YO! Youth Outlook

Persistent Divide

As I watched the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, my stomach churned. The storm was devastating, but the unveiling of racism towards Black people was disgusting. I kept repeating the same question over and over - how could this be happening?

I hated the sense of helplessness that came over me, and I knew if I sat at home boiling in anger I would end up lashing out and doing something that I would later regret. Hurricane Katrina is the largest natural disaster to hit U.S. soil, but because it hit Black communities the "country" could care less. Instead of having a response similar to the one after the 9.11 terrorist attacks, it took up to a week before any proper relief reached New Orleans.

After walking around angry at anything that resembled white America I decided to do something. Mainstream media has never done a good job of covering communities of color, so my first reaction was to grab my camera and document what was really happening.

I knew that if I kept myself distant from what was happening, it too would fade into history and become a murky memory. I couldn't let that happen, so I decided to go with the people who would give me the most access, the American Red Cross.

My Grandmother tried to warn me before I signed up with the Red Cross, that their treatment of Black people had not changed from when she was a nurse in the 50s. It is hard to understand how I could have been in such a state of denial about the Red Cross, yet so aware of the fact that the racist mentality of the past is still alive and present today.

My good friend Fay and I enrolled in the training program in order to make it down to the Gulf States. Not to our surprise, many of the volunteers going through the training and being deployed were white. The people of color were urged to work on the phones or help set up shelter around the Bay Area.

I arrived in Austin Texas with butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms, and a lump in my throat. It had taken a month of training and bull-shitting from the Red Cross to get here and I almost didn't make it. Yes, after doing all my paper work, buying all the supplies, and putting in 13-hours of training I was told to turn around and go home at the ticket gate.

Hot tears of anger rolled down my cheeks as I argued with Florence, the deployment officer of the San Francisco chapter. The end result of our phone call resulted in her telling me that I might not ever be deployed and that I brought the situation on myself. Instead of turning around and giving up, I booked a flight on Untied airlines to Austin, Texas, thanks to my mom's job. The Red Cross said they were going to deploy me on the 26th of September, but when it came down it once again they jerked me around.

On the first day Fay and I were sent to the headquarters to be assigned an affected area for our first mission. Since we are both photographers they put us in the PR group being sent to the Ford Base in Beaumont. I really did not want to be apart of the PR group, but I had to stick with Fay. Right off the bat, we were the only ones who were not issued phones or promised Go Kits - kits that include equipment for in the field reporting and communications. That was just the beginning of the internal racism we encountered while volunteering with the Red Cross.

We were made to depend on others for transportation, watched and followed while we were doing or jobs, verbally attacked in the field by other volunteers, and made to feel unsafe. People tried to tell me that it had nothing to do with race. But when there are less than five Black people on a site of over 100 volunteers and we are the only ones encountering problems, what else can it be?

Michael Seimers, a volunteer photographer from Denver, took it upon himself to interrogate the two of us. When we first introduced ourselves to him and told him about our idea to make a photography book that we could sell to raise money for the Red Cross, he flipped.

He accused us of using the Red Cross funds to further our own agenda, then he demanded we give him our personal deployment numbers so that he could report us to the National headquarters in DC. I sat down with his onsite supervisor, told him who I was and that I represented my school publication and planed on donating images to the Bay Area chapter.

He was pleased with that and told us to go eat lunch and get plenty of water so that we would have strength while out in the field. After Fay and I finished out lunch and grabbed a few extra bottles of water, we headed out to meet up with our groups. Seimers and his partner Shannon, another PR reporter from the first group, started yelling at us: "If you think we are going to be waiting on the two of you then you're wrong. We will leave you behind!" Then they went on to complain about the two of us not answering our phones, but since we were not issued work phones our personal reception was bad. It seemed like they were out to sabotage us.

That day while out on the field, Seimers continued to harass me by yelling orders at me while I was trying to talk to hurricane Rita survivors. He even went so far as to get in front of my camera while I was shooting photographs, demanding that I stop shooting and talk to him. It took every ounce of restraint I had not to push him out of my face.

I looked at my team leader for help, but she looked away and continued writing down caption information for him. Finally, I looked him dead in the eye and put on my sternest "I'll kick your ass: voice I could, "Back off," I said. "We can talk about this when we return to the base!" As I walked away, he yelled: "Don't you walk away from me!" From that day on Fay and I realized that we were the only ones that had each other's backs.

I have never felt like a NIGGER before. There have been times when racist remarks where made, and institutionalized racism is something all people of color deal with. But being stripped of my rights, my voice, and treated like an evacuee was infuriating.

I was about to leave the whole experience bitter and completely distrusting of white people until I met the Johnson family in a Wal-Mart parking lot. They were sitting in the bed of a white truck laughing and eating sandwiches. I walked past them while heading car, but I couldn't get their faces out of my head. That family did more for me than I could have ever done with all my good attentions of going down south for them.

When I interviewed the eldest daughter, I had to fight back the tears when she talked about what it felt like to be separated from her brother during the evacuation. The things that family saw and went through are more than I could even imagine, yet they are still able to smile and be grateful for each day they have together.

Before I left I asked her one last question: "What would it take to get your lives back to the way it was before?" She smiled at me and replied, "Prayer, lots and lots of prayer." Their story and strength made me realize that we always have and always will survive the ignorance of our oppressors.

When I returned from doing Hurricane Rita/ Katrina relief in Texas, I was completely distressed. The images of houses torn apart and the stories of displaced families were intense, but the true trauma came from behind the scenes of the Red Cross organization. The Red Cross gave me a rude awakening to the real world as a Black woman, but the strength of the people I encountered reminded me that we are survivors.

Learning to Say No to My Immigrant Parents

I've wanted to be a lawyer, a ballerina, the president, even a nun once, but never a doctor. Guess what my parents pushed me to be?

Like many Burmese American parents, mine longed for the day when their child became a doctor. In Burma, if you weren't a big-time government official or a successful businessman, the only way to bring home any income was to be a doctor. Even doctors didn't earn much, but at least they were respected.

The gap between the rich and the poor in Burma is huge and widening. While the government and the rich plate their doorknobs with gold, the poor struggle to live on an income that is, on average, equivalent to $7 a month. There is little opportunity for the poor to rise -- annual state spending on education is among the lowest in the world, estimated at 28 cents per child in 2002.

As a result, in Burma, the competition for a profession in medicine is intense. My parents' dream was to come to America so their daughter could study ... medicine! Then, in 20 years or so, they could bring me back to Burma and proclaim to relatives that their daughter was studying to be a doctor in America.

So my parents immigrated to America and began their new lives as postal service employees, working hard to establish a better future for their children.

As soon as I started to play pretend, my parents started lavishing me with one doctor's play kit after another.

At a Buddhist ceremony in Fremont, Calif., when I was 7 or 8, I had to make a wish and lift three boulders. If I were able to lift all three, my wish would supposedly come true. When I neared the front of the line, my mom whispered, "Wish to be a doctor."

But I hated going to the doctor, shivered at the thought of giving another person a shot and did poorly in science courses.

In my junior year of high school, I decided to make my parents happy and take my first step into the medical field. In addition to two other AP classes, an honors class, two jobs and the swim team, I signed up for AP chemistry.

I started off OK, but as the year progressed, I found myself slipping in chemistry. I panicked -- how would I get into a good college now? As my grade coasted out of control, my best friend, who was also failing, and I resorted to cheating. We found a way to break in the building at night to look at the exams in advance. We did this successfully for a couple of months. But one night ...

We succeeded in entering the building, but not the teacher's office.

Earlier in the day, my friend had distracted the teacher while I unlocked the office door so we could come back that night -- but now it was locked.

I remembered that there was a hole in the ceiling of the classroom that led to a crawl space where wires and pipes ran and only technicians would visit for repairs. Desperate, we planned to reach the room by walking through the crawl space and jumping through that hole in the ceiling. We knew that ladders to the ceiling could be found behind the walls in the boys' bathroom.

We found the ladder, and after a dangerous pitch-black climb, reached the crawl space. We made a precarious climb over protruding pipes and boards, but when the light emanating from the boys' bathroom faded to blackness, we turned back in disappointment.

The next day, I failed my chemistry test. I was dozing off in class when a tall, bald security guard with a walkie-talkie stomped into the room and bellowed my name. I was suddenly as awake as if I had swallowed a bottle of No-Doz.

I'm still not sure how the staff found out I'd broken in. They suspended my friend and me for three days and gave us F's in chemistry.

At home, I discussed the incident with my parents. They were worried about college admissions, and especially about how this would affect my prospects as a doctor.

At first, I blamed them for making me enter a field they knew I was weak in. But blaming others for my actions could not be right. By the end of that conversation, I was blaming myself. I blamed myself for not being in control of my future; for letting my parents live my life.

It was then that I realized I was mature enough to make major life decisions for myself. I let my parents know that I could not let them decide what I would study or who I should be. If I did, I would hate school and regret my life.

I explained to my parents that I could be successful in other ways while enjoying what I do. "I promise you, Mom, Dad, whatever I will be, I'll be successful," I said. "I will make you proud."

With that, my parents -- sadly, hopefully -- let me go.

