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  • 2010 - 04.15

    “Sanctuary”

    Many youth are confronted by violence, and this violence has very real and painful effects on their lives.  But people do not submit passively to violence.  Wherever there is violation and abuse, there is also resistance.  Our stories of resistance, however, are often lost beneath the louder impact of violence.  Sanctuary is an effort to find these lost stories of resistance.

    Twelve youth were interviewed about what it is they hold precious in their lives. They were asked about the efforts they have made to protect what matters to them. The result is Sanctuary, a blend of photographic image and text that explores the many life-affirming ways youth manage to invent spaces that are free of and safe from violence.

    The Youth Documentary Project creates a context in which youth can reflect on their lives in meaningful and creative ways. Youth are able to voice what it is they believe in, hope for, and stand for in their lives. They experience the power of their own stories and images within a community setting. At the same time, the larger community has a chance to honor and learn from their stories.

    The following are three stories from three participants of the Youth Documentary Project:

    Sanctuary 1

    “There are a lot of people telling me I should be in a gang, and a lot of people telling me I should ignore it. You can’t turn your back on it. They’re people I’ve known for a long time. But I can’t resort to violence either, because I done that too much.

    I’m caught in an in between place. It’s a lonely place, but it’s also like finding myself. If I choose to be a gang-banger, there’s no turning back. When you’re in, you can’t wonder about how it could be. When you’re in, your future is gone. You’re just living for the moment because in your future you might be dead.

    Where I grew up in East Oakland, down the street from Foothill, On Cole Street, there was a liquor store called FairFax Liquors and that’s where a lot of old people used to hang out. They called them Old G’s, Original Gangsters.

    I sat there when I was little and watch my dad and cousins shoot dice. People would try to steal and cheat and I’d see them get shot and stabbed. I was shocked seeing violence right in front of me. It made me wake up to reality. Especially when it was my family doing the violence and having it done to them. Being where I’m from, I’d see drive by shootings, hear screams and then see the news the next day that the people I heard screaming are dead. You can’t run when your 8 or 9, so you’re just right there in it. The violence of my Youth.

    I was really violent in elementary school. When I used to be violent, I realized that I hurt people, so I’d stop. But then the violence would take over again the next day.

    Meanwhile, I started drawing. School showed me I could draw, that I had talent. I started drawing more and more. A lot of my drawings have to do with violence. With being shocked. Being shocked is important because it makes you come to your senses.

    I have the drawing of this man with dreadlocks and he’s standing near a gun, and his hands are over his face, and he’s thinking should I pick up the gun or should I leave it there and walk away. It’s the best drawing because it has to do with every single thing that I have been through.

    A lot of my art has to do with where I am from. I put a lot of what is happening and how I feel about it into my art. I transform all that negative stuff, like a filter. I turn it into something positive.

    It feels way better to have my future back. Now I want to get noticed so that people who are thinking about joining a gang will think about it and not do it. I want to be a role model for my nephew. He lives in East Oakland too. I want to show him he can succeed. Guide him to the light instead of darkness.

    Once I get into art school, there’s no turning back. Just being there, looking at the art is privilege. Drawing and creating stuff,–that’s who I am. My life isn’t about revenge anymore. It’s about creation now. My safe haven. My place below Heaven. There’s no turning back.”

     

    Sanctuary 2

    “If you put up walls, that’s where fear comes from. If you don’t put up walls then you have experiences. I don’t believe in truths. I believe in having experiences. And in making meaning out of them

    Societal sanctuary has never appealed to because it’s about walls. It bars stuff out. It keeps stuff out that needs to come in. People need to enjoy themselves. Variety.  Spice of life type stuff.

    ‘Spice of Life’ is not a perfect saying. When you love someone and marry them, then spice of life isn’t such a good thing. But loving lots of things-having love for many things like writing or music or loving different people in different ways- variety is good there.

     I think of sanctuary as letting yourself out in the world. When I write I do that. I bore my soul”

     

    Sanctuary 3

    “I used to believe what people say. I’d think, why care if no one is ever going to care? I’d think, Yeah, it was a mistake, I was born. It made me feel like I wouldn’t ever make it. Sometimes I couldn’t even look in the mirror.

    But I found a boyfriend I can trust with anything. When I’m with him, I remember that it’s important to be alive.

    One night all the problems got to me, and called him from a pay phone. We don’t get to see each other, except at school sometimes.

    “I hecka miss you,” Sergio said. “I want to see you.”

    “you will,” I said. I was crying.

    “What do you mean?”

    “I’ll see you in our dream date,” I said.

    “What do you mean?”

    “In our dream date! What do you want to do tonight?”

    The dream-dates started with my grandfather when he was really sick.

    I was scared and I said “I’ll never see you again.”

    He said “Don’t ever say that. Don’t ever say I’ll never see you again.”

    “What do you mean?” I said.

    “I’ll see you in our dreams.”

    “How old will you be in our dreams, Tata?”

    “Not this old. These old legs don’t work anymore. I’ll be 23, and you’ll be 18, so I can take you to the clubs and we can dance. Or we can go swimming. We’ll swim and swim, away from the bad stuff.”

    Even though my Tata was really sick he was telling me that he would still be there, that I’m not alone.

    “I’m going to make you dinner,” my boyfriend said. “We’ll have a big house. And you’ll come home driving a sports car. Your hair will be all curly. And you’ll be wearing a dress.” I could tell that he was smiling.

    “But I don’t like dresses.”

    “Hey you said I could make up the dream date.”

    “OK. What else?”

    “No problems. We’ll be away from our problems. And you’ll have a whole room that’s a closet full of shoes.”

    My grandfather didn’t pass on the dream date to anyone else. It makes me feel proud that I’m sharing the dream-dates. It makes me know that I can close the door on the bad thing. And keep the good things safe.”