, I’m trying to stay alert whenever my name comes up, so I can correct the teacher. There are multiple reactions that my name receives from educators. Some teachers will actually try, but fail miserably. Or they will say, “I can’t say the first name, but the last name is spelled out, S-A-N-G-H-A. Is he or she here?” And my all-time favorite is when the teachers reach my name and stop abruptly (like they just saw a dead body in the middle of a road). Their facial expression shows their frustration, but they continue
looking at it before finally saying, “First name starts with a G and last name starts with an S.” Sometimes — since I’m a nice guy — when the teacher gets stuck on my name, I raise my hand and say “Here,” so we can move on with class. Through middle and high school, I was impressed with how easily teachers adjusted to pronouncing my name. Not a lot of instructors ask to give me nicknames, but a physical education teacher once asked if he could call me “G-Money.” I was shocked that a teacher asked to call a student by a nickname and I didn’t know how that nickname even fit me. I wasn’t offended, just surprised that an instructor would give a nickname that didn’t even resemble the original name. Years later, I still wondered what the teacher meant and typed in “G-Money” into Urban Dictionary. I am very happy with the definitions. “A prefix given to a person who is held in extremely high regard. They are a ‘G’ and they are money.” I liked the compliment. My name has helped me learn life lessons I never imagined possible. I’ve accepted the fact that my name is just different and still remind myself, “Make them remember your name. Make them remember you.”
After a couple of seconds, I whispered to
“ remember your name and remember you.” myself, You make people
REVISITING REFUGE Story by Yvette Quintero Photographs by Alvin Kim
San Raymundo, Guatemala Lili Rojas Marroquin de Corzo waited patiently for her number to be called. She sat stiffly on a wooden bench, her arms folded on her lap and her feet neatly crossed beneath her. This wasn’t the first time she had waited here. Lili’s tan sweater looked rough and worn, like she had owned it for years. Her brown eyes hid behind the rectangular metal frames of her thin glasses. Her hair, a blend of gray and black, curled neatly at the nape of her neck. Her lips were thin and serious. Lili pursed her lips in contemplation as she waited to see a doctor. She was here to finally see a surgeon, so that they might treat the hernia she had been suffering from for the last three years. “I have 11 grandchildren,” Lili said. “I take care of them. How was I going to leave them alone? I couldn’t take it any more … I needed to take care of myself.” She had been one of the first to arrive at the San Raymundo clinic on Saturday, the first day of the week-long Refuge International medical mission. Refuge International, a nonprofit organization based in Texas, brings a team of doctors, dentists, nurses and other volunteers to Guatemala throughout the year. Their goal is to provide clean water, deworming, dental care, medical services and education for people in developing communities. “We can only do a little bit,” said Deborah Bell, president and founder of Refuge International. “But a little bit makes a difference.” Clinics are currently set up in San Raymundo, Sarstún and Chocolá, where patients pay little for consultation or surgery. For many Guatemalan people, health care is an expensive luxury reserved for life threatening circumstances. Those who cannot afford immediate care for their illnesses or injuries learn to deal with the pain. Melido Valenzuela Godoy, a middle-aged Mayan woman, experienced pain in her shoulders, feet, ankles and back for over two years. To remedy the pain, she purchased baby aspirin since it was the cheapest pain medicine she could find.
