Tag: ATX

Austin refugee organizations aid in international relocation transition

By Alex Cannon, Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, & Danny Goodwin

A young Syrian boy washed ashore, a news reporter kicking fleeing immigrants; while mainstream media was flooded with these powerful images for a period of time, the Middle Eastern crisis has abruptly faded from most news outlets.

However, while the situation may go underreported, the crisis remains far from over.

“What they’re having to deal with now, they’ve always had this problem, regardless of if there’s a crisis or not,” said Sam Karnes, president of the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance (LARA) at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Refugees seeking asylum in the United States go from living in a state where leaving the house means risking your life to American communities where safety is an assumed guarantee. Karnes hopes to assist refugees in the Austin area by connecting with them on a personal level.

Allocations for Refugees entering the U.S. FY16

“A lot of the time they come here and they don’t know anyone, and they’re stuck in their apartments, they don’t have cars and stuff, so we look to kind of provide a filling for that gap and just show them that Austin as a community is welcoming of them,” Karnes said. “We enjoy them, we appreciate the aspect of their culture that they bring to this community, and we want them to feel at home here.”

LARA works with a few Austin based nonprofit organizations such as the Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas, as well as the Center for Survivors of Torture. These resources help connect volunteers like those of LARA with incoming refugees, both those new and those familiar to Austin.

“Usually they’ve been here like one or two months, or they’ve been here a year, but occasionally we come across someone that’s been here just for a few weeks,” Karnes said.Refugee Program Arrivals by Country-2

According to Karnes, the entire process of a refugee moving from their home of origin to the United States can take up to “five or six years.” This process includes seeking referral for movement, clearing multiple security processes, receiving clearance from several DHS associated departments and, finally, preparing for the actual move.

Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas offer migration services to international refugees moving to Austin and help facilitate the arduous process.

 

“We feel like housing is kind of the foundation to lasting self-sufficiency and stability so it’s hard to get a job or address medical or mental health issues when you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night,” said Lindsey Dickson, Caritas’ communication manager. “We’ve got a food services programs that includes a community kitchen where we serve lunch and then a food pantry for our clients where they can get weekly groceries during the time that they are trying to get on their feet.”Refugee Program Arrivals by Status-2

Although these resources help adjust refugees with their abrupt culture change, admission to the United States doesn’t guarantee them long term stay. Many seek the path to full U.S. citizenship in order to solidify the new life they’re taking on.

Sarah Stranahan, Director of Operations at the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, knows how difficult and challenging this process can be, as well as the necessity to gain citizenship.

“In here, we call it Pathways to Self Sufficiency, and right now what we have is this citizenship class, tutoring them and drilling them so they can pass the citizenship test hopefully,” Stranahan said.

 

 

No matter how many funds and efforts these service organizations put toward these programs, the success comes from the willingness and openness of the refugees taking on this monumental move.

“Every refugee’s outlook on life is incredible because they work so hard to get to the country,” Karnes said. “At that point, they’re just excited to be in a country that isn’t threatening their safety on a daily basis.”

 

Refugee Admission to U.S

Racist Roots: An inside look at UT landmarks

By Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, Danny Goodwin, & Danielle Vabner

In front of the main tower at the University of Texas, there is an empty space where a statue of Jefferson Davis once stood. Appearing indifferent toward its absence, students walk by on their way to class, cell phones in hand.

The university made the controversial decision to remove the statue after South Carolina took down its own Confederate flag. Some disagree with its relocation, arguing that the statue is simply part of the school’s history, and that to remove it from its original location is to deny its history and its ties to the Confederacy. Others, however, are relieved that the statue is no longer on display, and feel that the time has come to bid adieu to the prejudiced past it is associated with.

“I think that’s kind of what the university allows for in this space is for these kind of conversions and controversies,” said Dr. Simone Browne, an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies. “But in the end, at least for me, the right thing was done, and for other people they want that to remain so that we can understand these histories.”

The history of the university and its landmarks goes deeper than Jefferson Davis. There are still other figures on campus that remain at the center of this debate, figures who have had an influence on the university for years. One example is George Littlefield, who was a donor to the university and had ties to the Confederacy.

“He established a Littlefield Fund for Southern History, which would basically archive a history that was a celebration of the Confederacy,” Browne said. “[He] gifted not only this archive, but also gifted the money to create what we have as the six-pack…and so his name is still continually on the campus.”

Though Browne said that she agrees with the removal of the statue, she does not believe that awareness of the university’s history and keeping these landmarks up for all to see have to be mutually exclusive.

