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Lonny Shavelson


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AIDS Photographs

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Pierre Nadeau

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John Chidester

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Needle Park, Zurich

Sunday in the Park:
The world’s foremost free-needle experiment is clean, but not tidy.
Mother Jones, February, 1990

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Acupuncture for Drug Withdrawal

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Poisoned Lives
Stories from Toxic California

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A Village of Second Chances

In the backwaters of Mexico, disabled people are living lives of substance

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Punch. July 1, 1990

PHOTO: People with disabilities help each other move around the village.

The tiny and remote village of Ajoya, Mexico, is at the cutting edge of rehabilitation for disabled people in developing countries.

Ajoya is a poor and dusty town in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. It’s the last place you’d expect to walk the rough path to the river and be joined by people on crutches, kids limping along in casts, adults strolling on artificial legs.

It’s tempting to say that Ajoya’s connections with Stanford University and San Francisco’s Shriner’s Hospital explain how this happened. But the truth is that the people of Ajoya led the way, while the U.S. organizations watched and learned.

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Elephant Seal Mating, Breeding and New Pups.
Año Nuevo, California

February, 2005. Photographs for Zuma Press

Northern elephant seals come ashore to mate and give birth from early December through March. Pregnant females come ashore to pup and nurse, before mating and returning to the sea. Pups remain behind through March basking in the sun, learning to swim in the intertidal zones. 

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Appalachia, 1971

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Axis Dance Company:
Redefining Dance & Disability

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Chabad-Lubavich, Berkeley

Following its inception 250 years ago, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—a branch of Hasidism—swept through Russia and spread in surrounding countries. Today, the philosophy of Chabad-Lubavitch has reached almost every corner of the world.

Chabad-Lubavich Purim

March 17, 2003. Berkeley, California

From Ask the Rabbi: Everything we do on Purim is super-exaggerated… the entire neighborhood becomes one big party. So why is this celebration crazier than any other celebration?… It’s a breaking out of your box, just like the experience of standing at Mount Sinai, where our souls flew out of us each time we heard the Divine voice. Like the experience of a prophet who loses all sense of body and self at the time of prophecy. Like authentic chassidim who, in the ecstasy of their prayer, as their souls are absorbed within the Infinite Light, have long lost any sense of the world about them. So too, every Jew is given the capacity to go divinely berserk on Purim.

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Chabad-Lubavich Chanukah

December 4, 2002. Oakland City Hall

El Salvador is a country of only 5 million people. In the last decade, the combined activities of the army, the guerillas, and the death squads have taken the lives of 70,000 and caused an estimated 1 million to flee their country.

About two thirds of the 1 million refugees who have fled El Salvador live in California. Isolated by culture and law (most are here illegally), the Salvadorans have little opportunity to inform us of their lives. And we, already numbed by stories of torture and terror from around the world, may be unable to listen.

Oddly, the nighttime dreams of the refugees can bridge the gap in experience and culture that distances us from them. If our conscious minds have been dulled by sad stories and horrifying statistics, it seems our unconscious minds are not yet so well protected. Americans may not be able to feel the experiences of these U.S.-asylum seekers from El Salvador, but just possibly, their dreams can touch our hearts.

The backgrounds for these portraits were chosen from the many political murals found on buildings in San Francisco and the East Bay. Some of the refugees, concerned that their speaking out may lead to violence against family members still in El Salvador, have used pseudonyms and requested to be photographed without showing their faces.

Antonio Quijada

Antonio Quijada was 11 when he saw the soldiers, heard the shot, and saw his father lying in a pool of blood. “He was just a poor farmer,” Antonio says.

In Chalatenango, El Salvador, the army suspects farmers of providing food to the guerillas fighting against the government. Antonio’s three older brothers, forbidden to grow food on their land, left for the mountains. The army assumed they had joined the guerillas. They killed all three brothers. One was found floating in a river, his face unrecognizable. Young Antonio carried his body from the river. And he sat awake at night as his mother tore out her hair.

