A Look at the Bay Area's Perseverance in 2021 Through Photos

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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.

A woman stands in the foreground in a purple sweatshirt with the words "Class of 21" with trees and sky in the background.
Shavonne Hines-Foster, a Lowell High School senior and student delegate for the district, stands outside of her school in San Francisco on Jan. 29, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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."

Read the full story: Lowell Students Say #MeToo. Sexual Abuse Allegations Spark Reckoning at SF High School

A girl with a mask in the bottom left of the frame flies a kite with the background of buildings in San Francisco
Cliff Lee and Joao Lee Ramirez, 12, fly a kite on Portsmouth Square Bridge in San Francisco on March 20, 2021, during a vigil and rally in support of the AAPI community on March 20, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: Bay Area Vigils Remember Atlanta Shooting Victims, Challenge White Supremacy

An image from above. A child sits in a red chair at a blue table with a book open at a computer. The reflection can be seen in a mirror in the bottom of the frame.
Onyx attends school at home with his parents in Oakland on April 14, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: 'We're Not a Monolith': Some Black and Brown Parents in Oakland Feel Conflicted as In-Person Learning Returns

A woman wearing a black sweatshirt and a mask places a candle at an altar above the words "Justice 4 Mario G."
A woman places a candle at a memorial for Mario Gonzalez during a vigil on April 21, 2021. Gonzalez died in Alameda police custody Monday. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: ‘We Need Justice’: Mourners Demand Alameda Police Provide Answers in Death of Mario Gonzalez

The silhouette of a person against the blue-sky of sunrise.
Robert Bell, a Vietnam veteran and a Cahto tribe member, stands in a circle during the Bloody Island Sunrise Ceremony near Upper Lake, California, on May 15, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: 'We Always Have Our Ancestors Within Us': Scenes From Bloody Island's Sunrise Ceremony

A young girl is hoisted onto a horse in front of a Black Panther Party mural honoring the women of the Black Panther Party
Donnell McAlister gives kids a chance to sit on top of his horse JJ, named after Jesse James, during a Juneteenth block party to celebrate the opening of the Black Panther Party Mini Museum in West Oakland on June 19, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In celebration of Juneteenth this year, The West Oakland Mural Project opened a small museum to highlight Black Panther Party history.

At the block party held to celebrate, Donnell McAlister gave kids a chance to sit on top of his horse, JJ, named after Jesse James.

Read the full story: 'This Is American History': Oakland Mini Museum on the Black Panther Party Opens on Juneteenth

A colorful scene with a large banner in the foreground and many people in the background waving rainbow flags and signs.
Hundreds march head down Polk Street towards City Hall during the People's March and Rally in San Francisco on June 27, 2021, during Pride weekend in the Bay Area. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: PHOTOS: LGBTQ+ Pride Lights Up the Bay Area In All Its Rainbow Glory

Edward Wooley, known as Chef Smelly, prepares garlic noodles at Smelly's Creole and Soul Food pop-up on Broadway in Oakland on August 7, 2021. Garlic noodles are one of the most popular dishes at the pop-up. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.”

Read the full story: How Garlic Noodles Became one of the Bay Area's Most Iconic Foods

A man in a cowboy hat stands next to a tractor with the background of a field behind him.
Chris Borba and his son Joseph repair a broken irrigation line on their family-owned farm in Porterville, California, on August 10, 2021. Record droughts in California’s Central Valley, the country’s most lucrative agricultural area, have made life difficult for growers in the region. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: Central Valley Farmers Weigh in on California's Historic Drought

Jatinderpal Singh sits at his home in Fresno on August 11, 2021. Singh is a former employee of the Foster Farms’ Cherry facility. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.”

Read the full story: 'There Is Anger. He Should Be Alive.' An Investigation Into Deadly COVID-19 Outbreaks at Foster Farms

Herrera and Gonzalez hold hands in their yard on Aug. 23, 2021. Along with their three children, the couple fled Mexico and are seeking asylum in the U.S. But their case has dragged on for six years in immigration court. (Beth LaBerge)

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."

Read the full story: 'Like Living Through It All Over Again': New Biden Plan Could Ease Impact on Asylum Seekers Asked to Recount Their Trauma

Redwood trees, smoke and a firefighter pointing his hose at a blazing fire.
A Storey County Fire District crew battles the Caldor Fire off of Highway 50 near South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 31, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The state is in a dangerous place. Scorching summers coupled with tinderbox dry forests render fire containment ineffective — especially when it's hot, windy, or a combination of the two.

When the Caldor Fire burned into the Tahoe Basin, it looked like this city, a center of gravity for culture in this part of the Sierra, could (and many thought, would) burn.

But it did not, thanks to the 3,500 firefighters, a timely shift in the winds and years of fire preparations by a myriad of players.

Read the full story: Wildfire Torched the Sierra All Summer, Evading Containment. Here’s How Tahoe Protected Itself

A woman sits at a computer in the background of a home, while a man plays with two kids in the foreground.
While Nazia Gabar teaches English classes to women from Afghanistan who have resettled in the United States, her husband Hassam plays with their two children at their home in San Leandro on Sept. 8, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: 'I Know Exactly What You Feel': Bay Area Afghans Work Overtime to Welcome New Refugees

An older woman with glasses and a slight stands in the sunlight.
Mardonia Galeana poses for a portrait at her home in San Jose on Oct. 7, 2021. During the 1990s, she ran an informal restaurant out of her apartment. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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."

Read the full story: My Abuela’s East San Jose Kitchen Fed Dozens of Undocumented Workers Every Week

Five people stand in different brightly colored dresses and face paint against a backdrop of a mural in the Mission.
The group Eveyln's Whisper perform a tribute to Evelyn Hernandez during a community healing vigil and living ofrenda celebration on 24th and Capp streets in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2021, part of the neighborhood's Día de Los Muertos festivities. The event honored the memory of womxn, QTPOC, and children lost to violence. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: 'To Also Celebrate the Living': Día de los Muertos Returns to the Mission

A kid sits in a chair receiving a bandaid from a nurse while a woman holds his hand.
Registered Nurse Elia Moreno administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Fergus, 10, while his mother, Kyre Osburn, holds his hand at the United in Health vaccine site in San Francisco's Mission District on Nov. 9, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Read the full story: Where Can I Get a Pfizer COVID Vaccine for Kids Age 5-11 Near Me?

A young woman stands with arms outstretched in a beautifully outfit lit by the window.
Genesis Rosales dances with family at the 52nd Anniversary of the Alcatraz Occupation on Alcatraz Island on Nov. 20, 2021, during a visit to Alcatraz by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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."


Read the full story: 'We're in a New Era': On 52nd Anniversary of Alcatraz Occupation, Biden Administration Commits to Native American Inclusion