I am currently a journalism major at the University of California, Irvine, pursuing a career in broadcasting -- a field I discovered I love.

Dancing My Culture

The sun was poking in and out of the clouds. The weather was hot. There were hundreds of people gathered in a circle. I was nervous because it was going to be my first time grass dancing outside in public. I had been practicing indoors for eight months. I had danced in front of people before, but never that many.

I was at an event called the “Gathering of the Lodges” in Oakland, Ca. There were people from different tribes, and lots of Indian tacos, fry bread and chicken. People at booths sold dream catchers, necklaces, belt buckles and moccasins. Other people watched the dancing, talked, bought stuff and ate food.

It felt good to grass dance, even though it was hard because the songs were long and grass dancing is tiring. As grass dancers, we follow the elders who march eight flags out first – flags like the American flag with a Native American man in the middle. Then the drums begin playing and we come out to pat down the grass.

I am Tahono Odham, Cheyenne and African American. Grass dancing is traditional to the Cheyenne, because we are from the plains. In the plains there are a lot of snakes and lizards. Grass dancers have the job of making sure that the animals moved away while everyone is dancing. We also flatten the grass out. We step with one foot over the other and then switch.

I have wanted to dance since I was seven but I didn’t know where to go to learn. My dad, who is Native American, was away in jail four times when I was growing up so I wasn’t able to learn about my culture. I’m angry about that. I wanted to tell people that I’m Native American, but I didn’t know anything about my culture.

I started taking classes last August at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. It was hard, but my cousin helped me. I got used to it and I practiced on my own. Fancy and traditional steps are different. Fancy dancing is fast, you are spinning and jumping. It’s a lot harder than grass dancing, which is slower with a little hop step. I chose to do grass dancing first because fancy is a lot more work. I wanted to get used to dancing and working out my legs.

My teacher made my regalia, which is sky blue and dark blue with a star in the middle of the back. My moccasins are light brown with red, blue and black beads. I wear a bandana on my head that is army print in dark blue, black and sky blue. When my hair was long, I put it in braids or a ponytail. My choker is light brown with clear, sky blue beads. I wear eight silver and brown bells on my ankle.

I made a lot of Native American friends dancing. It’s easier to make Native friends when you’re involved in the community. I like being together with everybody, not stressing on anything else, just chillin’.

Dancing is important to me because it’s a part of my culture. I feel like I know my culture better, which makes me feel good. It’s a part of me now. I want to have a wolf on my regalia one day because a wolf is a teacher and I feel that I teach a lot of stuff to little kids.

We Young People Get Our News Wherever We Can

jon stewartYO! EDITOR'S NOTE: A new poll shows young people are more likely to get their election coverage from "Saturday Night Live" than nightly newscasts. That's great, writes PNS contributor Russell Morse, 22, who says youth know they must search media far and wide to learn political truths in America today.

The primaries are in full swing. So far, Kerry is smiling, Dean is shooting Red Bull in his veins to prepare for next week and Lieberman has probably resigned himself to checking IDs at movie theaters for the rest of his political career. It's all very exciting. But there's one story that shouldn't go unmentioned in all the hoopla.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey of young people to see where they're getting their election news. It turns out that only 23 percent get their updates from the nightly news, down from 39 percent in 2000. But here's the good news: 21 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 cited comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live" and Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" as their primary sources for campaign news. Twenty-one percent! That's, like, one in five 18 to 29-year-olds. I don't have my numbers in front of me, but I think that's a bigger percentage of young people than the ones who actually vote.

Needless to say, everyone is upset. Tom Brokaw was so busy denying the relevance of the study he almost missed the teleprompt reminder to swap out his bionic hip. And all over the TV, experts have been invited to talk about "what to do with our stupid kids." The only people who are happy about the study are the ones working at MTV news, who have done a lot recently to be taken more seriously.

I think people are taking this study the wrong way. It doesn't mean young people are stupid. It doesn't mean we don't care about politics. What it means -- and this is a good thing -- is that we're savvy enough to seek alternate news sources. We're the first generation to grow up with cable, and in the age of too much information we're one step behind the "microchip in your earlobe" generation. We know what's what. And we know that the local news isn't good for much more than sports scores and the five-day weather forecast. We also know that CNN is owned by the same people who own Batman and Eminem, so it's just entertainment. And boring. At least SNL is funny.

That TV news people are outraged about this whole thing just highlights the fact that they're out of touch. Even the politicians know how to get at young voters. Gov. Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on Jay Leno. John Edwards announced his on Jon Stewart's show. Al Sharpton hosted "Saturday Night Live."

On my local newscast, the night before the New Hampshire primary, one correspondent remarked, "Somebody's gonna get voted off this island tomorrow." The anchor back in the studio responded, "Ha ha -- 'Survivor.' Thanks, Hank." How do you take that seriously? You don't.

I'm not saying that young people should only watch comedy shows to get accurate election coverage. But if young people are realizing they're not getting the information that they should be from the TV news, that's encouraging. People I know are turning to a number of alternate news outlets. The Internet is an obvious source for independent coverage. But there are others.

The other day, an 18-year-old with gold teeth was telling me about a story he read on Dick Cheney in The Socialist Worker. He said somebody had given him the paper at his community college, and even though he was skeptical, he read it. He told me, "I don't believe most of the stuff in there. But I read everything I get my hands on. That way, at least SOME of it will be true."

Russell Morse (jiver76@yahoo.com) is an associate editor at YO! Youth Outlook (www.youthoutlook.org) a magazine by and about Bay Area youth, and a PNS project.

The Columbine Art Phenomenon

A scene from the movie "Elephant."

It's a long time since the last kid shot up his school. Close to three years, even. And it's been a busy three years -- new president, September 11, wars, everybody's broke. It's a different America today from the one that suburban boys were putting holes in. So I guess it's about time for some movies and books to start trickling out, fictionalizing the phenomenon that was the cafeteria shoot-em-up.

What do you know? In the past three months, two movies and two books came out which either use school shootings as a plot device or aim to explain the phenomenon. And they couldn't be more different from each other. We've got a zany farce, an art film, a mockumentary and (what could easily be) a Lifetime movie.

Let's start with the zany farce: DBC Pierre's parodic novel "Vernon God Little." The guy who wrote it is British and I guess he was so baffled by modern America that he decided to write a whole book clowning us. It's pretty funny. The title character is a 16-year-old kid who survives a school shooting, then gets scapegoated for the murders and has to fight a death penalty case in Texas. Now what could be more American than that?

I think the book does a better job explaining the energy behind school shootings than all those CNN child psychologists and Michael Moore combined. The book succeeds because it doesn't fall into the "I'm an expert" trap of trying to blame the violence on one thing. Instead, Pierre singles out the real culprit: the overwhelming insanity of millennium American life -- the richest time in the most prosperous country in the history of the world where everybody's fat (in the book, all the women are on the "Pritkin" diet), TV news media is off the hook with the scandal/murder/celebrity shit, kids are obsessed with basketball sneakers that could feed a dozen limbless Eritrean orphans for a month and every pre-teen boy has been "diagnosed" with some kind of condition. (Quick: What's another word for ADD? How about "being a freaking boy?" Tom Sawyer wasn't on Ritalin.) Pierre weaves all these factors and more into a seamless, insanely funny narrative which should be required reading in every high school right now. Oh, I forgot -- schools can't afford books any more.

vernon god little
DBC Pierre's parodic novel "Vernon God Little."

I guess while we're talking about books, I should mention the other one -- the Lifetime movie one. It's called "We Need to Talk about Kevin" and it's not very good. Or at least I didn't get it. It's about this lonely neurotic lady who writes letters to her ex-husband because she doesn't have anybody else to talk to. Oh yeah, and their son shot up his school and killed seven people. The only thing she can think about is herself, though. The whole book she's whining about "is it my fault?" and "everybody in town looks at me weird." Even though it's a good angle to take and a story I'd like to hear, the mom's perspective here was a little shallow and the shooting itself just becomes a platform for her to talk about guilt she had anyway.

"Elephant" is the art film, directed by Gus Van Sant ("My Own Private Idaho," "Good Will Hunting"). The whole movie (or most of it) takes place in a single day at a big suburban high school. Early in the movie, we look forward and see that this is the day that the school gets shot up. So we spend an hour and a half watching fresh faced kids float down hallways, giggling and crying and you can't help but wonder who's gonna die.

"Elephant" succeeds for the same reason that "Vernon God Little" succeeds: it doesn't try and tell you why it happened. It just happened. (Some slip-ups, though. There is a loooong scene of one of the future shooters playing a first-person shooter game and some clichéd bully scenes. And then, inexplicably, the two shooters -- both boys -- take a shower together and make out. There are a lot of ways to interpret that scene, but it's a pretty heavy statement to make with no explanation.) Other than that, though, the main thing I came away with was, "this is what high school is really like, so why didn't everybody go crazy and start shooting people?" "Elephant" makes high school look like high school, which is all at once boring, terrifying, fun and sick.

Then there's "Zero Day," which is the mockumentary. The idea behind it is: what if the Columbine kids kept a video diary in the days leading up to the shooting? The creepiest part is that the actors look just like the real kids and they're saying stuff you would expect them to say (Dude! Where's my pipe bomb?).