At age 18, Antonio fled El Salvador.

In El Salvador, Antonio had no nightmares. “I lived in real fear each day,” he says. “So I didn’t have nightmares at night.” He was here in the United States, working in a bakery, when the nightmares began.


I am in the bakery, dough draped over my arms. Suddenly it is not dough in my arms, but a dead body. I am putting the feet in the oven when I feel I must wake up and cry out. But I can not.

I grab my skin and pull with my fingernails to force myself to move. I wake up with bruises all over and my heart pounding in my chest.

For days after this dream I could not sleep. When I slept again, I had another dream.

I am in the countryside, alone and terrified. Suddenly, three men run by. I hear the noise of the helicopter and I run also. A bomb drops at my feet and I throw myself to the ground and cover my head. But the bomb does not explode. I run again and another bomb falls and I throw myself to the ground. But it does not explode. Three times, no bomb explodes. I run, and another bomb falls. I know it will not explode so I remain standing.

But this bomb does explode and I fly through the air and land on my back. Then I am in my bed and crying out. And my heart pounds so strongly I don’t know what to do.

Again I could not sleep for days. I was so exhausted I became crazy and had to go to the hospital.

Rosa and Antonio Alvarado

In 1976, Antonio and Rosa’s son was disappeared. “In El Salvador,” Antonio says, “that means the military captured him and then denied they have him.”

Their son was disappeared in retaliation for Rosa and Antonio’s activities with the teachers union. “The government hated the union,” Rosa says. So they switched their focus to a new group,

“COMADRES: Families of the Disappeared.” They became a thorn in the government’s side when they spoke out at human rights conferences — internationally. Every friend advised them to leave before they, too, were disappeared. “But I was committed to the search for my son,” Rosa says. Then Rosa’s brother’s body was found, naked and burned. They left El Salvador.

“This practice of disappearing people is the most criminal,” Rosa says. It leaves a wound that never heals. Every day, every day, something reminds me of my son. I have developed sores on my knees from praying.” “There is this permanent nightmare,” Antonio adds, “of never knowing what happened.”

The Dreams of Rosa Alvarado

Last night, I was taking care of a neighbor’s baby and I fell asleep. The mother came to me in my dream, asking for her child. I told her we’d been to the park and someone took him.

But in my dream I couldn’t tell if they had taken her child or my own. I became confused and I woke up and ran with great fear to the other room — and the baby was still there.

I dream there is a big party in front of my house in El Salvador. Everyone is dancing and I feel so happy to be there. Then they see me, and the party stops. I am so frightened from the expressions on their faces that I hide in my house. And I ask, “Why did I come here?” The need to speak is like a weight on me when suddenly I see the shadow of a soldier in the house. And I wake up in terrible anguish with a lasting feeling of the menace of the soldier. And I cannot go to sleep again.

I have so many dreams. But I never dream of my son. I never see his face. I always dream that they are chasing me and I am running. But at the moment when I will either be caught or escape I wake up. There is never any resolution, never an ending.

Jorge Artimas

Jorge Artimas studied liberation theology with a priest in San Salvador and taught it in the church’s small communities. “The people needed knowledge of the social forces that governed their lives,” he says.

Jorge was on a bus with his cousin when the army stopped it and took them off. “I knew I was a dead man,” he recalls. They shouted “communist” at Jorge, cut off the fingers of his
cousin, then killed her while he watched. They injected Jorge with something that would “send him to paradise.”

Jorge regained consciousness in a truck filled with corpses. Surprised to be alive, he escaped. A nearby family helped him home. Three days later the entire family was assassinated. “That tortures me to this day,” says Jorge, who spent months in a mental hospital after that.

When Jorge received a letter from the death squads he left El Salvador. He now lives in San Francisco, working for a church helping Central American refugees.

The Dreams of Jorge Artimas

I dream of Monsignor Romero, the Archbishop they assassinated in El Salvador. I am in a humble house. I remember Monsignor Romero is coming to visit me at the school. A woman from the church comes and says, “Jorge, Monsignor has been waiting for you for two days.”

