Local border crossings see surge in Ukrainian asylum-seekers
S1: Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing war with Russia and hundreds are coming through San Diego.
S2: And I think the numbers are over a thousand now , but there are more coming every day.
S1: I'm Andrew BOE and Maureen CAVANAUGH and Jade Hyneman are away. This is KPBS Midday Edition. As those Ukrainians make their way to family and friends elsewhere in the country , a local church in Chula Vista has become a rest stop.
S3: Many of them have seen such horrible things and a lot of them will carry with them the scars of war. And it's really heartbreaking.
S1: San Diego's temporary homeless shelters are looking less temporary by the day , and a new play uses Afrofuturism to explore who among black Americans is owed reparations. That's ahead on Midday Edition. As Russia's war in Ukraine continues to rage , Ukrainians continue to seek a safe haven elsewhere. More than 4 million Ukrainians have now fled their country due to Russia's ongoing invasion , according to the United Nations. And local border crossings have felt the surge of Ukrainian refugees in recent days , along with a swell of volunteers as well. Here to give us a picture of how things look now in and around Tijuana is Gustavo Solis , investigative border reporter for KPBS. Gustavo , welcome.
S2: Hello and thank you , Andrew.
S2: You'll hear people say several hundreds to over a thousand. I think the numbers are over a thousand now. But there are more coming every day and you hear it through different sources , too. I was talking to somebody for a story about music and they talked about how they flew from Mexico City to Tijuana , and there were 15 Ukrainian nationals on that flight. So the numbers are getting so big that it is kind of difficult to to ignore on the ground. If you just cross the border , San Isidro and even Atatu , you will see growing migrant camps that are made up of mostly Eastern European refugees.
S2: The reason they're coming all the way over here instead of what you would normally think would be the more straightforward route which is go to Eastern or Western Europe , rather , and stay there , is that they have family and friends in the United States who they're in constant communication with and they want to connect to. So that kind of explains the longer journey. It's also interesting in that they just they have money , right ? They can afford plane tickets. They can stay in hotels , even pool their resources and buy used cars. In some cases is very different from the type of migration we're used to seeing from Central Americans and people from the interior parts of Mexico who work , go on buses , even climb on board the notorious train called La La Bestia. Just economically wise , financial wise , this is a different class of migrants that we're seeing right now.
S2: Volunteers in Tijuana first say that Ukrainians are waiting about a day and a half in Mexico before they're allowed to cross. Once they cross , it reportedly takes Customs and Border Protection merely a few hours to process them and let them into the United States. And it's worth pointing out that this is vastly different treatment than asylum seekers have been getting at our border for the last couple of years. Well , A , we have people who have waited literally years to cross while the Ukrainians are waiting a day and a half. Also , once they're crossed , their stories as recently as last week of Haitian families who are in CBP custody awaiting processing for 8 hours , 12 hours up to a day in these infamously called holding cells that are nicknamed the walrus or ice boxes while they're waiting to process. So on both ends , right. Just to get in there waiting longer and to be processed , they're waiting longer than the Ukrainian nationals.
S2: There's some coordination between U.S. border officials , Mexican border officials , the migrants themselves and volunteers on the ground. But it's essentially a list. It's a physical , handwritten wait list that migrants put their name on. And every morning or every night , U.S. border officials will tell Mexican border officials how much room they have for people , and then they'll decide how many names they can pull from that list.
S1: The Biden administration announced last Friday that it is going to rescind Title 42 next month.
S2: It allows border officials to turn away asylum seekers at the border , and the stated reason is to limit the spread of COVID 19. But it's become really clear in the last couple of weeks that it's really about border enforcement and preventing people from entering the country illegally through the asylum process. And a lot of what we're seeing at the border is kind of attributed to Title 42 , right , from an uptick in apprehensions to illegal crossings , even just to the amount of migrants currently living in Mexican border cities. It's all tied down to Title 42. Now , it is worth mentioning that just this morning , attorneys generals from three different states sued the Biden administration over the announcement that they were getting rid of Title 42. So it's slated to be removed on May 23rd , but it's subject or could be subject to lead litigation. So it's kind of up in the air right now.
S1: I know you have a story coming out on that later this week.
