Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda and Serena Castañeda
Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda grew up in Salinas, California, in the late 1960s. Her mother, Beatriz Béltran, was an immigrant from Mexico, and her father, Manuel, worked both as a foreman at a food packing plant and as an overseer of migrant farm workers.
Their family of seven lived in a small trailer, but by working multiple jobs, Manuel was able to save enough money to buy a plot of land on which he built a house. Alicia vividly recalls sitting on a 1950s metal stool in their living room, watching her father paint some of the walls goldenrod, and others Pepto-Bismol pink.
Manuel died when Alicia was 13, leaving their mother to raise the children alone.
Beatriz began working for the Salinas City Elementary School District as a bilingual liaison for Spanish-speaking families and the administration, and later became a coordinator for migrant worker families. Through her job, she saw the poverty many migrant families lived in.
Alicia was not as familiar with the lives of migrant farmworkers until she came home one day to find that her bed was missing—she was furious. With all of her older siblings away at college, Alicia had finally gotten her own room, and she loved her bed, which had a pink cover and lace dust ruffle. When she confronted her mother, Beatriz explained that she had given the bed to a family that had recently arrived in California from Mexico, and Alicia remembers telling her mother that she did not understanding why that was her problem. Without explanation, Beatriz told her to fill shopping bags with canned food from their pantry.
Together they drove to a house where Alicia’s bed now was, a one-room shack with a dirt floor like the ones occupied by so many other migrant worker families. There they met a woman who was laying on Alicia’s bed with her newborn baby surrounded by her four other children.
At StoryCorps, Alicia told her own daughter, Serena, 13, how meaningful that experience was for her.
Originally aired November 18, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo of Beatriz Beltrán courtesy of Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda.
Jasmine Pacheco and Carmen Pacheco-Jones
Carmen Pacheco-Jones grew up in an unstable home and had stopped attending school by the time she was 13 years old. She was abusing drugs and alcohol, and throughout her childhood, she spent time in and out of more than a dozen foster homes.
Her drug and alcohol dependence continued into adulthood—even as Carmen started her own family. Her five children remember being raised in a chaotic home; that changed nearly 20 years ago when police in Washington state raided the house where the family was living. Following her arrest, the children were separated and placed in different foster homes.
At StoryCorps, Carmen sat down with her 27-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who was 10 years old when the raid took place, to remember what it was like when their family reconnected after being torn apart.
Today Carmen has been alcohol and drug free for 17 years and is a part of all of her children and grandchildren’s lives. This winter Jasmine is on track to graduate from Eastern Washington University with a degree in psychology and a minor in art.
Originally aired October 28, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Jay Hollingsworth and Rick Williams
On August 30, 2010, Native American woodcarver John T. Williams was crossing the street while carving a piece of wood when he was shot and killed by a Seattle Police Department officer. John, 50, a member of the Nitinaht First Nation was deaf in one ear and didn’t immediately respond to Officer Ian Birk’s calls to put his knife down. Less than five seconds after giving his first command, Officer Birk had shot John four times.
John descends from generations of well-known and respected carvers whose work is part of museum collections and has been sold for more than a century at Seattle’s famous Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. He carved his first totem when he was just 4 years old and knew more than 250 figures by heart.
Even with a long history of alcohol abuse and homelessness, carving in Seattle’s Victor Steinbrueck Park was a near constant activity towards the end of John’s life. He spent the morning of the shooting in the park with his brother, Rick Williams, carving together. Rick was waiting for John to rejoin him when he heard about what had happened.
In February 2011, the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board found unequivocally that the use of deadly force by Officer Birk was unjustified and recommended that Officer Birk be “stripped of all Seattle Police powers and authority.” Shortly thereafter, Officer Birk resigned. In April of 2011, the city settled all legal claims with the Williams family for $1.5 million.
Rick, who visits his brother’s grave weekly, is teaching his own sons to carve so that they will carry on the family tradition. He also continues to carve in Victor Steinbrueck Park where he last spent time with his brother.
At StoryCorps, Rick (right) and his friend, Jay Westwind Wolf Hollingsworth (left), remember John and the day that he was killed.