Having watched the movies and read the books, I'm in something of a stupor. The school shooting phenomenon has passed and if these examples are any reflection, still nobody knows what to think or say or do about it. It's like America said, "that was weird" and then made some abstract art blindfolded while listening to minimalist techno. And the whole idea of a movie about Columbine is mind-boggling. If you watch movies like "Basketball Diaries" and "Heathers," which both came out years before the shootings started, you can see scenes of schoolhouse carnage which are exactly like Columbine. And if you believe Joe Lieberman, that's why these kids did it -- violent entertainment. So a movie fictionalizing a school shooting committed by kids emulating a movie is art imitating life which imitated art. But forget the cliché. Art and life are in some crazy orgy where you can't tell whose foot that is or who's on top and there are fluids everywhere.

But "Vernon God Little" is a good book and you should rent "Elephant" when it comes out on video just to trip out.

Russell Morse is a senior writer for Youth Outlook.

RaGe Against Your Enemies

computerYO! Editor's Note: Although there are a group of young Americans under indictment for causing havoc on America's computers in the headlines, there are hundreds of young cyber sorcerers casting viro-curses on the enemies of their friends and gaining valuable computer skills, showing that hacker culture is more than meets the eye.

To many hackers of the underground world he was once known as TinY, but don't let the name fool you, with the click of a button he can instantly have 35 plus people monitoring your every online movement.

TinY was his call sign. At age 20 he has already retired from the hacking world consisting of mostly 15-21 year-olds. In the recent media barrage of stories about young hackers -- such as Jeffrey Lee Parson, 18, and Adrian Lamo, 22, who both admitted to hacking into the websites of large corporations and government organizations -- it's almost as if they wanted to get caught. Lamo turned himself in for hacking into the New York Times database, causing over $25,000 worth of damage. Parson spread a virus called teekids.exe, and hacked into the website of the Minnesota Governor's Office. To many hackers, creating a virus that spreads worldwide or hacking a highly secured government homepage is equal to gaining celebrity status.

TinY was the leader of a hacker group once known as RaGe. He explains "I started getting into it when I was maybe about 13. I originally started by being a graphics designer and I was asked to do some of the graphic work for some of the hacking programs that were being made for a particular hacking group. When I joined the group as that, the leader asked me to train with him and he taught me a couple of things until eventually I took over his position."

Little did he know, he was leading a nationwide group of 30-something hackers that ranked fifth among an elite list of hacking groups, along with United Pirated Software, United Warez, Katwarez and the Legion of Doom. The CIA is still trying to track down Legion of Doom for some of their nastier crimes.

RaGe had different sections. One section would get 10-15 credit cards a week; two were given to TinY and the others were distributed among the other members. TinY himself never used these credit cards. He was not in it for the money, but that is not to say other members weren't. One section would crack and distribute software. They are part of a warez community that would exchange software with other groups, then distribute it to regular people who needed software. They also had a security division that made sure they had each other's back. If anyone would mess with a member of the group, RaGe would hack into that person's computer, get into their bank accounts, send viruses to them, find out who their family and friends where and send viruses to them, too.

One time a friend of TinY's was angry at someone and she jokingly told him to hack into that person's computer. He took it seriously, told his security division and "had him on lockdown." For the first week, the security division -- which consisted of about 35 people -- would kick him off every time he logged on.

The second week they kept sending him viruses. In the final weeks, TinY signed on himself and told the guy directly, "Don't ever mess with my friend" and sent him a string of codes that crashed his computer. On a lighter note, the victim is now a good friend of TinY's.

When asked why he raised hell on other people's desktops, TinY said "I wanted something to do in my spare time and this was just something to me that was fun." He added that another reason was software. "I wanted a lot of software that I couldn't afford." He mentioned Adobe Photoshop, for example, which costs upwards of $600. He did not have that much money as a kid, nor would he spend that much now, so he downloaded a pirated version from his crew. But there was more: if anyone ever messed with him, having the power to "completely ruin their computer, keep them offline, get into their account, anything I wanted, that was a power-trip I couldn't let go off."

Although TinY messed with other's computers, he never felt guilty because he always gave warnings and only did it to someone when they gave him reason to. He never used anyone's credit cards and did not feel he was really stealing anything from a large corporation who steals from people everyday by charging a ridiculous $600 for software.

The thought of getting caught was always on TinY's mind though. "I heard that one of my friends actually got stormed by the feds," he said. "They stormed his room, took away all his equipment and his right to go on the internet."

Perhaps some hackers, like Parson and Lamo, are so concerned with getting props from their peers that they overlooked the consequences. Perhaps they were making a statement by becoming martyrs for the hacking community. Whatever the reason, the decisions they chose will significantly affect their lives. While Adrian was released on $250,000 bond, he was ordered not to use a computer again.

As for TinY, he's no longer a hacker. When TinY first started, the internet was still new and most security levels were at 32-bit encryption. Now everything is at 128-bit encryption. He feels the hype of the hacking era is over. Now TinY is back where he started using his skills for graphics design and web design, using his powers only for good and not evil, but he had fun the whole way.

Min Lee is a staff writer for YO!

We Have No Jobs

At a busy intersection in Kingston, Jamaica, I purchase a newspaper from one of the hard working "ghetto youths" who dodge in and out of speeding traffic every day to wash car windows or peddle peanuts rolled in stiff brown paper. The front page has big bold headlines that scream of war, death, and inflation.

But even though public sentiment in Jamaica is mostly critical of U.S. foriegn policy -- some of the headlines in The Gleaner were, "The Rise of American Totalitarianism," and "Manifest Destiny and the Iraqi War" -- many young Jamaicans still dream of living and working in the land of opportunity."

"Your country has done much damage to our country and other countries in the world, you know?" said one newspaper boy. "But there are no jobs here and many jobs there."

Although the U.S. media has focused on how the economies of large industrialized nations will hurt after the war, small "third world" countries like Jamaica have felt the immediate effects of U.S. actions since the day the war began. When I arrived in Jamaica March 17 -- the same day that President Bush announced his 48-hour countdown -- the exchange rate was almost $50 (for each $1 U.S. you get $50 Jamaican). When I left March 27, the newspapers reported the rate at $55.43.

Jamaica is already billions of dollars in debt due to unfair loan agreements made with the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund in the 1970's. Today, many of Jamaica's skilled and educated workers remain unemployed as U.S. and European products flood the market. And with the ongoing war and subsequent fears of traveling, Jamaica's largest industry, tourism, is suffering.

Although almost everyone I spoke to during my visit rejoiced at the sight of my "Let Iraq Live" button, one unemployed Jamaican in August Town expressed support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Shaking his head at one member of out tour group's insistence that the U.S. is a brutal bully, he replied, "What can Iraq do for me?"

"Look at us," he said, pointing at the four youth standing behind him, "we're all skilled, you know, but we have no jobs. You see me? I want America to win always. It needs to be all right so we can go there to work."

But even before September 11th, only Jamaicans who owned homes and had steady, well-paying jobs were eligible to apply for visas, and even then the U.S. often denied qualified applicants . Some Jamaican community groups are in the process of organizing exchange programs, but until then, some innovative young Jamaican males take matters into their own hands by charming American tourists into marriage to get visas.

"They see tourist girls as a ticket to go out to the States or even Canada," said Jason Henzell, owner of Jake's Restaurant and Hotel in Treasure Beach. "It's a soft-core form of male prostitution."

Jamaica's economic crisis -- which began shortly after British colonial rule ended (August 6, 1962) and has been intensified by greedy international corporate interests like U.S. companies -- has left many of its young people searching for a way out. One young Jamaican, who is a practicing Ethiopian Orthodox, told me she believes the U.S. will soon suffer the wrath of divine retribution for its actions, but in the same breath shared dreams of living in "my country" one day.

Carleen Samuels, a film and music producer who is in her 30's, said, "Everybody wants to be Jay-Z. The worst thing that happened to Jamaica was cable. The new generation doesn't know Jamaica. The culture is dead. American culture is it."

And while television sells American dreams, the U.S.'s tight grip on the country's market has ensured that people cannot purchase anything but American imports.

Although some angry citizens boycott U.S. products, the U.S. has made it too expensive for the everyday Jamaican consumer.

"If I want to buy only Jamaican products, what can I buy?" asked Shani, 14. "For many things there is only the American ones."

There is almost no way to avoid the influence of U.S. culture in Jamaica. Standing near a drink stand on one of my last days of my trip, I bobbed my head as 50 Cent's "In da Club" blasted out of a car filled with young people. A youth standing next to me -- holding a Ting (a soft drink made in Jamaica by Pepsi) and wearing Sean John jeans and a red bandana under a fuzzy white Kangol hat -- asked what I thought about the war as an American.

I told him I was against it. He smiled and nodded. "Yeah mon, I don't like your president and what's going on with the war, he said. "But I wan' go to your country still you know."

Shadi Ramni, 22, is a writer, photographer, as well as a contributing editor for YO!

