A Clash of Cultures

As time progresses so does culture. Since the beginning of mankind we have created a plethora of cultures that span to every corner of the globe. It can even be said that each individual person displays his or her very own personal culture. This culture is built from everything an individual has experienced in their lives, and because life is dynamic everyone’s culture is always shifting and morphing into something else. The only real constant about culture is change. For the most part we don’t recognize much of this change. We identify the shift in personal beliefs as growing up, maturing, and becoming wiser. Often what happens during this shift in culture, is the realization that, “My beliefs are different than those of my parents, my peers, my church.” On an individual level these differences, although at times difficult, can be overcome. When it comes to a shift in the culture of a population it can often be met with organized animosity, hatred, and bigotry.

This is a photo taken in the 1920's. It shows individuals that identified as openly homosexual.  Picture Credit :http://counterlightsrantsandblather1.blogspot.com/
This is a photo taken in the 1920’s. It shows individuals that identified as openly homosexual. During this time period there were scattered populations of homosexual individuals through out the United States, but they were very quite about their sexual orientation.
Picture Credit :http://counterlightsrantsandblather1.blogspot.com/

During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, communities of people who identified themselves as homosexual lived in scattered populations throughout America. By in large they lived in peace but were very secretive about their sexual orientation. America’s involvement in World War II saw a mass mobilization of young men and women. Formerly isolated groups of gay men and women found themselves in the military, or working in the vast industries mobilized supporting the effort, or in many cases as volunteers working to support the troops and local communities. This uprooting of homosexual individuals from small towns, big cities, and rural communities did two things for the homosexual culture. One, it allowed for men and women who were secretly homosexual to meet one another and talk about their experiences and points of view. Second, it brought homosexual individuals out into open society. They had to interact and by consequence were able to begin the process of sharing their beliefs and feelings. This unintentional meeting of cultures that led to an exchange of information between individuals with different viewpoints was one of the primary catalysts that gave visibility to the homosexual culture in the United States.

At the end of WWII, men and women returned to their homes and lives, but underneath society had changed. American culture had started to shift. After the war there was awareness in America of a homosexual subculture. This rising awareness coincided with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations in the 1950’s into individuals in government, and in the media, especially those in the Hollywood movie business, who were considered subversive. Of the many criteria Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activates Committee used to vilify people, besides anything remotely associated with communism or socialism was homosexuality. By the end of the 1950’s American society started to recognize the homosexual culture. But this recognition was a far cry from acceptance, and it would take another 50 years before this emerging culture would gain any real recognition and influence on American culture.

***

This photo was taken in 2008 during a track meet that took place at Bishop Mangoue.  Photo Credit: Bishop Manouge
This photo was taken in 2008 during a track meet that took place at Bishop Mangoue. Running track and field was only one of the many things that Nick Francis was involved in when he was in high school.
Photo Credit: Bishop Manouge

Nick Francis was born on in 1993 in Reno, Nevada. He grew up in the Reno community, attended Huffaker Elementary School, Demonte Ranch Middle School, and then Bishop Manogue Catholic High School. Like many middle class families of the time, Nick was raised in a conservative and religious household. His formative years were not unusually and by his own account he was “your average high school student.”

“I was at Manogue on a scholarship so I had to keep my GPA really high,” Nick said. “I ran track and also I started Future Business Leaders of America on campus my junior year to get involved and boost my chances at getting into a good college, and then I was in little clubs like the environmental club and what not. I had a pretty solid group of friends so we just spent most of our time together.”

After graduation Nick attended the University of Nevada. In January of 2012, right before the start of the second semester, Nick came out of the closet.

“It wasn’t something that I really thought I needed to do though,” Nick said. “I had known for a long time how I felt, and coming out just seemed trivial. I can see though, how addressing this or coming out can do a lot for an individual, but for me it wasn’t really a big deal.”

The “rave scene” of the late 2000’s played a big role in Nick’s decision to come out. The “scene” was yet another subculture within American culture, but like homosexuality it didn’t fit the model of what was considered normal and acceptable.

“These people were nerds, rejects, gay people, straight people, and anyone who did not ‘fit in’,” said Nick. “This scene was developed as a coping method to deal with societies distain, but this is not the first time something like this has happened. If you look at the 1980’s there was a huge “dance scene” that developed that impacted the gay culture. This scene became a copping mechanism that many gay people used to deal with societies distain at their lifestyle.”

***

In the 1980’s the disco dance scene swept through the American youth culture. In terms of the gay movement this disco scene was an avenue for free expression and acceptance. For the first time there were dance clubs where people could gather together without fear of judgment or oppression. It is important to note that during this time the straight scene and the homosexual scene were doing exactly the same thing: gathering together, dancing and embracing sexuality.

This photo captures the gay culture of the late 1970's and early 1980's. This was a demonstration that occurred in New York City.
This photo captures the gay culture of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This was a demonstration that occurred in New York City. These type of demonstrations were not uncommon during this time period. It wasn’t until the HIV/AID’s out break of the 1980 and 1990’s that these demonstrations halted because the homosexual community was scared to go out in public.

For a short time it seemed as if homosexuality was on the path to being understood and accepted. Unfortunately, with the AID’s epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s the doors were slammed shut and locked. In the beginning of the 1980’s reports began to emerge from California and New York of small numbers of men who had all been diagnosed with very rare forms of cancer and pneumonia. The cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, normally only affected people of Mediterranean or Jewish heritage and young adult African men. The pneumonia, Pneumocystis Pneumonia Carinii, was generally only found in individuals with seriously compromised immune systems. The strange thing was all the men that were coming down with these illnesses were young and had previously been in relatively good health. There was only one thing that connected them all: they were all gay.

On June 5, 1981 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first documentation of this coincidence. Less than a month later, the New York Times released an article that stated more than 45 homosexual individuals had been diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma. By the end of 1981 there were five to six new cases of these illnesses occurring in homosexual men every week. A year after the CDC’s first initial report there had been over 400 cases spanning 22 states. Between 1982 and 1985 the term HIV and AID’s was adopted when talking about these immune deficiencies. 10 yeas after the first case of AID’s was documented in the United States there over 45,000 cases of AID’s nation wide and AID’s had become the second leading cause of death of men between the ages of 22 and 45.