Originally aired October 7, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top photo of John taken on August 30, 2010, the day he was killed, courtesy of Jay Hollingsworth, John T. Williams Organizing Committee.
Idella Hansen and Sandi Talbott
Idella Hansen started driving big rig trucks in 1968 when she was just 18 years old. At the time, she was pregnant and hungry for independence so she filled a tanker with gasoline, took to the road, and to this day has not looked back. Now 66 years old, Idella has been driving for more than four decades, and her best friend is fellow trucker Sandi Talbott.
Sandi, 75, began driving alongside her husband, Jim, in 1979. They drove as partners for years until Jim’s health began to decline and Sandi took over most of the driving. After Jim’s death in 2000, Sandi continued on the road without him, and has now been behind the wheel for over three decades.
Together, Idella (top left) and Sandi (top right) have driven over 9 million miles hauling everything from missiles to tadpoles. At StoryCorps they discuss their friendship, their adventures, and why they’ll never retire.
Originally aired September 23, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo of Idella in 1996 courtesy of Idella Hansen.
Talat Hamdani and Armeen Hamdani
On September 11, 2001, Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old emergency medical technician, NYPD cadet, and aspiring medical student working in Midtown Manhattan. He did not return home that day.
His family did not know that Salman had made his way downtown to the site of the World Trade Center hoping to help others, and had been killed in the collapse of the North Tower.
Like thousands of other families, the Hamdanis spent the weeks following the attacks searching for their son, but unlike others, they were forced to deal with the burden of suspicion that was thrust on them because of their background and faith. Salman was had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, but being a Muslim with a Pakistani background, he was immediately targeted by police and media as a possible accomplice to the attacks.
At his April 2002 funeral held at a New York City mosque, Salman was given a hero’s burial and officials across the city were in attendance to remember his sacrifice. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Salman saying: “We have an example of how one can make the world better. Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction.”
Today there are scholarships in his name at his alma mater, Queens College, and at Rockefeller University, and the street he lived on in Bayside, Queens, was renamed in his honor.
His mother, Talat Hamdani, came to StoryCorps with her niece Armeen Hamdani (pictured together above), to remember the days after September 11, 2001, when Salman went missing.
Photos of Salman courtesy of Talat Hamdani.
Illustration by Matt Huynh for StoryCorps.
Vaughn Allex and Denise Allex
This weekend marks 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Each year since, StoryCorps has commemorated the day by featuring stories from the parents, wives, husbands, coworkers, and friends of those who died on 9/11. This year we hear from Vaughn Allex, a man whose life was affected in another way.
Vaughn was working at the American Airlines ticket counter at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on the morning of September 11 checking in passengers on Flight 77. As he was wrapping up, two men who were running late for the flight came to his counter.
Before the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport security was more lax, and Vaughn did exactly what he was supposed to do — he checked both men’s IDs, asked them a few standard security questions, and then flagged their bags for extra scrutiny.
Vaughn then checked the two men in and they boarded the flight to Los Angeles.
Those two men were among the five hijackers onboard who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 189 people including themselves.
Vaughn, who retired from the airline industry in 2008 and now works for the Department of Homeland Security, came to StoryCorps with his wife, Denise, to discuss how he has felt since learning the next day that he checked in two of the 9/11 hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77.
Originally aired September 9, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Illustration by Matt Huynh for StoryCorps.
Jenna Henderson and Laurie Laychak
On June 17, 2007, Army Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson and two other soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee in Afghanistan.
Chris enlisted in the Army during his senior year of high school, and soon after graduating in June 1991; he went off to boot camp. He spent more than 15 years in the military serving tours of duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was still in uniform when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred.
A month later, in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began and in January 2007, Chris was deployed to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan where he was part of a team working to help train Afghan National Army forces. Chris was killed on Father’s Day of that year; he was 35 years old. He is survived by his wife, Jenna Henderson, and his 8-year-old daughter, Kayley.
Jenna and Chris met while in their 20s and had been married for seven years before he was killed. The family lived together in Fort Lewis, Washington, where Chris was based. He was a loving husband and a devoted father, and Jenna says, a total goofball. She remembers coming home to find Chris and 18-month-old Kayley in their bathing suits playing in mud puddles or riding on Chris’ motorcycle. The two were inseparable.