The Killing Game

San Francisco's Mission District is a swath of palm trees, weathered Victorian houses and shops ablaze in tropical colors. On 24th Street, youngsters dressed in red lounge on the steps of McDonald’s, unmindful of wandering mariachis, Christians proselytizing in Spanish and old women selling roses and tamales. But on the back streets and alleys of this neighborhood, kids are dying.

The crime rate in California’s largest cities and counties is up 11 percent from last year. In San Francisco, a spike in gang violence in the past month, a dozen shootings, has led to six deaths. The victims are typically young -- 19, 21, 17 years old. Community workers say they've never seen anything like it. Mothers are afraid to let their sons leave the house.

But to the young people who live here, the drama is just a backdrop to a lifestyle that won't let them sleep. Here are the stories of three young men of the street who have made three different, fateful choices.

Animal Thug

"I'm an animal, bro... Animal Thug. That's me," he laughs, flashing twenty-dollar smiles at every girl who passes. Animal sits in Balompie's, a Salvadoran restaurant on 18th Street, eating chips and telling stories, stopping every few minutes to pop at a waitress who flirts back, giggling. He tells murder tales as if they were punch lines.

At 21, it's a wonder that Animal has made it this far. "I’ve been through a lot of sh--, man. I've been shot at hella times. I just come back at 'em -- pop back. We used to get in shootouts every day. Broad daylight, nighttime, whatever. There'd be hella people in the streets, throwing bottles at each other, shooting back and forth."

Animal is from 19th Street, with a well-known local crew of Sureños, a Mission gang. He has lived in the Mission most of his life and he got into the game early. The recent rise in shooting deaths barely registers with him. "It's been like this. It's nothing. You come around, you might get shot. That's just how it is."

But Animal knows the block is hot right now, especially for him. Not only is he a target for rivals, but the police know him -- he's a registered gang member. He’s already served time for attempted murder and he's still on probation. For now he’s given up selling drugs, but his pockets aren't hurting. "All my females pay me. I don't have to worry about money." He's considered moving to San Jose, to live with his girl and baby, but has a hard time seeing himself outside the Mission or tied to one woman.

His cell phone rings -- it does every few minutes. This call seems important, and he stands up to leave, blowing kisses to the waitress.

"A while back, some kid got shot by my house and people thought it was me. Someone told me they heard I was dead. I said, 'Yeah? I don't feel dead.' F--- it. Let them think that. Now I'm back. They call me Machiavelli."


Jose tried to live right, but the street was too strong. Now his older sister Gloria has to tell his story for him. Gloria’s little brother was killed two weeks ago. He was 21.

Gloria has been busy planning the funeral, helping her mom, begging the police for information and talking to Jose’s friends. "It's very painful." She pauses, glancing down. "There's nobody to blame. Even though he made bad choices, he wasn't a bad person."

Gloria and José's mom brought three kids to San Francisco from Nicaragua years ago, alone. She made a home for them in the Mission. They never knew their father.

When Gloria was 13 and Jose 10, their baby sister died from a brain tumor. That same year their grandmother, who lived with them, also passed. "Things weren't the same after that," Gloria remembers. "My mom started drinking a lot and kind of forgot about us. I was old enough to figure things out for myself, but I think José was kind of lost."

A few years later, José started at Mission High School. Soon he came home worried because some kids were pressuring him to join their gang. His mom tried to transfer him to another school, but the district said no. For a while, Jose wouldn't go to school because he was afraid. Eventually, he gave in to the pressure.

Jose wouldn't come home most nights because the block his family lived on was a rival gang’s turf. And then he got into drugs.

"It was really bad,” Gloria says. “He was gone for two or three months and we would drive around looking for him. My mom rode the bus looking for him. When we finally saw him again, he was so skinny -- oh my God. That's when we really tried to help him out, but there was only so much we could have done."

Eventually, he was arrested and spent some time in jail. When he got out, he went to go live with his brother in San Jose. Things got better. He gained his weight back, was spending a lot of time at home with his two kids, one 3 years old, the other 7 months.

"You could tell he was really starting to change. He was working out and everything and he was really excited not to have to worry about gang stuff. He would have the kids over at the house and play with them all day.” But one night, Gloria’s mother got a call from someone at the county hospital, which she couldn’t understand because she didn’t speak English. “Two minutes later,” Gloria says, “the police showed up at the door. 'Your son got shot. He's dead.'"

Gloria and her mother attend a vigil for Jose a few days later. José's friends from the gang are there, and everyone takes turns speaking. When José's mom gets up, she pleads with his friends not to seek retaliation: "My son is dead. I want you to live."


On a hot day Miguel, 19, is one of the guys you look for, whose bells bring summertime, sugar and ice. He's a paletero, one of many who walk the streets of the Mission pushing wheeled iceboxes filled with ice cream and popsicles, a buck a pop.

Miguel came from the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. He's seen the district deteriorate. Walking the neighborhood every day, he meets all sorts of people and sees all that happens. He has chosen a path different from Animal Thug's and Jose's.

"I’ve been a paletero since I was 15," he says. There are lots of paleteros. They're all his friends, and rivals. "I’ve seen gang violence, sure. They fight, the cops come, they run. They've never robbed me or messed with me. Their violence is all about drugs; they have their turfs."

Miguel came here with an uncle. It took them 10 days, three days alone to cross the desert. "It was hot. The distance was never-ending. It was cold at night. There was only cactus, rocks, snakes -- desert stuff."

He misses Mexico. "But I came here to work, do right, send money home. It's not bad here. I make about $700 to $800 a month in the hot season. Bad days, about five bucks. Parks are the best. Music is important to me. I play the keyboards, you know. I sing corridos, cumbias, rancheas -- all kinds of Mexican music."

All he wants to do is "work, save money, go back home and live."

Russell Morse, 22, is associate editor of YO! Youth Outlook, a journal of youth life in the San Francisco Bay Area published by Pacific News Service. Josue Rojas, 21, is a graffiti artist and YO! staff writer and illustrator.

Am I Chinese?

charactersI was born in China and came here when I was six. I drew pictures on the airplane on the way to America. On the side of those pictures I wrote words in Chinese. I do not know what those words mean anymore.

Sometime between that flight and now I stopped thinking, speaking and writing in Chinese.

It's come to a point where it's difficult to talk to my own parents. They don't speak much English. They've tried to learn, but only managed to pick up a few words. My mom can kind of make a coherent sentence because she interacts with customers at work as a cashier. She sometimes leaves little notes on the kitchen table like, "eat soup & chicken."

My dad, on the other hand, knows almost nothing about English. He works at a nearby Chinese restaurant in the kitchen with Chinese-speaking co-workers. Fortunately, he can draw, so he sometimes draws pictures of a TV with a number indicating what channel and time, so I can record Chinese TV shows for him while he's at work.

My parents talk to me in Chinese and I try to respond but often stop in the middle of a sentence because I don't know the Chinese word. Our conversations have gotten shorter and shorter over the years. They call me from work sometimes, and the typical conversation goes like this:


"Have you ate yet?"


"What are you doing now?"


"Did your brother eat yet?"


I can say more but I don't bother. I think the most common phrase I say to them is "stop bugging me." They ask, "What are you doing on the computer? What are you drawing? What are you reading?"

I tell them to stop bugging me.

I guess this is a typical teenage response to parents, but I say it's only partly because I don't want them in my business and partly because I don't want to make the effort of explaining. Explaining means I have to gather my thoughts in English and individually come up with the translation for each word. I might want to say something like "that person is tall," but what comes out is "that person is high." (By the way, "high" doesn't translate into "drugged up" in Chinese either).

Responding to yes or no questions I can do. It's like a multiple-choice question: yes, no, and occasionally maybe.

The worst is family gatherings, usually dinners around the holidays. My aunts will ramble on and on in Chinese (and they have their own undecipherable dialect). They must use thousands of words every time they speak, but only sometimes, possibly, if I am lucky, I can pick up my name. Maybe they talk sh-- about me, but I don't understand or care.

They're kind too, always putting food on my plate, which also kind of sucks because it makes me feel like I can't do sh-- for myself, and then I have to thank them. There's two different forms of "thank you" in Cantonese: "m'goy" and "do jey" (or some might be familiar with xièxie in Mandarin). One is for a gift and one is for a service, but I can never remember which is which.

Have I lost my roots? Probably. My friends say I'm not Asian because my household is the only Asian one where you don't take off your shoes, and I don't like them pearl tapioca drinks or whatever you want to call it. I also prefer nachos over fried rice and Kentucky Fried Chicken over Chinese fried chicken.

On the other hand, my family does drive three Hondas and one Acura, and my English is still pretty crappy. Does that make me Chinese?

No, there aren't any traits or actions that make me Chinese and there is no real measure of how Chinese I am. Nonetheless, there's a tendency for people, myself included, to place me on a spectrum where one end is yellow and the other is a mixture of white, black, brown and green. It's hard to say where I am now, but I find myself slowly inching toward that mixture. But part of me will always remain Chinese. So what if I can't speak my native language and don't listen to Japanese pop music? Being Chinese doesn't mean being bound by Asian stereotypes.

I can't say that I know the answer to who I am, and I'm open to different ways of looking at it. I do wish, though, that I understood more Chinese so I could talk to my parents. But I'm still young. Maybe it's not too late. And barriers are made to be overcome, right?

