For the third straight month, home prices in San Diego have fallen
S1: Home prices in San Diego take another dip.
S2: It's not like a big collapse , but it's been sort of like a drip , drip , drip of just slowing down.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman with Maureen CAVANAUGH. This is KPBS Midday Edition. El Cajon doubles down on threats to find motels that take in homeless residents.
S3: I can't be outside.
S4: You know , so it's just frustrating.
S1: Plus , a new show about meeting one big pandemic demand. That's ahead on Midday Edition. For the third straight month , home prices in San Diego have fallen. The median price tag in the region sits as just under $800,000. And San Diego , along with the rest of the nation , continue to show signs of a slowing market. A likely move from the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates is also expected to impact the market. And Fed Chair Jay Powell is set to speak tomorrow on a new policy announcement. Joining me now with more is Phil Molnar , senior business reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Phil , welcome back to the program.
S2: Thank you so much for having me. Okay.
S1: Okay. So we've seen three straight months of declining home prices.
S2: So they've been climbing up and that kind of cuts into buyers potential purchase power for what they can actually get. So homes in San Diego County are still really expensive. But the more the interest rates go up , the less money they have to buy something. So we've seen it slowly. It's not like a big collapse , but it's been sort of like a drip , drip , drip of just slowing down in the market. And recently our median home price was 799,000 as of August , when it had reached an all time high of 850,000 in May.
S1: You know , the Danny , you point to surveys , single family home condos and townhouses.
S2: So the median of a single family home , just a resale not now is $875,000. That's down from a peak of 950,000 in April. A resale condo , it's a median of 630,000 and that's down from 663,000 in May. And newly built is 885000 to 50 is the median right there. And that figure combined single family homes , townhouses and condos. So the big thing there was you had a lot of sort of luxury single family homes open in the last few months , and that's kind of pushing that median up. Wow.
S1: Wow. I mean , earlier in the year , sellers couldn't keep a home on the market for more than a weekend.
S2: Now , some people are dealing with a lot of times I talked to real estate agents. It's typically about three offers per home. I mean , that's sort of anecdotal , but that's just what I keep hearing over and over. I talked to a seller in Ramona who's usually like one of the top agents in the fact that she tends to price her homes a little bit lower than what the market is calling for. But she had a house in Ramona in this kind of nice Black Canyon Estates area , and it was more than a million , but it took 45 days to sell and they did a $86,000 price cut.
S1: Despite the slowdown.
S2: It make for a funny story. Maybe a lot of heartache. Probably , too. We're still pretty close to that all time high. I mean , we were 850,000. Now we're roughly 800,000. So it hasn't been that big drop that people are expecting. Someone I talked to for the story called it a soft landing. So that's sort of what's going on in the home market right now.
S1: Does San Diego's housing market mirror the situation that other cities across the country are going through ? Yeah.
S2: So this is a big national thing going on right now. It does seem that more expensive , especially West Coast markets are sort of hit more. So Redfin shared with me some data that they haven't published yet , but I was able to put it in my story. And they said in August , 49.7% of San Diego County homes had some sort of price reduction on their original listed price. So that's not ones that have sold yet. Those are ones that are still for sale right now. And at some point they had some sort of reduction , could have been a dollar , could buy 100,000. But of the 90 biggest metros , San Diego had the 13th most price reductions. But it's worse in places like Denver , where they had 62% of homes have a price reduction. So put it in context.
S2: So when we looked at the 20 top metros in the Case-Shiller indices , this was a few weeks ago , and San Diego had the fourth fastest price reductions of any market in the U.S. So it is actually going down a little bit quicker. But something to remember is that San Diego has some of the highest home prices in the nation. So even though we're coming down a little bit quicker , it's still not cheaper to move to San Diego than , say , Denver or something like that.
S1: You know , we mentioned earlier that the Federal Reserve is set to hike interest rates.