S2: Even just the optics of black and brown migrants from from Haiti and Honduras are being turned away while white migrants from Ukraine are getting in. It's really difficult to reconcile just that at the border and then just the experiences , not just from who gets them , but the treatment they have in Tijuana. I mean , Haitians have faced discrimination just based on the fact that they don't speak Spanish very well. And the fact that they're black is really hard to reconcile. But I want to be clear on this. At least with the migrants I've spoken to , there's no no one saying Ukrainians are undeserving of their preferential treatment that they're getting right. No one's upset or resentful of the fact that Ukrainians fleeing the war are getting in. They are happy for them , but they just want the same treatment. At the end of the day , this is an equity issue. And it's difficult to understand why one group gets access , but another doesn't. They're saying , you know , every asylum seeker , by definition a Sikh , is fleeing horrible circumstances back home. And they just want the same shot at due process that the Ukrainian nationals are getting right now.
S1: I've been speaking with KPBS investigative border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , thank you so much for joining us.
S2: Oh , no problem. Thanks for having me , Andrew.
S1: And you. As an increasing number of Ukrainian refugees flee the ravages of war in their home country. Some are finding temporary respite here in San Diego , thanks to the efforts of a local church. Calvary San Diego Church located in Chula Vista , has become a hub for Ukrainian seeking asylum , a place where weary families can stop , rest , enjoy a meal and plan their next move. One refugee named Sergei described through the help of a translator how much these small gestures meant to him and his family during a time of crisis.
S2: It's really helpful. It's beyond he can explain his words because they left standing hours of bombing. They just grab necessary think for a day or so and the help they receive it's. It's undescribable. And as his feelings are overwhelmed.
S1: KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado joins us now with more. Kitty , welcome back to the program.
S3: Thank you , Andrew.
S3: You pull up , it's a church , but it's also a school. So there's children playing in playgrounds and walking around to their next class. But there's a building reserved that's right by the street. And that has become like the little building where everyone goes. Cars can pull up people in this case , the Ukrainian migrants get out and it's already set up big easy up tents with tables and chairs underneath. There's food. There are people eating , little kids doing crafts. It's a really happy atmosphere and really organized.
S3: And when he came back , he said he immediately began leading the church in prayer. So this was a couple of months before. And then when he realized there were people starting to come over , he took it upon himself to organize pickups from the border and make the temporary shelter there. Calvary , San Diego. And it's close to the border. It's about 10 minutes. So I think that has a big role to play in the fact that people are finding it really easy to get there from the border and stay there.
S3: They get warm meals. They help connect them with family members or friends so they can make their way to their other temporary destination pretty quickly. And it's really impressive. They have interpreters there to make it a lot easier , and it's almost like a triage place where they can get the immediate necessities they need and people can find out where they're going and get them the help they need pretty quickly.
S3: That's what the pastor tells me. And on Friday , they had already helped about 1200 people. And I assume that it's a lot more now.
S3: They really don't know and they're taking it day by day. Many of them do have family and friends that they're going to their homes , they're going to stay there a little while. But after that , they don't know. I met someone who was going to Sacramento , another one going to Denver. So it really depends on where their connections are. And this place really helps them to to connect with those families and they give them rides to the airport or whatever they need to get there.
S1: I imagine a lot of these folks arriving from Ukraine are carrying a lot of trauma with them. You spoke with a few. We heard from one through a translator just a few minutes ago.
S3: Many of them have seen such horrible things. One mother said that her son was so traumatized by the constant shelling that he was nervous and jumpy. And many of them have lived in basements and underground shelters for a while , and many of them saw their neighbors killed or tortured. One woman said a bomb fell on her neighbor's home and he died and his pregnant wife survived. And she was really traumatized by that. She couldn't stop crying. And a lot of them will carry with them the scars of war. And it's really heartbreaking.
S1: You write that this region is , of course , a long way from Ukraine.
S3: And all of them say that they fled with whatever they could grab. One told me they used to have such a beautiful life there and overnight that all changed. It's a really long journey. A father tells me they left their home in February and crossed the border with Ukraine to Poland and they stayed there about a week. Then from there they went to Germany , stayed there a couple more weeks , and then made their way to the border here. Now , they told me they were going to Denver to stay with friends , and so they're probably there now because when I met them on Friday , they were leaving to to head to Denver.
S1: You mentioned earlier you spoke with the church's lead pastor about the situation. Did he anticipate that this church would be addressing the needs of so many refugees ? No.
