Our Name is Rogelio Bautista
This story was written a month after the murder of 16-year-old Rogelio Bautista by four 14 year old kids who grew up with him in Southwest Santa Rosa California. David Velediaz, Julio Hernandez, Maria Marquez, and Luis Vargas painstakingly pieced together their memories of him to create the story of his life and death. In this piece they chronicle his life through his voice, from his experiences as an immigrant to his initiation into a gang, and finally his death. The piece also documents the community as they grapple with Rogelio’s death and the questions that it raises.
This New Game
This piece addresses the recent phenomenon of “cutting” from the inside perspective of a teenager, Amanda Wells, who believes that no one is really getting at the heart of the problem or explaining what it feels like to cut your own body. In this sound collage, she focuses on the fundamental urge to self-mutilate and what it would take for someone to stop, while hinting at some secrets from her own life.
The Night I Met Cornel West
In this piece Laquoia Simmons, a self described “at risk teenager,” meets and briefly interviews renowned academic and public intellectual Cornel West. In this insightful piece, Laquoia reflects on her trip to Sonoma State University, and discusses what it was like to be an ‘at-risk’ young woman meeting a writer who writes so much about the so-called ‘at-risk’ population. In this personal and intellectual piece, she talks about family, betrayal, humiliation, and inspiration.
By Voice of Youth Director Tatiana Harrison
There are three objects in my office that sum up Voice of Youth, a program out of NPR affiliate KRCB radio in Sonoma County California.
First: our mission, posted on the wall, in “grant-esque” terms: “to create a team of teen correspondents who can write and produce radio of undeniable clarity and unflinching authenticity…and to chronicle and document teen culture in Sonoma County at the dawn of the 21st century.”
But I would be a hypocrite to leave you with that kind of rhetoric, because if there’s one thing I am always telling kids, it’s “don’t tell me what you believe or who you are in abstract terms. Don’t tell me what you or someone else is ‘like,’ instead catalog the objects in your room, describe to me the kind of shoes they wear and are they scuffed and do they wear them all the time.”
Since I get a sick feeling when I have to talk about what this program is “like”, I’ll continue telling you about these objects in my office. The second object is a tear gas canister I was hit by in Peru. I was a stringer for public radio for four years – not a very good one, but I loved it so much. And the prime way I get the kids’ attention is when I play the clip of me getting hit by the canister. (My DAT was running at the time!)
So my perspective and, therefore, the program’s, is informed by the “correspondent” model – I see the kids moving in their cliques as potential correspondents of different countries, with access to “locals” and an insider understanding of the issues.
I train them sometimes in groups, sometimes individually, in the same way I trained to be a correspondent – a crash course that gets you in the field ASAP. I feel these kids don’t need more “classes,” they need the thrill of being boots on the ground, and the feeling of being valuedas indispensable eyes and ears. Some get a great hold on Pro Tools; some don’t. Some voice their own stuff, some don’t. Some record alone in the field, some get help with that. But every time they see me, I lecture them all about what I see as the basic values of journalism: 1. Your perspective is indispensable 2. You must extrapolate the essence of your world to the outside universe 3. Every side of the story has a point of view just a real as the others 4. You have to make people care about your story.
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And the last object in my office? It might seem silly, but, well… it’s the picture of the guy I’ve been in love with since college. I don’t know how it happened, but I just lost it over this guy and I’ve done the most supremely illogical, self-destructive things because of this blind worship. With all the best education, therapy and whatever, I still can’t get past this. I tell the kids about it so they know that I’m a multi-dimensional person too, that while I might be in charge of their stories and be acting like I have so much to say about their identity, there’s a part of my identity that’s dark and incomprehensible to me. I can’t say enough how I feel this is absolutely essential to having a genuine, un-exploitative relationship with them, even though I know people will probably disagree.
I’ve never been in a gang, or self-mutilated, or done a lot of the things that these kids talk about in their stories. But I base my right to address these issues with them on the fact that despite all our differences, I do know what it’s like to love something and not have it love me back. And despite the overwhelming quantitative differences in scope and scale, there is something qualitatively similar. I think that the pain and the question “why don’t you love me?” and the groping madness that ensues from that feeling is universal and translatable. I believe this madness is absolutely human, absolutely adolescent, and is at the heart of most of our stories.