I find the Monsignor at the school, at a little table, writing. I am afraid he will say to me, “Jorge, you didn’t do what I told you to do.” And I know he is going to be angry with me.

But he only says, “Hello, Jorge. Good afternoon. How are you?” And I say, “Very well.” No more than this. And I wake up.

I remember when I awoke among the corpses in the truck I realized I had been given my life. So this dream is the promise that I will also recover emotionally and spiritually. It is a symbol to me of the triumph of justice that will come in the future.

Gilma Cruz

When she was 8 Gilma Cruz would run to her church to watch Father Rutilio feed the doves. She also remembers the message he preached: that the people who worked the land should own more of it.

The death squads killed Father Rutilio and the 15 year old boy who was walking to mass with him. Gilma was there when they laid Father Rutilio’s body out in the church. She remembers his face, and the blood. “This is how children grow up sc quickly in El Salvador,” Gilma says.

The army came in tanks looking for supporters of Father Rutilio. People with his picture in their homes were thought to be communists. Many disappeared. When the body of Gilma’s cousin was found they could barely recognize his face.

In 1981, at age 14, Gilma and her 10 year old sister escaped from El Salvador. On February 17, 1989, Gilma Cruz began a hunger strike in San Francisco to demand that illegal aliens from El Salvador be recognized as political refugees. “No human being is illegal,” Gilma says.

The Dreams of Gilma Cruz

After I dream I awake with a memory of people crying out for me to help them, screaming in pain, “Come help me!” But I can’t tell who it is that is crying out.

I am always hearing the marching feet in my dreams, coming in groups to get me. And then I can see the uniforms but not their faces. And then they get there — and I wake up.

But my dreams come in the daytime also. When I go to church and there is the smell of candles my mind fills with the feelings of when I was small. And I am standing by the table with Father Rutilio’s body, and all the people are crying and asking, “Why, why?” And a mother is hugging her dead child and saying, over and over, “He didn’t have a chance.”

All of this comes back to me when I smell the candles in the church.

Heber Hernandez

In 1979, Heber Hernandez’ sister disappeared. She has never been found. The body of Heber’s brother, a union organizer, was found in a pile of corpses. The press traced the killings to the police.

In 1981, Heber became active in student government. That year, the death squads killed 238 students. Heber left school out of sheer terror, but returned two years later.

Heber’s classroom was invaded by men wearing masks, carrying weapons identical to those of the National Police. Eight students were taken away. Their bodies were found in El Playon — a field well-known as the dumping ground for the death squads.

When men came to Heber’s house asking for him his father saw the weapons under their coats. He told them nothing. Before they could return, Heber left El Salvador.

On August 29, 1985, Heber became one of only 3% of Salvadoran refugees able to convince a U.S. court his life was in danger.

He was granted political asylum. He told a reporter, “I will feel better when the other 97% get their asylum.”

The dreams of Heber Hernandez

In my dream, I am in El Salvador and see my friend Felipe walking along. But Felipe had been assassinated. I become very frightened, because I know he is dead. I am so afraid I stay very far from him.

This dream continued night after night. For two years I was terrified to go to sleep. Then I realized these dreams are part of my experiences, my thoughts, my memories. It is impossible to leave your dreams. So I decided to confront them and live with them.

So in my dream, I went up to Felipe and said, “Hello, Felipe.” We began to talk, and I asked him, “How are you.” And he said, “Very good.”

“But Felipe,” I said, “I am sure you are dead.” And he told me, “No, that’s a lie.” So I said, “Well, then where is Joaquin, our friend who was killed?” And Felipe says, “He’s fine, too. Don’t believe what they tell you. We are alive.”

Laura Montero

The mayor of Santa Maria, a member of the right wing ARENA party, offered his childhood friend Miguel Montero a job. But Miguel believed ARENA worked closely with the death squads. He called Arena “assassins and robbers” — to the mayor’s face, in front of others.