By the start of the 1990’s there was a common assumption that homosexuality was an “infections disease.” Every year, more and more gay men were becoming sick and dying. An irrational fear of homosexuality gripped the nation. “Gay Bashing”, which included everything from verbal insults to serious physical assault, forced openly homosexual people back into the shadows. Any hope that the homosexual culture had in attempting to assimilate into American culture had been halted.

In the 1990’s there were many cases of heterosexual men and women who had been diagnosed with HIV/AID’s. Still it remained a “gay” disease. The heterosexual cases were dismissed as being caused from intravenous drug use. Not until 1991, when Magic Johnson came out and stated that he had tested HIV positive, did the nation take notice that this disease affected more than just gay people. Magic quit playing professional basketball and used his celebrity status to begin and sustain a public education campaign to inform the public of the specifics of this disease.

“I think sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it. It’s not going to happen to me. And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson,” Magic said.

This announcement had a huge impact on American society and public awareness of HIV/AID’s. In the months after Magic Johnsons announcement that “…it can happen to anyone,” in New York City, the number of people tested for HIV/AID’s increased by more than 60%. With the deaths of well-known people such as tennis star Arthur Ashe, in 1993, and famous rapper Easy-E, in 1995, the awareness that AID’s was not just a “gay thing,” began to gain traction.

Historically, the culture of the United States is deeply rooted in religion. Further, many of the mainstream faiths, especially during the 80’s and 90’s were adamantly against same sex relations. The AID’s epidemic only furthered many Americans’ already pre-established views of homosexual culture, as unnatural, unclean, and unholy.

Over the next 10 years the homosexual culture made slow, but steady advancements into American culture. On May 24, 2004, the homosexual community saw the first tangible sign that their lifestyle was acceptable when Massachusetts, became the first state in American to legalize gay marriage.

***

The year is 2012, Nick Francis had just come out and things were good for a while. Yes, he noticed that some people he would have called friends only a semester before had somewhat phased themselves out of his life, but on the other hand this experience only strengthen his friendship with many others.

“Of course I lost some friends, but none that I would consider close,” Nick said. “My close friends were actually mad at me that I hadn’t come out to them in high school. The most surprising thing was, people who I was sure would vanish out of my life, actually, after my coming out, were the most supportive and have become some of my best friends.”

The biggest concern for Nick was his family and what they would think. Nick, like many, grew up in a family where the homosexual culture was openly looked down upon. Nick’s grandfather, who was one of the most influential people in his life, was a pastor for a Protestant Church. He recalls a sermon when his grandfather said, “All those faggot are going to hell!” This statement illustrates the clash of cultures that society faced in the late 1990’s, and continues to contend with today. Nick knew that one day his parents would find out he was gay and he had come to terms with that, but he never intended for his grandparents to find out.

Nick Francis poses with his date, Morgan Taylor, during the Tri Delta Formal Dance that occurred last weekend.
Nick Francis poses with his date, Morgan Taylor, during the Tri Delta Formal Dance that occurred last weekend. Nick is heavily involved in almost all aspects of university culture from sorority dances to student government to club involvement.

“It was right around Memorial Day, I think. And I got a call from my mom one morning at like 7 a.m.,” Nick said. “She asked me how I was and how school was going. Then she told me that she needed to talk to me in person. I was planning on having dinner with them that night so I told her I would talk to her then. She quickly responded that she really needed to talk to me in person right now. I asked why it could not just wait until tonight, and she responded that she had heard something from my older sister and really needed to talk to me.”

At that instant Nick knew that his sexual orientation had somehow become family knowledge. He told his mom he would talk to her that night and hung up the phone. Nick never went to his parent’s house that night. Nick’s mother had found out from his older sister, who heard it from a friend in Ohio where she lived, who had heard it from a friend in Reno. A few weeks later Nick received a text from his mother saying, “Are you going to ever come home?” Nick’s response was, “Am I ever allowed to come home?”

The next year was filled with drama and animosity. Things were said on both sides and it was hard for Nick and his family to overcome the cultural barrier that had so abruptly risen between them.

***

Around the same time Nick decided to branch out and join a business fraternity on Nevada’s campus, Delta Sigma Pi.

“I joined only a few months after coming out, but it’s coed so there wasn’t a lot of difference between Delta Sigma Pi and a regular group of people,” Nick said. “For the most part people have been accepting, but I’ve also made a point to speak up when people speak ignorantly or perhaps need education in an area their lacking.”

Nick has had the experience of growing up as an openly gay man, in a time when the gay lifestyle and culture is on the path to real acceptance and understanding. This has helped foster in him an optimistic view of the future.

“Our generation as a whole is just really a lot more accepting of these things than past generations,” Nick said.

Nick has made it a point to become very knowledgeable and involved in the homosexual community and has never let the fact that he is openly gay stop him from doing anything. A senior this year, Nick made the decision to join another fraternity on Nevada’s campus, the brotherhood of Sigma Nu.

“This has been the biggest surprise, and my experience with fraternity men on campus in general,” Nick said. “I’m openly gay so I think that eases some apprehensions that other people have vs. wondering if someone might be gay. Everyone within Sigma Nu fraternity has been really accepting. Younger individuals still use the word faggot or gay a lot more than older members I’ve noticed, but that’s just something that I’ve seen change over the time someone matures in college.”

This can be seen as one of the high points in the progression of the homosexual culture. Across the nation on more campuses than ever before you will find men who are openly gay joining social fraternities. Ten years ago you would not have seen this. Brian Kehoe, a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity on Nevada’s campus in the early 2000’s who has returned to school at the age of 32 and is still involved within Sigma Nu provides a first hand look at this.

Brian Kehoe poses for a profile shot after participating in The "F" Word.
Brian Kehoe poses for a profile shot after participating in The “F” Word. Brian Kehoe provided The “F” Word project with a very unique insight in to university culture due to the fact that he has attended Nevada two separate times over 10 years apart.