This wasn’t the first time Lili had come to the clinic in San Raymundo
Lili helped the night shift team for a couple Carlos Francisco Raxon, a slender teenage of years and eventually was unable to volunteer. boy, broke his left arm six years ago while playing She remembered her time working at the clinic as soccer with his friends. The bone still protruded she walked up to the intake room to get ready for out of his upper bicep when he arrived at the clinic. Carlos seemed numb to the pain, but hinted her surgical consultation. After her brief examination, Lili was told to a sign of misery when he lifted his color-faded return the next day. The surgeon was with other sleeve and revealed his popped bone. patients and wouldn’t be able to see her. Most patients who visit the clinic in late Lili was scheduled to come back at 7 a.m. February rely on missionary doctors and surgeons She was instructed to not eat in case of surgery. as their only health care providers. Lili and her husband Otoniel Corzo, both This means regardless of the type of injury, San Raymundo residents, built a life together about a patient will wait three 15 minutes from the clinic. months or more until Otoniel, a retired the next mission comes schoolteacher, seems to be into San Raymundo to be a serious man. taken care of. When he talks, a This wasn’t the first furrowed brow stretches time Lili had come to the above his eyes and his clinic in San Raymundo. voice sounds stern. After One of her grandchildren a bit of conversation had his tonsils taken out though, Otoniel brings here; another had surgery Guatemala out a witty banter and to remove his gallbladder a smile spreads across a couple of years ago. San Raymundo his tan, wrinkled face. Years before ever His eyes, light brown, needing the care provided shine almost yellow in by Refuge International the sun. volunteers, Lili was one Twice a week, Otoniel of the many people giving volunteers his time at the back and taking care of school adjacent to the clinic to teach accounting. others at the clinic. He wants to spend the rest of his life in San Lili studied to become a nurse but never found Raymundo. a job as one. “Aquí nacimos y aquí nos vamos a morir, si Refuge International was in its start up stages Dios quiere.” when Lili heard they needed volunteers. She made We were born here and we will die here, God a call to the organization to tell them she was willing willing, he said. and able to offer her services. She was assigned to On Sunday, Lili and Otoniel returned for care for patients in the recovery room at nights. her 7 a.m. appointment. She arrived at the clinic Bearing the strife of a startup project, the room three where nurse practitioners took her clinic was simple and bare. temperature and measured her blood pressure. The “The hospital wasn’t the way it is now — there nurses also checked her heart and lungs. were no floors and there was a lot missing,” Lili said.
After stopping at various points throughout the clinic, she was sent to a consultation with Dr. Ken Eveland, a general surgeon. “How long have you had the hernia for?” he asked. “Three years,” Lili responded. “It looks like you will be needing the operation,” he said after examining her. Lili was sent to fill out some paperwork at the front desk. She signed a hospital release form and proceeded to wait. There were several surgeries lined up before her, so she walked throughout the clinic waiting for her name to be called. At about 2 p.m., Lili was admitted into preOP to start her IV fluids. Lying in the pre-OP bed for about an hour, she remained calm and unnerved. Lili had seen this process before with her grandchildren and the many patients she had taken care of in this very hospital. She knew what to expect, which helped ease her nerves. Lili was confident. “Just like [the other patients] came out, I knew that I was going to come out just fine,” Lili said. “I wasn’t scared.” The anesthesiologist walked into the room and explained the type of anesthesia that would be used on Lili during the operation.
They would inject the anesthetic into her spine to sedate her from the waist down and she would be conscious during surgery. Once inside the operating room, Lili saw a familiar face. Dr. Lonette Bebensee, a general surgeon, couldn’t place where she had seen Lili. She vaguely remembered Lili’s face — but she was sure she had seen her over the last 11 years, serving on medical missions for Refuge International. Lonette asked Lili where she had seen her before. Lili responded that she had worked at the clinic before. “It’s a compliment that someone who has worked here trusts us enough to take care of her,” Lonette said. During the next hour and a half, Lili laid on the operating table. The air inside the operating room was brisk and Lili shuddered. She would open her eyes from time to time, to a sea of doctors surrounding her. She remembers a young man talking to her; he was translating questions the anesthesiologist was asking. She let her eyelids fall and drifted to sleep. During the operation, Eveland said he had a bit of trouble repairing Lili’s hernia.
He said there was more fat surrounding the tissue than is usually anticipated. Nevertheless, the operation was a success. Lili was moved to the recovery room where she was constantly monitored by a team of nurses. She had little pain, but remained calm. She was transferred to a second recovery room and rested for the night. To most nurses, Lili was just another patient. Lili expressed her gratitude at how she was treated, even if the doctors and nurses didn’t know she had worked there before. In the morning, Lili looked strong. She sat up, her gray and black hair curled wildly atop her head. It was Monday morning and the doctor had just come to see her. She sat up eagerly, a smile strewn across her face after she learned about the successful operation. To the members of the community like Lili, Refuge International provides a service many need. “I want to thank them for the service they bring,” she said. “Thank them and God bless them because this is a great help. If God wills it, hopefully they can continue helping to benefit more people.”