When they shot Miguel, his wife, Laura Montero, saw the men’s faces clearly. She identified one killer in a photograph at the police station. The police told her to keep quiet.

Miguel’s killers came to his wake. When their eyes met Laura’s she turned her face down and cried. “They knew I could identify them,” she says.

When two men watched Laura’s house night and day she moved to another town. Then, on the bus home one day, she saw them and grabbed her two children and ran. One man followed and she lost him in the crowd. Her choice was clear. Laura brought her children to their aunt. Then she left El Salvador.

The Dreams of Laura Montero

I’m so afraid of these dreams I try not to sleep. People are chasing me. They think I know why my husband was killed. They are yelling at me, “Tell the truth.” I cry, “I don’t know anything.”

A good friend of my husband’s who was killed by the National Guard is very angry. He swears at me. I don’t know if he is alive or dead. I cry and scream, “Leave me in peace!”

I travel each night in my dreams to see my children. I am afraid they are suffering, that they are ill. I tell them we will soon be together. The older is very happy to hear this, but the little one cries. And the older says, “Mama, take me with you.”

And sometimes I wake from this dream and reach him by phone and I hear these same words, “Mama, take me with you.”

I dream we are all together in our home as we were before. Then “they” arrive and the children’s screams begin. My husband falls on top of me and I fall to the floor with him in my arms. I look at my hand and I see his blood on it. And I wake up in horror.

Because this dream is exactly what happened.

Jose Cartagena

In 1980, the army tried to keep the guerillas from obtaining food by chasing peasant farmers from their land. Thousands fled to crowded resettlement camps. Jose Cartagena was one of many students who brought food and medicine to them.

On May 14, 300 peasants chased by the army arrived at the camps. The army came, shots were fired, and in the well-documented “Sumpul River Massacre” 640 peasants and 14 students died.

Jose was not at the camp that day. But soldiers came looking for students who had been active there. Jose Cartagena fled El Salvador.

Jose and 42 Salvadorans arrived at the Arizona border. They had to cross the desert — in July. Thirteen died. Jose can’t remember being found unconscious in the desert. But he remembers the U.S.’ attempts to deport him to El Salvador.

“We came here because the United States sends weapons and money for the war,” says Jose, who decided to fight his deportation. He eventually received political asylum.

The Dreams of Jose Cartagena

In my dream, I am walking to school. Suddenly, I am at a military checkpoint. They call me a communist but I continue to walk on. The bullets begin hitting my back and I wake up — frightened, and not sure if I am alive or dead.

But my daydreams are also strong. Yesterday, there was a cool breeze blowing, like the “winds of October” in El Salvador. I felt as if I was a child walking in my country again. A strong nostalgia filled me with the love for my country and the longing to go back. When I feel this breeze my mind leaves for El Salvador. But if I followed my urge to return I would be destroyed.

My dream, always, is of a free country with no army that destroys villages, and no killing of children. That is the dream of all Salvadorans here.

Murals in the photographs by:

Antonio Quijada: Precita Eyes Muralists: Kit Davenport, Karin Schlesiger, Judy Jamerson.

Heber Hernandez: California College of Arts and Crafts, and Wilard High School

Rosa Alvarado: Miranda Bergman, Brien Thiele.

Gilma Cruz: Arch Williams, Mario Turcias, Tone Senna, Jo Tucker

For portrait of Jorge Artimas: Cuba

Laura Montero: Nicole Emanuel

Jose Cartagena: Arch Williams, Mario Turcias, Tone Senna, Jo Tucker

Guatemala Mural Project

Memorial mass on anniversary of massacre in Santiago Atitlán

1998, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Santiago Atitlán is a village of 43,000 (about 85% indigenous Mayans) under the peaks of three volcanoes that ring the mile-wide Lake Atitlán. By 1990, during the government genocide of the Mayans, the town had been occupied by the military for ten years. 800 had been killed, more had “disappeared.” On December, 2, 1990, thousands of villagers gathered at the military outpost to protest continued abuses. The soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Fourteen men, women and children were killed, twenty-one wounded. But the villagers did not disperse and continued to confront the garrisoned soldiers.

