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First Person: The San Diegans We Met In 2016

January 2, 2017 12:51 p.m.

First Person: The San Diegans We Met In 2016

We're ringing in 2017 on Midday Edition with a special episode filled with the stories of San Diegans as part of our First Person series.

Related Story: First Person: The San Diegans We Met In 2016


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Profiles of the amazing people we call neighbors make up the midday edition first-person series. We will hear a few of the stories coming up next. This is KPBS midday edition.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh it's Monday I'm Maureen Cavanaugh it's Monday, January 2. We start our first-person profile with an introduction to a San Diego marine veteran who has decided to become an artist. He is using the same can-do spirit learned in the court to achieve his goals. Veteran Daniel Lopez is also teaching art to other veterans. In 2016 he helped create a special art for the Timken Museum. The Babar Park Museum helps fund several art outreach programs including what would come back art San Diego where Lopez teaches. In this first-person feature Lopez tells us about his experience with art as a way to transition back to civilian life.
My name is Dan Lopez I'm a Marine Corps veteran and I'm working with combat art San Diego. One of the pieces we are working on for the museum is a clock. It is fully handmade with stuff that we found. It's a big clock. There are big ears and wheels and it's all made out of wood. The things that we are doing now is not things that we learned in the Marine Corps. We have a lot of problem solving. We had to teach ourselves to do a lot of these things. Being able to power the modal and making a belt to go around it. It is stressful at times and other times there is relief but then we have to do something. What they would be working great then something else would change. It slow the process down. It was a problem solving experience I feel like. It's one of those things we like to show that as veterans we know how to do multiple things instead of just needing sympathy. We do not need sympathy. We do know how to do things. We have organizations like the Timken Museum that gives us opportunity to do these things. Elizabeth is a professional artist. She sells art for a living. When I met her she was going to an oasis for post's dramatic stress and I was there as a patient. She was in their teaching classes and we would do collaborative murals within our cohort. I was doing a lot of airbrushing and I brought my kids and I brought it up and showed her some of the stuff I could do and I was enjoying it and getting back into it. She asked me if I was interested in sticking around as far as comeback -- Kombat arts. I said absolutely. Sure enough she reached out and check to see how I was doing and followed up with me. I've been with Kombat arts for almost 3 years. As a civilian you don't see a lot. People are very passionate about it and she is one of those people that are passionate about veterans in making sure that we are getting what we need in looking at what works for us and helping us find something that works. I think that's awesome. We worked at the Naval Hospital teaching classes and individuals how to pay and how to do other things. We were using art as a means to cope and focus on other things besides medication. I love metal working. I do a lot of hands on stuff. My main thing is I like to make things and build things and create stuff. I never considered myself an artist. I enjoy building things and making things with my hands. Creating art helps veterans and myself -- it gives us another way and another route to deal with things. You have something on your mind you put it on the canvas. You want to distract yourself from something that build something. If you want to create something you create something awesome and people see it and it feels good when people acknowledge you. The lightbulb and goes off and you start getting that whole thing like I can really do good stuff again and feel good about it. People who are veterans and are struggling with things they find the strength and focus on their strengths. As far as teaching classes and the importance of these classes I like to let other guys know and when I go in there I went to validate it and let them know this is not just some art class. When people think art people think of the great Bob Ross or other really -- good feeling stuff. Elizabeth being there they are -- she is a solid individual. When I bring the leather and if you guys can think of anything to paint let's make some belts or dog collars. A lot of the guys have been making belts for their kids and it's pretty neat. They're all different types of art. It is not just have to be paid on a canvas. It's whatever you can make out of your mind. Put it out of your mind and make it a piece that you can hold onto and look at and show people. That's what art is to me. That's why I like these classes. I can give these guys validation that something is worth doing.
That was Marine Corps veteran Dan Lopez the first-person feature was produced by Brooke Ruth. In September the MacArthur foundation honored two dozen scientists artists and thinkers with its annual genius grants. One of this year's geniuses is San Diego and Jin-Quan Yu a chemist. Works on breaking down the personal connections between carbon and hydrogen atoms known as C-H bonds . His research could help make new drugs more quickly and without as much waste. As part of our ongoing first-person series you told us more about his passion for chemistry expect my name is Jin-Quan Yu . I'm a professor at the Scripps research Institute. We study how to break a strong bond the C-H bonds . We try to break them. Then we can invent reactions that are not in the textbook. These reactions will transform the way how we think about how to make molecules in those molecules can be medicine, perfume or chemicals. I grew up in a small village. My family's house was isolated. We grew everything ourselves. We made our own shoes. I grew up in the nature because we did not have schools. I played with Fish and crabs. I know how to catch them and release them back. When I hit seven years old my parents make a decision and push me to travel far away to go to school. I had to climb up to the mountain and walked down the mountain and then walked out for two more miles. Then I had to cross the river with a little boat. It was 5 miles one way but to me it was like a marathon every day. When I got there I usually missed the first class. Then I had to head back quickly in the afternoon before it got too dark because then I would be scared. I would always miss the final class. In that school we only have one room and the five classes in the same room. When I was in my class I would also listen to the fifth grade. When they asked the fifth-grade questions I could answer it. The teacher would use me as an example. He's a first grader and he can do it.he works hard. I was always use as an example. I like that to be recognized. My dad has had insight even though he was not educated. He did not want me to be trapped. He told me to study and go to college. When I was a kid there were no college. In cultural Revolution China stopped with no University. In 97 when I was about to go to middle school the revolution stopped and reopen the University. In 1978 -- even in a remote area where I am it was being paid attention to. I was lucky to be chosen. I was a rare a few people to go to a town. It was a boarding school. Once a year you go to see your parents. You take care of yourself. You do everything by yourself and it was very difficult. I graduated and I knew I wanted to do some chemical research. I was assigned to do a perfume project. I helped with one of the most important perfumes. It's isolated from Pinetree but if you have to supply the whole world you have to cut down all the pine trees. This technology was transferred into a company which went public. They now have been printing money for 20 years now. I own a large percentage of the shares but I decided to give it up and transfer to the Institute and they sold to a private company. I knew if I stayed there to develop it I would be rich and successful but there was an emptiness that I felt. I knew there was a lot more outside and I'm not a professional researcher. I was a beginner. When I don't feel comfortable I'm not good enough. I want to know more and be better. Chemist does most of the work for making a new drug. When you make a new drug it's not one step. Takes about 10 steps. You have to make a bond and make another bond and then another bond and then reach the perfect molecule. When you can do is not break the C-H bonds. You may have to go around and take extra steps. If you can break C-H bonds that is a shortcut. That can allow you to go to directly to the medicine. Everyone would agree this did not have much of a foundation to suggest this type of work. It was hard. In the first couple of years I almost lost my job. I was running out of funding. I could not get funded because I did not have a result. The persistency is very important. I think that has a lot to do with my childhood. It's unfortunate my father passed away last year. He did not have a chance for me to tell him I am successful because I never told him. For him he thought I was still struggling and I told him I was working on something. That's what he knew. He always asked me had you done it. Before he passed away I still had not done it so I wish he was still alive. It is tough. My mom is still doing okay. My mom is even more to explain to. I had to try very hard to do it all. She always felt that I did not have to do farm work and that she was doing good work.

