October 3, 2008
By Michael Klam
A trip down San Diego surface streets west from El Cajon to the beach is like traveling through different worlds.
In City Heights, Somali locals prepare to fast for Eid. In Barrio Logan, Chican@s dance Baile Folkórico. And in OB, lady bikers from East County bare their tattoos and eat Texas Barbecue.
From Marshall Islander students at Garfield Elementary in North Park to the Chaldeans about 35,000 Iraqi Catholics living in the El Cajon area San Diego brims with stories of community and diversity.
In a day, interlopers can visit the Buddhist Temple of San Diego for a Dharma message to cleanse the soul, sit in on a San Diego Southern Baptist mass to bask in the high notes of praise, and meet up with the unbelievers, agnostics, skeptics and secular humanists of the Atheist Coalition to discuss the benefits of science literacy.
Yet many San Diegans have no idea about the city’s vast demography, from the beauty of its cultural diversity to the multiplicity of its ideologies. And these diverse communities, despite their geographic proximity, often live separate lives, worlds apart.
When producers Sandra Torres and Jessica Chang took the reins of Channel 4 SD’s “Shades of San Diego,” a bi-weekly show designed to raise awareness about San Diego’s different ethnic communities, they knew they had enough material to last a lifetime.
In a little over a year, Shades has covered Hispanic Heritage Month, the Latino Film Festival, the Asian Film Festival, the Jewish Film Festival, Black History Month, Chinese New Year, Irish dance, hip hop culture, gays in the military, same sex marriage and transracial adoptions.
“San Diego has such a diverse population,” said Chang, who also hosts the show. There are smaller communities within larger ones, she explained: “Refugees, Hmong and Laotian communities within the broader Asian population, for example. The topics are endless.”
Chang, a University of Southern California graduate and Emmy Award-winning reporter for Channel 4’s “San Diego Insider,” started her journalism career at KWES in Midland/Odessa, Texas.
“I was living in a small town in Texas with a big Mexican population, and that was pretty much who I hung out with,” she said. “I remember going on a posada during Christmas, which I never knew about. I was immersed, and it just sparked a hunger in me to learn about culture.”
Now back in San Diego where she grew up, Chang has made many connections with local journalists from every background and ethnicity. She is currently the San Diego chapter president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
Shades of San Diego’s first show covered the San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF) and featured film clips and an interview with Lee Ann Kim, SDAFF’s executive director. Kim’s eloquence and dedication, along with the inspired clips, gave San Diegans a glimpse into the festival’s creativity, and also showed common themes immigration, language, assimilation that affect many communities of San Diego.
But it’s not just the deeper issues that drive Chang. “Personally I have a passion for learning about different groups, their traditions, dance, food,” she said. “I’m open-minded and willing to try different things from all around the world.”
Yet Chang has also traveled as far as Jakarta, Indonesia to work with impoverished children, and she helped to rebuild homes in Biloxi, Miss., with Friends and Family Community Connection after hurricane Katrina.
Torres grew up in Logan, and now resides in Chula Vista. The program’s second show covered Hispanic Heritage Month and featured artists/activists/muralists Mario Torero and Berenice Badillo. The show extended an open invitation for all San Diegans to get out and celebrate local history.
However, Torres said her most memorable “Shades” moment came during a tribute to the Negro Leagues. Local black elders, who lived the history of the Negro Leagues as players and have watched baseball grow in the United States, shared their stories along with former San Diego Padre Dave Winfield. Torres said the memories were touching and the history intriguing.
The most recent show covered the minority vote and addressed the issue of low Latino, African American and Asian American turnout at the polls. With Obama on the campaign trail, the war and the tanking economy, however, the numbers are sure to rise.
The episode included the program’s first roundtable discussion, featuring Joann Fields from the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, Horace Hill from Blacks in Government and Everett Hernandez, a Latino vote analyst.
San Diego State University student leaders gave the youth minority vote a voice, and the show offered information on how, when and where to register to vote.
The Shades of San Diego Web site www.4sd.com/4SD_New/shades/ posted links for three voter information resources: Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, Blacks in Government, and Avanze Politica Decision 2008.
“We do fun stuff, exotic foods and film festivals, but we also have a serious side tackling issues,” Chang said.
Shades has an upcoming minority health special from October to February, five shows beginning with African American health on Oct. 12, Native American health on Nov. 9, gay community health on Dec. 7, Latino health on Jan. 11, and Asian health on Feb. 8.
The producers are also open to ideas and openly encourage people to contact them with their stories simply by e-mailing ShadesofSD@coxmedia.com.
“We are always looking for stories in the community that people want us to address,” Torres said.
Who knows? Maybe someday soon there will be a “Shades of San Diego” show called “The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps Meet the Descendants of Joaquin Murrieta.”
“Shades of San Diego” airs bi-weekly on Channel 4 for half an hour. New shows debut every other Sunday at 5 p.m.