S2: This report I'm talking about right now from August , the 30 year fixed rate , mortgage rate was 5.22%. So that was enough to really slow the market like we're talking that 5% range. So if we see these mortgage rates continue to rise , I mean , I think 6% will be a really significant impact on the market. You know , especially since our homes cost so much.
S1: I've been speaking with Phil Molnar , senior business reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune. Phil , as always , thank you very much.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S4: The City of El Cajon says it's standing behind its threats to fine local motels for accepting too many homeless residents. El Cajon says the motels are operating as unauthorized emergency shelters. The motels have been accepting vouchers as part of a San Diego County program to house unsheltered people until permanent housing can be found. Alcohol threats against the motels have provoked harsh criticism from county leaders and homeless advocates. Joining me is KPBS health reporter Matt Hoffman. And , Matt , welcome.
S5: Great to be here , Maureen.
S4: What do El Cajon officials object to about the motels accepting homeless people.
S5: So they don't outright object to the motels accepting homeless people. But right now they're saying in this county hotel voucher program where keep in mind , the county is paying for these rooms. And so some of the local taxes are actually going to the city of El Cajon. But they basically say that there's too many people in these programs , too many people filling up their local motels. And they sort of said , you know , well , initially they said we didn't know about this program. They walked off that said they did know about it , but they didn't know that there was this many people involved. And when we talk about people involved from the county side , we're talking about like just a little over 100 people.
S4: And there's also been complaints about the number of police and emergency calls that have to go to those hotels.
S5: And Bidwell says it's creating Bill Wells , the mayor of El Cajon , saying that it's creating , you know , some public safety issues. The city has to has to pay for this. I will note , though , that , you know , the Boyles talked about an expansion of this program , a big expansion that they've seen anecdotally. The county pushes back on that. You know , they say when they started this program a little over a year ago , there was 111 people in it. And now to the stage , just a little over a year later , 121. So not large increases.
S5: Well , says anecdotally , you know , hearing from the police , they , you know , say that they know the homeless people in their community and they're seeing people coming from outside of the community. Now , the county is pushing back against that and they provided us some data , they say , in that program that that's in. I'll call those those shelters. 64% of those motel rooms are being used by alcohol residents. And they say , furthermore , 94% of those rooms are being used by East County residents. Now , Bill Wells is still skeptical of those numbers and he wants to push back on that. But , you know , keep in mind , if these people are in these hotels and sort of what they're telling them is , you know , some of these hotels , a couple of on the city said was nearly 100% full with unsheltered residents. And so they're telling them that they have to cut that to a minimum , 25%. And then Bill Wells tells us that they're working on a city ordinance that would make that 15%. So bottom line here , if this goes through , I mean , we've heard it from some people at the county , there's going to be people that are going on the streets.
S4: Well , as you mentioned , El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells has been , I guess , the most vocal critic of the number of homeless shelters in the city's motels.
S5: He says that he's basically , you know , doing what the people did to elect him.
S2: I'm not working against anybody.
S5: I'm working for the people of El Cajon. You know , people they elected me because they want me to protect their interests.
S4: There was a bit of anger associated with the county's response to Al Capone's threats to find these motels. Tell us about that.
S5: Yeah , we heard from County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher. You know , he really went after Wells here. You know , he called him a fraud and basically said it's super irresponsible , completely irresponsible for him to be doing this , saying that , you know , at the end of the day , this is only going to push people that are having shelter out onto the streets. So they see this as a just a very , very bad idea. And they're really hopeful that they can work well with the city of El Cajon to just try to , you know , go back to what it was before. And maybe that's more communication. You know , we did hear from Mayor Wells saying , you know , how come the county could've just called us and said that they're going to fill up a hotel room full of full of unsheltered residents ? And he suspects that's because they would say no. But keep in mind , the county doesn't have to get their approval to sort of do this.
S4: Now , even supervisor Joel Anderson , who represents El Cajon , he has been critical of the city's response to the motels housing.