“Ten years ago when I was an active member of Sigma Nu you would not find openly gay men within fraternities. It was really looked down upon by not only by the fraternity itself but by the social culture of the university,” Kehoe said.

Eric Johnson, the newly elected Vice President of Sigma Nu, when asked about Nick Francis being openly gay only had this to say.

“Nick is not our first openly gay member, and he will for sure not be our last,” Johnson said. “When someone joins this house and goes through the process it bridges any gap that you may find whether that is race, wealth, or sexual orientation. We are a group of diverse brothers, and I would not have it any other way.”

***

Today there are 35 states that have legalized same sex marriage, and the Supreme Court has said that laws prohibiting gay marriage are unconstitutional It is a huge step in the right direction for the homosexual community. It is estimated that over 85,000 same sex couples have been married since 2004. Every day openly gay men and women are making strides toward equality throughout every aspect of society. With the scientific advancements of the 21-century not only is American society aware of the real cause of HIV/AID’s, but also how it is transmitted. Today the average person who is diagnosed with HIV/AID’s has an average life expectancy of 50 years after diagnoses, compared to the 12-year life expectancy of someone diagnosed in the early 1980’s.

***

It has been three years since Nick came out. He has made efforts to be open in regard to his sexuality and has pushed the barriers. He has joined and become a valued member of a campus fraternal organization and has taught his fellow brothers what true brotherhood real is. His relationship with his parents is strong and even with is grandfather deep wounds have begun to heal.

Nick Francis poses for a candid model shoot that he did himself.
Nick Francis poses for a candid model shoot that he did himself. Nick has not only watched the homosexual culture evolve over the past decade but he has also lived it. The future looks bright for this culture.

Nick is part of a community that for the first time is truly an accepted subculture in American society. There are still huge steps to take but as with any issue of equality, whether it be race, gender or sexual orientation, the process is one that takes times, often decades, to cement its place in individual consciousness. As is so clearly illustrated by the race issues surrounding the most recent tragic deaths of young black men and the hands of white police officers, so too is the struggle facing the gay and lesbian communities. Certainly progress has been made, but only by keeping the issues of equality and acceptance constant in the American conversation can we as an American culture, integrate into our lives and the lives of the generations to come, the subcultures that in so many ways define who we are.

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It’s four in the morning, Rick Miolini, who goes by “Ricky,” wakes up in his single bedroom Skyline Blvd. Apartment, where he lives alone. Every weekday his routine is the same. He wakes before sunrise, gets dressed, eats a light breakfast, and gets dressed for work. In his purple tuck, Ricky leaves his apartment no later than 5:20 a.m. Work begins at 6:00 a.m., but Ricky likes to be early. Ricky works for Western Nevada Supply, a local plumbing and waterworks distribution company in the Reno/ Tahoe area. He works Monday through Friday, 6 to 10 a.m.

Besides working 20 hours a week, Ricky volunteers his time at several organizations and events. He is also, part of a competitive bowling team, a regular at the gym, and is a huge sports fan, and especially enjoys watching and cheering on the Wolf Pack .

48 year old Ricky Miolini poses with this custom bowling ball and shoes. Ricky bowls in the Special Olympics and is rather good.
48 year old Ricky Miolini poses with this custom bowling ball and shoes. Ricky bowls in the Special Olympics and is rather good.

Ricky loves to stay in contact with his family and friends, and he enjoys spending time outdoors, going out to dinner, or hanging out and watching a football or basketball game on television. Ricky’s life sounds very normal and familiar: he has a job, a car, an apartment, hobbies, and friends and family who love him. There is just one thing that makes Ricky different from everyone else. It is something that Ricky was born with, but if you ask him about it, he would tell you he is in no different than anyone else.

***

In 1966 Rick Miolini was born to Rich and Jean Miolini in Reno, Nevada, at Saint Mary’s Hospital. Immediately after birth it was clear to the doctors, and to Ricky’s parents, that there was something different about baby Ricky. Within minutes of his birth he was diagnosed with mild to moderate Down syndrome.

In biological terms; inside every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material (genes) are stored. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited form each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individuals has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the average life span for a person with Down syndrome was less than 25 years, and many people that were diagnosed with Down syndrome were institutionalized at a young age. These institutions often contributed to the low life expectancy. At this time the medical community categorized those with Down syndrom as “retarded.”

These are two infographics that show the average life expectancy for an individual with Down syndrome starting in the year 1910, and average I.Q.'s of people with Down syndrome.
These are two infographics that show the average life expectancy for an individual with Down syndrome starting in the year 1910, and average I.Q.’s of people with Down syndrome.

Due to a lack of understanding about the particular genetic mutation, they were treated with strong drugs that kept them in constant semi-catatonic state. Considered ‘unteachable’, there was little effort made to explore the developmental limits of Down syndrome patients. By the late 1970s attitudes within the medical community and in society began to shift in regard to those with Down syndrome. The institutionalization of most persons with Down syndrome no longer was the norm and it became expected that people with Down syndrome would live at home and go to school. There was a realization that these people deserved the same fundamental human and civil rights, as everyone else. This was the catalyst of change. Since 1980 the average IQ for an individual with Down syndrome has increased by 20 points and the overwhelming majority learn how to read and write. Also, many now, attend public schools and some are graduating with a “typical” diploma.

Luckily, Ricky was never institutionalized. His parent kept him at home and he was raised with his two sisters, one older and one younger. Growing up Ricky never received any special attention or treatment because of his condition. He was just the middle child of a normal, regular, Italian family. At six years old he began attending school. From 1972 to 1980 Rick attended Marvin Piccolo Elementary School and then Swope Middle School until 1982. After attending Swope Middle School for two years Ricky’s education continued although he never attended high school Instead of going to high school Ricky was taught, at home, by his mother, a special education teacher in Washoe County. Ricky learned how to read, write and do basic math

“I never .went to high school. I just moved on with my life,” Ricky said.

