December 2002 - January 2003
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This 'n' That
By Laura McHale Holland
Folks at Fairmount Elementary School are walking tall these days. Their very own Lizbeth Sanchez received a decree from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors proclaiming Oct. 28 Lizbeth Sanchez Day. An extraordinary outcome for a pregnant woman who was deported in July and spent 97 days exiled in Guatemala--a country where she no longer has any relatives--before she was reunited with her husband Mayco Cardenas and daughter Kristyne, a third-grader at the school.
"Fairmount is a pretty high-involvement school, and Lizbeth was volunteering a lot of time. When she was arrested in the summer, we were really shocked," says Cindy Cake, one of Sanchez's many supporters. "We're all mothers, and imagine being separated from your child--it's a pretty visceral reaction. So we were stunned that our government would do that, particularly given that her child and her husband are citizens. We felt she deserved more due process than that. So we went to bat for her."
How Sanchez came to be handcuffed and detained in front of her husband and daughter when she thought she was appearing at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for a routine interview concerning her application for legal residency is a long and complicated story. It began just over 10 years ago when she was 15 years old and she fled from Guatemala with her mother, father, brother, and sisters. Her father's life was being threatened for political reasons to such a degree that he couldn't even leave their home to go to work. Once in the U.S., her parents applied for amnesty as refugees and were denied. They appealed the decision, but due to a clerical error, they were given a court date that was one week later than when they were actually supposed to appear. When they arrived in court, they were told their case was closed, and there was no way to reopen it.
Meanwhile, Sanchez fell in love with Cardenas, and that led to marriage and family. She began the process of obtaining legal resident status as Cardenas' wife. Communications from the INS led Sanchez to believe that her case was in order. But workers handling her case did not communicate with those in charge of her parents' case, in which Sanchez was a party, and confusion led to errors with drastic consequences.
"What especially incensed me," says Andy Kuster, another parent at Fairmount, "was that she was an immigrant who had taken steps to become an active member of her community. Being a young mother of a young child, she went and got extra parent leader training at the school district, helped in the classroom whenever she could, and juggled her work schedule and her need to provide for the family with her perceived need to be involved in her child's community. This is not the kind of person we should be kicking out over some scheduling error."
The Fairmount community decided to make a lot of waves on Sanchez's behalf. "It started with the first press conference at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which Fairmount families attended on July 26," recalls Marcia Zorilla, who became friends with Sanchez when their daughters were in kindergarten. "We created a fact sheet as well as signs in English and Spanish saying 'Return Lizbeth Sanchez to Her Family.' We made a petition to Nancy Pelosi and collected signatures from parents and staff. Families donated money. We made a petition with signatures to the INS in Guatemala. We sent updates via a Fairmount e-mail newsletter. I think close to 100 families, if not more, helped. Some families went to all the press conferences; others only signed the petition. We were grateful for whatever families were able to do."
Sanchez is the most grateful of all. "Well, I can't believe it happened. When I was arrested in immigration I felt like a criminal, and then when I came back they received me like a hero. The INS acknowledged that they had an error in my file. Everybody, everybody, thank you very much for all the work in making my case. It was a hard job. I saw the papers they filled out, and they worked so hard, I feel great to have good friends like that."
When Sanchez's second child is born a few months from now, her friends at Fairmount will most likely throw her one big baby shower.
Lizbeth Sanchez isn't the only person who's thrilled to be here. New arrivals Ezekiel Alicea and Lynda Cotteblanche left their home in Miami this summer thinking they were going on a three-month, cross-country vacation. "We came up the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped in San Francisco. An hour later, we knew we wanted to die here; we love it," says Alicea.
