Category Archives: air pollution

When Young Actors Tell Their Real Stories On Stage

inandout3dreamergrilsinandoutfilipinoactor 

photographs by Breannie Robinson

by  Breannie Robinson

“This is my real life,” said actress Deanne Palaganas, a 25-year-old who plays a Filipino mother who is arrested by police and jailed for not having her papers.

The actress talks about the prejudice she encounters, the judgments of people not accepting her because she has no papers even though she pays taxes.

Palaganas portrays an immigrant and single mother from the Phillipines in Gary Soto’s newest play, Living In and Out of Shadows, which played last month at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

To write his play, Soto read through the harrowing experiences of immigrant teenagers, gathered through interviews conducted by the Marsh Youth Theatre actors, living in Richmond and Pinole, and wove them together in an intricate compilation of stories and songs.

Palaganas herself was an undocumented teen, forced to live in secrecy even while attending college.

Like Palaganas, many of the actors were telling their own stories on stage. Others were portraying people they had interviewed.

The play refrains from stereotyping the immigrant look and experience.  Soto said his biggest fear was not including enough ethnicities, which is why he added a Chinese teen and added the stories of several of the Marsh Youth Theater’s undocumented actors from Canada, the Phillipines, and Mexico.

This is most noticeable when a young Chinese girl addresses the point, saying “they think only Mexicans and Latinos know the way [across the border] but we Chinese know the route, too. ” In the play, her Chinese family takes a plane ride to Peru, travels from Peru to Mexico and then crosses the Mexican-US border illegally.

Several of the interviews with Marsh Youth Theatre actors made it into the play, including a story from a young man who migrated to the U.S. illegally but told Soto,  “because I’m white, they don’t bother me.”  An Indonesian girl found it frustrating to have people refer to her as Chinese or Mexican.

Besides adding cultural diversity,  Soto made sure to include real details: for instance, a young boy had to re-cross the Mexican-American border through an underground sewer pipeline after he was caught by ICE the first time when trying to cross through the desert with his uncle.

Palaganas said her character reminded her much of her own mother, loud and passionate, outspoken and prone to alternating between rapid or soft Tagalog but never a mixture. “For many of us, this is our story,” she said.

“I’m allowed to stay here because Obama let me,” said Palaganas.”Not many Filipinos are open.  They train their kids to maintain their reputation, to say they have papers,” said Palaganas.

“To them [American-born] we are aliens,” said Palaganas.  She criticized the U.S. government for accepting taxes from undocumented immigrants, but refusing to acknowledge their contribution or pay any benefits. As for undocumented parents, “They tell us we have to act normal, act American,” said Palaganas, who was accepted to UC Irvine and San Francisco State but could not get a scholarship because she was undocumented.

“You just try to live your life normally and don’t tell nobody your status,” says Louel Senores, who plays Felix, the articulate, dancing, rapping Filipino high school student and activist in In and Out of Shadows.

Senores’ story is a bit different: he received his papers in 8th grade. He was able to attend UC Berkeley from which he graduated with a degree in engineering  For him, the challenge was professional: how to portray a jock when he was trained as a ballet dancer.

Although not in the script, he added his own line about being gay because he wanted to include LGBT in the production, as they are among undocumented youth.

“Filipinos from the islands are more conservative, they are not very open to homosexuality,” said Senores. 

After spending time with undocumented cast members, Senores feels fortunate. “I am an immigrant but I got my papers.  I didn’t think of it.  I didn’t realize they had it that hard.  That’s some f***ed up shit,” he added

“It was just a role but it makes you care,” said Senores. “As soon as you know someone who is going through that,  you care.”

Why Mack Students Should Care About Climate Change

climatechange

by Anthony Beron

High asthma rates, diesel fumes from the Port of Oakland, pollution from four freeways near McClymonds High School. Add another environmental concern for students: climate change.

A March 23 workshop organized by Oakland Climate Action Coalition — which hopes to lure McClymonds students and other youths — will address the preparation and survival skills needed to address climate change for West Oakland residents.

“We don’t want to label ourselves as victims,” says Myesha Williams of the Rose Foundation, one of the event’s organizers. “We want to prepare ourselves as a community, to use our resilience, and share our resources.”

Several McClymonds students expressed interest in the issue and the day-long workshop. “Global warming impacts my future and my health,” said Brandon Von Der Werth, a junior. “I know that people suffer from asthma and we need to improve air quality.”