Kymberlie Estrada contributed to this story
of time that passed in which That was the exact amount would Alan Canfora’s idyllic world 67 rounds were fired and ar protest n he made his two anti-w he W . red tte sha r eve for be State nt located just off the Kent flags in his student apartme at lay eful day, he had no idea wh fat t tha s pu cam ty rsi ive Un t his thing he did know was tha in store for him. The one led in Bill Caldwell, had been kil d, en fri od ho ild ch ed lov be 13, 1970. the Vietnam War on April childhood friend. It shook He mourned the loss of his Alan’s brother George was one of him to the very core. Bill’s their ee grew up together, and college roommates. The thr closest ned the way that only the lives were deeply intertwi time But, Alan also spent that of friends could relate to. war. valuating his stance on the thinking. Thinking and ree was estioned the war. His dad Alan had never really qu e part S. Army infantry in the lat a private first class in the U.
pine at Leyte Gulf in the Philip of World War II, serving rsed wounded soldiers. Islands. His mom had nu rted ts, had unwaveringly suppo Alan, along with his paren . s all very black and white the war. In his mind, it wa re we u Yo . war or you didn’t Either you supported the er aft against the president. But either for the president or ily fam l’s Bill and watching Bil losing his beloved friend anging. suffer, Alan felt himself ch casualties were beginning The mounting deaths and ulty nds, his family and the fac to take a toll on him, his frie ymore. sn’t just a far off event an at his school. The war wa were re coming home, and they Friends who had served we er, st-traumatic stress disord coming back wounded. Po back cal wounds were coming emotional scars and physi grew ly saddened that people he with them. Alan was deep ps one home so messed up. Perha up with were coming back etnam t many who had gone to Vi of the saddest parts was tha se. re serving a higher purpo had left believing they we
l, Alan could feel the After attending Bill’s funera rising inside him, and he frustration and helplessness ar activists at his school was knew that joining the anti-w didn’t consider himself one the right thing to do. Alan the community surrounding of the militant radicals that ut to the authorities. his school complained abo ical dirty hippie with Sure, he looked like the typ often complained about, his long hair, which people d-working, Midwestern kid but he was just a normal har While other kids partied or from a middle class family. rs were spent working long went on vacation, his summe that he could save up enough days at the nearby factory so end of April, when he began to pay for his tuition. At the activist group at his school, working with the anti-war to be threatening. He had none of the faculty found him anti-war rallies, and he had never skipped class to go to the violent acts that led to the never participated in any of commanded to restore order Ohio National Guard being at Kent State University.
ters were comprised The problem was the protes nted to lash out and those of two groups, those who wa ir mind peacefully. who just wanted to speak the
worse. There was Things took a turn for the guardsmen and the palpable tension between the in his bedroom studying students on campus. Alan sat l around 10 p.m. when he received a phone cal ng to believe what “Hey, man, you’re never goi to leave campus around happened. Some guy tried end, and the guard told 8 p.m. to go meet his girlfri e guy started arguing with him curfew was in effect. Th oneted him. Then a group the guard, and the guard bay to the library where they of guardsmen headed over girls and one of the girls was started yelling at a bunch of bayoneted by a guard.” he was hearing. Alan could not believe what dents? Curfew was in effect? The guard was bayoneting stu viciously stabbed by men? Female students had been and the National Guard was This campus was his home, rmany. He soon learned ing like they lived in Nazi Ge act t den stu the of l ica rad er students were Around midnight, the most ne in his feelings. Many oth alo sn’t wa he l era sev dows of banks and of the guardsmen. protesters had broken the win ing the unwelcome presence ent res n Ala t Bu a. are n downtow other businesses located in the involved, and the thought ’t and his closest friends weren n those protesters. hadn’t crossed his mind to joi h his sweet-natured, His days were usually spent wit have their dated during his first four ts decided they would still Catholic girlfriend, who he den Stu on up d tional Guard showe planned as soon as they years at Kent. The Ohio Na ti-war rally, which had been an n’t did s nd frie his ia. The crowd t Alan and was going to invade Cambod xon the campus that day. At firs Ni d rne lea ly nd frie rdsmen were pretty e of those people were think much about it. The gua 0 soon grew to 1,500, but som 30 of nt wa t no to d me ers had passed they see tors. Various faculty memb cta with some of the students and spe y rel me h wit nt to start trouble dents from attending the to be there. Alan didn’t wa leaflets discouraging the stu t ou ay aw y sta to and stay cool fed up. anyone. He told himself to rally, but the students were nt spe en sm ard gu e Th m. ed in staging their rally. from them to avoid a proble They felt provoked and justifi s tball field. tly overtaking their campu the night sleeping on the foo The guardsmen were violen n declared. Alan grabbed the and martial law had not bee nd Bill’s memory. flag he made to honor his frie of the guardsmen he As he waved his flag in front , day s thi To . fire on war. My friend The ROTC building was set anguish, “I am against this in t ou ed cri es iev bel the fire. Alan still here.” no one knows who started d last week. That is why I am die it. did s pu cam testers on one of the more radical pro
