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Pageant seeks 'Miss California Extraordinaire'

 March 21, 2023 at 6:00 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Erik Anderson in for Debbie Cruz….it’s Tuesday, March TWENTY-FIRST.


A pageant for San Diego children that live with disabilities. More on that later in the show. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

The rain this week will be the heaviest today and will last through Thursday.

A flood watch is in effect through Wednesday evening for the county’s valleys and mountains due to excessive rain. Mountain areas are also under a winter storm watch until Wednesday night.

Strong winds are expected in coastal areas with gusts of up to FIFTY-FIVE miles per hour. Snow levels could reach SEVEN-THOUSAND feet today (TUESDAY), and fall to FIVE-THOUSAND feet tomorrow (WEDNESDAY.)

North County commuters will need to have patience, as CalTrans works to repair a huge sinkhole on Highway SEVENTY-EIGHT. The sinkhole was created when a culvert collapsed last week.

The culverts are between FORTY and SIXTY feet deep. Caltran’s Shawn Rizzutto fsaid those depths forced the highway lanes to close for safety reasons.

“It is a difficult culvert to get to and we wanted to make sure that we got all the voids underneath the roadway removed so we don’t have this problem in the future and we get a long life culvert. We’re expecting to get 100 years out of this culvert replacement.”                 

But in the short term, commuters who depend on Highway SEVENTY-EIGHT will have to use alternative routes for the next couple of weeks. Due to the upcoming rain, the westbound lanes will remain closed for the rest of the week and once the west bound lanes are repaired, Caltrans has announced they will close all eastbound lanes for more repairs.

A new UC San Diego Health clinic has opened in Bankers Hill. It’s offering cardiovascular care and will add primary care later this year.

The clinic will provide treatments for conditions like heart rhythm disorders, heart failure and adult congenital heart disease.

The medical director of the clinic says it will allow UCSD to expand its services and evaluate more patients in a timely fashion.

The cardiovascular clinic is two floors and has FIFTHTEEN exam rooms. While the primary care portion of the clinic has TWELVE.

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Governor Gavin Newsom wrapped up his FIVE-DAY state of the state tour yesterday.

During the tour he highlighted his major policy goals.

Newsom’s last stop was in the Imperial Valley to get an update on the progress of lithium production. The valley contains one of the largest lithium deposits in the world.

Lithium is an essential battery component in electric cars.

“We had a crazy idea signing an executive order to become the first jurisdiction in the country, only jurisdiction in the world, to require all vehicles sold in this, again, remarkable place we call home to be alternative fuel. I could not even imagine. Four or five years later, not only do we codify those goals, but you've now seen those goals advance.”

The California Energy Commission estimates there’s enough lithium in the Imperial Valley to meet all of the U-S’s projected demand and 40 PERCENT of the world’s demand.

In San Diego SUNDAY … Newsom announced a proposal to fund a major expansion of housing and treatment for residents with mental illness and addiction.

A mental health advocate tells reporter Alexander Nguyen … it’s a step in the right direction… but she worries that it won’t address all the systemic failures in mental health services.

Newsom says the plan is the next step in how California expands services for unhoused people … especially those without mental health and substance abuse disorders. He says it’s much needed … as encampments have popped up on sidewalks and under freeway overpasses throughout the state … where people experiencing mental health crises are a common sight. “We’re fooling ourselves if we don’t address that fundamental need that we can turn this thing around.” Mental health advocate Linda Mimms says the governor is heading in the right direction. “I like that these topics are being talked about. And I think that the Mental Health Services Act, which is now 20 years old, needs a rehaul.” Which is what the governor plans to do … State Senator Susan Eggman plans to introduce the ballot measure … which will also improve oversight for counties. As part of this measure … money would also be set aside to house more than TEN THOUSAND homeless veterans. The measure would go before voters on the 20-24 ballot. AN/KPBS

Twenty years ago Sunday the U.S. and its allied forces launched a “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq that would lead to more than 4,500 U.S. military and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. San Diego-based units led parts of the assault from the land and sea. Military reporter Andrew Dyer has more.

