Valley students look back at a turbulent year to express how it has impacted them.
By Aimee Martinez, Valley Life Editor
On Jan. 21, the CDC confirmed the first coronavirus case in the United States. Today, more than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. March 25 marks the day George Floyd died under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” became the chant for protesters in Minneapolis a day later, sparking conversations about police brutality and systematic racism. The year also increased the rift in an already increasingly polarized nation. In an October Pew Research poll, 80 percent of Joe Biden supporters and 77 percent of Donald Trump supporters said that when it comes to “core American values,” they “fundamentally disagree.” Four Valley College students share their own experiences and opinions as they reflect on the events of the past year.
Longing for the theater
Cristina Miller stands in front of the Valley College Theater building. After self-quarantining due to possible COVID-19 exposure, she is preparing to graduate and transfer. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith/The Valley Star)
Actress Cristina Miller would describe 2020 in a word: “wild.”
For Miller, there was always something that occupied her time during quarantine — meditation, self-care, painting — in addition to working from home and taking six classes. Online classes helped her focus and provided new goals for the year. She said instructors were “kind, supportive and understanding,” especially to those who miss class due to illness. Miller lives with her aunt, who caught the coronavirus, and had to quarantine with her. Her aunt recovered. Miller was unscathed , but the time indoors left a void.
"I miss the theater," said the 28 year old. "I miss hugs and intimacy, just all of what most people miss, having face to face conversations, you know, the little things. My family has unfortunately been hit, like many, with it. It's been a struggle."
The production of “Urinetown,” was canceled in March. But after two months of rehearsal for that production, she refused to let that deter her and decided to perform in “Love and Information,” this semester's virtual play. Miller has been acting since she was 14. She became involved in theater two years ago at Valley and found it to be her passion.
She said she was thrilled with the outcome of the election and disagrees with the way Trump has handled the results. She believes the Black Lives Matter protests this year were necessary.
“People need to know that something historically important is still happening," said Miller. "I'm a big supporter of speaking your mind, freedom of expression and spreading awareness.”
An incompetent government
Ross Bauer, an Air Force Veteran and Valley College theatre major, stands in front of a flyer for “Urinetown,” a play that he and others rehearsed for, but was canceled due to the pandemic. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith/The Valley Star)
For Ross Bauer, this is the second time he suffered through an economic recession. The first happened in 2007 after he graduated high school. He decided to join the Airforce so he could earn a decent paycheck.
This year has been revealing for Bauer, serving as an expose on the inherent flaws in America's society and economy. Bauer said the government's response to the pandemic is “insulting at best,” as efforts to deal with unemployment are “insufficient,” and it is “extremely one-sided” when it comes to businesses.
"We don't have a functioning federal government," said the 31-year-old actor. “The utter lack of regard for people who aren't huge money donors from the highest levels of our federal government is disgusting. I think it's treasonous and seditious."
Bauer cut contact with some of his extended family members after their open approval of Trump, and their advocacy for a “return to racial segregation.” He said, “They use the n-word like a proper noun.”
Bauer grew up near Louisville, Kentucky. In 2016, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and in 2019, participated in his first production — a series of one-act plays. Bauer and other Valley students created a production group called Less Than Strangers earlier this year. They have produced two short films with the second accepted in several film festivals.
After working as an Uber driver on New Year’s, Bauer caught the coronavirus. He began to feel symptoms after a few days, gradually worsening and was confined to his bed for two weeks where he “felt like death.” Though he recovered, his great aunt also contracted the virus and died in October.
Bauer quit smoking during quarantine, started eating better and exercising and lost about 25 pounds. He works from home as a voice actor and continues to take online classes. They are not his preferred method of learning and as a kinesthetic learner, staring at a computer screen is not ideal. On Instagram, Bauer sees friends from Australia and New Zealand going to bars, concerts, restaurants, sports games — living normal lives. The only time they wear a mask is at the hospital or on planes. He said it makes him cry.
This year has made Bauer more cynical and changed his political affiliation from liberal to socialist. He thinks the way social issues were addressed were not substantial enough.
“When it comes to the neoliberal outlook on it,” said Bauer. “In terms of addressing racism, calling out Karens and people who use the n-word in public, on that surface level, sure it has definitely been a better and more effective response because now that people know who Karens are, they're afraid to come out of their holes.”