Our Name is Rogelio Bautista
This story was written a month after the murder of 16-year-old Rogelio Bautista, on the last day of 2004. Four 14-year-old kids who grew up with Rogelio in Southwest Santa Rosa, California created and voiced this piece. David Velediaz, Julio Hernandez, Maria Marquez, and Luis Vargas painstakingly pieced together their memories of him to create the story of his life and death. They wove together their voices to speak as one, to speak as Rogelio. In this piece they chronicle his life through his voice, from his experiences as an immigrant to his initiation into a gang, and finally to his death. The piece also documents the community as they grapple with Rogelio’s death and the questions that it raises.
(This excerpt is the last half of a 22 minute story. The complete work can be heard at PRX’s KRCB Voice of Youth page.)
[Elvia Bautista, Rogelio’s older sister, is presently creating a longer piece about her response to the death of her brother, with the help of Voice of Youth producer Tatiana Harrison and Transom creator Jay Allison.]
Behind The Scenes Essay
By Luis Vargas
It all started out when I met Tatiana Harrison and my life changed.
I was at school reading a newspaper article titled “SR Teen Shot On New Year’s Eve.” I guess Tatiana’d been to our school before but at the time I didn’t pay attention to much happening at school. The day everything changed Tatiana walked into my school, Roseland University Prep, and she asked me “How was your Christmas break?” But then she saw me crying. She asked what was wrong and I said my homeboy just passed away. She gave me her number and she said – “Call me, we could do a story on this.”
After that I called her the next day telling her that I would give making the story a shot. I don’t even really remember why I wanted to make it. I don’t know what I wanted to say exactly. Anyway, I got some people together from school that knew Rogelio Bautista, the teen that passed away. To be honest, most of the people just wanted to get out of class at first. There was David, Rogelio’s cousin, and Julio, a kid who grew up across the street from Rogelio, and Maria, whose brother was friends with Rogelio.
When we got down to writing, it took us about two or three weeks to write the whole script. It took us that long really because we didn’t know how to write the script. The time would be pretty much us laughing and remembering him, little stories and fun times, and Tatiana would type everything we said. She would come in almost every other day, get us out of class, and bring us different ideas on how we could make the story. One day, she said, “Why don’t we write it as if it’s him talking?” After that we were just telling the story of his life in his words, fitting in all the memories we had in the timeline of his life.
We were stuck how to end the script and David finally gave us a perfect ending from a religious saying our parents tell us: “La vida es prestada. Nunca fue tuya.” Life is borrowed. It was never really your life to begin with. With that, we had the ending. We each had our scripts. We divided up the parts and began rehearsing the script.
I felt so weird working on this story because it was such a new experience. “Why do we have to go over the script so much?” I was thinking. As we went along rehearsing, we would change the words if they didn’t feel right. It was also a very hard time doing this story because we were practically always mourning Rogelio Bautista.
After the script was done, written and edited for mistakes, we began recording at the station. Recording was one-on-one with Tatiana. While one person was recording, the rest of us would be doing homework and eating lots of popcorn. I remember when I was recording my parts of the story. It was so frustrating. Tatiana and I would always have arguments about the story. But that was a small price to pay for the story coming out great.
So the story was done and it was about time that our story had to be aired over the radio. It was very hard to air it because we had to protect our identities from people who knew us. We didn’t even tell anyone that it was airing. I just listened to it alone in my room. Then I called Tatiana and left a message- “That was tight!” I said.
Elvia Bautista Rogelio’s older sister heard the story and thought it was magnificent. She said we captured every aspect of her younger brother’s life from birth to death. She called crying and three or four other friends and homeboys called too. We decided to replay the story in a week and go public with it. The Press Democrat newspaper gave us some major props on the story with an article about it in the newspaper. But there were problems- teachers at school said I was making trouble for myself by talking about gangs. But it wasn’t all bad. My friends had said that we made them feel like Rogelio was there with them and at the same time made them sad that he was gone.