When Ricky was a teenager it was not an established practice for persons with Down syndrome to attend high school. At the time, there were not protocols and procedures in place to provide specialized teaching services for those with disabilities. Even with the passing of Public Law 94-142 in 1975, which guaranteed a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability, Washoe County still did not have the special education programs necessary to deal with an individual with Rick’s special needs. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that Special Education programs really began to expand and to specifically provide for those with Down syndrome, within educational districts throughout the United States.

“There have been many changes,” said Jacque Matteioni, the head of special education for the Washoe County school district. “The greatest one I believe came about with the passing of the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2001. The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, states must give these assessments to all students at select grade levels. It was the hope of the federal government that all children would read at a third grade level. This set a high standard for the education of all children. As you can imagine, there have been several changes simply based on the fact that not all children are the same.”

Because of this major change in Special Education, today in Washoe County, nearly all students enrolled in special education programs, gradate with either a regular high school diploma or an adjusted high school diploma. Of these graduates approximately 25 percent go on to attend universities.

Ricky gets warmed up during bowling practice at the Grand Sierra Bowling Ally. They practice every Monday, and have a Special Olympics Bowling tournament at the Nation Bowling Stadium downtown on November 14.
Ricky gets warmed up during bowling practice at the Grand Sierra Bowling Ally. They practice every Monday, and have a Special Olympics Bowling tournament at the Nation Bowling Stadium downtown on November 14.

This lack of special education services did not stop Ricky; at 18 years old he was able to get his drivers license, a huge step to him gaining independence. Two years later Ricky, now 20, moved out of his parent’s house and started to live on his own. Throughout this process, which is continuing to this day, Ricky has had the encouragement and full support of his family.

In 2006 Ricky’s mother died unexpectedly. It was a very difficult time for Ricky. It was the first time in his life that he had to deal with the emotional fallout of very personal trauma, but with the help of his family and friends he was able to make it through that traumatic experience.

***

In 1990 Ricky got his first full time job at Reno Foods. His job was to help load the delivery trucks with food to be delivered to local food-service vendors, and to help unload the trucks coming to the warehouse. He, also, helped keep the warehouse clean and orderly. Unfortunately, in 1993 the owner of Reno Foods died and with him the company. But it didn’t take Ricky long to find new employment. In 1994 Ricky went to work for a local Red Lobster restaurant as a busboy. He worked there for 3 years

“Working at Red Lobster was really, really boring,” Ricky said.

In 1998 Ricky went to work for Pet Smart as a customer service representative. His employment ended in early 2001, when a customer called Ricky a “retard” and Rick told the customer to politely “go fuck himself.”

“Ricky has great self-esteem for someone who suffers from a learning disability and the day I found out what had happened at Pet Smart and the reason behind him (Ricky) being let go I could not of been more proud of him,” said Ben Shaff, a friend who grew up with Ricky and who remains one of his closest friends.

Every time Ricky had a set back, or there was a lag in his employment, his family and friends were there to stand by him. If he needed support, whether emotional or financial his family and friends helped. There was never a question about him giving up his independence.

Sitting on Ricky's mantel are all the hats of his favorite football teams. He does have a favorite: "Their all good teams"
Sitting on Ricky’s mantel are all the hats of his favorite football teams. He does have a favorite: “Their all good teams”

In November of 2003, Ricky began working for Western Nevada Supply, and has been a loyal employee for 11 years. Ricky is one of Western Nevada Supply’s janitors and is there every morning at 6 a.m. making sure that their facility is spotless and ready for business.

***
Besides working Ricky is actively involved in the Reno community. During the 2009-2010 high school football season, Ricky volunteered with the Reed Raiders football program. That year Reed won the High Dessert league and went on to play the state title game against Bishop Gorman. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays after Ricky gets off work at Western Nevada Supply, he volunteers at the Disabilities Resources Nevada. Disability Resources, Inc. is a “Washoe County based, non-profit organization committed to helping local individuals with disabilities achieve their highest potential through the development of individualized goals and supports.”
Ricky is currently learning how to disassemble and reassemble computers at the Disabilities Resource’s “New2U” program, a program that only accepts donated computers, helps rebuild them and then sells them back to the community.

On Thursday, October 30, Ricky began his first day of volunteering at the newly opened Boys and Girls club on Foster Drive, near Reno High School. Here he helps out with kids, helps clean and serve meals, and sets up for events. It is also important to Ricky that he is available to help friends and family.

“I do any favors for my family and friends that I can,” Ricky said.

Ricky is a member of the Italian Benevolence Society, the oldest independent Italian Club in the United States.

“We meet every second Wednesday of every month and about a third of the time me and Ricky cook for them, which is about 40 to 60 members,” Shaff said.
Ricky enjoys cooking and was recently elected to the Vice Secretary of the Italian Benevolence Society. His responsibilities include helping set up for dinners, cooking, and helping the Secretary of the Italian Benevolence Society, Rick Casazza, with all number of organizational tasks.

“I would like to include that I am the main guy at IBS,” Ricky said.

Included in his Vice Secretary responsibilities, Ricky is responsible for making sure that all member of the Italian Benevolence Society receive their invitation for the annual Italian Benevolence Society fundraiser. The Cioppino feed is held at the Boys and Girls Club on 9th street, and has an attendance of over 300 people.

Yearly, Ricky volunteers at the Italian Catholic Federation’s Polenta Feed that is also held at the Boys and Girls club on 9th street. His involvement includes helping to cook, readying the gym for guests, and helping clean up afterward.

“I wear my apron that Ben got me that says on it, Italian Stallion,” Ricky said.

Ricky is photographed here posing with cheerleaders that where at the Reno/ Tahoe Odyssey last year.  Photo credit: The Reno/Tahoe Odyssey
Ricky is photographed here posing with cheerleaders that where at the Reno/ Tahoe Odyssey last year. Photo credit: The Reno/Tahoe Odyssey

For the past 2 years, Ricky has been a volunteer for the Reno/Tahoe Odyssey. He helps hand out runners’ numbers, hands out water, and even runs along side, if one of the competitors needs a bit of added encouragement.