March 19, 2003, more than 460,000 U.S. and coalition forces began air strikes and the ground invasion of Iraq began the next day. It took just 26 days to achieve the war’s tactical objectives but an insurgency  would prolong the war for more than a decade. San Diego-based military units would rotate in and out of the region for the duration of the war. Greg Daddis is the director of the Center for War and Society at San Diego State. He says false assumptions by U.S. war planners added to the many challenges. 14:43:02 - 17:57:03 (14 seconds) “As we move forward as a nation, I think we have to have these uncomfortable conversations and more honest conversations about our faith in war and the limits of what we can achieve when we go to war. Almost 4,500 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq and Iraqi estimated deaths range from 150 to 500,000 killed, including civilians. Andrew Dyer, KPBS News.

This summer, there is a new pageant coming to the county.

The Miss California Extra-ordinare competition is open to contestants up to 21 years old…with some of the girls as young as pre-school age.

Education Reporter M.G. Perez introduces us to a couple of the contenders who are disabled.

“(Mom whistles to music while dancing with wheelchair)” 4-year old Remilia Joy Massella and her mother, Kirsten are dance partners. They have been for quite awhile…SOUND UP FULL (iCloud video item #27) :11-:17 “(rattling bells) come on Sis…look at you…oh my gosh.” …Mom calls her ‘sis’...most everyone else calls her ‘Remi’...she is quite the fashion plate with a smile that is ready for the runway…CG: Kirsten Massella/Mother SOT 9311 03:55:48-03:55:57 “her body works different than us. She doesn’t have words yet…she uses icons to talk and just lights up every room she walks into.” SOUNDUP FULL 9331 04:18:17-04:18:22 “You want some water? You want to eat…but you want a squeezy pouch?” Remi was born with low oxygen of the brain..she had an injury at birth which resulted in cerebral palsy…so she is differently-abled…with the love and support of her family…that also includes her dad, Aaron, and her two brothers Malachi and Emerick…along with their live in nanny and grandma who lives close by. The Massellas are a picture perfect family…ready to support Remi in what she is about to do next. SOT (Mom) 03:57:55-03:58:04 “Remi loves to dance and so we are thinking about doing a silks dance…so she can use her arms and show her ability to move and groove to the music.” Remi is registered as a contestant in the new Miss California Extra-ordinare pageant coming in July. Bree G-elz is the pageant’s founder. She is also the former Miss US…and beyond the crown she is  a mom, wife, and a speech pathology assistant who works with neuro-diverse children.  CG: Bree Goelze/Miss California Extraordinaire Founder SOT 9358 04:49:22-04:49:31 “If you have a disability…come be a part of this awesome family. It’s not just an organization.It’s not just a chance to get up on stage and look beautiful. It’s a family.” G-elz has begun holding mentor meetings and photo shoots for those girls already registered. Preparing them for a traditional formal wear competition…and the talent portion that will allow them to shine most. SETUP SOT 9341 04:37:31-04:37:38 “(Give us your best Veruca Salt) ‘I want it now! That’s the best’” 16 year old Kirra HERsh-kull is an actress and a blossoming comedian. She is also living with a traumatic brain injury she suffered when she was hit by a car crossing the street with her mother as a very young child. Kirra has always been active and persistent in shattering stereotypes of differently-abled people. CG: Kirra Hershkle/Miss California Extraordinare Contestant SOT 04:40:51-04:41:07 “It’s not reality at all. You need a good sense of humor and you have to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.” Her dad and younger sister are also part of the family support system nurtured by her mother who is her biggest cheerleader…CG: Amber Hershkle/Mother SOT 9340 04:32:01-04:32:07 “just help her through the hard parts and celebrate through the good.” Led by the legacy of its founder, the first Miss California Extra-ordinaire pageant in July will have beauty and talent…and so much more. SOT (Bree) 9358 04:50:29-04:5040 “society sees a wheel chair…society sees a handicap…a disability…and this pageant is going to allow our society to see what’s under all of this.” Meanwhile, in the Massella household…there is hope for the future …and plenty of JOY …which, remember, is Remi’s middle name…SOT (Kirsten) 9311 04:02:13-04:02:19 “I can’t imagine that life would be as rich without the blessings and the lessons that these kids are teaching us.” This is an education that everyone involved will learn by heart. MGP KPBS News

Coming up.... A new novel gives a voice to the often-ignored women of the Vietnam War. We’ll have that story and more, next, just after the break.