Let's talk about unity
For Sharlot Colmemary, 2020 was a year to learn about her family and herself. Before the country shut down, every day consisted of going to class and going to work. Quarantine forced her to stay home more and learn about her parents and their relationship. Online classes turned out to be easier for Colmemary as many were pre-recorded and she could work at her own pace.
The 19 year old thanked God that she did not lose her job. In-N-Out even gave her two weeks off, with pay before employees returned to work. Though she has not experienced financial hardship, the lockdown has taken an emotional toll.
"You appreciate your everyday life, like going to the park and going out to eat with friends," said the Venezuelan native.
The business management major believes masks should be enforced, but shutting down the country and California is too extreme. Colmemary believes the government did the best they could because “no one is ever ready for a pandemic.” She believes the media could have handled it better.
Colmemary considers protests to be a beneficial catalyst for change if done the right way. There are problems in this country she said, but looting is the wrong way to fight for minorities rights and just causes. She thinks it is “hateful and unfair to business owners and the community.”
On social media, Colmemary saw many ignorantly posting or reposting comments on issues because they were made by celebrities. She saw these lead to conversations about defunding the police, a concept she disagrees with.
"Let’s fight for George Floyd," said Colmemary. "Let’s fight for them but not in the sense where let’s just defund the police altogether."
Colmemary fears the nation may not get back to a sense of normalcy, but hopes the country can find some peace.
“My hopes are that we can find a place to be united as a country,” she said. “Right now the country is still very divided.”
A hope for a better future
Joshua Esquivel, pictured in front of the Valley College Theater building’s ticket office. Esquivel has started his own acting group, called Virthe Productions, to deal with the pandemic. (Photo by Solomon O. Smith/The Valley Star)
Joshua Esquivel is doing everything he can to keep himself sane and positive, but there is still the constant anxiety and fear of his family getting infected.
Esquivel said many have underestimated the virus, with some in more affluent communities walking maskless and behaving like “the stakes are not high for them.” However, he understands the plight of those who need to work.
"It's been annoying how so many of us have had to shoulder the burden of others who don't want to follow fairly simple instructions as far as staying inside and wearing a mask outside," said Esquivel. "We have a great schism in the country about what matters."
Esquivel said it is “criminal” how Trump’s administration has handled the virus and in the end, the nation will be “shell shocked” by how much damage was caused. With Trump's refusal to step down and election fraud allegations, he hopes all of it is a wakeup call for Americans. Esquivel supposes the nation was due for a “bona fide tyrant.”
Esquivel warned that with an abundance of information and an influential media, people must be vigilant. Without proper research, people can be deceived, he added.
"We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to make sure we are getting the right information in our minds and then spreading the right information, not just taking in anything we hear," said Esquivel.
He wanted to attend more protests. However, his partner suffers from a lung condition and he lives with his grandmother and nephew and did not want to risk their health. This concern over the coronavirus prevents him from looking for a job. Friends who are essential workers have recounted to him horror stories about the lack of safety protocols in their industries.
In terms of the Black Lives Matter protests, Esquivel says he is not a “blue or red person,” but just wants to see politicians follow through with their promises.
"We have to hold these people accountable, the powers that be," he said. "I'm tired of being told, ‘we hear you, we see you.’ Do you really though? Or are you just trying to get me off your back. I've heard a lot of nice pretty sentiments, but I want to see real action."
The 26 year old has been keeping active during quarantine, meditating, practicing Spanish, completing chores and helping his family. He also started a theater company with students from Valley called Virthe Productions. The Latinx actor was helping out with the opera “Sweet Land,” but like many other productions, it was canceled.
Esquivel remembers students as “passing faces,” not really connecting with each other on campus. Online, despite a screen of blacked-out cameras, he felt more camaraderie. He could hear the affection in his fellow students’ voices.
Looking back at the past nine months, Esquivel said people have been through a lot, but he is still optimistic.
"[I am] just trying to stay above water, holding my breath, crossing my fingers, being positive,” he said. “Really in my heart, truly believing that things will get better. I really believe that. As much as I have been hurt by my government and fellow citizens, I feel like things can and will get better."