***
It’s not all work and no play for Ricky. For the past four years Ricky has competed in the Special Olympics of Nevada and has done very well. In 2010 Ricky competed in the Nevada State Special Olympics in Las Vegas and competed in nearly every event that was offered. Ricky swam, ran track and field, golfed, lifted weights and bowled. Unlike the real Olympics there is no importance on winners and losers. The main focus of the Special Olympics is to recognize the accomplishments that each athlete has achieved. It is truly a celebration of the journey not the destination.

“I did pretty good I think. It’s hard to remember. They did not really tell us who won or lost but we all had a really good time and I got to meet really cool people,” Ricky said.

Although there is not recognition of a ‘winner’, it should be noted that Ricky was one of the top bowlers with an average of over 200, and he set the Nevada Special Olympics dead lift record.

“I dead lifted somewhere between 275 and 300 pound but I can’t really remember it was so long ago but they did tell me that it was the most ever and that was really cool being the very best at something,” Ricky said.

Joel Edwards, President of Northern Nevada Special Sports, has been coaching Ricky in bowling and golfing for the past 5 years. He has seen Ricky evolve into an athlete despite the challenges that he has had to overcome. Every Monday at 4 p.m. he holds practice with his Special Olympics bowling team, Reno Unified, at the Grand Sierra Resort bowling ally. He coaches somewhere between 40 and 60 athletes and he runs a tight ship.

“I treat my athletes the same way as I would treat any other athlete,” Edwards said. “I hold them to the same standard as any sports team. Unfortunately, all my athletes are not as independent as Ricky who works and drives himself to and from practice, but I don’t allow them to be late or have bad sportsmanship. This whole thing is about them, and about have fun, because if it is not fun then why do we do this.”

Through programs such as this and coaches like Edwards, Ricky has developed a strong social circle. Ricky has friends that he sees outside of practices and work and has even found something deeper than friendship. Through these programs Ricky meet Susan in the late 2000,s. By 2010 Ricky and Susan where dating. They dated for about 2 and half years and then they mutually ended their relationship. They ended on great terms and are still teammates today on the Reno Unified Bowling team.

“Yea, we are still friends but we just had to end things. To be honest though it was all about her, but hey there are always bigger fish in the lake,” Ricky said.

Ricky looks up at the score of his last shot at his bowling practice. His highest score in a bowling match is 200.
Ricky looks up at the score of his last shot at his bowling practice. His highest score in a bowling match is 200.

His sense of humor is never faltering and is truly one of his best characteristics. He truly brings a sense of light to any situation and tries his hardest at anything he does.

For someone who at birth was never expected to see his 25 birthday, Ricky Miolini has stunned everyone and in the process has become a contributing member of his Reno community. From working at Western Nevada Supply, to volunteering his time helping people less fortunate then him, to competing in the Special Olympics, Ricky is what some would call a Renaissance man. Although he may suffer from a learning disability he is far from disabled, on the contrary, he is more abled and more involved than an a majority of the population. His drive, determination, and self respect is something that people spend their whole lives trying to achieve. Ricky Miolini shouldn’t only be an inspiration to people with leaning disability but he should be an inspiration to everyone, everywhere.

The Price of the American Dream

As a working American the United States government touches every paycheck you receive. Money has been deducted for Social Security and Medicare. Whether it is in unemployment benefits or Medicare costs this money is intended to cycle back as a form of assistance in times of need. But what about those who are not citizens of the United States? These deductions apply to their paychecks as well. In fact, for the 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, they may never realize much of the benefits of these mandatory payroll deductions. Now, if an illegal immigrant or anyone else goes to a hospital, there is an obligation to provide basic medical care regardless of their medical insurance status or their ability to pay.

Manuela hold baby Angel in there house in Reno, NV. Angel was the only one of the children to accompany Augustine and Manuela on the journey and that was because Manuela was pregnant with him.
Manuela hold baby Angel in there house in Reno, NV. Angel was the only one of the children to accompany Augustine and Manuela on the journey and that was because Manuela was pregnant with him.

But let’s say that an illegal immigrant (or someone without insurance) becomes sick. Really sick. And the type of illness requires long term, and expensive treatment. What then? The Medicare system that they have been helping fund will do little for them. In fact, by entering into the system, an undocumented individual can become more vulnerable to deportation. So what is an illegal immigrate to do if they become sick with an illness that requires long-term treatment? The answer for many is to give up everything that they have worked hard for here in the United States and return to their country of birth for treatment. For Augustine, Manuela, and their three children this is what occurred.

Augustine first came to the United State, illegally, on January 22, 1993 from Mexico. He was 16 years old. In March of that year Augustine began attending Reno High School in the ESL language program, primarily to learn English. After learning the basics of the English language his counselor suggested that he start taking core curriculum classes and work toward achieving his GED. In 1995, while working to receive his GED Augustine also started work at Burger King. A year later he decided to return home to visit his family. Family obligations to his parents and younger brother made what was to be a two month visit nearly a two year stay.

In 1997, while still in Mexico; Augustine, now 21 years old, met and married 19-year-old Manuela. In 1998, Augustine and Manuela decided that it was time for them to go to the United States. In July of 1998, Augustine already having experienced crossing the border went first and started working doing landscaping and sending money to Manuela, in Mexico. In October she made the trip.

“That time compared to this time was so much different, it was way more easy,” Augustine said.
Reunited in the fall of 1998, Augustine was working part time, doing landscaping, cooking, dishwashing and construction. Manuela who was taking care of small children in the apartment complex where she and Augustine lived was introduced to a man who lived in Lake Tahoe who had full-time work for the both of them at a resort property he operated.

In the early summer of 1999 Augustine and Manuela moved to Kings Beach, CA. As work slowed in the off-season Augustine began looking for work elsewhere. His employer had a contact in Reno, a man who owned a hardwood flooring company. In 1999, Augustine and Manuela moved back to Reno and Augustine started working at the hardwood flooring company.

Augustine worked for the hardwood flooring company during the day and at night was a cook at a hospice facility. Manuela found work with a few other women cleaning houses. For eight years this was their routine. In 2008, Augustine and Manuela welcomed their first child, Aldo. It should be noted that Augustine and Manuela made a conscious decision to delay beginning a family until they were on a firm financial footing, a very “American” decision.