S5: He he really has been. And I think it's I think he's frustrated in terms of , you know , he's been trying to do a lot of work out there in the East County , getting those cities to sign an MRU , you know , that are they're experiencing homelessness when people are getting just pushed to like there's like four corners of the city when it's alcohol , an Santee unincorporated county , they all , you know , diverge right there. So he's really been trying to get these cities to work together , trying to get them some more funding. And he says programs like this , you know , they work , they get people off of the streets. They work with the case manager. So they're they're trying to find them , promote supportive housing. And he just doesn't understand why it's happening this way and why they're doing it , you know , why they aren't picking up the phone and calling him directly. You know , he's sort of saying that they're communicating via press conferences , which is not a way to get things done.
S4: And meanwhile , Matt , the unsheltered people who have. Of a motel room are in the middle of this dispute.
S5: And when you say that they're caught in the middle of this , they really are , you know , because you have the political disputes going back and forth up at the top. But at the end of the day , you know , whatever the decision is , it's going to impact unsheltered residents. And when we were actually interviewing Bill Wells over there in front of one of these hotels , there was a resident out there that was overhearing that didn't agree with what he was saying. And we were able to speak with her and for her , you know , she said her name is Don Disney and she's from El Cajon , live there since 2002 became homeless in 2013. And , you know , she says that these hotel rooms are a life saver for people like her. She's actually diabetic.
S4: I had to take insulin now and you had to keep it cold. It has to be in the refrigerator.
S3: I need I can't be outside.
S4: You know , so it's just frustrating.
S5: We know another one of those is coming up later this week. But I'm sure that , you know , attorneys on all sides are sort of looking at this because , you know , you have businesses that are that are being told that they can't house these people. Some of them want to continue in this program. So I think that there's a lot to come on this. I don't think we're at the end point of this yet , Maureen.
S4: I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter Matt Hoffman. And Matt , thank you.
S5: Thanks , Maureen.
S4: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen CAVANAUGH with Jade Heineman. Airlines need to confront their significant impact on carbon emissions by embracing solutions that may up and the industry. That's the key message of a commentary in the magazine Nature from the University of California , San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. With airline travel generating a billion tons of CO2 each year , the commentary urges airlines to embrace new and untested solutions. Joining me is David Victor , professor of innovation and public policy at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy and co-author of the book Fixing the Climate. David , welcome back to the show.
S5: It's great to be back.
S4: Let's start by defining the problem as you see it.
S5: That's a big number already. And they're rising at 3% per year. So it's one of the most rapidly expanding sectors that affects the global climate. And on top of that , there's new science to suggest that not only do the air airplanes affect the climate by emitting carbon dioxide when they burn jet fuel , but they also affect the climate by making contrails , you know , those wispy white clouds that form behind aircraft as they fly at altitude. And there's some science to suggest that the contrails are having an even bigger impact on the climate than the carbon dioxide.
S4: I'm going to ask you about the contrails in just a minute or so , but I want to talk to you about the fact that there's been a lot of innovation in other aspects of power generation. We have electric cars , etc..
S5: And that's one of the reasons we wrote this commentary , is that there's been a lot of innovation in the airline business and the aircraft manufacturers , jet engine manufacturer , a lot of innovation doing things that already make economic sense , like making airplanes lighter so that they're more fuel efficient. Getting more people on the airplane so that they can make more money. And much to the chagrin of the passengers and really , airplanes are now like buses flying through the sky. So all of that's been lined up with the incentives of the industry , but that's had an impact of reducing emissions a little bit a little bit at the margin here and there , but not the really radical reductions in emissions like 80% , 90% , maybe even 100% reduction in emissions that would be needed in order to stop climate change.
S4: Your paper is critical of the two most familiar ideas that airlines have been using to mitigate their climate impact. That is , cleaner fuels and carbon offsetting.