Lee Benson, also a junior, agreed that education and preparation were central to dealing with the environmental inequalities in West Oakland. “I want to stay healthy and help others,” he said.

Global warming’s consequences are prevalent in our biome, including West Oakland.

West Oakland is OCAC’s current main concern, because of its susceptibility to flooding.

“West Oakland is below sea-level, and is extremely prone to flooding,” said Williams.

That, combined with poor air quality have inspired Mack students to speak out. This would not be the first time McClymonds students were involved in environmental activism. When McClymonds was divided into small schools, its Law Academy explored pollution in West Oakland.  Its students testified about diesel fumes before state and federal boards.  The testimony helped change the rules about retrofitting trucks running on diesel fuel.

A four-year project by students in the Law Academy at McClymonds found that metal particles were present in the air surrounding the school community.  They took their findings to local media and eventually, they got the attention of Nancy Nadel, West Oakland’s City Council Representative.  With her support, a number of city agencies, including Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and City Attorney came together and conducted investigations regarding Custom Alloy Scrap Sales compliance with environmental regulations.   Their findings determined that CASS was in violation of a number of regulations.  Although CASS has taken steps to correct a number of the violations, they are actively seeking to move their location away from the residential neighborhood, where they have conducted business for more than 25 years.

After pressure by local groups, CASS was trying to relocate to vacant industrial land next to the former Oakland Army Base.

Some of the same issues — injustice, public health, equity and lack of  resources —  are in play in the battle against global warming as in the community fight against pollutants from a smelter, said Williams. “It’s time to start to take care of our community and its future.”

Oakland Students Testify for Better Transportation and More Low-Income Housing

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by Brenda Barron

Street Academy

It took courage, patience (waiting for four hours and through chanting by the Tea Party) and brevity (each speaker allowed one minute or 60 seconds).

Despite the hurdles, three students from Oakland public high schools testified for better transportation and more low income housing last Thursday at a heated 4 ½-hour meeting hosted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

No action was taken but the two groups unanimously voted to move forward with a deeply flawed draft of the “One Bay Area” plan, a $277 billion transportation and housing plan in the nine-county Bay Area that must also help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets set in California SB 375.

As one of the students and as a senior at Emiliano Zapata Street Academy. I spoke publicly about many problems in the community and the change that is needed.

I talked about taking public transportation since I was five years old when I started riding the bus to my mom’s work. I never thought transportation was a big deal until I grew up,  but it has changed a lot since I was five.

In the last few years, bus lines have been cut and changed so often that people get confused about which lines go to which place. People do not want see bus service cut. They want to see more bus routes, and more frequent buses.

Many people take buses because it costs less than BART, but BART takes you farther, and goes faster.   I would like to see the BART and buses cost less, especially for the young people — because we go to school and most of us don’t have jobs, so we can’t afford it. I would like to see more clean buses and BART.

Other speakers (including McClymonds graduate Devilla Ervin) pointed out flaws in the plan considered: that it does not restore  lost transit service, does not protect people from displacement, does not protect people from diesel fumes and does not create new affordable housing for people who live there.

Oakland Tech student Tanika O’Guinn and Street Academy student Eliezer Mendoza also spoke.

Pamela Tapia, a graduate from McClymonds, also representing New Voices Are Rising, talked about her own homelessness after her family lost its housing and was forced to relocate.

“My family in West Oakland lost our apartment,” Tapia said. “My mom was supporting three people on a minimum-wage job. She and my sister moved to Stockton but I had to choose between going with them and dropping out of school or staying here. The explosion of luxury homes has pushed out low-income people. As a homeless teen, I want to tell you to stop the displacement,” Tapia said.

How healthy are tots living near CASS in West Oakland?

Terranisha Nathaniel, Stephen Vance and Pamela Tapia received EPA awards in February 2011 for work done in identifying and fighting pollution in West Oakland.

By Stephen Vance 

with reporting from San Jose Mercury-News

How bad is the air near the smelter just five blocks from McClymonds?

Just ask a mother.

A  new pilot study sponsored by the nonprofit Global Community Monitor will test the blood of tots (children 1 through 5) who live within a mile of Custom Alloy Scrap Sales, or CASS, targeted by environmental groups for pollution issues.