This experience was the beginning of the end for me being affiliated with a gang. I’ve now been hired to work as a Pro Tools engineer for the station. I also make my own beats on Reason. I spend a lot of time at the station, sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights. If it wasn’t for the station, I don’t think my parents would ever let me out of the house, because it’s a dangerous neighborhood where we live. Now all I’m focusing on is getting on in school and my music career ahead of me. Like I always say- what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and that’s just what this story did for me.
This New Game
It’s lunchtime at Maria Carillo High school and 15 year old Amanda Wells can look around and spot more ‘cutters’ than she can count on her fingers. The trend of cutting, or self-mutilation, is a theme poured over in chat rooms and counselors’ conferences, but Amanda thought that no one was getting at the heart of what it feels like to cut your own body. In this sound collage, she focuses on the fundamental urge to self-mutilate, what it would take for someone to stop, all the while hinting at some secrets from her own life.
By author/producer Amanda Wells
Why did I set out on this story? What were my questions at the beginning? Well, I originally did it to discover two things. Number One: WHY DO PEOPLE CUT? But Number Two, a very different question: WHY HAS IT BECOME COOL TO DO THIS? These questions stemmed from people around my school showing off their cuts like symbols of being cool, and from hearing my own friends start talking about it. The Voice of Youth director and I thought we had two good questions that could look at the problem from all its angles. So the universal question becomes how much of self-destructive behavior is kids finding a way to respond to real psychic pain from abuse, depression, anxiety, etc. versus how much is a cultural thing, just kids trying to fit in, in a culture that’s created dangerous, seductive ways to rebel, whether it’s by joining a gang or becoming a cutter.
So I started with those two key, universal questions, interviewing those who cut and having long talks about self-injury with people in Voice of Youth. I even did a lot of research on the issue. I found all these articles on the Internet that would go into great detail about the side effects, the infections, and the fact that you could hit a vein, but that was only telling me what might happen. The only people who would heed these warnings are people who actually cared about themselves, who would never cut in the first place. And these warnings would only add another reason to do it for cutters looking to destroy or isolate themselves. How could I write a story that wasn’t preaching to the choir without giving depressed kids a cool new idea of how to hurt themselves?
Well, this story took me around 7 and 1/2 months. I gradually realized that the questions I had been asking were not the right ones- but these early questions were slowly revealing the actual questions I should be asking, that anyone exploring a question like this should be asking. Using an analogy of gang violence, parents, counselors and police will always be asking WHY a kid decided to join gang, but that kid will always be asking WHY NOT be in a gang? A WHY just gets you a WHY NOT.
WHY is the question from the outside looking in at the freaks. It’s never going to be the question that will ever get you anywhere when dealing with people living in a world different from yours, especially a prison in their minds. WHY NOT: that is the right question, looking from the inside out. Instead of the question I was asking: WHY do people cut, the question had to get at an alternative to or way out from cutting, WHY NOT become a victim of self-injury? Once you’re stuck in the dark cell, what can you really see, peaking out from your cave, as the light shows you there’s something outside?
Editing my interviews later, I listened to my friend as I interviewed her. I hadn’t really understood what she was saying at the time, but finally I got it, I could hear the answer to why not. See, I could hear the real risk she had run, the real damage. She had split herself into two people: a whole person, with connections to her parents, and friends; and who she was when she was alone with her blade, when she cut. They are real and separate identities. I finally decided that there is nothing wrong with cutting, not in the taboo way, …there’s nothing wrong AT FIRST. It’s not wrong as a noun; it’s wrong as a verb. What it does, every time you cut.
What hurts you is the splinter of the self. Each cut divides yourself further and further apart into those two halves of a person. The gap grows, and finally splits so that you can’t get back to who you used to be. Except this realization doesn’t come until you start to feel the pain of yourself wanting to be whole again, which hurts more than its’ worth to cut.