S5: Carbon offsets are really a way to pretend that you're avoiding emissions because you in addition to causing emissions , when you burn jet fuel , you go plant some trees or protect some forests and pretend that that's had a big overall impact on the climate. Almost all the evidence suggests the carbon offsets market is just terrible. It's full , full of garbage , really sustainable aviation fuels , changing the fuel that has promise , but not for the most part with the methods that are being used right now. Right now , for example , people are growing special crops to make sustainable aviation fuel or recycling some of the oils that were used in restaurants. And that can scale a little bit. But those kinds of fuels are way less than 1% of the global fuel market , and they're going to tap out very quickly. And so there could be radical innovations. There's a local company. There are those in La Hoya that is making jet fuel from algae. And so if that scales up , that could be very , very promising. Lots of other interesting ideas. And so with big investments in innovation , changing the fuels could help. You may also need to do other kinds of things like change the whole way that aircraft are flying through the air , changed propulsion technologies from jet fuel to , for example , hydrogen in the future. And those kinds of really radical ideas are getting very little investment right now. Right.
S5: Over the short term. We could see a disruption , at least for short haul flight by simply switching from airplanes to trains. That's less of an option. The United States won't have much of a train network here , but that's a big option in Europe and it's being explored. There's been some interest in continuing what we all did during the pandemic , which is to have meetings virtually. People like to be together. So I'm not I'm pretty skeptical that's going to scale for the long term. And in some of the much more disruptive options , especially for long haul travel , involve changing the whole propulsion system. Hydrogen. I mentioned new kinds of replacements for jet fuel , and that could be very disruptive , in part because hydrogen powered aircraft actually use that example. Hydrogen powered aircraft are going to require wholly new designs , wholly new kinds of jet engines and maybe even different kinds of business models for the aviation. Business because it looks like it's going to be a lot more expensive.
S4: Let's go back to the airplane contrails you mentioned. It's somewhat an unknown factor in global warming.
S5: And one of the things we we say in the paper that came out this week in nature is that the uncertainty in the science here isn't a reason not to invest in alternatives. In fact , it's a reason to invest in a wide range of alternatives. Some of the science suggests that contrails are not a huge factor , or if they are a factor , that it may be possible to navigate airplanes around them so that around areas that make contrails and reduce the impact that way. Some other very credible studies suggest the controls now are even bigger impact on the climate than carbon dioxide for burning jet fuel. And if that's true , then we need to find ways to completely alter our flight routes , maybe to switch to other kinds of fuels , maybe even engineer some alternatives to jet fuels or switching to hydrogen , because that would then make it possible to eliminate contrail formation or radically reduce it. And that's just a huge area of uncertainty. And I think one of the challenges in dealing with this industry of the aviation industry , like actually many other industries , is that a growing number of companies know they need to do something about the problem , but they don't really know what to do. And the uncertainty becomes an extra reason to kind of avoid big investments when in reality , it's a reason why we need to invest in a lot of different , diverse solutions because we don't know which ones are going to work , which will be necessary.
S5: You've got a few airlines , the United States , United Airlines , probably most visibly , a handful of others. JetBlue , to some degree , a few airlines. The United States have said they're going to do things. And mostly what they're doing is are buying conventional fuel replacements and buying offsets. And I think what we need to have is the airlines need to team up at least the airlines that are under the strongest motivation to do something. They need to team up and invest in a wider range of solutions. And they're also going to need help from government. One of the reasons is the Europeans are way out in front of us here in the United States , and investing in some of these alternatives is that their governments are just much stronger pressure to take the climate change problem more seriously. And so they're forcing the aircraft manufacturers , for example , and some of the jet engine manufacturers and a lot of the airports to explore different kinds of alternatives. We talk in the paper about , for example , what's happening in Norway with exploration of electric powered aircraft for short haul flights. And those kinds of diverse ideas are what we need to invest in more heavily.
S5: I think people one of things we've learned in the pandemic is that people want to be together and as incomes rise , they're able to afford that travel. We need to find ways to get people together , whether it's for pleasure or for business , while not having as big an impact on the climate.
S4: And finally , can you tell us about UC San Diego's public webinar on climate change ? That's happening this Thursday.