“We’re just starting to recruit families in West Oakland,” says Ruth Breech, program director of Global Community Monitor.

A four-year project by students in the Law Academy at McClymonds found that metal particles were present in the air surrounding the school community.  They took their findings to local media and eventually, they got the attention of Nancy Nadel, West Oakland’s City Council Representative.  With her support, a number of city agencies, including Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and City Attorney came together and conducted investigations regarding CASS’ compliance with environmental regulations.   Their findings determined that CASS was in violation of a number of regulations.  Although CASS has taken steps to correct a number of the violations, they are actively seeking to move their location away from the residential neighborhood where they have conducted business for more than 25 years.

After pressure by local groups, CASS is trying to relocate to vacant industrial land next to the former Oakland Army Base.

Breech said a total of 70 children — 35 children from each West Oakland and 35 from West Berkeley who live near Pacific Steel Casting– will be tested for heavy metals that have been previously detected in air quality samples.

“This was prompted by the community,” Breech said. “They said, ‘OK, it’s in the air, so what is in our bodies?’ ”

Children who live near  CASS  will be tested for lead and cadmium. Children who live near Pacific Steel Casting in West Berkeley will be tested for manganese.

The study will compare the levels of metal found in children who live very close to the plants with the test results of children living on the edge of the study area. The results will also be compared with “normal” levels of exposure to those metals detected from other studies.

“We have residential neighbors really living next to heavy industry, so our question is what is too close? How do we coexist?” Breech said.

The study is a collaboration with the UC San Francisco pediatric environmental health specialty unit and Children’s Hospital Oakland. Children who are selected for the study will have their blood drawn at Children’s Hospital.

The family must also make their home available for a one-time dust wipe sample that will be studied for the presence of metals.

Air samples will also be taken during the study.

Participating families will be given the blood test and dust wipe results compared to national averages. Families will also be referred to health agencies to help them interpret the results and find ways to reduce their families’ exposure, Breech said. The study will be completed by the end of this summer.

For more information about the study and how to join, call 510-233-1870 or email program@gcmonitor.org.

The Greening of West Oakland

photo by Quailyn Scott, Skyline High School

photo by Quailyn Scott, Skyline High School

By Stephen Vance

Greening West Oakland. Less cement, more parks and even ponds stocked with fish. More foot traffic and public transportation. And most of all, mixed income housing and retail. Those elements were part of a blueprint for West Oakland that 13 Oakland students created during their summer internship at The Rose Foundation.
“This was the first time students from McClymonds, Mandela, Oakland Tech, Oakland High, Street Academy and Skyline came up with their own vision of a healthy, sustainable community,” said Jill Ratner, president of The Rose Foundation.
“After all their work identifying the sources of pollution in the neighborhood and testimony about diesel fumes, they were able to present a truly beautiful blueprint for what they really want in their community,” Ratner added.
The blueprint was developed in response to Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) – a planning process, which will guide use planning for the next 25 years. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions per person as required by California law SB 375 (SB 375 was adopted by the CA legislature in 2008 and aims to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions  to 1990 levels by 2020 — and by 80 percent by 2050).
Two local agencies — Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments — are preparing  workshops in January, and will  release a scenario  for public comment in March or April.
The summer project also coincided with a pilot project by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean lead pollution at several West Oakland locations. For the first time, the EPA used a less invasive and less costly technology that uses fish bones to chemically bond with the lead, making it harmless to people.
The idea was to go beyond identifying toxic elements, health issues like asthma, and pollutants, which students at McClymonds tackled as part of the school’s Law & Government Academy’s focus on environmental justice. McClymonds students, who testified before the EPA and state and local boards, won an award for their community service last year.
“The summer was devoted to making West Oakland sustainable and empowering the voice of the youth,” said Ratner.
“Working on sustainability taught me to rethink urban planning and how that affects the community, ” said  Taneka O’Guin , a senior at Oakland Tech.

 In order to create a blueprint, students visited the self-reliant house at Merritt College and heard from a number of experts on sustainability and environmental technology. One of the speakers, Dr. Paloma Pazel emphasized the “six wins” necessary to make a sustainable community: better health; end of gentrification and displacement; affordable housing; reliable transportation; economic opportunity and community activism.
Over the summer, students learned how to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions when it comes to the vision of sustainability in their community. They put their dreams and vision to work.