S3: When I asked him that , he laughed and he said that at first he thought it would be about 50 people or so. And then after the thousands came through there , he was just stunned by the volume and the families that belong to the church there. They're also helping and they're hosting families in their homes. And it's it's a lot of people. But no , he never imagined it would be that many.
S1: Katie , what role is. This church playing and connecting refugees with more long term services and resources.
S3: That has been really difficult. They are taking this upon themselves , but it's really clear that they do need help. The county and city get stuck sometimes because of status. You know , are they refugees ? Are they asylum seekers ? Because the resources that they're given to help people can't be used until they're placed in a category. And I know the county did reach out after I was there. I connected them with a county representative because the pastor said , no one has reached out to me and this is a lot bigger than we anticipated. But they did call right away , so that gave me hope. But it's really frustrating. When I was asked by the county what was their status if I knew and you know , I don't know. I didn't ask people , you know , are they officially refugees or asylum seekers ? But I told them I just know that they need help. And so if you have time to volunteer or donate to this church for this offer or know Ukrainian and Russian , you are desperately needed. So contact the church and hopefully the county and the city surrounding cities can pitch in and help this church that's really taken this upon themselves.
S1: I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado. Kitty , thanks for your reporting on this.
S3: Thank you so much.
S1: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Andrew Bowman. Homelessness now ranks as the number one concern among San Diego residents , and housing affordability ranks number two. That's according to a recent opinion poll reported on by Voice of San Diego. Homelessness can seem like an intractable problem , but local authorities are trying to do what they can to at least give people a bed and a roof over their heads. Last week , a downtown homeless shelter got renewed for another year , and plans are in the works to open a new shelter outside downtown. Joining me with more on these updates is KPBS health reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt , welcome. Andrew.
S1: Let's start with this downtown shelter , so give us some details.
S2: People who have driven by that area might notice that it's typically been an area where there's a lot of tents , a lot of people who are unsheltered are staying in that area. And this shelter , we know that it's run by the Alpha Project. They're the ones that are getting this contract renewal. They're a large , very large homeless service provider here in San Diego. And we know that they have about 140 beds there. And we know that that's the expectation coming up in this new contract as well.
S2: Now , when they first gave Alpha Project the contract there back in 2019. It's interesting. It's the same thing. $3 million. Hmm.
S1: Hmm. Interesting. So these bridge shelters were first set up all the way back in 2017 during the hepatitis A outbreak , which , of course , hit the homeless community very hard. And they were really meant to be a temporary stopover for people while they waited for permanent housing. But here we are several years later , and these shelters don't seem all that temporary anymore.
S2: You know , obviously , people looking at the homeless situation. They argue that it hasn't gotten any better. And we know that there's still people that that need these shelter beds. And the mayor of San Diego , Todd Gloria , he said that he wants to keep these shelters open. But you make an interesting point. You know , these were always supposed to be temporary solutions. They were brought about by then San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer , and they never had any long term funding associated with it. It was always this one time pools of money , whether it be from grants from the federal government or the state government. And we're still sitting in that position again a few years later , Andrew , in this contract that they just came into with Alpha Project to keep the shelter open that they say that they need to have open in the city of San Diego. They say that these one year renewal options are only going to happen contingent on funding being available. So money's still an issue for these shelters that we know can be expensive to operate.
S1: And tell us about the plans for this new shelter outside downtown. Who will be operating that and what are some of the details there ? Yeah.
S2: So right now , the city of San Diego does not have any large shelter that operates outside of the downtown core. We know that they they opened , along with the county , a similar partnership , that smaller shelter for those with substance abuse issues. That's right there along Sports Arena Boulevard , not far from where they want to put this new shelter that's at the county health complex. That's along. ROSECRANS They're in the Midway area , and that's said to be at maximum 150 beds. But it's going to be very similar to these shelters that San Diegan are familiar with , the ones that you've seen on 16th and Newton. This one here , that's on 17th and Imperial. It's going to be that same big sprung tent shelter. So the idea there obviously is going to be temporary. It's going to be in the parking lot of that county facility.
S1: You covered the city's attempt to clean up a large homeless encampment in the Midway District a few weeks ago.