S5: Well , thank you very much for that. So on Thursday afternoon at 3:00 , we have a webinar that's about a new book that I co-authored with Chuck Sable of Columbia University called Fixing the Climate. And it's all about how industries like the aviation industry , how industries when they face the need to do something but they don't know what to do , how they're going to address that. And that's really the central challenge for climate change. And I'll be speaking at it. We have two other professors , George Tyner from the School of Engineering , and Jennifer Burney from from School of Global Policy and Strategy , talking about what they see in their areas of climate change research. And Dean Caroline Freud , who's the dean of the Global Policy and Strategy School at UC San Diego. She'll be moderating the event. People can sign up at GPS , dot UCSD , dot edu. There's a signup form for this webinar at 3:00 on Thursday.
S4: I've been speaking with David Victor , Professor of Innovation and Public Policy at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. David , as always , thank you very much.
S5: It's always a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.
S1: The U.S. government has renamed hundreds of peaks , lakes , streams and other geographical sites on federal lands to remove a racist slur for Native American women. Here in San Diego , several landmarks have been renamed to remove the slur. Joining me to talk about the change and what it means is jolly proud fit , CSC professor and the first indigenous woman appointed to California's Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Professor Proudfoot , welcome.
S3: Thank you for having me.
S3: The term is squaw. And so going forward , let me just call it the S term , the S-word. And this term is a derogatory term that is used to describe indigenous women's genitalia. And this has been a word that we have been trying to remove from the American vernacular for decades. And when we tell people what it means and how offensive it is , they said , well , that's not what it means to me. And so we don't get to pick and choose the meaning of words. They mean what they mean. And so we're really happy to see that having a secretary of the interior that is a native woman , our first ever native person to lead the secretary of the interior is a native woman. And so she led the charge to remove this name across federal lands , which is wonderful. But it took a California Indian state legislator , James Ramos , to then put forward a bill here in California to address those state police names that also have that name in its title.
S3: And in our representation in media , in curriculum , in textbooks , in comic books. That's how we've been perceived. And so it doesn't help when you have park names and place names that further add insult to injury. So it's a step in the right direction to address the long legacy of colonization that has really done a number to impact the lives of women and girls. When you look at missing and murdered indigenous women and the fact that American Indian women , indigenous women will be raped , one in three of them will be raped by a non-native perpetrator. Those statistics are alarming. When you oversexualized a particular racial group , particular people , in this case indigenous women and girls , adding insult to injury is the place names that also look to define us by genitalia. So removing that will uplift the voices of native women and girls. And let's let's rename and reclaim spaces to honor indigenous people. If we want to honor Indigenous women and girls. Ask us what we would like to see.
S1: You just touched on this , but talk about that some more.
S3: And so it's really important for natives to be in charge of our own narrative of how we are perceived. And so if we want to move into a place of empowerment for our Native women and girls , we people have to listen to us what we want to be called. And first , things we don't want to be called a hypersexualized , rude , racist , misogynistic term. So let's just take that off the books. But then inviting us to be a part of how do we honor and recognize native women and girls ? Because the impact , the subconscious impact of racism and misogyny gets into the psyche and it starts with children. These are words that children learn in this country , the term the S-word , the term squaw. It's been a word that has been a part of the American vernacular for decades. And this is something we see in children's literature. This is something we see on the school grounds of children. Let's change the names. Let's change the racist , misogynistic terms that have been targeted at our women and girls for decades. And let's move to create a safe , working and learning environment for all of America's peoples , especially our first citizens.