Now 18, Kayley bears a striking resemblance to her father. “When she’s upset, her little eyebrow twitches,” says Jenna, “And when she smiles, she’s kind of got that little crooked smile he had.” She has even participated in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at her high school and is hoping to soon get her motorcycle license.
Jenna still misses Chris terribly and holds on to one of the last letters she received from him. “In it he said, how much he loved me and how he was glad that he had married me, and that he wouldn’t have changed that for the world.”
Jenna came to StoryCorps with Laurie Laychak (left), a mentor she met through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) — an organization that offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in the Armed Forces—to share memories of Chris.
Originally aired September 3, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
Family photos of Chris, Jenna, and Kayley courtesy of Jenna Henderson.
Frank Mutz and Phil Mutz
We’re almost three-quarters of the way through what scientists are predicting will be the hottest year on record, so it’s a good time to take a moment to remember those who help keep us cool—air conditioner repair people.
During the 1950s, as AC units were becoming more common sights in U.S. homes, brothers Frank and Harold Mutz were operating a business installing and repairing units. In the 1970s, Frank’s son Thomas took over the business and soon after, Thomas’s son, Frank II, moved to Atlanta and took up the profession as well.
Frank only intended to remain in Atlanta a short time, but working with his father, he found that he had a knack for cooling and heating and ended up staying.
Over the years, their company, Moncrief Heating & Air Conditioning, has grown, and today two of Frank’s three children—Tom and Phil—and his son-in-law, Matt, work alongside him.
Frank and Phil came to StoryCorps in Atlanta to talk about their work; from fixing broken units at churches without AC during Sunday morning sermons, to dealing with cranky customers who need to be turned from unhappy to happy.
Originally aired August 26, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Vanessa Silva-Welch and Arnaldo Silva
Ten years ago, Arnaldo Silva noticed a lump on his chest. After going to a doctor and getting a mammogram, he learned that he had breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is rare (according to the National Institutes of Health, male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancer diagnosis worldwide), but Arnaldo’s diagnosis and the discovery that he carried a genetic predisposition to cancer led other members of his family to get tested as well. Soon after, his daughter, Vanessa Silva-Welch, learned that she too had breast cancer.
During their treatments, Arnaldo and Vanessa became each other’s support systems as they went through chemotherapy and fought cancer together. And while Arnaldo is now cancer free, four months ago Vanessa received a new breast cancer diagnosis and once again began treatment.
At StoryCorps, they discuss their battles with cancer and Arnaldo’s concern that his children will remember him as the one who passed this hereditary disease on to them.
Originally aired July 29, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above: Vanessa and Arnaldo in 2009 after they finished chemotherapy. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Silva-Welch.
Anthony Merkerson and Charles Jones
Charles Jones was already a father to three daughters when he found out his fourth child was going to be a boy. He was so excited by the news that even before Malik was born, Charles began plotting ways he would get the new baby into playing and loving sports—the same way his own father had done with him—even joking to others that he had already bought him New York Knicks season tickets.
When Malik was two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Like many parents of children on the autistic spectrum, Charles and his wife struggled to adjust to their son’s unexpected needs, but over time, they worked together to better understand autism and Malik. Early on, Charles feared his son would be non-verbal, unable to even speak his own name or say, “I love you,” but eventually Malik, now 12 (pictured with his father at left), began talking, and according to his father, once he did, “He wouldn’t shut up.”
Charles decided to start a support group for fathers like himself to provide a space for them to feel safe sharing their feelings. Five years ago, at a New York Mets game on Autism Awareness Day, Charles met Anthony Merkerson. Anthony has two children—Elijah, 10, and Amaya, 8 (pictured with his family at left)—who are both on the autistic spectrum. After meeting Charles, Anthony joined the support group and they have since become close friends.
Charles (above right), a filmmaker, came to StoryCorps with Anthony (above left), a New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority police officer, to talk about what they have learned from one another, and the concerns they have for their sons as young black men growing up in a society where they are at constant risk of being targeted and misunderstood because they are autistic.
Originally aired July 15, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.