“We were not planning to have another baby because we were good with one baby, but things happen,” Augustine said.

In 2009 Augustine and Manuela had their second son, Alanso, and a year later had their third child, a daughter named Citlali. At this point Manuela stopped working and became a full time stay-at- home mom while Augustine continued to work at the hardwood flooring company. In early 2010 Manuela began having serious health issues.

“There was something very wrong with Manuela,” Augustine said. “She could not hold our children. We went to see different clinics to see the doctors. They couldn’t find what exactly was wrong with her. It was really sad because there was times where she could not move.”

Aldo (6), Alanso (5), and Citlali (4) bounce on their beds at their home. They are still unaware of why their parent were gone for a month and a half.
Aldo (6), Alanso (5), and Citlali (4) bounce on their beds at their home. They are still unaware of why their parent were gone for a month and a half.

Unable to find the answers in Reno, and with Manuela getting worse by the day Augustine and his family made the most difficult decision of their lives.

“It was a really hard decision but we decided, let’s go to Mexico and hang out, because Manuela’s aunt is a doctor in Mexico City,” Augustine said.

So with pressure from Manuela’s aunt and her worsening condition, Manuela took their three children back to Mexico on June 30, 2012. (Note: Leaving the United States for Mexico for an undocumented alien is quite simple, and can be accomplished with most forms of picture ID, or a copy of birth certificates. No passport is required.) Augustine decided to stay in Reno and continue to work so he could provide Manuela and their children money for living and medical expenses. While Manuela was in Mexico with her aunt she saw a variety of different doctors, was administered numerous tests, and was put on and taken off multiple types of medications. The whole time Augustine could only talk to his wife and children over the phone.

“It was very sad to me because my kids when I tried to talk to them like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How is school going?,’” Augustine said. “They did not want to talk to me. They were like, ‘Who are you’ and all I could say is ‘I’m your dad!’ Then they would ask me why I wasn’t there with them and why mommy was so sad?”

After nine months Augustine couldn’t take being away from his wife and children any longer. He left his job, sold everything they had, including their car, and returned to his family in Mexico City. Shortly after his arrival Manuela was diagnosed with severe Osteoarthritis, a relatively common illness that if left untreated can leave its victims immobile, due to swollen and painful joints. After multiple doctors’ visits, tests, and medications Manuela found a doctor who took her off nearly all her medications and prescribed a strict regiment of physical therapy and diet. Manuela responded immediately to this treatment, and within a few months had almost fully recovered.

“I was only supposed to be with my family a couple months and then come back because we needed money for everything, everything cost money,” Augustine said. “You see that we don’t have a car right now because we had to sell everything but that’s ok. Then it got to the point where I was going to have to start looking for a job in Mexico City, which was okay. We just needed money. Everything takes money, the doctor needed money, and everyday we had to drive almost three hours, if not longer for the doctors and it was very hard. So we realized we weren’t going to make it there. That’s when I contacted my old boss at the hardwood flooring company. I wanted to see if there was a job so I could return and start working.”

Augustine’s old boss told him if he returned to Reno there would be a job for him. At this point Augustine told Manuela that he would return to the United States to start work so he could financially support them, until they could figure out a plan to bring her and the children to the United States. But Manuela wanted to know about their children, Aldo, Alanso, and Citali who all where citizens of the United States, and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to make the trip without him there to help, so Augustine and Manuela again made a very difficult decision, to return as a family to the United States.

 

With Manuela’s health issues under control, Augustine and his family once again uprooted themselves. But this time it was very different, and much more difficult, and dangerous. On top of having to once again to sneak in to the United States Manuela was three months pregnant with their fourth child. Before Augustine and Manuela could start their journey back to the United States they had to get their finances in order. Augustine and Manuela paid a coyote $3000 each to get them across the border. They were told that once across into the United Sates they would each have to pay an additional $2000 to get to Reno.

On top of the $6000 they paid in advance to the coyotes, Augustine and Manuela had around $5000 in an American bank account that Augustine’s sister in Reno had access to. This gave Augustine and Manuela a budget of about $11000. Making the journey with a large amount of cash would have been very dangerous. The coyotes would simply rob and abandon them. So Augustine carried about $500, hidden in various places on his person. This money was for food, water, a place to stay when needed and other necessary expenses.

This is a picture that was taken by Augustine and his family. It was taken before Manuela became sick and before the birth of Angel.
This is a picture that was taken by Augustine and his family. It was taken before Manuela became sick and before the birth of Angel.

On March 25, 2014 Augustine and Manuela left Puebla, a town about two hours south of Mexico City, and flew to the airport outside Nogales, Sonora. From there it was a quick bus ride into Nogales, Sonora, the place where the coyotes they had paid told them to go and wait until they were going to cross the border. Nogales is located about 115 km south of Tucson AZ. At the same time their children, who were U.S. citizens, accompanied by their grandfather, Manuela’s father, who lives in Puebla, flew to Tijuana, 800 km away. Augustine’s brother, a documented U.S. citizen, and a chef in Reno, drove the nearly 600 miles and met the children in Tijuana, picked them up and brought them back to Reno.

Augustine and Manuela rented a motel room in Nogales and stayed there for a week waiting on instructions from the coyotes about the border crossing. During that week they would only leave their room to get food. They had to constantly be ready for the phone call that would tell them to pack up because they were leaving.

In Nogales, there were hundreds of people just like them, waiting for their opportunity for a coyote to take them across the border into America. After a week with no call, Augustine called the number that had been given to him by the coyotes in Mexico City and asked what they were doing waiting around and when were they going to try to get across the border.

“The coyote asked, ‘who did you come with?’ So I gave him that guy’s name and the coyote said that they don’t know that guy,” Augustine said. “So I gave him my name and Manuela’s name. They told me that we had been handed off, hand by hand, but now you are mine. They sold us, they told me the guy I was with handed me off and I ‘was not longer with that guy but with him and the original guy had just taken the money from me for the mafia. That was those coyotes’ he said.”