Coming up in our first-person retrospective we will hear what motivated and young African American to become a Chula Vista police officer and meet some new American citizens and a family of rodeo competitors. You are listening to KPBS midday edition.

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. To help bridge the gap between communities of color and law enforcement police department are putting a greater emphasis on recruiting more minority officers. In an air of black lights matter that's easier said than done. As part of our first-person series this year we spoke with a young police officer in San Diego County about what motivated him to seek a career in law enforcement.
I joined Chula Vista in June 2015. I had the whole family on my swearing in day. It was a great day. My name is Kofi Agyeman . I'm from gonna. I'm 30 years old. I moved here to America when I was 15 years old. I've been a proud American since 2000. We are going to the south side of Chula Vista. It's west of the 805 but from Wall Street onto Main Street basically. My mother worries that most for my safety. She did not want me to join the Marine Corps. Once I decided to join the police department she said the same thing. She said you're going to leave the Marine Corps and joined the police department at the time that we are in right now. Before I was a law enforcement officer I was in the Marine Corps. I was in the Marine Corps for eight years. My wife and I we have two little girls. With them around we decided to get out of the Marine Corps for the family's sake. I have always had law enforcement in the back of my head ever since I was a young child. I always wanted to be a soldier or a police officer. That's partly in fact to my father being a military police in Ghana. It's something I always wanted to do. After the Marine Corps I knew I had to pick something that would make me happy. I chose law enforcement. I came into this profession knowing I'm going to put my life on the line for the people of this community. Hearing everything that's been happening teaches me to be mindful of what I do. Be mindful of my surroundings and do what I'm supposed to do. No police officer wants to shoot somebody. No one wants to go through that. It's a life changer. Taking another persons life will never be something that I would want to do. I will only do it if I was scared for my life. Or if I need to save myself or need to save someone from getting seriously injured or killed as well. The first thing I thought about all of these shootings I want to wait and see on the investigations. I do not want to make assumptions. That's what hurts us because people make assumptions and they don't know what's going on in the end up blaming the wrong people. Sometimes they are just doing their jobs. It could happen to me. If I was in that situation, what would have done? I don't know until I'm in that situation. It is very hard. People may think in their mind they are being discriminated against and that's a reason why they feel that way. If somebody thinks he's being discriminated against I'm not going to take it lightly. I will listen to your complaint. I will try to be as fair as I can. I think I'm a pretty fair guy. The main goal here is to have a good relationship with the community and have them know what we are doing. We want to let them know what we are doing is for the community. We are police officers and we are here to protect them. Kofi Agyeman is in office in the Chula Vista Police Department. The first-person feature was produced by Marissa Cabrillo. Specs