S2: Now , they say that they typically do that , and the only reason that they weren't doing that for a while , because these shelters that we're talking about weren't weren't taking intakes because of COVID outbreaks. They say that that has since gone away. Then they started moving in there and cleaning up the area , you know , writing citations for people for illegal lodging encroachment and going along with this fine schedule that they have that sort of escalates as they move along. We've seen a lot of people leave that area , but we've still seen a lot of people staying in that area. I mean , the fact of the matter is , in recent years , the last couple of years , the Midway area , a lot of homeless residents have have gone there. Whether that be because they've been pushed out of other areas , you know , we can't really say.
S1: Lastly , Matt , the leaders of four of San Diego's main homeless service providers wrote a joint. OP ed in Voice of San Diego last week. And they are raising the alarm about burnout among the social workers and the case managers who keep all of these shelters running. What are they asking for and what's the problem they're identifying ? Yeah.
S2: So these service providers who do a lot of the city's homeless outreach , a lot of the cities are operating their actual shelters. You know , they're saying a lot of times these frontline workers , they're often hailed for their for their jobs , but they have this really high burnout. They're not getting paid the wages that they want to. So these providers are calling on the city and the county to invest more in these frontline staff , you know , ensure that they're paid living wages. They keep up with the cost of living. I will say , though , it is interesting here , as we talked about sort of up at the top Alpha Project when they bid this shelter to operate it at 17th and Imperial. Three years ago , they bid it for $3 million a year. Now , here we are three years later and they're bidding it for $3 million a year again as well. So , you know , some of that conversation is it are the providers themselves keeping up with the pay inflation , the cost of living ? Or does the ball go to the to the cities in the counties to figure out ways to pay these people more ? I think that's a definitely an interesting conversation.
S1: I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt , thanks for joining us.
S2: Thanks , Andrew.
S1: Across California , people have built lives tied to the land , but those lives and that land are now changing as sea levels rise. Oppressive heat makes outdoor labor hazardous , and wildfires destroy entire neighborhoods and towns. What you'll be hearing next is an excerpt from a California newsroom special called Climate Costs The High Price of Climate Change for California Communities. Reporter Cory Cline of Cave PR in Fresno brings us the story about the communities and people who are being asked to bear the costs of climate change. Often with little support.
S4: People like Alex Cozens from the town of Weaverville in the northwestern corner of the state. Alex works in the local sawmill.
S2: You know , it used to be a land based economy. You know , timber. It's moved , trying to make it somewhat of a recreational based economy , building new mountain biking trails , taking advantage of the lake when there's water in it in the river , you know , fly fishing and salmon fishing. I kind of think of it as a community , a place. We're not all going to the same church. We're not all going to the same school. We're not even in the same circle. But everybody who's there has a connection to the land.
S4: He points to wildfire and to drought and to the state's responsibility to balance the needs of now with the needs of tomorrow.
S2: Climate changed. It's already changed. We're already it's we're there. And so I think now we need to just deal with what are we going to do today and what are we going to do ten years down the road ? 15 years down the road , you know , so that our kids are happy.
S4: And it's not just Alex. Across the state , lives and livelihoods are under threat as climate change upends agriculture , energy , tourism and a way of life. So we begin our show today by asking What does the state have to offer ? To find out , I called up Wade Crowfoot , secretary of California's Natural Resources Agency.
S2: A lot of rural economies in California have continued to struggle , and that includes local governments. Targeted investment is required in to California's rural community in the age of climate change.
S4: We've also heard from a number of small communities that they feel that they don't have , you know , the lobbying or grant writing resources that their big city counterparts do.
S2: And we recognize that these investments historically have been inequitable spread around California. Historically , some of the larger , more wealthy local governments are more well positioned to compete for grants , for example. So we're working to redress this.
S2: We need to strengthen tribal partnerships. We recognize that California tribes have been stewarding our lands since time immemorial and that it's this wisdom that we need as we face some of these most acute challenges from climate change. So we are focused on identifying where we can return lands to tribes that were part of ancestral territories , where we can create co-management agreements to share the stewardship of our natural resources , and where we can help build capacity for smaller tribes to actually play a greater role in the stewardship of these lands that they've been able to play in recent decades.
S2: And if we do that , we not only address broadly climate resilience , but we tackle this problem of inequality inequity that we have in the state.
S4: As we move forward into the future here in California , you know , what are some efforts and initiatives that give you hope ? You know , specifically in rural California.