Augustine and Manuela had been sold like livestock. They had paid $6000 to the coyotes in Mexico City, made the trip to Nogales as instructed, at a cost of $500, only to be handed off to another set of coyotes with their own set of fees that would require additional payment before they would be taken across the border.

After many attempts to get the new coyotes to give him some kind of information about when or where they were going to try and cross the border they were told that they would be going soon, but they would not be going together. Augustine was to climb over the border fence while Manuela went a different way. After going and looking at the fence and the way that they were meant to climb it, Augustine said no that there had to be a better way.

During this process Augustine remained in contact with friends who knew other coyotes. One gave him the number of a coyote that could help him and Manuela. Augustine contacted this new coyote. He was told that they needed to leave Nogales, Sonora, and trek south, 1800 km, to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, located on the southern bank of the Rio Grande River. Augustine and Manuela were instructed not to tell anyone they were leaving because if the coyotes in Nogales found out, they would not let them leave. Early one morning Augustine and Manuela left all their belongings in their room at the Nogales motel, and went out to get breakfast and never returned. In Nogales they boarded a bus with nothing but the cloths on their back and their personal identification and took a 29 hour trip to Reynosa, Tamaulipas. This unforeseen expenditure cost them $400.

They arrived in Reynosa on Sunday, April 6. They made contact with the new group of coyotes. Augustine and Manuela again had to pay so they could be moved across the border. These coyotes’ fee was $1500 a person. After having to forfeit their $6000 to the coyotes in Nogales and now having to pay another $3000, Augustine and Manuela’s budget was dwindling fast and they had not yet left Mexico.

“When we got to Reynosa, Tamaulipas you had to have a password so the mafia would let you through,” Augustine said. “If you did not have that you could not cross the border. So I found a guy and he gave me the password to get in. After that we waited in a house for about a week. It was the same, I would ask: ‘What is going on? What is going to happen?’ Again they told me that they don’t work that way and we know that that is your wife and she is going to be ok, but you are going to go first and she is going to stay. And you know, you don’t understand, you can’t say no, you just have to go.”

At the mercy of the coyotes, Augustine had little choice but to trust his wife and unborn child into the hands of the coyotes who assured him they would be reunited on the other side of the border.

“There were a lot of different feelings,” Augustine said. “I was sad and scared because I knew she was pregnant, and if something happens to her I’m not there. And it’s not like I’m going to trust those guys, but I have to do it. I have no other options except for them taking me back.”

On April 9, in the middle of the afternoon, without Manuela, Augustine left Tamaulipas and with 8 other individuals, linked arm-to-arm, wadded crossed the Rio Grande, without incident.

After crossing the river Augustine was taken to another house much like one he had left in Tamaulipas. The only difference was this house had all the windows boarded up. Even though Augustine was now in the United States he and those he crossed with were still being held. They were not free to leave the coyotes. It was here on the U.S. side of the border that Augustine’s phone was taken from him, and never returned. With no way to contact his family in Reno, or to get news of his wife, Augustine, although in America, was now more a prisoner than at any other time of his journey.

Augustine remained in this location, unable to even go outside for a week. Desperate, Augustine pleaded with the coyotes for news of Manuela. Before crossing the Rio Grande, Augustine was told that Manuela would be only a day behind him, but now the coyotes were saying they didn’t know anything about her.
“It was so hard not know anything, especially in this case because it was my wife and baby,” Augustine said.

On April 16, the coyotes told Augustine that they had a surprise for him, Manuela.

(Translated from Spanish) “It was such a relief to see Augustine. The whole time I was gone I questioned if I would ever see him again,” Manuela said.

The way the coyote system works, is that each coyote group has their own locations. These can he houses, shacks, trailers or even warehouses, on both sides of the border. These coyotes take people wanting to get into the United States and jump them from property to property holding the people until they have collected their money and feel it is safe to transport people. These groups are highly decentralized, each operating independent of the other. They are in constant competition with each other, and are all tied to organized Mexican crime syndicates-cartels .

Augustine and Manuela stayed at this location for another week. While they waited the coyotes would take the men in the groups of 4 or 5, and would put them to work cleaning and fixing up the property, while the women took care of the children. Although, having access to some food, water, and a bathroom there were still 10 to 12 people living in a house no bigger than the a one bedroom apartment.

Citali is being embraced by her older brother Alanso in their front yard of their house in Reno.
Citali is being embraced by her older brother Alanso in their front yard of their house in Reno.

“Later one of the coyotes came up to me and said hey your name is on the list and you are leaving this weekend,” Augustine said. “And I said well what about her (Manuela), and the coyotes said no she is not going to go with you. She is going to go separate.”

After the coyotes told Augustine that he would be leaving but that Manuela wouldn’t Augustine wanted to know how and when Manuela was going to be moved to the next point. Augustine didn’t want to separate again from Manuela, so he told the coyotes that she was 4 months pregnant.

Augustine thought that maybe if he told them Manuela was pregnant that they would let them cross together. Instead once they knew Manuela was pregnant she became leverage to extort more money.
Augustine and Manuela were helpless. They knew they were in Texas but had no idea where, and they had no clue where they were being moved to next.

For Augustine to be transported from the holding house in Texas to Los Angeles was going to cost another $3000 dollars. For Manuela though, especially since they now knew she was pregnant, it was going to cost $6000 for her to get to Los Angeles. It was going to cost more because one, she was pregnant, and two, the coyotes said she would be taking a safer route, which was more expensive.

With their options running out, no way to turn back, and their $11000 budge blown Augustine called his sister, in Reno who was watching his children. Augustine had very little of the original $11000 and the coyotes only gave him two days to pay the extra $9000 or they threatened to take Manuela back to Mexico.

The paying of coyotes is a complicated process. In this instance, the coyote would name their price and a person seeking safe passage into the United States would have to transfer money from whatever bank account they were using in the U.S. to a third party account controlled by the coyotes. Until this transfer was confirmed a person was a prisoner

Augustine, with the help of his family and friends came up with the $9000 and that Thursday, April 24 Manuela left in the middle of the night on the “truck” that turned out to be a four door sedan. The next day Augustine was told that the group that Manuela had traveled with had made it to a “safe zone,” although they would not let him speak to her. Three days later the coyotes came and told Augustine that it was his turn to leave but he was not as fortunate as Manuela. Augustine had to make the last part of the journey though the desert on foot.