Faced by thousands of witnesses and arriving journalists, President Vinicio Cerezo ordered the troops to withdraw. The town declared a peace zone into which neither military nor guerrilla rebels were allowed to enter, making Santiago Atitlan the first village to declare peace in the then thirty-year Guatemalan civil war (which ended in 1996, after 200,000 deaths).

Every December 2, the villagers return to the massacre site to pray, and to chant the names of the dead.  

During Easter (Semana Santa) of 1996, Lonny Shavelson set up a photo studio outside the church in Santiago and made 270 portraits of the villagers, representing the crowd that refused to move when the soldiers opened fire.  He produced a 3-panel mural that was unveiled in the church on December 2, 1997—the seventh anniversary of the Santiago massacre, and the first year of the Guatemalan national peace accords.

Mural in church in Santiago Atitlán, December 2, 1996

Click below to expand panels

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Health Care in the Autonomous
Miskito Coast of Nicaragua

On assignment for Hippocrates Magazine. July, 2000.

Miss Pancha–the Midwife.
Pearl Lagoon

The Miskito Coast

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The Mien Streets of Oakland

East Bay Express. April 3, 1987, and
The Minority Trendsletter, Sep/Oct 1987, Center for Third World Organizing

The complexities of the process of immigration and assimilation are as difficult to understand as racism itself. But as Southeast Asian refugees moved into historically Black West Oakland in the mid-1980s, this intermittently volcanic pressure of immigration was rumbling again.

“Blacks may not understand what it’s like to be a Laotian immigrant, but can the immigrants possibly understand the pain Blacks are feeling in West Oakland?” Booker T. Neal, Justice Department Conciliation Specialist.

During the Vietnam war, the CIA trained Laotian Mien soldiers to fight the “impending communist invasion.”

With the fall of Vietnam, the Mien soldiers and their families were given refuge in the U.S. Some resettled in Black and impoverished West Oakland. They seemed to be easy targets and their homes were frequently robbed. During the robberies, the CIA-trained Mien killed two Black men. One Mien youth was killed by young Blacks. The volcano was set to erupt.

75-year-old Vivian Williams saw the explosion coming. Wanting to stop it, she tried to reach across the Black-Mien divide.

“They were so fearful when they got here, they’d just draw up. I kept praying, Lord, how can I reach these people?”

The answer, it seemed, was to first reach out to the younger immigrants. And the method was donuts. Then clothes and books. And Christianity.

The Mien parents–all Buddhists–were slowly persuaded to allow their children to mix with the Blacks in the West Oakland churches.

Miss Williams: “The Lord let it be that I can help these people. I tell them, you see how Americans do, then you do. And first thing, they start yelling, ‘Hey, motherfucker.’ And so many become Christians, but deep in their hearts they stick around this Buddhism.”

Booker T. Neal, federal mediator: “To the refugees, a job here at $3.50 an hour is a step up the ladder from the refugee camps. But to a Black in that neighborhood that job is the same old poverty, their last step on the ladder. Refugees first meet Black people in an area of the worst poverty, and they don’t know the culture or speak the language — and fear sets in. The fear of Blacks. Racism is an uncomfortable subject. Who wants to talk about whether they are racist themselves?”

With time, and federal Justice Department mediation, a careful peace settled in.

81-year-old Thomas Bowden has lived in West Oakland since 1941: “My neighbors said, ‘We can’t hardly make it ourselves, and them bringing these Asians to the Black part of town.’ So we had a meeting between our church and the Buddhist church. The Asian people never give me no problem, and I tell the Black people they don’t bother nothing.”