S2: I'm encouraged every week in my job because I see solutions that are being deployed on the ground across California , not only to reduce pollution and achieve our goal of carbon neutrality , in other words , an economy that can run without this carbon pollution , but also to protect people and nature from the impacts of climate change. We know that this challenge of catastrophic wildfires is not going away , and we know that there's more that we need to do across the different landscapes , including in the forest , to actually reduce small fires from becoming very large. So this includes these fuel breaks I've talked about , but also ecologically based thinning projects that. Restore forest health. There are solutions happening across the state. It's just a matter of scaling them up and helping everybody participate.
S4: Well , Wade Crowfoot is California's natural resources secretary. Thank you so much for the conversation today.
S2: Thank you , Carrie.
S4: California officials pride themselves on being progressive when it comes to the environment , so it can be easy to forget that the state is still one of the top ten oil producers in the country , and our richest oil fields are in the middle of the state in Kern County. And so as lawmakers in Sacramento start moving away from petroleum production , what will happen to the rural towns literally built on oil ? I traveled to Kern to find out. It's a Friday night in Taft , a small city perched in the dusty hills southwest of Bakersfield. And there's a standoff in front of the old Fox Theater. Think cowboy boots and ten gallon hats and a sheriff's posse wearing Gold Star shirt.
S5: Let's make sure those guys aren't sneaking in on us anywhere around here.
S4: The tension builds , then.
S2: Let's get a ball.
S4: The bullets are blank , of course. And the whole shootout is a game.
S6: Put your hands up. Put your guns down.
S4: It's a preview , in fact , of an old West themed festival that happens here in October. Bryan Sammons playing the sheriff.
S5: But it's just a really good time for everybody to get together and promote the town's history and the oil industry.
S4: The festival is called Oil Dorado because 100 years ago this city was built on top of Midway Sunset , the state's most productive oil field. And today , the economy is still built on oil. Walk down the street from black gold brewing company and you'll hit monuments of drilling equipment on every corner and a replica pump jack outside the best western. Locals feel everything here owes its existence to the stuff.
S2: It made me who I am. I grew up here. Oil raised my family , gave me an education.
S4: It's in your toothbrush. It's in your floss , in your basketballs , in your soccer balls.
S2: Oil means everything. Oil is a way of life.
S4: That's public relations expert Chris Lowe , dental hygienist Julie Leeb and Josh Bryant , a city council member and school district executive , all downtown for the show. But the future of oil is murky. In order to reduce climate forcing emissions , Governor Gavin Newsom has promised no in-state oil and gas production period by 2045. And locals are worried , including Renee Hill. Taft is very upset by what's going on in Sacramento. Hill used to be on the city council. Now she sells antiques and flowers on the main drag. She loves this town of 9000. I'm a tough girl. My dad was a doctor here.
S6: I grew.
S4: Up here. But a future without oil , that might be progress for the climate. But it's hard for Hill to imagine Taft will shrivel. I mean , I can't fathom what we'll do for ourselves. It's not just the billions of dollars in county revenue , the tens of thousands of well-paying jobs , or even the millions in oil property taxes that fund Taft schools. Standing at a massive bronze statue of an oil derrick downtown. Taft Mayor Dave Knorr points out that oil companies support community events and workers mentor high school students.
S6: The producers.
S2: And the companies that are a part of it are much more than. Employers.
S2: They're community partners , and they have their fingerprints on every beneficial program that takes place in this valley , as well as in this community.
S4: Many feel California needs the industry going forward , including Les Clark , who , let's just say , isn't very fond of Newsom.
S7: I call him governor a nuisance.
S4: He's a longtime oil oilman in Taft who now leads the Independent Oil Producers Alliance.
S7: I don't like it rhetoric. I think it's foolishness for people to think that they're going to do away with fossil fuel.
S4: Fred Homes , the owner of a small oil producer , argues that ditching California's petroleum is just NIMBYism. We'll be exporting the industry , he says , to countries with fewer environmental protections and civil rights.
S2: As citizens , including yourself , we're not going to give up our energy. Are you going to give up your energy ? You know you're going to support Saudi Arabia.
S4: Did you know Kern is also the state's largest producer of renewables ? It's home to a quarter of our solar and more than half of our wind power. But as Noor told me later from his office , those solar and wind farms just don't create as many jobs as oil and gas.