The author of “Dust Child” will be in San Diego today (TUESDAY) to discuss the new novel. The book gives voice to the often-invisible women of the Vietnam War and to the mixed race children some women had with American troops. Arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (wee-en fahn kway my. Audio of pronunciation here) ahead of the event.

BETH ACCOMANDO Quế Mai, before we start discussing your new book, Dust Child, I did want to ask you to talk a little bit about your own personal background.NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI So I was born and grew up in Vietnam. So when I was little and living in Southern Vietnam, some of the children in my neighborhood were mixed race children, born and abandoned during the war. So I saw how they were bullied and had empathy for them. But my family had moved from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, so I myself was considered an outcast. I wanted to speak up about the Amerasians, the mixed race children, but I didn't dare to, so I was always very curious about them. So I think that was the seed of my novel, Dust Child. So then in 2015, I read an article that moved me very deeply about this American veteran who came back to Vietnam when he was in his early 70s. He walked the street of the streets of Saigon with an album of old photos, the photos of him and his former Vietnamese girlfriend because he was back looking for her, and he wanted to find her, to be able to meet his responsibility as a father. So then I realized the need of American veterans to find their lost children and the needs of Amerasians to find their parents. So I started to volunteer to help them reconnect, and I witnessed so many incredible stories that compelled me to write this novel. Dust Child. BETH ACCOMANDO And Dust Child gives voice to a number of different kinds of people, including these kind of invisible women of Vietnam and to the Amerasian children. So what did you want to tackle by kind of giving us this mix of characters? NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI  So, as a writer, I wanted to find projects that uncover untold stories that offer us the lessons from the past. I think the more difficult the histories, the more we can learn from them. And I think looking at the difficulties which have been experienced by Amerasians and their parents, I told myself I needed to research about them and document their experiences to be able to reflect for myself what this could mean for the future. Because I researched into literature which has been written about Amerasians in Vietnam as well as their parents. And I didn't find a single book that documents comprehensively the Amerasians experiences in Vietnam as well as of their parents. So I wanted to include the voices of fathers of Amerasians, why they had walked away from their children, mothers of Amerasians, the difficult decisions they had to make when they abandoned or gave away their children, and the experiences of Amerasians who grew up in Vietnam, who were called children of the enemy. As we speak today. There are still tens of thousands of them out there looking for their parents. And I know many American veterans who are looking for their children as well, and as well as the mothers who are trying to search for their kids, and they don't even know if their children are alive. BETH ACCOMANDO Two themes that kind of came up for me are the ideas of guilt and forgiveness. And that seems very strong in a lot of these characters. NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI Oh, yes. All of my characters experience guilt and they are searching for forgiveness, not just from others, but from themselves. And I think with wars and conflicts, people were pushed into making decisions that they would not normally do. So then they feel guilty afterwards. And it takes years of reflection to be able to forgive oneself. And I think to be able because sometimes people refuse to acknowledge their past wrongdoings. And I think to be able to forgive and move on, you have to reconcile with your past. Right. No one is perfect. I grew up in Vietnam. I have witnessed that sense of guilt in most people that I see people who are no more, mothers and fathers who were pushed into making decisions that they had to make to be able to save their families. And I mean, it's not an easy decision. And then years later, they have to forgive themselves or seek for forgiveness from their children. BETH ACCOMANDO I want to thank you very much for talking about Dust Child.NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI Thank you so much for having me on the program.

TAG: That was Beth Accomando speaking with author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (wee-en fahn kway my. Audio of pronunciation here). She will be at Point Loma Assembly this evening to discuss her new book “Dust Child.”

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org.

Come back tomorrow to hear about what San Diego scientists learned from samples from a lake under Antarctica's massive ice cap.

I’m Erik Anderson. Thanks for listening and have a great Tuesday.

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The new Miss California Extraordinaire Pageant, which aims to give "contestants with disabilities an experience of a lifetime," launches in July. Then, Gov. Gavin Newsom wrapped up a five-day tour of the state to highlight major policy goals in place of the usual State of the State address. And 20 years ago, the U.S. and allied forces launched an invasion of Iraq that would lead to more than 4,500 American military deaths and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.