PNS contributor Min Lee, 19, writes for YO! (Youth Outlook), a journal of youth life in the San Francisco Bay Area published by Pacific News Service.

I Left My Bleeding Heart in San Francisco

SF protestThis whole anti-war movement seems more and more like a joke to anyone who's paying attention, and I wouldn't doubt if it were being led by pro-war forces. After all, the easiest way to maintain power is to create your own enemies.

So how can we change foreign policy? Obviously, not by making conceptual art. If that's all it takes, we'd see a lot more congressmen and CEOs doing that.

The way that anyone can change foreign policy is to get elected to office, so you've no one to blame for making poor decisions in your name. Short of that, you can lobby congress.

If all the masses who "marched" in the big anti-war party (and that's what it was, a party) took off to Washington to organize a mass lobbying of Congress people, it might actually achieve something productive.

And please, people, do not use U.S. Postal when sending serious mail to your representatives (important documents are shipped FedEx). And please don't fool yourself into thinking that your congressperson is going to read every one of his/her thousands of letters a day. That's what secretaries and advisors are for. The advisors are going to pay a lot more attention to the few letters addressed to them instead of the thousands to their bosses.

This protest nonsense is akin to voting. It's a way of controlling potentially unruly, dissident factors of society. Like voting, it's a way to make people feel like they're doing something without actually having to do anything. No, the power does not default evenly amongst us. Not every voice counts. Remember the Florida?

Speaking of which...how much money do you think was spent on BART tickets to the last big peace rally? How much extra income could protestors have earned by going to work that day, instead of to the rally?

What if all that lost income was invested in a clever anti-war ad campaign that stretched over weeks and included multi-media exposure, prime-time TV commercials and billboards? That certainly would have spread the message more efficiently than this little political fashion show. And never mind preaching to the converted. The Bay Area's more anti-war than Switzerland.

Another way to affect foreign policy -- and this may be flat out inconceivable to some -- is to start, or become fundamentally involved in, a major commercial company. When you get right down to it, any nation is founded on the interests of a common economy. Those who have the most economic value within that organization (the nation) get the most say. It's really that simple.

Is there anyone clever enough to spin the numbers to make the war looks unprofitable to Chevron and Nike? I'm sure there are, but they probably already work for Microsoft.

I suppose it's nice that all these people think they care, but after you decide you care so much, what are you willing to do about it? Are you willing to give of yourself? Are you willing to move to DC? Are you willing to start a company? Go to school and study poli-sci? Or is the extent of your activism to talk loudly, get arrested, and cause a scene? Any drunken idiot can do that.

So honk your horns, play you're little songs, and march along in your political fashion shows, hippies and squirrels. Remember while you're having your BBQ for peace, there are people in high places, who fought hard to get there, who are actually getting things done.

Dace, 21, is a contributing writer for Youth Outlook (YO!), a youth newspaper of Pacific News Service, and its sister publication, Sprawl magazine.

Tell us what YOU think! Email editor@wiretapmag.org with any other ideas you have on how people can work against the war.

Thinner Than Air - A Pro-Anorexia Movement in Cyberspace

starvingI know a young woman who is killing herself, slowly and quietly. She practices a sophisticated method of starvation far beyond denial or purging. My friend has learned how to master the art of being exceedingly thin with the help of "experts" on pro-anorexia, on "pro-ana" websites. I believe these must be regulated as strictly and harshly as pornography sites, to save lives like that of my friend.

A pro-anorexia movement has given birth to this collection of websites dedicated to the cause of strategic starvation. They are a platform for the voice of weight-obsessed "ana's" and "mia's" (fans of bulimia) who proudly preach the gospel of starvation, laced with reverse psychology and packed with comprehensive instruction manuals.

Although most pro-ana websites carry disclaimers, the messages read less like warnings than enticing challenges. Ana's Underground Grotto, for instance, calls itself "a place where anorexia is regarded as a lifestyle and a choice, not an illness or disorder...there are no victims here."

In 2001, there were some 400 pro-anorexia websites. With pressure from the non-profit National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders web-hosts such as Yahoo! and Angelfire banned the sites. Pro-ana websites were driven underground, far from regulation.

Like many anorexic and bulimic young women, not only was my girlfriend never fat, she never needed to diet. At age 20, she is 5 feet, 10 inches tall. She was once so attractive that years ago, when I walked with her, modeling agency people would come up to her and offer gigs.

So what motivated her to drop from a healthy 130 pounds to being so thin that today she wears a pair of flannel pants under her size one jeans just to hold them up? Like many young women who are vulnerable to eating disorders, my friend is a competitive perfectionist who does not see beauty reflected in her mirror. And that is exactly what the pro-ana websites feed on.

I know a young woman who is killing herself, slowly and quietly. She practices a sophisticated method of starvation far beyond denial or purging.

"You've made a decision: you will NOT stop," advises one writer named Shadows Truth on a pro-ana website. "The pain is necessary, especially the pain of hunger. It reassures you that you are strong, can withstand anything, that you are NOT a slave to your body, that you don't have to give into its whining."

Although I had known my friend for more than a year I did not realize that she was starving herself until her old roommate warned me, "Please, make sure she eats. She makes it look like she is, but she really stores food in her cheeks and spits it out."

My friend still practices all the diet tricks found on pro-ana websites: Take one or two aspirin a day and sleep less than six hours at night to stimulate your metabolism, constantly fidget to burn up to 800 calories a day.

Sometimes, I came home to the stench of spit-out food in the garbage can. To this day my friend lives on diet soda, water and salty nuts from Chinatown, which she mostly chews without swallowing. My advice goes unheeded as she listens to her "ana" friends on message boards more than to me. The last time I hung out with her, she burped up stomach acid twice and couldn't remember the answer to a question she asked me a few minutes before.
anorexiaLike other psychological disorders manifested through punishment of the body, anorexia and bulimia stem from the mind and can take shape in the form of a masochistic practice with pseudo-religious overtones. Some pro-ana websites feature anorexia prayers and sacrifice rituals. A set of internet "Ana Commandments" includes "Thou shall not eat fattening foods without punishing one self afterwards."

As the friend of someone who learned how to best starve herself from information provided on pro-ana websites, I view them as the equivalent of giving a suicidal person a book on how to kill yourself. Most of the web-sites I examined featured "thinspiration' photographs of famous runway models and actresses with sharp ribs jutting out of their dresses.

We need to regulate pro-ana websites that feed off our society's obsession with body weight and harm youth. Simply requiring pro-ana websites to feature disclaimers, which often sarcastically warn viewers that if they are "under 18 years old and decide to look at the website, it is not the webmaster's responsibility," is not enough. Pro-ana websites should be regulated as seriously as pornography websites, which must ask viewers to punch in credit card numbers to prove they are at least 18 years old.

We must address anorexia the same way we address obesity and other national health concerns. If restricting access to pro-ana websites prevents one more young woman from learning how to starve herself to death, that is good enough for me.

Rahimi, 22, is a contributing editor of YO! Youth Outlook, a publication of Pacific News Service.

Time for a Dance Dance Revolution

dance pad

The Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) sweeping across arcades and living rooms across the Bay Area is becoming a staple showcase for young dance talent.

I must admit when I first saw DDR I thought it was just another video game but there's a lot more to it than just arrows and dancing -- DDR has brought video games into dance culture. That's the revolutionary part of Dance Dance Revolution.

Air - Number of jumps in a song
Battle - A mode of playing two players. Both players' arrows begin overlapped in the center at the bottom of the screen and branch outwards to the appropriate player's side. Introduced in 4th mix.
Bemani - Konami's collection of music games
Boo - The rating you get when you step on an arrow off-beat
Couple - A mode of playing for two players where the steps complement each other.
Difficult - DDR USA's equivalent of trick.
Double - A mode where the DDRer plays on both sides at once
Freestyle - A way of playing DDR where the object is to look good and perform for an audience introduced in DDR Max that requires the player to hold an arrow for some defined time
Matrix Walk - Freestyle move where the performer puts one hand on the bar and walks on the screen. Most people frown on this, as it is known to damage machines
Unison - Both players share one group of arrows in the center of the screen; the color of the arrows determine which player it belongs to.
Versus - Same as single player steps, but for two players.
(terms from ddrfreak.com)

Want to know more? Here's another piece from about Dance Dance Revolution from salon.com by Skyler Miller.

Lights flash from the top and music bumps from the speakers at the bottom of this walk-in arcade game. Arrows point in one of four directions scrolling up the screen until it aligns with the outlines on top. At that moment, the dancer has to step on the corresponding arrows on the floor pad.

Looks simple enough. Now imagine two arrows at the same time, then a sequence of four making a circle, then a sequence of eight alternating arrows. For the length of the song there will be more than a thousand arrows scrolling across the screen.

Since 1998, DDR has been manufactured by the Japanese company Konami. The game was wildly popular in Asia before it hit American shores. You can find sites dedicated to DDR all over the internet. One of the most popular is ddrfreak.com. At arcades like Albany Bowl, The Bearcade in Berkeley, and The Sony Metreon in San Francisco, crowds of mostly teens and young adults gather to watch the Dance Dance revolutionaries do their thing. You can even find some of the observers shadowing the players' moves, as if they were on the pad themselves.