S2: That lip service about replacing the jobs that are being lost is just that it's lip service. Those jobs and the economic impact to local communities are just as intermittent as the energy they produce.
S1: That was reporter Carrie Kline of Cave PR in Fresno. To hear more of the program , climate costs , the high price of climate change for California communities. Go to PBS.org. Frequent moves are normal for members of the US military. That means uprooting every 2 to 3 years , sometimes even more often. The Pentagon says the constant shuffling of troops is necessary to meet its staffing and training needs. But as Eric Schmidt reports for the American Homefront Project , it creates hidden challenges for military families.
S6: The military moves its members around a lot. Maria Reid has made six of them in the past 19 years with her two children and husband. A first sergeant in the Army stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. She says it was tough to adjust to , especially the first ones.
S4: I was deer in the headlights , like , what do you mean , we're moving in 30 days ? Wait , wait. We've got to start all over our whole life.
S6: Reid says she would get a bit overwhelmed trying to coordinate every aspect of a move beyond just packing everything up. She says she often spends hours learning as much as she can about the place her family will move to next. Neighborhoods.
S4: Neighborhoods. School districts.
S6: Sarah Meadows is a senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation. She says military families with children face an additional set of obstacles with every move.
S4: One is the education piece. The other is sort of the medical piece.
S6: Meadows says these challenges are amplified for military families who have kids that need additional support.
S4: They need a specific kind of physician.
S6: She's moved about five times in the six years she's been married to a pilot who's now stationed at Scott Air Force Base near Saint Louis. Steele says the Air Force considers her family's specific medical needs when moving them because they're in the military's Exceptional Family Medical program.
S4: So they won't even give us an assignment unless the base where we'll be going has checked and believes that there's people in the community that can handle our situations.
S6: But she says this doesn't mean her son's doctors have been close by. Like when they move to Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.
S4: People in the community said that there was good access to like physical therapy for my son. And it turned out that that physical therapy was an hour away. Through California traffic.
S6: They now live on the corner of a quiet cul de sac in O'Fallon , Illinois , and much closer to the specialists. Her older son needs to see here.
S4: We live one block away purposely.
S6: There are other ways the military has tried to lessen the burden of frequent moves. The Army has a high school stabilization program , which delays a family's move until their child graduates. Maria Reid and her husband were allowed to stay at Fort Hood until both her daughter and son finish high school.
S4: We were so lucky. It's such a blessing academically and socially.
S6: But Reid says it does come with a downside.
S4: We knew when we got high school stabilization for our daughter that my husband was going to have to do an unaccompanied tour in Korea. It's kind of the tradeoff.
S6: Reid says she's grateful her family has stayed put for the past five years and adds longer. Stays at a single post would make life much easier for military families. It's a solution Kathy Roth Duke agrees with. She's the CEO and founder of Blue Star Families , a nonprofit that supports military and veteran families. She says the military could also help by giving families more notice and time to plan. Each time they have to move.
S3: People are often moving with less than a month's notice , sometimes with days notice. That's enormously disruptive. If we don't have an emergency going on , there is no reason why we can't do a better job planning out six months , nine months even before the family moves.
S6: She says that would also help military families address some of the many other challenges. Frequent Move Spring. I'm Eric Schmid in Saint Louis.
S1: That story was produced by the American Homefront Project , a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Andrea Bohn. Last week , a California task force exploring reparations for black people in the state made a pivotal decision. The group decided to limit eligibility for reparations only to those who can trace their lineage to free and enslaved black people living in the U.S. during the 19th century. Who's entitled to reparations is the theme of Darren Kennedy's play titled Reparations. The playwright uses Afrofuturism to imagine a time when technology allows people to access their blood memories to prove that their ancestors were victims of state sponsored violence. His play explores one woman's attempt to seek compensation for the lynching of her relatives. KPBS arts reporter Beth ACCOMANDO speaks with a playwright who's part of San Diego Rep's month long Black Voices Reading series.
S4: Darren , you are part of this year's San Diego Rep Black Voices Reading Series.