Since the couple have two dogs, landing an apartment was a challenge. They searched for nine weeks, Alicea says. "We went to look at an apartment across the street from where we're living now. It wasn't exactly what we wanted, but the landlord said they'd take us. We were five minutes late for an appointment to sign a lease, and the landlord didn't wait. Then in the window of La Sirena Botanica we saw a 'For Rent' sign. We walked over, and Mary, the owner, greeted us like she knew us, and we signed a lease the same day. We live above the store, and we couldn't be happier. Mary takes care of our dogs; she's adopted them as well as us. And we help her sometimes in the store if she needs somebody to cover."
Mary Zenzirci also introduced Alicea and Cotteblanche to Tom Hamilton, with whom they have started "Get Flat," a free monthly concert and group art show that is open to the public. The event takes place in their new home at 1511 Church Street.
"One night Tom was walking by the store and he saw a crystal ball that he wanted. It was around midnight, and Mary was working late that evening. They started talking, and then she came upstairs and woke us up and said, 'I don't care if you're sleeping, you have to come down and meet this guy.' And so we went downstairs and we all hit it off right away. The following night, we had Tom over for dinner, and he started to sing opera in our house--it was so beautiful and the acoustics were so great. A light bulb went off, and we decided we had to open up our space."
Alicea and Cotteblanche may be new to town, but they're not new to producing events. They started the East Coast "Get Flat" two years ago as a way to get different genres of music heard in Miami. Their first San Francisco event on Nov. 16 featured Hamilton, singing a range of musical styles from jazz to classical; visual artists David Dexter Anderson, Emily K. Grieves, Gabriel Mott, and Erica Steiner; and a spoken-word performance by Jamey Austin.
"The connection of art, music, and dance is what makes this type of event special," Alicea says. To get involved, as either as an artist or an audience member, call Alicea at 648-5560 or Hamilton at 307-2566.
We've gained Get Flat, but we've lost Dave Monks. President of the Noe Valley Democratic Club from 1996 to 2001 and president of Friends of Noe Valley for the past two years, Monks left town on Halloween to begin a new phase of his life. "I had a great time in San Francisco," he reports from his new home in Los Angeles. "I just felt like I needed some new frontiers for myself. In particular, I've had a longstanding interest in the entertainment business, and I'm hoping to get involved in that. I'm looking at production agency work."
Monks says he has brought his pro-pedestrian and transit-friendly ways to L.A. "I live two blocks from a Metro station, and I'm planning to get involved in an alliance to promote an expanded light-rail system here," he says.
Others in our community are starting a new phase in their lives as well. After two years of preparation at their 29th Street novitiate house, five novices of the Missionaries of Charity (the Mother Teresa nuns we often see walking in pairs in their flowing white-and-blue robes), will become professed sisters on Monday, Dec. 9. The ceremony at St. Paul's Church will begin at 4 p.m. and last about 90 minutes. It is open to the public.
"The sisters come to the holy mass in procession, and the novices sing in the choir. Then after the homily, the ceremony of taking vows takes place, and each sister has to pronounce the vows alone," says Sister Thomas More, one of four teachers at the novitiate.
Later in the day at a private ceremony, the newly professed sisters will find out which mission house in the Americas they are each being sent to. They have more than 40 houses in the United States and at least 60 throughout Latin America. Two of the novices hail from India, two from Mexico, and one from Argentina. "All the novices have enjoyed being here," says More. "I think it's opened their eyes to a different sort of poverty than maybe what they're used to in other cultures--the poverty of loneliness, not being wanted. That has helped them broaden their understanding and prepare them for wherever they go. They will have an open mind."
Someone who's had her mind blown just a little bit is Janell Moon, an author who has practiced hypnotherapy in Noe Valley for 18 years. Her latest book, The Wise Earth Speaks to Your Spirit: 52 Ways to Find Your Soul Voice Through Journal Writing, has been nominated for the best spiritual and compassionate-living book of 2002 by Spirituality & Health magazine. Says Moon: "I was very pleased, because I'm a woman who started to publish in her mid-50s. To be nominated against books from the Dalai Lama and Thicht Nhat Hanh, it's pretty remarkable that they even saw my book, let alone nominated it. That's part of my thinking, but the other part is that I believe in grandmother power and the wisdom of a woman who's lived her life in a kindhearted way and has tried to contribute something using her imagination and creativity."