S3: And acknowledgments have become all the rage , right ? They have been kind of the feel good way to open a meeting and I'm not opposed to land. Acknowledgements. In fact , I strongly encourage land acknowledgements to happen , especially when they are happening in partnership with working with local tribal communities. Because being native is being in good relations with one another , good relations with the environment. So as we're doing these land acknowledgements and we're looking to rename places and to be more inclusive of the diversity that is California or the US , then we should really look to removing those place names that are racist and offensive and hurtful and harmful. California , for example , is home to more than 140 public schools with Indian mascot names , which are really offensive because you can be a child that goes from kindergarten to high school in certain places in California and always be in a school that is an Indian mascot. So if we can rename and reclaim and look and have an eye towards inclusivity and diversity and justice and equity and a sense of belonging , we should and we should encourage to look at the state's first people , the country's first people , and really uplift the voices of native women and girls , because that hasn't happened. That really hasn't happened. And so it's a rich opportunity.
S3: Right. So changing the name of offensive , racist , misogynistic terms is a must that must happen. But the action is learning the names of the original inhabitants , learning the name of indigenous women and girls who have made enormous contributions to our daily lives , to our country , to our state. And so there's a real opportunity and to do very little to make that happen. Right. So the first step is to take down derogatory names. And then the second step is to work in partnership with our tribal communities to select names with meaning , to select names of representation that really uplift the voices of native peoples. And in this case , I would love to see places and spaces rename to honor native women and native girls. I think that would do a lot for Native women , but I think it would do a lot for all peoples to learn the rich contributions of indigenous women to this country.
S1: I've been speaking with Professor Joey Proudfoot , chair of American Indian Studies and director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at CSU. Professor Proudfoot , thank you so much for joining us.
S3: Thank you.
S4: And Canada is the birthplace of Mexican surfing. It's a rich history that many people don't know about. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis talked with two local surfers trying to preserve and spread that history.
S5: The Baja Coast has always had amazing waves. But when Ignacio Félix was growing up in Sanada during the 1960s , surfboards were a rare commodity.
S2: No surprise there isn't one , though. Animals from Canada.
S5: Got into that. Pedro Phillips says that it wasn't like it is today. And in Sanada , where surfboards are everywhere. He'd only see them whenever American tourists with boards strapped to the roof of their cars came to town. Félix was among a group of curious children who spent hours at the beach just sitting there on the sand , watching the surfers catch waves. As he grew older , Félix says , curiosity turned into a passion , and he became one of the original co-founders of the Baja Surf Club , which was the first official club in Mexican history. He remembers being totally starstruck when surfing legends he'd only seen on magazine pages came to us nada for a contest that he helped organize.
S2: We would ask for Mike Doyle to.
S5: Make Munoz a David the wearer as the Mickey Dora Yago. By the time Pete Torres first picked up a board in the 1970s , surfing was becoming more popular in Mexico , but it still had a stigma. He says that it was mostly associated with long hair , hippies and drugs.
S6: Just to my mind , we emphasize what we had to in the potato. I was somebody wearing it and we were. We stuck.
S5: Mexico has thousands of miles of coastline and several world class surf spots thanks to these natural gifts. It also has a rich surf history full of adventurers who discover new waves and evangelize the sport down the country's Pacific coast. They also fought a federal government that didn't want them around. But that rich history is not well known. Torres and his son Salazar are trying to change that. They started documenting the origins of Mexican surfing through a podcast , an Instagram page called Memorabilia , their surfing Mexicano.
S6: And that's like the main objective , you know , like to talk about surfing culture , Mexican surfing culture , and to start to give it an identity to Mexican surf because there is none.
S5: The project has taken them to famous beaches of Mazatlan , Guerrero , Oaxaca and Nayarit. They've tracked down historic photographs and interviewed the pioneers of Mexican surfing.
S6: It's amazing to see to hold the history in your hands.
S5: Torres and Salazar say that one of the most important moments in Mexican surf history happened in 1970. Félix and other members of the Baja Surf Club performed well at the 1968 World Championships in Puerto Rico. They put on a bid to host the tournament in 1970. Against all odds , they were awarded the bid ahead of surfing heavyweights like Australia and South Africa. Félix says nobody expected them to actually get the world championship. The governor of California and the mayor of Escenario just couldn't believe it.
S2: Wasn't going to get them worse.