S6: Developing new work is always a challenge. And but it's it's there's the challenge portion of it. And then there's the the fun and the exploration and the the excitement of getting new artists onto breathing life into your work. And it's vital work. And so it's so important that there are institutional theaters and organizations who are willing to make that investment in bringing marginalized voices , bringing new work to the fore , because that's how we keep theater alive and that's how we make sure that live performance is speaking to our moment , speaking to audiences now , and putting them in a place where they can speak across time and space , which is important.
S4: And for the San Diego rep , you are doing a play called Reparations. So explain what this is about.
S6: You know , reparations is both a play that comes from kind of some of the worlds that I love to explore. But it's also a play that stretches me to places that I don't normally go to. So it's a little bit of an intersection. It's set in the near future , and it imagines a time in which we have developed a technology that allows people to access their blood memories. And so the main character , Rory , takes up the state of Oklahoma on an offer that if you can prove that you're if you can use this new technology to prove that your ancestors were the victims of state sponsored violence , that the government of Oklahoma will provide reparations. And so Rory decides to apply the piece , really explores Midwestern racial identity , how legacy can actually be experienced in a visceral way , perhaps even written into our genes. And this notion of both trauma , joy , survival , but beyond survival , what does it look like to thrive was it looked like to actually have not just trauma , but also have dreams passed down. And so these are all sort of the things that kind of got thrown into the into the stew and into the mix of exploring Rory and her relationship to her family. And and like so many things , you know , she discovers things that she wasn't told about that cause that nearly threatened to actually tear apart many of the central relationships to her and her world , but also push her to a place of greater understanding and hopefully greater connection by the end.
S4: And this play involves some Afrofuturism , which is something that kind of got on the mainstream radar because of something like Black Panther hitting theaters.
S6: But I do think that as someone who appreciates it , what Afrofuturism and reparations represent that I do love is making sure that we think about blackness in a future 80 sense , and not just in an ancient sense or a sense of only trauma. Afrofuturism , amongst the many things that it does , says , you know , that that racialized reality and cultural specificity has a place in our imagination and it has a place in how we view the future and that we need to think about cultural specificity in that way. Particularly , obviously , blackness and our notion of temporality should be made complex. It's not linear. We loop back , we circle in and we zoom forward and we swing back and we can touch in in sort of spiritual and social ways , those things that maybe our ancestors touched and dreamed , and we might be carrying that with us. And what are we doing that might be carrying forward that that makes that temporal space sometimes messy , right ? Yes. And sometimes traumatic. But also , it gives us this way of swinging , like I said , swinging forward with some with some hope , with some optimism and with some strength that I think sometimes sometimes gets obscured. And it's but it's there. It's so there.
S6: Part of Rory's journey in the piece is accessing the memories of some of her older relatives , some who are still alive , like her grandmother , Billie Mae , but some men , most of whom have passed on. And she discovers some things that she didn't know and that are that are hurtful. But I was challenged within those spaces of discovering something hurtful to to craft a few things that actually spoke to love. One of one of had someone who would essentially be her cousin has an imagined letter that he sends to Troy's grandmother. Billie Mae aspect. There's no coming back from what I did. I know what folks must think of me. But I swear to God , Billy , I never meant to hurt you. And there's folks saying best about you on account of me. I'd kick the asses six weeks from Tuesday. I would never hurt you. Never cause , you know , kind of pain. You never come to see me , though ? I waited and I waited. I waited for your face. And when your face didn't come , I started making it up and seen it everywhere. So hovering over the cinderblocks and Marcell at night. Some fellows jump me in the yard and there was blood swimming across my eyeballs. And I saw your face when I passed out. I scratched what I could remember of you into the wall with a broken piece of glass. What your peach cobbler smelled like. That your skin is honey brown. Not just plain brown. I want to tell you these things , because I think nobody thinks there's a human in here anymore. I got my papers and I'm out. But I ain't free. I can't shake this rumor loose. Can't shake George. Can't shake you. It's like something tied my soul down here. You feel that , too , Billy ? You never gone to Chicago ? Did my mom curse you too ? On the nights. I wasn't thinking about you. I thought about her. Love cannot be burned. It can't be slaughtered and hung on a tree. And what we have. Is love. There you go.
S4: Well , I want to thank you very much for talking about reparations.
S6: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about reparations.
S1: That was KPBS Beth ACCOMANDO. Speaking with playwright Darren Kennedy. Reparations will be presented online on April 11th through San Diego Rep's Black Voices Reading Series.