The guardsmen seemed to think he was taunting them, and they began moving towards him. At that moment, Alan thought to himself, ‘They won’t do anything to me. I haven’t done anything wrong. I have a right to peacefully assemble with others and use my freedom of speech.’ As Alan started moving away from them, the next comforting thing he told himself was that, ‘They won’t fire, and if they do shoot at me, they will shoot blanks.’ As Alan tried to get away, the crowd dispersed quickly. People ran to their dorms or sought refuge in the restrooms. They washed their faces because of the tear gas. Some of the students that were tear gassed weren’t even protesting, they were just walking to class. Alan hid behind an oak tree that was about 12 inches wide. He still thought maybe the guardsmen were just trying to scare the students. As the guardsmen formed a tight huddle, Alan cussed at them. They huddled for about 10 minutes, then marched up a hill. Alan thought they were leaving and the whole ordeal was over. As they reached the top of the hill, 12 of the guardsmen turned around in unison, and began shooting their M1 rifles. A bullet tore through Alan’s wrist. At first he was completely shocked. He had just been shot in broad daylight on his college campus. 80
The pain was excruciating and forced immediate relief. But he barely had time to think about his wrist, because the bullets kept coming. For exactly 12.53 seconds Troop G shot their rifles. Alan was the first to be shot. The oak tree he hid behind proved to be a very faithful friend as it absorbed several of the bullets. Alan’s friend Tom was close by, and was shot in his foot. Tom screamed in agony and attempted to get up. “Stay down, you have to stay down,” Alan yelled at him. When the firing ceased, the Ohio National Guard finished walking up the hill and disappeared behind a building as if nothing happened. There was a full, stunned moment of silence before pandemonium broke out. Alan quickly looked down at the ground and was horrified by all the blood. The wounded were crying and screaming out “Help me. I need an ambulance. Oh God, I need an ambulance.” A football player rushed over, picked Tom up and carried him to safety. Once Alan knew Tom was being taken care of, he went into the Home Economics Building, which was the closest building to him. One of the home economics students gingerly applied a washcloth to his wound. All Alan kept thinking was that he needed to get to the hospital immediately.
He walked out to the main road off campus and flagged down the first car he saw. The driver was a graduate student and agreed to take him to the hospital after hearing the horrible news. As they drove to the hospital Alan tried to tell him what happened but he thought he might pass out from the pain. When Alan arrived at the hospital, he walked past an ambulance with its door open. His friend Jeff Miller was dead in the back of the ambulance. A bullet violently ripped through his face. When Alan saw Jeff lying there, he thought he looked like a zombie. Jeff was known for always smiling his crooked smile. Alan didn’t realize Jeff was dead. He naively assumed the doctor would be able to fix Jeff’s punctured face, giving him good plastic surgery so he would one day smile again. Alan thought Jeff was just unconscious and as he walked by, he whispered, “Jeff, Jeff, wake up.” This all seemed like a nightmare. He still couldn’t accept what had happened as reality. Alan was placed in a private room with one other student that he didn’t know. They were told they would be treated last because they had the least serious injuries. Alan lied on his stomach for about one hour until a doctor could see him. The hospital was filled with the cries of wounded students. As he lay there on his hospital bed, he replayed the incident over and over in his mind. We weren’t doing anything wrong, how did the whole thing erupt into a deadly shooting spree? Mass murder just took place on campus. Is my sister alive?
Alan’s sister Chic had been at the scene of the crime. As soon as he started thinking about her, a doctor came in and told him the names of the four dead students and the names of the nine that were wounded. His fears were assuaged. Chic wasn’t on the list. He barely registered this when an overwhelming sadness engulfed him. Two of the dead were females.
Alan gave a speech at Kent State University. One of the guardsmen involved in the ordeal confronted him and expressed regret about what happened. The guardsman wanted to shake his hand but Alan wanted to refuse. ‘I’m not going to shake his hand’ he thought. However, after reconsidering, he decided to reach out and accept the gesture.
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