When dancers are new to the game you can tell. Beginners are usually just stepping and not really dancing. After they know the steps they start getting creative. Combining dancing talent and game familiarity, a select few graduate to creating their own styles. These are the stylers. When they get on the pad, all hell breaks loose.

You might see people C-walking, breaking, raving, flipping, and so on. Katie, 16, who plays once or twice a week, has seen stylers "...that jump in circles, or hit the pads with their knees. Times like that you'll have to look over people's shoulder to see what's going on."

Adam, 18, who's been playing DDR for two years, observes, "After like you finish the game and everybody starts clapping it's like, 'Damn, I'm hella good.'"

Watching is how people usually get into this game. "They just sort of watch like it's something they haven't seen before," says Ryan, 16. "It seems that more people get interested as they see people do it. I've seen DDR around for about a year and it's grown into a trend, or even part of a culture. Competitions are being held, the machines are popping up everywhere, prices are going up in some places, and more people watch every time someone good plays."

Some patrons of this game are at the arcades more than three times a week getting their style down. Even people who own the game on Sony Playstation or Sega Dreamcast continue to go to the arcades to show off new moves in front of crowds.

Why does DDR attract so many people? It's unlike other video games. Jason, 19, who plays two or three times a week says "It isn't just sitting down and watching a TV screen, you have to move around."

The dancing and the upbeat music put DDR right into center of teen dance culture. It's got techno, trance, rave, hip hop, and lots of other types of music in the different mixes. With more mixes emerging, DDR is evolving into a culture. There's music for people to C-walk to and music for people to rave to.

This interactive dance craze doesn't look like it's ending anytime soon. Zeid, 18, a frequent DDR dancer believes "the whole dance culture is gonna keep going and DDR is part of that dance culture."

No Such Thing as Trust in Silicon Valley

LaptopAlways keep this in mind: Everybody is after the same thing you are, whether they're on the top or the bottom. We all want promotions, pay raises, better job titles -- just to be in a better spot than we are in now. Co-workers and friends will be your worst enemies, and supervisors will do their best to make sure you will never be bigger than them. Trust is a word that does not exist in Silicon Valley. I learned this through experience.

I was five months out of high school and wanted something stable, something I could depend on if college didn't work out, a ladder I could climb. A friend told me about this temp agency, Trend Tec, that would find me a job with reasonable pay and benefits at some big Silicon Valley companies. Their slogan said it all: "Our Pride -- Our People."

I really didn't know what to expect working for a major company. I thought that most companies in Silicon Valley were well-organized, had good training, were very caring about their employees and would give good opportunities to very hard workers.

I signed on as a Material Handler at International Component Industry Company (ICIC) that specializes in making air bag parts for some major car companies. I had to take these parts and put them into an oven, then write down some data, then pull them out of the oven and put them into a container. Then I had to move the container down to a certain spot where the line workers could grab it and put the parts together. Overall, it was a reasonble job. I got $7.00 an hour, five days a week, with $10.50 for overtime.

"I really didn't know what to expect working for a major company."
After a month of doing this, the line leader told me to go help this old guy sort out and stock packages and deliver them to women on another line and then race back to my area to get the parts out of the oven and into the containers. That wasn't in my contract but I figured they'd see how hard I was working and would probably promote me.

Just when I'd had it and was ready to complain, they finally took notice. The supervisor called me in and told me about a position in Shipping and Receiving that would require a month of training. I asked him if I had to inform the temp agency and he said it wasn't necessary because the company was going to pick me up as their employee and give me a raise.

After a month, I was expecting to become an ICIC employee instead of a Trend Tec temp worker but they told me I needed one more month of training. By then I was using the forklift which I shouldn't have been using because I had never been certified -- my temp trainer taught me to drive, even though he wasn't certified.

The front secretary told me that if I was certified, the company would have to pay me an extra dollar per hour. I went to the agency and spilled the beans -- I was very confused about everything. My personnel counselor told me not to operate the forklift and that she would talk to ICIC.

The next day the supervisor told me to go to Human Resources so I could become an ICIC employee. They had all the paperwork ready to fill out, but I noticed I was being offered only a fifty cent raise. When I pointed this out, the manager asked me what I thought was a reasonable pay and I said, "Ten dollars an hour." He laughed and said, "I guess we don't see eye to eye. I assume you'll be quitting now."

My supervisor called me the next morning, offering me the one dollar raise -- to $8.50 -- but by then I felt offended that they tried to cheat me in the first place. I said my agency suggested I ask for $11 an hour and he laughed and said, "We won't do that." Later I got a call from my personnel counselor angry because the agency didn't want me to tell ICIC they'd recommended that amount of money. Then she wished me luck for the future.

So like that I was left to hang out and dry. The way both companies saw it was, "Well, we got our money's worth. See you later."

This piece originally appeared as part of a series called High Tech Heart Of Darkness: Young Temps On The Line In Silicon Valley in Youth Outlook.

Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?

A shabby blue, rusted-out Nissan Sentra from the Reagan era is streaming up 101 north carrying two young men who dub themselves "Millionaires in the Making." Otis, 19, and his partner Willis, 23, are driving to Sausalito to make a "drop" to some "rich kid dope fiends."

It's just one stop on what Otis calls "the paper route:" picking up and delivering methamphetamines all over the Bay Area, from Marin to Martinez. They claim to have once turned a $10,000 profit in a single day. But they have a larger vision: they're taking the money from the paper route and investing it in the stock and real estate market. The promise of profit gets them out of bed in the morning. As Otis put it, "If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense."

Money hunger is plaguing my generation. Though I can safely say that I would not employ such tactics, there's still a part of me that is restless and wonders, "If I don't make a million now, when will I?" The electrified atmosphere of the New Economy -- of wealth and cash and its consequential sense of urgency -- is driving some young people mad. Every day, there is another young millionaire who made their fortune in the tech world (their website gets bought out, they invent a product) which creates "dollar dementia" for those on the other side of the digital divide.

It's unclear whether the money itself or the drive to acquire it is trickling down from the top. But one thing is certain: if you grew up broke and you're not techno-savvy, you still want to be rich. What are your options? I talked to some friends of mine who are trying to build their fortunes in other arenas. It seems the attitude toward monetary gain is the same across the board whether the methods be traditional, unconventional or flat-out illegal. Dope dealers and dot commers, strippers and stock brokers share the same philosophy when it comes to the almighty dollar.

Growing Up Wanting
Otis explained that his obsession with fund raising has to do with growing up with nothing. He came of age in a run-down neighborhood full of "tweakers," or meth addicts, with a drug-addicted mother. Their family was dependent on government assistance, most of which went to support his mother's habit. His father was an alcoholic who rarely made an appearance, and Otis was left to provide for himself however he could.

"I remember seeing other kids wearing Jordans and having their own Nintendo," Otis lamented. "I wore the same dirty rags every day and my fridge was empty. Now, I practically got a cow in the freezer. " Otis noted that things have changed since elementary school in other ways, too. Now he sees people his age wearing designer suits and driving European luxury cars. But he keeps things in perspective. "This is America, man. Money is the great equalizer. If I'm wearing Versace and mashin' around in a [BMW] M3, nobody would ever know that I came up broke."

Climbing the Ladder
Sitting in a cluttered, musty living room, David, 18, is smoking cigarette after cigarette, lighting one off the other. He keeps his eyes in his lap and his head rests in his palms for most of our conversation. His eyes dart around and he whispers as he speaks as if what he's telling me is top secret.

David is taking a series of tests to be a certified Microsoft engineer. He's been told by his instructor (whose name he didn't want to give, as the "classes" might not be entirely legit) that once he passes the tests, he'll be guaranteed a job starting at a minimum of $60,000 a year. Apparently, Microsoft engineers are in demand.

He dropped out of community college in his second semester earlier this year to focus his energy on the tests and certification. He says he has no plans of going back to school, as he'll be "too busy making money."

David was born in Russia under communist rule and his family moved to the U.S. when he was eleven. Though he was young, he says he can still recall the initial shock of moving to a country where capital is everything. David says that his parents still tell him how grateful he should be to be living in a place where he's allowed to make as much money as his own drive will allow.

"Working with computers doesn't really interest me, but it allows me to make a lot of money," he said. "I don't really think I can be truly happy unless I have a lot of money. So, in a sense, this prospect is about my happiness as a person, my personal well-being."

Happiness is a pair of Gucci sandals
"For me, it's all about havin' thangs," said "Violet", a 19-year-old stripper at La Gals. "I think the happiest moment in my life was last year when I bought these little Gucci sandals. It was the first nice thing that I had bought with my own money. I swear, I almost started to cry when I was in line waiting to pay for them." Now, Violet claims to have over thirty pairs of designer shoes, several purses and a countless number of outfits. She's leasing an Infinity Q45, but has no place to sleep. She doesn't seem bothered by that. Nor does she seem bothered by her line of work.

"Ass is ass, you know? Sex and intimacy are two very different things. Sex is cash, it's like a form of currency...I don't feel degraded at all [by what I do] because I'm actually bettering myself--I'm making money. I feel like I'm getting over on these men who pay me to sit on their laps and bounce."