Is a complicated time to be a newcomer to the United States. Our nation continues to be a beacon of freedom to people all over the world but some Americans are questioning how bright that beacon should be. This year we met a San Diego family who has traveled half way across the world. In November they celebrated a very special Thanksgiving there first as US Mac -- citizens.
Moving to a city by the ocean was one of my biggest dreams. San Diego is by the ocean and it was one of my dreams to come here.
My wife and I when we go out and see new cities or go by the ocean we ask each other is that real or are we dreaming. Do we really live here. It's amazing. We can do what we want to do here. Sometimes we think it's a dream. My name is Zeena Faraj. I became a citizen in October.
My name is Rayan Kaskos and I became a citizen in 2016. Originally we are from a city in Mosul Iraq. We've been there for 30 years. When the war came up and things escalated we needed to leave. I worked with the American government. Imagine people living 30 years in the suburbs where they could not get access to tap water. They gathered rainwater to survive over the summer. Imagine that you were these kind of people. You would feel proud that you are helping. Imagine innovating a health center in a place where they don't have healthcare. Imagine building a school for kids at least a study in a building made out of my and you bring them a new school. That's how we did our work. I don't think there will always be evil people that try to block the good things from happening. Unfortunately evil people were able to come through and kick us out. They target me in one of my staff. He came and said you should leave the city because you are on the list. I asked which lists? They are targeting you because you are working with the American government. I tried to flee. My wife was trying to find a space where we could disappear. She came and said just leave and I took my car and I left and travel to another city. I was the last day for me in the city. That was in late 2004.
Until now my older son could not forget these days. Sometimes he asks me to remember that when you talk to me in your car and covered me with the close in blankets -- and blankets and try to make me invisible. He said it was terrible. I don't want to remember those times but it was our reality.
We are inviting our family and friends for Thanksgiving. It is their first thinks giving in the United States. They came over last year as refugees.
I prepared chicken. We prepared in a different way and stuffed with rice, raisins. I add cranberry sauce. We love this stuff.
It's time for you to gather with family and friends and share food and share the feeling of giving thanks especially for us. We everyday thank God that he brought us here and saved us from what we have been through. We thank God because we have our kids now and we are raising them here in them going to school and doing very well. They now have education and we believe they will have a good future. For me it is special because now I am a citizen and I feel this year will be different. I'm very happy to be a U.S. citizen. I feel this Thanksgiving will be -- will mean a lot for me. I became an American and I want to celebrated as an American. This year will be my year.
Rayan Kaskos and Zeena Faraj celebrated their first Thanksgiving.

The small city of Raleigh in the Imperial Valley becomes the center of the rodeo universe each November bringing in cowboys and cowgirls from across the country to compete in the cattle call rodeo. One of the events of the cattle call rodeo is a big draw for local competitors. It's called team pending. As part of our first-person series 18 Penner and former cattle call Wayne tells us about the event.
When you come to the probably -- Raleigh cattle call rodeo you see cowboys trying to tame a wild horse and right across the arena. You can see roping, barrel racing, will writing.
I'm Brett Leavitt . I'm here with my team my mom and dad. You have three writers and you also have 30 head of cattle numbered zero through nine. The three writers are at one end of the arena and the announcer calls --
The timer is ready. You are looking for number six.
The three writers had toward the cattle in the announcer calls cattle number out so those writers have to find all three of their numbers get them out of the herd as quickly as they can without any other cattle coming out and they put him in the pen. They raise their hand and the fastest time wins
We first got involved with cattle call with my dad. We started pending after he did. He's been in the rodeo every year since the last 27 years. Competing with a family is interesting. We either went together or loose together. The winning together is fantastic. The losing together stinks. I guess it binds us even closer as a family because we are winning together or losing together. As my children are growing up and starting to turn eight we are harder on each other. We hold each other to hire Sanders. When we do when it makes the winning very special when we are winning as a family.
We have a husband, wife and a daughter and former royalty I might add of our rodeo on this team.
In 2000 I was fortunate enough to win the probably cattle call Queen title. I was also penning that year with my mom and dad. The Lord showered us with blessing that year. We went the Frisco, the second go Saturday performance and we came back on Sunday and ended up winning the whole rodeo that year. We are all on cloud nine. It was the best year. We thank God for that experience.
The timer is ready and you are looking for number seven.
When we are out in the arena we try to communicate to each other. We try to watch what each other are doing and what the cattle is doing. There is a lot of yelling at each other to let each other know what we are doing or what needs to be done. We have been 10 eight so long sometime the communication does not even ye -- need to be said. We do our jobs the best we can and get it done as fast as we can.
Cattle can cross the pen.
Today when we pen we did not do so well. We had a tough draw. The cattle were scattered and we did not get them penned. Coming out of the arena we were all very disappointed. We were frustrated. Penning in the rodeo is different than in the season. You have a lot of people that are watching you. The pressure is on. We feel the pressure every year. When you don't do well it does not sit good. For the future I've got my three boys who will be learning how to pen. We will do it as long as we can and I'm glad my boys are interested in it. I'm glad we have the horses and the cattle that we can learn and practice together and coach each other together. As long as the Lord blesses us with these gifts we will do it as long as we can.
Brett Leavitt participated in the this year's probably cattle call rodeo.