The book contains 52 of Moon's essays about nature with accompanying suggestions for journaling. "It is a reminder that the earth is here to offer us reflection, perspective, inspiration, and beauty," she says. The book should be on 24th Street at Cover to Cover and Phoenix Books.
A book that may be up for an award someday is a biography of Jann Wenner, famed editor of Rolling Stone magazine. Twenty-eighth Street resident, founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting, author, visiting professor at Stanford, and father of six David Weir signed a contract last month with John Wiley & Sons to write the book. Weir says he was approached by an editor at Wiley, who saw a profile of Wenner he did for Salon.com. Coincidentally, Weir already had been talking with his agent about writing Wenner's biography.
"Jann is one of a kind," notes Weir. "He's interesting in the context of the rock 'n' roll and the political and cultural explosion that came out of the '60s. He's also interesting in that Rolling Stone started in San Francisco and spent its first 10 years here--building the brand, becoming nationally prominent--and then moved to New York. With the rise of the Internet and so many new-media entrepreneurs, such as the people who founded Salon and Wired, and having been involved in new-media companies myself and seeing the challenges of trying to build them, I appreciate how hard it's been for Rolling Stone to succeed over the last 40 years."
Duncan Street resident Ted Weinstein has met with success over the last year, his first one as a literary agent. He worked in publishing for about a decade doing marketing, business development, and licensing, and then took a year off to write a book. "It was a book on religion for kids," he says, "and in the course of getting an agent for my own book, the question kept coming up, 'What are you going to do next?' The agents said I had the same kind of great experience to do what they do, and some of my first clients came through referrals through other Bay Area agents. So now I get the best of both worlds. I get to spend my days talking with writers and editors, but I don't have to write a word myself, which for me is the perfect balance."
Weinstein also organizes a monthly happy hour for writers and friends, "to help give local authors a chance to meet their peers, meet editors and agents, and just get out of the house and be social at the end of a long day of solitary writing." For details visit www.twliterary.com.
Another neighbor with a good head for business is Church Street resident and Noe Valley native Connie Walkershaw. On Nov. 2, she opened her first store, Walkershaw Clothing at 629 Haight Street. She calls her designs "classic with a twist." She is highly influenced by clothing from about 1910 through the 1940s. "I do swing jackets, a lot of dresses and shirts. And I have men's, women's, and children's stuff ranging in price from $24 for a kids item to $300 for the most fancy of overcoats."
Walkershaw is also a saxophonist in a band with her husband, Jesse Walkershaw, and the mother of 7-year-old daughter, Carmen. Other than a pattern-making class, she has no formal training in clothing design. "I got my start by restoring vintage clothing. I studied how things were constructed, and restored beaded dresses and Victorian wear. Then I worked for many designers and kind of figured 'I could do that,' so I put everything I knew all together and did it."
And one last bit of good news. Twelve-year-old Alexander Agosta, a seventh-grader at Adda Clevenger School, won the lead in the school's production of Smike, which is a two-hour musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' third novel, Nicholas Nickleby. Alexander, who lives on 27th Street with his mom Lisa Moresco, dad Gerry Agosta, brother Rio and sister Sophia, has been attending the school for three years.
"Ever since I got to this school, I've been in these plays," Alexander says. "The whole school does them, and it's usually I'm watching everybody who plays the leads, and finally I get to play one for myself. It's harder than I imagined it would be. I hope I do well and enjoy myself and the performance succeeds."
Shows will be at Mercy High School on Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. For more information call 824-2240.
That's all of This 'n' That for 2002. Help us bring in the new year with news about your smashing successes, inspiring innovations, charming babies and toddlers, academic honors, athletic achievements, engagements, weddings, professional awards, book publishing parties, art show openings, literary salons, and any other personal news worth sharing with your neighbors.
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