S5: A plus. It was profoundly a lot worse than rumors that I had another one , that the event was going to put Mexican surfing on the map. But the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s was in full swing. Woodstock had just made international headlines. The Mexican government wasn't interested in a south of the border version of that chaotic scene. So they canceled the contest.
S2: We had no Mexican was equal. No canyon was contained. Now that we have that in Google and Dallas keeps the California bank any road open.
S5: Phillips says the government didn't want in Sana'a to become a campground for California hippies. That decision derailed the development of competitive surfing in Mexico. Mexican surfers would not go to another world championship until 1988 , the year Torres was on the team. Salazar says that is very important for those who live the history to tell their own stories.
S6: Americans have come a lot and made all kinds of stories about surfing in Mexico , and they tell very little about Mexicans. We feel it's important to get stories about Mexicans out there. You know , we think is very important.
S5: And their efforts are starting to pay off. Salazar and Torres helped research an article on Acapulco surf culture for the latest edition of the Surfer's Journal. They see that collaboration with one of the biggest surfing magazines in the world as recognition of the important work that they're doing with Savio Solis , KPBS News.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hutchinson with Maureen CAVANAUGH. The early days of the COVID 19 lockdowns and quarantines brought total upheaval to life as we know it , alongside the tragedy unfolding around us. Some of us spent the early days of the pandemic trying our hand at sewing cloth masks. Comedian , playwright and performer Christina Wong draws on those times in a new play named as a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in theater. Christina Wong Sweatshop Overlord is a solo show about the group of individuals Wang assembles across the country to make homemade masks to meet the urgent demand. Preview performances begin tonight at the La Hoya Playhouse , and it officially opens on Saturday. The playwright and performer Christina Wong spoke with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. And here's their conversation.
S3: So this play was inspired by your own reality in the early days of the pandemic , when masks were hard to come by. Can you walk us through at that time was like for you ? Yes. So I was actually all set to tour another show called Christina Wong for Public Office. In that particular show , I'd spent years researching and running for office and created this whole live rally that was going to tour up until the 2020 November election and shaking hands. And , you know , I'm in people's faces and suddenly I'm deemed nonessential , as all artists are. And I'm home in my underwear in Koreatown trying to figure out what to do , because I'm getting as everyone was , I was getting emails that shows are canceled , stay inside. And I so my sets and props , that's sort of a signature of my work. I've never made medical equipment before , but I saw I was tagged in an article saying that hospitals were looking for home zone masks. And I had this whole aha moment of , I'm going to sew masks , I'm going to become essential and made a very naive offer to Facebook and Instagram saying If you need a mask and your essential worker or immunocompromised , let me help you. Not realizing that everyone who's been avoiding seeing my shows for years , we'd just come out of the darkness , find me and ask for a mask. So I was overwhelmed with what seemed like a crazy number , like around 200 mask requests at that point , about four days in and was like , I need to get help. I can't do this by myself. And it's also just really hard to find materials right now because stores are closed and the stores that are open are sold out of elastic and cotton fabric. So I start a Facebook sewing group thinking , okay , this is just for three weeks until the cargo ships. I'm trying to show up with masks and the government distributes these masks. I call the group Auntie Sewing Squad. I name it in such a rush. I don't realize that our acronym is ASS and I end up having to lead this group. It's not like you just start a Facebook group and the masks show up , but there's a lot of organizing and leadership that needs to happen. And it became clear this is not just hospitals , but there are these communities in rural areas , farmworkers , indigenous communities that need these masks. So we ended up becoming a 17 month effort , and we were doing everything from relief vans to the Navajo Nation when our coat drives to the Lakota reservation , sending a lot of supplies to the border , to migrants who are arriving. And we became a network of 800 volunteer aunties across 33 states. That's what I did during my pandemic , the start of this show. And at what point did you realize that you had to make theater out of that moment ? About one month into this. People kept saying this is going to be your next show is. And I'm like , we don't even know if there's ever going to be theater again. We don't even know if there's