Refusing to Lose
The three didn't talk a lot about their plans for the future. There were, however, hints that money served as a fountain of youth. Any mention of raising a family or living a standard, suburban life was hurriedly doused with talk of wealth and possessions. "I'm not gonna sell myself short and just be on this earth makin' children", Otis scoffed. "I won't settle for less. I refuse to lose."

Violet echoed the children-as-obstacles sentiment. "The worst thing I think that could happen to me is that I would get pregnant. And I don't mean just 'cause I'm young or whatever. [Having a child] would just be something in the way of what I gotta do for me."

David shows signs of regret and reluctancy too. At one point while we were talking, he got solemn and furrowed his brow. He spoke about how he feels like he may have let his parents down by dropping out of school. But before he could finish the thought, he took a drag from his cigarette, scratched his near-bald head with the base of his palm and spoke slowly and intensely with a hint of masked misery. "I'm not patient person," he admitted. "I can't handle watching time pass me by. I want it all. And I want it now."

The Happy Housewife

I was born just in time to interrupt my parents' honeymoon plans. I was an accident that happened on the stairs. Or, at least, that's what my mom told me. Family pictures, home videos, and things my mom have told me all intertwine to tell me that we were a biker family. We went on runs all of the time.

For those of you that don't know, runs are when a huge group of bikers get on their motorcycles, pack some tents and portable stoves, and camp out. There are beauty contests and "Best Tattoo" contests and Wet T-shirt contests and Best Bike contests. I, personally, won a couple beauty contests as a child. The biggest trophy in our house is mine. It was taller than me was when I got it.

I was around a lot of drunk people for most of my childhood: at the runs, at my house, and at my dad's friends' houses, so I don't like the idea of my fiancé, or anyone close to me, drinking too much. I just get very edgy.

My mom told me that my dad would come home drunk and they would fight. She also told me that he has looked as if he wanted to hit her, so she has come to feel scared when he starts drinking. When we weren't on runs, my dad would go out with his friends, and my sister and I would stay with our mom. Basically, my dad wasn't, and isn't, around for my sister and me that much.

Maybe that's why I plan I wanna grow up to be a wife and mother. My idea of a perfect future is that I will graduate from high school, get a decent job that will pay enough so that I can pay rent for a place where my fiancé and I will live a mildly comfortable life while he goes to college.

Then, after we were stable and married, we would have enough money to support a couple pairs of pitter-pattering feet and live in a one-story house with a backyard.

I get all excited just thinking about the things I will do. I realize that being a housewife and mom is perfect for me. I don't want it to be The Brady Bunch, I don't want the housemaid. I want the whole experience of cleaning my house, taking care of my children, making their lunches, helping them take baths, carrying them around, dressing them in cute clothes. I could go on and on about it!

I haven't forgotten about the relationship with my husband either. My fiancé and I fight, but it brings us closer. We will be forced to deal with things we haven't dealt with before -- we'll have to spend our money wisely, find a place to live, keep our marriage moving and so on. It's going to be tough, and I think I will be able to handle it. I actually challenge my future to challenge me.

You might say that I only think about the good things. On the contrary, I also think about how I have to clean up after the babies when they eat and throw Gerber mush all over the kitchen or when they decide to start coloring on the walls.

I connect my desire to be a June Cleaver precisely to the fact that I didn't and still don't really have a "family." Maybe my vision of a "family" is blurred by the television lives, the Berenstein Bears books and Archie comics I read when I was younger. The majority of those portray the perfect family with a mother and a father who are always there for the children, and children who get what they need from their parents. When bad things happens, it can always be fixed within the half-hour time slot. There's usually a moral to the story, and everybody is perfect until the next show, movie, or series.

I regret watching all that television, because it made me unhappy with my own family. But I'm convinced that I can make a family with better attitudes and situations than that.

I get a little embarrassed when asked what I would like to be later on in life. I can remember saying that I wanted to be a preschool teacher, a daycare facilitator or an elementary school teacher. So when an adult would ask me, I'd tell them one or the other and they'd smile and leave me alone. Now when I've changed my mind, and I tell them I want to be a housewife and mother, they ask me why I would want to stay home.

Considering the fact that feminists have fought so hard to have the right to work, it's easy to feel like people will judge me for wanting to stay home. They'll think I'm lazy, and that I don't want to go to work. But raising a family is work. Maybe it would be simpler to tell people that I want to be around children as a teacher is, but that's not the truth.

I don't want my children to be from a broken or dysfunctional home, and become so-called "menaces to society." I don't want to bring more people into this world to live with that stigma. I want to be a good mother because I don't want my children to grow up with psychological problems.

In fact, I'm going to read all that I can about how to be a good parent and I will try to make sure that my children have the best life that they could possibly have. I want my family to be an exception to the rule.

[Lorraine C. is a contributor to YO! Youth Outlook, a publication by and about Bay Area youth published by Pacific News Service.]

A Song Has Never Killed Anyone

Writing about the recent killings in San Francisco's Hunter's Point presents somewhat of a problem for me. I was basically born here and have lived here half my life. I shop at Foods Co., I eat at B&Js in the morning, and I wince every day on my way to work as the 15 bus rolls past the Mcplaything that should be a Tic Toc Drive-In.

So when someone does something or has something done to them, six times out of ten I know the doer and or the done/to.

Starvel Junious and Jarvis Baker, shot down in May, were my younger brother's childhood friends. Kenneth Gathron, killed in April, is a different story all together. His younger brother and I are like brothers ourselves -- we've been friends in the truest sense of the word since 1991. Joe and I have done nearly everything together and have thankfully lived to tell the tale.

So I know these people, and when they die I grieve, but when I pick up a newspaper and see their lives trivialized and read that they were "reportedly" vanquished over something as petty as who the premiere local rap act is, I get upset.

Then I hope to get the truth and expose it.

Now when the media report that Starvel's momma says he had no gang or turf affiliation, I feel an almost invisible hint of distrust, as if they would rather say or print that Starvell "allegedly" had no history of gang involvement. Well, she has a witness in me, and anyone else who knew him that the young star was no "gangsta".

It almost seems that no one wants to explore the real community issues surrounding the deaths, opting instead to simplify Starvel's killing and thereby nullify the positive aspects of his life. This lets police continue to generalize and "profile" low-income housing residents and lets a reporter make his deadline, both once again using the universal urban scapegoat, rap music.

Starvell died because the air in Hunter's Point is thick with fear and tension. Nearly any incident can end up with you losing your life.

And the notion that Kenny G. died in or in relation to any melee between Big Block and Westmob is ridiculous -- Kenny G. was from the Sunnydale projects a mile south.

I have to admit that before his demise he'd had at least three brushes with death by gunfire.

And I also admit that there are and have nearly always been warring factions within Hunter's Point. There is an antiquated "king of the school" mentality that has kept us from unifying as a community. Police believe there are about 20 other shootings and killings related to the recent so-called rap/gang-related deaths in Hunter's Point but it's been going on for far longer than the past few weeks.

People have been killing and dying over set-tripping since the late 1980s. And the music of the local rappers only reflects the territorial pride of the artist and his block or projects. It isn't a calculated declaration of war.

Local rapper 'C.l.e.a.n." has been in the studio with many local artists, some of whom the police may be considering as suspects in the recent slayings.

"Some of these fools is trippin," he says of local rappers. "Ain't none of them making no money. It would be stupid to beef over who sell the most records because ain't nobody buying.

"The market is so congested, you have to be the tightest out there for someone to pick you up if you ain't from the same hood or city for that matter."

And it's true. Anyone with the money for studio time can (and probably will) release an album. Rap has officially been dubbed "the new dope game" and has replaced basketball -- which requires practice, skill, and eight times out of ten at lest three years in college) as the poor man's get-rich-quick dream.

These days a lucky act can accidentally trip over a platinum plaque regardless of content or talent. And most artists see it as their only way out of their projects or off their block.

So the stakes are high.. And when the stakes are a little too high, sometimes you bet (and lose) your life.

Which is why this anger in Hunter's Point transcends the street and ends up on wax. Rap music is the product of the streets and can sometimes be mirror image of their ugliest side, but a song has never killed anyone. Not even a really bad song.

[Charles Jones is on the staff of YO! Youth Outlook, a publication by and about Bay Area youth published by Pacific News Service.]

The Odyssey of Foster Care

Terrence, 19, spent most of his childhood in a series of residential treatment centers and group homes. He spent his adolescence moving between group homes and Juvenile Hall.

I started out in a psychiatric facility when I was five years old. Then I got sent to a residential treatment program for three and half years. It was a long time -- I learned to ride a bike in there. After that I went to a children's shelter, then my first group home.

Group homes are full of angry kids. You're irritated from having to live with a lot of other people. You're frustrated because of the situation you're in as far as not living at home. Maybe wondering why life dealt you such a cold hand. And also just irked by all the structure and the rules -- it seems like they don't want you to enjoy yourself. I hadn't committed any crime. I was just an angry little kid and they thought my mom couldn't take care of me. And I went through hell, and I was treated like a criminal. I wasn't treated like a kid who needed to have a good time and needed to be loved.