Essentially I hope this story closes the gap between the whys and the why-nots. The gang kids in Voice of Youth are always like, “Why would anyone cut?!” and the other kids are like “Why would anyone join a gang?” I hope this story can say something about how it’s crazy that people think they’re different from other people just because their instrument of self-injury is different. Maybe what you can do is think about the “why nots” you have and imagine substituting that when you ask “why” someone would do crank, or let themselves be abused, or drive drunk.
But I especially hope closing the gap makes it harder for cutters to isolate, and slice so much that the threads of identity dissolve; and that it makes it easier for them to put themselves back together.
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” (Emerson)
Amanda Wells. 15 years old. Maria Carrillo High School Junior. (‘I just went to school hella early.’) If you like her story, be her MySpace friend (she’s ‘Pétasse’), and write any advice on doing a story about Creationism and the Minutemen (her next two projects).
The Night I Met Cornel West
19-year-old Laquoia Simmons had a big night a while back: she met and interviewed Professor Cornel West, the famous ‘interpreter of the African-American experience,’ advocate for social justice, philosopher and critic. She reflects on her trip to Sonoma State University, and discusses what it was like to be an ‘at-risk’ young woman meeting a writer who writes so much about the so-called ‘at-risk’ population.
Behind The Scenes Essay
By Laquoia Simmons
Since doing the Cornel West story some things have changed and some haven’t. I’ve since gotten a better job that I think might bring me more security. I’ve been doing a little more traveling, but mostly just working trying to pay the bills and survive. Some of my friends have gone back to jail and some have gotten out. The majority of them are trying to stay out this time, but they’re always somehow getting pulled back. One of my closest friends got many months in San Quentin for violating parole- just because he was backing this kid up in a stupid little fight over nothing but colors. What a waste. When he was out he would be with his friends and they would talk all the time about being locked up. Almost like it was camp. They had learned all kinds of things, they knew every rule, all the right words -a private club. Inside they were smart and knew how to make things and were proud of it. They were good at it -being inside. On the outside, they got turned away at job interviews and stopped by the police all the time. What place would you like better if you were them? But that’s just the trap we live in, I guess.
I’ve also had a deeply intense discussion with a good friend of mine about some of the comments and issues Cornel West talked about in the story I did and I’ve come to realize this world is nothing but a big puzzle or drug, everybody trying to find their way, everybody blind or running from their harsh reality that would be way too overwhelming to even face.
Something I learned that hadn’t changed since the story was some people’s obvious ignorance. In the West story I mentioned how I was driving and some guys called me ‘nigger’ when they passed me on the road. Recently I was put into a similar situation when ‘kicking it’ with my friends, or at least people that I thought were my friends. One friend was out of cigarettes and was asking around if anyone had some. Another person had Newports and offered those and then I heard, ‘I don’t want any of those nigger cigarettes.’ I was the only black person in the room so all the attention was drawn to me after the comment. I was in a really awkward position. A part of me wanted to get up and leave, a part of me wanted to beat the shit out of the girl who said it, even though I don’t think her intention was to offend me. But instead I did nothing but just sit there and think about what I should have done. It made me feel really unsure about myself. I wish I would’ve had Cornel West on speed-dial at that moment. I’m sure he would’ve had a great answer to my problem.
As far as my family life goes, it’s all pretty much the same. We’re all being thrown into situations and forced to deal or make the least we can out of them. My dad’s turned ‘all bad’ since the story, but it’s okay. It’s not like I was expecting the best from him. Lately I’ve just been trying to get a handle on this roller-coaster life of mine. Trying to figure out the who, what, why, where, and when about me. Who knows maybe I’ll turn out to be the first female president or a great icon. I could even be that face you see on a great big picture in a hall in a great big company in a place as far away as New York. Kind of like the one I saw of Mr. West at WNYC when I completed one of my life’s dreams and finally saw New York City. It’s all about getting yourself out there, I guess, but then what you do with what you find out there.
Laquoia Simmons. 19 years old. Ridgeway High Graduate. (‘Sure, after they lost hella credits of mine.’) Currently JCPenny stocker. If you like her story, be her next braiding client and write any advice on doing a story about sex workers and prostitution (her next project).