San Quentin Meditation Training

Assignment for Time Magazine. June 19, 2003

San Quentin Prison, California. Prisoners in San Quentin attend a mindfulness meditation class. Men from all faiths attend. According to the Insight Prison Project, the practice cultivated clarity, compassion and impulse control, to help inmates understand alternative choices available to them and act from true values instead of impulsiveness.

Meditation is increasingly being used in the prison system, and extensive research has shown significant changes in recidivism for those who commit to practice this technique.”

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Recruiting Methods of Young Skinhead Nazis

Gilroy, California. August 10, 2001*
(*see additional comment below photographs)

From: (name witheld)
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 8:41 AM
Subject: photo’s from gilroy CA.


You have some photographs titled, White Supremacist Teens near Gilroy California. I hate to admit it, but I’m actually in them. I wouldn’t expect you to take them down, but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind adding a notation to the photos.

The guy with the red cheeks and the ax, well he left that scene shortly after the photos were taken. He actually became a career military man in the USAF I believe. I ran into him briefly about 11 years ago. I don’t know what happened to the short stubby guy.

As for me, I’ve been a dedicated Socialist and Anti-fascist for many years now. I’ve got two children, a boy and a girl, not much younger than I was in that photo shoot. I’ve had a semi-successful run fronting the psychobilly band Los Gatos Locos. I’m also an elected Board member on my community’s Board of Education.

You know, when you’re young, you get angry at a lot of stupid things for a lot of stupid reasons. I’m not proud of that phase in my life, but I made it out ok, and without hurting anyone in the process. If you ever want to do an updated photo shoot, let me know. I’m much prouder of myself and the man that I have become.

Thank you.
p.s. thank’s for the beers.

Soka Gakai

Oakland, California

Soka Gakkai is the nation’s largest Buddhist organization and its most racially diverse—as the array of black, white, Asian, and Latino faces scattered throughout the meeting hall attests.

For many Black converts, the Japanese women who had arrived in the United States during the 1950s as the brides of American servicemen—many of them Black—proved the perfect emissaries for an unfamiliar religion. Throughout the Bay Area’s poor and working-class neighborhoods, the Japanese women had approached strangers on street corners, evangelizing with passionate conviction about the teachings of a thirteenth-century Japanese monk who preached an egalitarian faith among the poor, promising in their imperfect English a happier life to anyone who would accompany them to a meeting and learn to chant — Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

The practice still resonates in Oakland today.

Childcare in Sri Lanka

San Francisco Chronicle, “This World” — September 9, 1990

Bandarawela, Sri Lanka. Women are the majority of tea pluckers in Sri Lanka — a job established 150 years ago by British colonists in need of tea for the empire. The job was rejected by even the lowest castes in Sri Lanka — thus leaving the work to women. And since men won’t care for children, the British plantation owners had to set up a childcare system so that women were available to pick tea. The system of “Creches” still operates today — one of the oldest continuously available childcare systems known. Today, any woman who wants to pick tea can drop her children off at a local Creche, where they will be watched, fed, played with, and tucked into vertical pod-like hammocks for their naps (you almost can’t tell there’s a baby in the hammock, until water drips down from it).

Wheelchairs from Bicycles
in Sri Lanka

SF Chronicle, This World, Oct 14, 1990

The smooth swift movements of Ralf Hotchkiss in his wheelchair inspire surprising thoughts about the relative merits of wheels and legs. One thing is clear: Everyone must have one or the other. Yet 25 million people around the world cannot use their legs, and have no access to wheels.

Twenty-four years ago, Hotchkiss build his own wheelchair in a Berkeley workshop. Today his chairs are found in remote villages in 24 developing countries. The best example is Sri Lanka, where Hotchkiss-model wheelchairs are constructed from bicycle, pushcart, and motorcycle parts.

Sixteen-year old Naluka Jaya had spent the last ten years inside her family shed in the slums of Colombo. Polio at age three had withered Naluka’s legs, and her father carried her so she could, at times, leave the house. More often, he searched without success for a wheelchair. Until the Hotchkiss model came to Sri Lanka, and Naluka, for the first time in her life, went to school.