They would get irritated at us questioning their authority. We have no say in our lives, 'cause we're just kids. We don't know anything about what we need or want. We're just "severely emotionally disturbed" and don't have a clue about anything. So they think.

In group homes, they battle you with consequences. "OK, you're grounded. Say another word and you're gonna be grounded longer." I'd say, "Why are you gonna ground me for that?" Then they'd say, "OK, that's a week right there. You want to go for some more?" A week to a kid seems like forever, so it's already past the point of shutting up. It would escalate from there and I'd wind up throwing something at the counselor, trying to hit him or kicking a hole in the wall and getting a cop called on me. The extreme level of "consequencing" in a group home is calling the police. That's their backup, the last resort. And it works. Kids don't want to hear the word "police."

It's a high tension situation in a group home, 'cause there's so many different stories, so many different circumstances all put together and expected to coincide harmoniously. Throw in all the structure and how trapped you feel in the system, how much power people have over your life, and the tension gets really high. Then you're a criminal for reacting to it, when it's only natural to balk at something you feel is unfair. I knew from the beginning that Juvenile Hall was tied in with the group homes. I knew that it was all linked together, 'cause half the kids I was in there with were there from Juvenile Hall. I was very aware of Juvenile Hall before I started committing crimes.

When you have so much structure, the only thing that is fun to you is breaking those rules that are making your life miserable. And that's really where I started -- sneaking out at night and stealing candy from the 24-hour supermarket, stealing liquor, getting drunk. It was really fun to rebel, to tell society and rules, "Go away, I'm gonna live my own 'program.' I'm gonna do whatever I feel." Then you have control. It's control you have to steal.


Lauren, 15, was on the run from a group home after going through 22 different foster and group home plaecments in three years.

I lived with my grandmother until I was 11, when I got taken away from her because I was deemed incorrigible and her home was deemed neglectful. I really was incorrigible. I didn't want to listen to anybody. I didn't care what they had to say -- I was gonna do it my way. And sometimes my way wasn't right but I guess I'm still incorrigible, because to this day I think it probably was.

People have said to me, "You don't have a home." People have said to me, "I'm not your mom, I'm not your dad, I don't care about you, that's not my job. I just get paid to take care of you." People in group homes have told me, "You can't take your problems to the social worker. They have too big a caseload." People told me, "You can't get a job at 15." I have two jobs. People told me, "You can't enroll yourself in school." I've done it three times. I get a rebellion reaction. If they tell me that I can't, I have to do it, 'cause I know that I can.

I left foster care at 13 because I went to go stay with mom. That's a very significant event because she left without me after four months. It was the second time she left me. That's when I just kind of knew that you're all by yourself. I always feel like I'm all by myself. It's probably because of her leaving me, and then never trusting I'm going to stay anywhere too long. I always think I'm gonna go back someplace and it's not gonna be there anymore, and no one will have told me, and I won't be able to stay there.

I'm struggling now with things that are beyond discussion. I'm a victim of not being able to speak my mind. I'm a victim of not being able to tell you about my life because I have too much pride. I'm a victim of worthless pride and representation by words only, because I've had to live a life by myself where the only thing I've had is my respect and my facade, what I put out in front, whether or not it was me. I'm a victim of not being able to be myself, because being myself might not get me what I need. I'm a victim of learned manipulation, instilled in the system. I'm a victim of not being able to be real sometimes.


Duc, 21, emanciated from foster care three years ago. He is currently a junior in college.

I came to America not that long ago -- 1992. I stayed with my real parents. I got abused real bad.

So I left the family. What I did is really funny. I didn't know about the foster care system, so I called 911 'cause that's the only number I know, just to ask them to please put me in jail, I have no place to stay. That was my thinking. I'd rather spend my life in prison instead of home. If I knew there was foster home, I probably would have left a little earlier.

The cop came and took me to the hospital and that's how I ended up in a group home, and then after that a foster home. I haven't seen my parents or my siblings since that day.

My social worker really loved me. That's one thing I feel lucky -- there were people willing to take their time and help me ... When I turned 18, good thing is, I'm staying at foster home. If you're in a group home, oh my God, that's it. Your life ends right there. You get kicked out. My foster father let me stay until I went to college the next fall

Now I am a junior. I never feel like I'm learning enough, and it's a pressure that I have. If I don't study enough, I don't learn enough, and I'm gonna be nothing. Maybe if I have a family, if I have my parents, that pressure would be less. You feel like in case something happens, you call your parents to rely on. But for me, if I don't take care of everything by myself, then who's gonna take care of me? Although my foster father, my social worker, my mentor all love me, I don't wanna call them, because I just feel like I have enough from them. Now it's my turn to prove to them that their time is not wasted. Here I do everything by myself. I feel like I'm a family, but only one person -- a family to myself.

For more insight into the lives of young people in the foster care system, order a copy of "A Rage To Do Better: Listening To Young People From the Foster Care System." To order, send $10 to "Foster Care Report," Pacific News Service, 660 Market Street #210, San Francisco, CA 94104. Additional copies are $7 (up to ten copies) and $5 each (more than ten).

The Carpool Lane

Today we picked up this girl for carpool. I was asking people if they were going to the city and she came up to me, asked if I needed some help. I think she thought I was panhandling. I was like, no, ya know, it's OK, I'm just looking for someone to carpool with me. (She obviously needed a hell of a lot more help than I did , but I thought it was sweet of her to offer). I invited her to come with us. She said she would, she had nothing better to do. She seemed excited, like we were gonna be her new friends. I felt guilty because I already understood why that could never happen.

I never asked her name. She told us she was 17 and that she had AWOLed from this drug rehab almost a year ago. She was on the run. We asked her what drugs she'd been using. She said crystal, crack, crank, hair-oh-inn, pretty much anything and everything."I do weed, acid, shrooms ... "

We asked her who checked her in to the rehab. She said the court, she was court mandated. She was like, " Yeah, the police would always be comin' over to are house and we'd all be beamin'. I mean, our eyes would be all glossy ... Finally they just took me away."

I thought she probably grew up in a trailer, not a house, but it didn't make any difference anyway. She had this thick twang to her voice, sounded like she was from either Texas or Redding. She said Sacramento.

She said she'd been staying mostly outside, "as you could pretty much tell." I didn't think you could, not compared to most of the kids I know who are spoiled brats from suburbia who are just too lazy to take care of themselves. All those kids are much dirtier than they need to be, because everybody knows there are places you can go to take a shower or wash your clothes. Most of them are out there like that by choice, but she was different. I didn't think it was something she had sought out, I don't think it felt free to her, I don't think it was something she wanted.

She didn't look all that homeless in her bell-bottomed blue jeans and clean white sweatshirt. She had long ringletted blond hair pulled back and pale white skin disrupted by random sores, which was more or less the only thing that gave it away. Most of all she looked young, like the kids I used to go to school with. It's scary when you realize that it could just as easily have been you, and even scarier when you realize that it might as well have been, or that it is.

We asked her how she made money. She said she sold drugs when she didn't smoke them all first. " Besides that, I hustle. I mean I don't like it, it's not enjoyable, but what else am I gonna do?" I thought that was a good question. I couldn't answer it .

We were listening to Stevie Nicks and she was singing along in the back seat. We were surprised she knew the words. "That's my music right there," she told us. "I know who she is, she's got this band goin'. I don't remember what they are called, though." Then she asked us if we had any Tom Petty. We told her no. " I think he's just the greatest."

I wished I could have played her that American Girl song. I wished I could have done something for her, but I don't have any Tom Petty. I used to when I was younger, but not anymore.

She said, " I just got to the point where I don't care about my life anymore ... I only care about one person." I wanted to ask who, but I didn't. "I've OD'd a million times but somebody always calls an ambulance, something always happens and they won't let me die." She laughed after she said that. I thought to myself that I knew how that felt, but I think now that I don't, not really. I have wanted to die, I have felt alone, but there's always been a place somewhere inside me that wants to live. I think that was the difference between us.

When we got to the city she didn't want to get out of the car. We gave her 35 cents for the bus and dropped her off at Mission and Second. "This is you, you can get out here." She didn't move.

"We gotta go, you gotta get out." She didn't move. She had these big puppy dog eyes and I knew she didn't want to leave, she didn't want to go to 16th, but she would, and she did, and when she finally got out, I felt like I had just abandoned my child.

I thought about asking her to come along with me as I went about my day. I knew that she would have accepted graciously, but I didn't ask. I don't know why. I don't know why I invited her to come with us in the first place. I think maybe I just wanted her to be with us, if only for 15 minutes. I wanted her to be safe, and to be with people who didn't want anything from her. Beyond that there was nothing I could do. You come to a point, after hearing this story enough times from too many different mouths, when you realize that's the truth -- there's nothing you can do, and she'll be dead by the time she's 20, if she's lucky. That's not apathy; it's realism.

The worst thing about it was that she was a really sweet kid, and still so innocent despite everything she was going through. I wanted to hold her, to tell her that everything would be OK, that things always get better when you think they can't get any worse. But that isn't always true. And we don't touch each other like that, we don't know each other like that, we don't communicate like that, and the last thing this girl needed was to be lied to again.