Still ahead we will me eight San Diegans who's handing out his love of jazz to the next generation. That is Gilbert Castellanos. You're listening to KPBS midday edition.

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. We and our first-person represent with a veteran of the San Diego music scene. Just trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos . His musical experience reads like a jazz encyclopedia. Dizzy Gillespie helped him earn a Fulbright scholarship to a procedure music college and he toured the world performing with Wynton Marsalis and others. Now Gilbert Castellanos is dedicated to being a jazz messenger for the next ulceration -- generation of musicians. He's giving his budding jazz players to perform at Panama City six and Balboa Park most Wednesday nights. Gilbert Castellanos took us along on his jazz journey.
I remember walking with Dizzy Gillespie. I remember him putting his arm around me. He gave me this look and said you are Medicago. I said yes. He said you play like one and that made my day. I was the happiest person in the world that day.[Music playing]
My name is Gilbert Castellanos I'm a trumpet player/ educators in San Diego. I was born in Guadalajara. My father at that time had a 15 piece salsa band. From day one when I was born I was the chosen one to be the musician.[Music playing]
When my father introduced me to musical instruments I was attracted to the trumpet for some reason. He said to me if you pick up at trumpet you will never put it down. He was not kidding.
[Music playing]
He immediately got me started on lessons. Since my father rehearsed at the house there was always musicians coming in and out and after the rehearsals with my father's band would make one of the trumpet players stick around and give me lessons. That's how I got introduced to playing the trumpet. Was not a jazz musician that he was living vicariously through me to become a jazz musician. I immediately start listening to jazz at a young age. A lot of the music that I grew up with was the Latin music and salsa. The Caribbean sounds is what I enjoyed.
[Music playing]
I start to get attracted to jazz. That music spoke to me for some reason. Dizzy Gillespie was the first real jazz musician that I got to listen to. There was a competition that was being presented by the moderate jazz festival and if you won the competition you have to perform -- got to perform with Dizzy Gillespie. I tried out and I got in. I was one of five trumpet players in the nation to not only with dizzy LSP at the jazz festival but also tour Japan with him for two weeks. I was 16 at the time. That changed my entire life. One thing that Dizzy Gillespie told me backstage was he asked me how much do I practice and at that time I was not practicing very much. Maybe just a few hours a day. For me that was a lot. I had homework and school. He said you know how much I practice when I was your age? I practice 8 to 10 hours a day. The one thing that he said that stuck with me if you practice one hour you sound like one hour. If you practice eight hours you sound like he hours. That hit home with me. I was already on my way to college so when I left I immediately started to practice 6 to 8 hours a day. I had that access. I had the 24 axis room at the college. I never slept but I made sure to get the hours and and that was the important advice. If you want to believe in your dream you have to treat it like a day job.
The -- when I think of jazz I think of three words. I dare you because that's what I am telling my kids. I dare you to go for it. I dare you to tell me a story. I dare you to climb that mountain musically speaking.
[Music playing]
I met Zion when she was 13 and within one year she blossomed. With proper encouragement and being in a positive environment that helps. Anything that you say to a child in a negative context that sticks with them forever. It scars them. That's one thing that I preach in my school. I tell all the kids if you guys have anything negative to say you check it at the coat rack and you play and swing here. Let out your aggression and frustration. Let me know about it through your instrument. I do not want to hear about it. I want to hear about it through your instrument. That's one thing that I noticed about Zion she blossomed into being this amazing young talented vocalist. I don't consider her a vocalist. I consider her a musician. There is a difference. There are some people that claim to be singers and claim to be musicians. She is a true musician. I work on -- I am so excited on working with the kids.
[Music playing]
You're listening to students from Gilbert Castellanos my name class at the international Academy of jazz. That story was produced by making Burke -- Megan Burks.
[Music playing]
Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at five and at 630 tonight on KPBS television. Join us again tomorrow for KPBS midday edition at noon. If you miss a show check out the midday edition podcast I KPBS.orb/podcast. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.