“It was Sunday April 27 around three in the after noon when we started walking,” Augustine said. “It was so hot, but they said that was the time we were leaving. We were around 21 or 22 people, 4 or 5 girls and the rest guys, and by 1 in the morning the next day we just stopped. They let us rest and take a nap for a little bit. But each person only had 1 gallon of water, a couple apples, a Gatorade and some chips. That’s it and they said that we had to take care of our water because that is the only way you are going to survive for the next couple of days.”

After a few hours of sleep that night the group that Augustine was traveling with got up early, before the sun came up, to start walking once again but something was wrong with one of the travelers in the group. One of the coyotes was sent to take him back to the place they had left 15 hours earlier. One man down, the group continued their trek through the desert for another 24 hours.

On that Tuesday, April 29, the group Augustine was traveling with was supposed to arrive at the point where another group of coyotes were going to pick them up and drive them the remainder of the way to Los Angeles But no one was there. With their food and water nearly exhausted, the coyotes told Augustine and the group to wait there and they left saying they would be back with more food and water. The coyotes left the group and walked to a nearby road. Augustine was aware there was a road near because every once in a while he would hear cars driving off in the distance. The group waited two days in the Texas desert. The coyotes never returned.

“On Tuesday they never came back to us,” Augustine said. “It was May 1 and we decided, me and a couple other guys, to go looking for water. We were in an area were there was a lot of border patrols, but we did not care. It was really bad; we were scared that we were going to die. So as soon as we got to the road one of the guys I was with was able to whistle down a car and the car stopped. We asked the men in the car if they could take us to a gas station or a restaurant just so we could get some water.”

There were two men in the car. One was American and the other Augustine thought was part Hispanic. They both spoke English but only the Hispanic looking man spoke Spanish. They asked Augustine and his companions if any of them spoke English and they replied no, Augustine lying. Although in the back of a truck Augustine could hear them talking about which house they should take Augustine and his companions to.

They took Augustine and his companions to one of their house, an apartment in a little town somewhere in Texas. At the time Augustine thought these men where going to help them. That was not the case. The men that picked them up were thieves. They stole from and exploited individuals coming into the United States by selling them back to other coyotes.

“They asked us if we had families and we said yeah,” Augustine said. “They then told us to give them their phone numbers, because we don’t know the other coyotes you were with so we are going to start over from zero with money.”

These two men took down Augustine sister’s number and called her to explain that they need $4000 dollars to transport Augustine to Los Angeles or they were going to take him back to Mexico. Augustine’s sister having no choice found a way to come up with another $4000 needed to insure her brother’s safe passage to L.A.

By Friday May 2, the process of jumping from one coyote’s property to another had started again. Augustine would be moved only 15 or 20 miles at a time. He traveled to 5 different houses.

“This whole process was just money, they don’t care about you,” Augustine said.

On May 2, Manuela had reached Los Angeles. Along with her was one other adult, four children, and the coyote that was driving. From Los Angeles the closest Manuela could get to Reno was Sacramento. That ride cost $1000, and it was not an option for her to have someone pick her up in L.A. Augustine’s nephew drove to Sacramento and picked her up. It was May 5 when Manuela finally reached Reno.

(Translated from Spanish) “When I got to Sacramento it all started to feel real,” Manuela said. “I was finally got to be home and to finally be home was one of the greatest feeling in the world. I had not seen my kids in so long that to finally see their faces was amazing.”

Near the time Manuela made it to Reno Augustine was arriving in Los Angeles. Augustine had no idea if Manuela was safe because neither of them had phones. When he arrived in Los Angeles the coyotes asked Augustine where he was trying to go. Not willing to go to Reno the coyotes said they could get him to Sacramento but it was going to cost him another $1000 dollars, the same as Manuela. Unwilling to pay the $1000 to travel the 400 miles to Sacramento, Augustine was able to catch a ride with someone in his group, who had a ride from L.A. to San Fernando, where one of his brothers lived. Once in San Fernando, a cousin drove him to Reno. On Wednesday, May 7, Augustine and his family were reunited in Reno. The journey had taken almost 6 week, and cost over $20,000.

“I can’t put it in to words, there were so may different emotions going through me that I couldn’t do anything but smile and not let my kids and wife go. We were finally home again as a family,” Augustine said.

It took Augustine and Manuela a month and a half to travel from Mexico City to Reno, NV. It was a month and a half that they did not see their children. It was a month and a half that Augustine and Manuela were prisoners to the coyotes. Augustine and Manuela traveled 1800 km to get home, and for the majority of that time they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and the water they could carry. Every mile they were exploited and used. In the end it cost Augustine and his family over $20,000 to return home.

On July 24, Manuela and Augustine’s son, Angel was born. Manuela named him Angel because that’s what he was for her, it was not only Augustine and Manuela, Angel also made the journey. He was his mother’s guardian angel. He gave both Manuela and Augustine the strength to persevere through the hardships. The question is: Can’t we as a people, as country, do better?

The journey from Mexico City to a location to cross the border for the most part was relatively safe and uneventful. However once over the border into the United States, the real dangers began. Tired, without provisions, money or any form of communication, immigrants coming illegally in the America place their lives into the hands of people who have only one motive-profit. There is not human compassion, or moral and ethical consideration. Each person is a commodity, plain and simple.

When we talk about human trafficking, we often assume that it is exclusive to the sex trade. The reality is the coyote system is nothing more than human trafficking. The system is set up to extort the poor and under educated. It is structured in a way that breaks people down, so that they are of little if any threat. They will force them to provide the phone numbers of family and friends to exhort money. The threat of return to Mexico, abandonment in a desert, or even death, is commonplace.

Today people like Augustine and Manuela, arrive in the United States, afraid, and in significant debt. Yet despite the hardships and the dangerous, thousands upon thousands queue up for a chance to come to America.