going to be civilization like you. But this is the last thing I'm thinking about is how to make this funny. But it became so clear that what I feel like we were witnessing was a it was the strangest war. Instead of soldiers , I had a battalion of aunties and instead of machine guns , we had sewing machines. And instead of bullets , we had fabric and and thread and elastic. Right. And , and it just felt like the things I was witnessing and that the other aunties , the aunties were witnessing of this pandemic from the proximity of being , you know , someone who had just we have these skills that were passed down that could save someone's lives. It was just sort of incredible. But also , I think what I was witnessing was a very specific generosity. And I think for some people who couldn't understand that , that's why I wanted to make a show , is to really show them like , there's this moment in our history that was awful. But what I saw in this moment was this incredible generosity. I had friendships that I , I have friendships of people. I've not even met them in person yet. But I feel like so much love and respect for them because they were willing to basically , you know , put their own health at risk going to the post office , picking up materials , sewing into the night to protect people they'd never met before. And that sort of reality , that sort of invisible labor , that is sewing. I really wanted to put meaning to , and I really wanted to. I also really wanted to show that in this moment where people are so angry at Asian-Americans because they think that somehow we brought this virus here. Now , there are all these Asian-Americans who are actually stepping up and and trying to protect frontline workers , trying to keep this country safe. So for me , that's when it became very clear that there was probably a show here , because we were living in an experience that was very different than maybe a lot of people who were using the time to catch up on Netflix or going through divorces. And some of our audience went through divorces. But , you know , like it just was so specific and so worth sharing. This is a play that's also about family and particularly women. What did you want to explore with those relationships and friendships and these generational bonds when it comes to skills like this , like sewing ? I think like when we think of heroes or we think of people who are out to protect us , we think like big , strong , burly men with guns. And there is all this caretaking that happens among aunties. And to me , I love the term aunty , at least at this age in my life because I don't have children. I'm not married and it sure beats words like spinster or old maid to be called aunty by people. The term of respect. And that was sort of the gift of naming this group in a rush. Aunty Sewing Squad is there was so much pride in being called an aunty and so much of a sweetness and like I could order people around. Go , aunties. I need it so fast , please. Aunties know versus volunteers. Keep sewing right there. There's there's something much sweeter and familial about that. And it's widely believed that messaging from then-President Donald Trump led to waves of racism , hate crimes , violence towards Asian Americans like specifically his use of the term China virus. I'm wondering how you approached this in the play. So here is this terrible irony is like exactly one year from when we started sewing masks. March 2020 to March 2021 , the Atlanta spa massacre happened and it went from aunties were protecting the world with masks to we were then distributing self-defense weapons to the Asian aunties as we usually had care items like baked goods and things like this and suddenly were distributing like Coubertin's Handel arms and sharing links to self-defense classes on Zoom. And it it felt like , okay , the pandemic might be subsiding , but this racial pandemic is not. And we're sort of like left in the aftermath of we have enough to forge a new sense of protection. So that's sort of one arc that I go through in in it and this sort of terrible irony of having to go from defender to defend. But for me , the show is also that defense , right ? Because I feel like Asian-Americans are so invisible. There are moments where people would talk to us like we were just Amazon Prime , like , I want 20 Macs that look like this. And I'm like , We're in a pandemic. Stores are not open. Cannot customize masks for you right now. I don't do this professionally , you know , and and there were interactions we had that were so transactional. And I feel like so much of me wanting to do the show was to put a face on this labor and really show just how hard this was. Not because , like , we're more important than anybody else , but I think that it's important in this moment to understand that we weren't just sitting on our hands and doing nothing here where a lot of Asian Americans were stepping up. Christina , thank you so much. Oh , you're welcome. So much. Thank you.
S1: That was playwright and performer Christina Wong , speaking with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon. Evans Preview performances of Christina Wong Sweatshop Overlord Begin tonight at the La Hoya Playhouse Show Opens Saturday.