Tibetan Mandala
Creation and Destruction

Golden Gate Park, Academy of Sciences
San Francisco. January 16-19, 2003

Grain by grain of colored sand, seven Tibetan monks painstakingly created a mandala over four days in San Francisco. The monks traveled from the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in southern India. The original monastery in Tibet, founded in 1447, was destroyed during the Chinese invasion in 1959. When the construction of the elaborate mandala of millions of grains of sand in San Francisco was completed, the monks destroyed it. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, the sand mandala is an art form called dul-tson-kyil-khor. Mandalas are created when there is a need for healing. 

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Vacation Camp for the Blind

July, 2004. Spring Valley, New York

Tucked into the hills at Spring Valley, New York, is a summer sleepaway camp for the blind — a world designed for no vision, where sound guides the way in the pool, soccer balls fly while chirping their location, every path has a guide rail so no white canes are needed, and the dining room tables have identically fixed holders with silverware and spices, everything in its predictable place. The only person who couldn’t find his way in this thirty-five acres of greenery and activities was this sighted photographer.

The camp is usually packed with blind children, but for two mid-summer weeks blind adults throw the kids out and take over the camp for themselves. You’d hardly know it, though, because the adult campers, many in their 70s and 80s, act just like kids.  They take their guide dogs off leash, sing bawdy songs and dance late into the night, then get up early in the morning to play ball.

The Camp Grounds

Blind Karate

Joined Together in Blindness

Radio Story about the Vacation Camp for the Blind

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe
in San Francisco

December 12, 2000 and 2004

It is said that Juan Diego, an indigenous Aztec in Mexico City, was visited by the Virgin Mary on December 9 and December 12 — 1531. She spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl, telling him to ask the Bishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill. The Bishop, of course, did not listen to an indigenous peasant who claimed direct contact with La Virgen, and asked for proof. Juan Diego returned to La Virgen, where he found her among roses growing in the desert, and she left an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his cloak. Juan Diego returned to the Bishop with this miracle. The Bishop built the church.

In a strange modern-day reproduction of this history, a Mexican-born Bishop stood at the door to St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco in the late 1990s and denied Aztec dancers entry, saying it was not a place for pagans. Pedro Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who initiated the Aztec dance procession on December 12, El Dia la Virgen, said that the priest “Brought his prejudices with him from Mexico. It gave me such shame. I prayed for a miracle.” That miracle came in the form of an Irish priest who later replaced the Mexican head of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Naive to the old prejudices, when the Aztec dancers again approached the church on El Dia de la Virgen, he welcomed them in. The procession has continued every December 12 since.

Pedro Garcia at St. Mary’s Cathedral
December 12, 2004

War Dance
to Protect Tribal Lands

On April 25th 2009 the Winnemem Wintu tribe in Northern California sued the United States government for the Shasta Dam’s planned additional flooding of their land.

The Winnemem Wintu lands were partially flooded when the dam was built in 1945, and the tribe never received the compensation they were promised. In 2009, the federal Bureau of Reclamation planned to raise the height of the dam, which would flood the remaining Winnemem Wintu lands.

In the past 150 years, they’ve done this dance only three times. “We cannot allow our culture to be destroyed,” said Franco. “We’re hoping that everything will come out for the good of the First People of the state of California, who are still here, still practicing our lifeway. We pray that the judges will look at this not just with their judicial minds, but with their judicial hearts,” continued Franco, whose tribal name is “The One Who Talks Back.”

The night before filing their lawsuit to stop the plan, the tribe gathered along the banks of the Sacramento river for a H’up Chonas, a war dance – traditionally done before battle. “A war dance doesn’t mean we’re planning violence,” said Mark Franco, headman of the tribe. “If you pray about things, and you do these things in a spiritual way, then you have a whole different group of people and spirit beings that are helping you.”

Preparing for the H’up Chonas — War Dance