If any of us hoped that 2021 would somehow be less eventful than the year that came before it, we didn't get our wish.
As the pandemic continued into its second full year, our Bay Area communities also grappled with a rise in hate crime against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, rose up against sexual harassment and assault in schools, and tried to mobilize to aid refugees from Afghanistan — all of which KQED photographer Beth LaBerge endeavored to capture in still images.
Telling these stories requires words both written and spoken, yes, but sometimes photos have a unique ability to let people tell their own stories, to show you their own plights, and bring the audience face-to-face with an issue.
Here, LaBerge has chosen the images she captured in 2021 that help do exactly that — that paint a portrait of a complex, challenging year, but also one with frequent moments of joy and community togetherness.
This year, a new reckoning in the #MeToo movement emerged from within San Francisco’s prestigious Lowell High School. The effort empowered current and former students to call for systemic change while curating and promoting allegations on social media.
Shavonne Hines-Foster, a former Lowell student, pictured here, said that movement helped the floodgates open for current San Francisco students to speak out on Twitter and Instagram. "That served as a catalyst for everything else,” she said. “Students came forward about their experiences with racism, sexual assault, harassment and mental health at Lowell."
Hundreds gathered in San Francisco's Portsmouth Square in March to mourn the lives of eight people shot and killed in Atlanta, including six Asian women. Those at the rally also called for an end to anti-AAPI violence, which had risen throughout the pandemic. Organizers supplied markers for signs and kite-making kits for the community to express their grief and create joy.
“All of us, including women and low-wage workers, deserve to be safe," said Shaw San Liu, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association.
As districts across California have grappled with difficult conversations around reopening, Ryan Austin, an artist-educator, said she's been troubled by a certain aspect of the school reopening conversation: Organizations and advocates — both for and against reopening the Bay Area’s schools — have both cited the needs and experiences of Black and brown parents to support their viewpoints
Their community, however, is not a monolith, Austin said.
In this photo, Austin, helps her son Onyx with school through Zoom at their home in Oakland on April 14, 2021. According to Austin, Onyx has thrived during distance learning because the family can actively engage in his learning. However, Austin is quick to point out that this is only possible due to the fact that both she and her husband, Michael, work from home.
26-year-old Oakland Mario Gonzalez died in Alameda police custody this year after what the Alameda Police Department termed a "scuffle" with officers in a small park near the city's Park Street corridor.
At a vigil in April in Alameda, community members and activists demanded answers in Gonzalez's death.
Over 170 years ago, the small island of Bonopoti in Lake County was still a haven for the people who had lived there for centuries: the Pomo. On May 15, 1850, a U.S Army regiment arrived on the island and killed every Pomo man, woman and child they could find.
From then on, Bonopoti became known as Bloody Island. And for two decades, the island has hosted a Sunrise Ceremony of Forgiveness every May: A space where people from different Indigenous tribes gather to honor those ancestors claimed in the massacre, and to look to the future.
The absence of an official San Francisco Pride Parade made room for things to get a lot weirder, more political, and more D.I.Y. this year.
Instead of corporate-sponsored floats with rainbow advertisements, a People’s March organized by artists and activists took over the streets on Sunday, June 27, connecting the celebration back to its radical roots.
Steam rises off of a fresh batch of chef Edward Wooley's garlic noodles at his Oakland restaurant, Smelly's Creole and Soul Food. Here in the Bay Area, Asian Americans love garlic noodles. Black and Latino folks love garlic noodles. Indeed, once you start looking for garlic noodles, it seems, you find them everywhere.
“My business is soul fusion,” Wooley says. “I take my Black seasonings and style, and mix it with the Asian cuisine. It’s a blend of everything.”
Record droughts in California’s Central Valley, the country’s most lucrative agricultural area, have made life difficult for growers in the region. The lack of rain, over-pumping of aquifers, and the rising temperatures from climate change, which dry out the soil, have contributed to many farmers removing crops that they’ve grown for decades.
As seen above, Chris Borba and his family have farmed in the Central Valley for several generations, but he worries that their farm might not survive if there is another year as dry as 2021.
Jatinderpal Singh, 71, a former line worker at Foster Farms’ Cherry plant, equated the loss of his cousin, Baljinder Dhillon, 65, a mechanic at the plant, to losing an arm. Dhillon tested positive for COVID-19 in December of 2020 during an outbreak at Foster Farms.
“My legs still shake,” Singh said in an interview on Aug. 11, speaking in Punjabi through an interpreter. “I still feel it, even today. Sometimes I feel weakness in my legs when I think about him.”
In 2015 a man named Herrera fled to the U.S. with his family after he says he became the target of political violence in his hometown in central Mexico. When they reached the San Francisco Bay Area, he applied for asylum. But security still feels elusive: His case in immigration court has dragged on for six years, and it involves grueling cross-examinations that he says rekindle the terror he experienced.
"I didn’t want to remember the kidnapping or anything else because it’s really ugly," said Herrera, now 50 and a construction worker in San José. "But I have to keep opening up the trunk and pulling out those memories."
Nazia Gabar arrived from Afghanistan and landed in the Bay Area in 2017 with her husband and baby. “At first it's very difficult to adapt to a new culture, a new environment, new people,” she said. “At that time when we came, we were very stressful about everything because there was no home and no jobs. We didn't have any money, and the rent was very high.”
They had friends who had come earlier who helped them transition, and now they both do the same to help newly arrived Afghan refugees.
In The Bay Area's Great Immigrant Food City, a series of stories exploring San Jose's wonderfully diverse immigrant food scene, we meet Mardonia Galeana, also known as Abuela, through the eyes of her grandson, Yosimar Reyes. In the early 1990s, Abuela started an informal business selling home-cooked meals and offered them at a reduced price to the immigrant community in their neighborhood. Her clientele grew, and for several nights a week, men crowded into their apartment, sharing laughs and hardships.
"For those men, the camaraderie of sitting around Abuela’s table helped make being in this country feel less lonely."
Hundreds of residents filled the streets of the Mission District in San Francisco on the evening of November 2 to honor and celebrate the dead on Día de los Muertos.
The sidewalks of 24th Street, from Mission Street to Potrero Avenue, were packed with families, some holding candles, others wearing delicately crafted dresses, face paint, and hair arrangements made out of cempasúchil, or marigolds.
On November 2, kids aged 5-11 became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in California. Families filled the United in Health vaccine site in San Francisco's Mission District, including Fergus, who wore a tuxedo shirt to celebrate the long-awaited day.
2021 marked 52 years since Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island to bring attention to past and ongoing injustices against Native peoples — and it's a day that brought promises for more inclusion from the Biden administration.
The anniversary also was marked by a visit and speech from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary. "The occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indigenous people in 1969 was more than a call for action. It was a cry for a sense of community and the life ways that were stolen from us," she said. "We're in a new era, an era in which we can embrace our identities as Indigenous people and be proud of how much we have accomplished."