“[We need to understand] the university, its architecture, and its formation as a…memorialization to the Confederacy as an enterprise,” Browne said. “That’s what it was about. That’s why basically the, the university’s back is facing the north, why we’re facing the Capitol, why we have everything around that fountain.”

Dr. Leonard Moore is an example of a UT faculty member who feels that the statues and other landmarks originating from can serve as learning tools for students, and that they should not be taken down.

“I’m a historian, so other people may see a Confederate statue as problematic. I value them for their historical value, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I like to use things like that as a teachable moment. I wish they had left them up, because I think it reminds people of the history of this place.”

Moore also said that he does not believe that the statues have a profound effect on minority students at UT. He said that in his experience, students are looking to get more support from the UT community.

“They would’ve probably said some more scholarships, some more outreach efforts, some more outreach programs out of the College of Business and the College of Engineering,” he said. “And so the fear was, when they put the statues down, now we can’t get anything else.”

 

Social animals: rewriting the underdog story in the age of social media

 

Tuna looks upon the line of fans waiting to get his “pawtograph” for the book titled Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite. Tuna fans flocked to BookPeople on Friday, March 6, 2015 for the book signing and opportunity to take photos with the Instafamous dog.

He saw hundreds of people waiting in line — the usual. Fans were squealing his name in adoration. Young and old would wait for two hours on a Friday night in Austin, Texas. For what? They had come from far and wide just for a signed copy of his book and a chance to take a quick picture with him. It was surreal — something you’d expect to be humbling, like playing Madison Square Garden. Yet, all he could think about was the squeaky toy one of his handlers was dangling high up above his face.

Tuna, the Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, internet celebrity, and inspirational figure for the modern era has come a long way from his humble roots on the side of a Southern California road, where he was abandoned as a puppy — presumably, because of the trademark underbite and crumpled neck for which he is now famous.

“You know, I like to call him Sir,” said Tuna’s owner Courtney Dasher, to a packed house at BookPeople for a book signing to promote his new book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite.

Tuna’s inspirational underdog story starts in 2011, when Dasher adopted him and quickly began posting pictures of her pup’s peculiarly pronounced pearly whites to an Instagram account.

“[Tuna] reaches all demographics,” Dasher said. “I think people from all different walks of life are drawn to him so he speaks to different people’s hearts and situations by being quirky and unconventional.”

Now his website, TunaMeltsMyHeart, has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers. That’s right — this dog has more Instagram followers than you. That’s also more Instagram followers than actor John Stamos (553k), actress Amanda Seyfried (831k) and just slightly less than comedienne and star of The Mindy Project,  Mindy Kaling (1.4m). Somebody get this dog a Super Bowl commercial!

In 2012, Tuna's Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

In 2012, Tuna’s Instagram went viral, increasing from 8,500 followers to over 32,000 in less than 24 hours. Tuna now has over 1.2 million Instagram followers.

If you think this is all just the work of a fame-hungry Chiweenie, however, you’d be wrong.  Tuna has not forgotten his roots and is using his celebrity to give back to his favorite cause, according to Dasher.

“We’re being used as a catalyst to change people’s days,” said Dasher. “I look at him as a vehicle to bring people a lot of joy, and on our tours, like anytime we do anything, we want to be able to support animal rescue groups.”

Donations that night went to local animal rescue group Austin Pets Alive!, which brought to BookPeople a puppy who, much like Tuna, was born with a congenital defect that could hurt his chances for adoption. Tuna was only too happy to pose for a picture with the puppy whose front paw will likely be removed due to lack of sufficient bone structure.

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Tuna poses for a photo with Austin Pets Alive puppy, Scooter who was born with a defect in his front paw and abandoned by previous owners before APA rescued him.

An APA! volunteer said Tuna’s celebrity helps raise the visibility of the nonprofit’s work in an important way.

“It’s one thing to hear Austin Pets Alive!, you can adopt an animal from them,” the volunteer said. “It’s a different thing to see the puppies and kittens and cats and dogs that we’re saving at an event like this.”

She also said social media is huge for promoting animal rescue — even in a city like Austin, with a thriving network of animal rescue groups and an army of volunteers touting its dog-friendly distinction as the largest no-kill city in the nation.

“Social media is how people find out about us: without social media all you’ve got is word of mouth, which isn’t going to get you very far,” she said. “Social media within your own organization is even big for us: it’s how we can plead for a new foster home.”

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Fans hold up their smart phones to snap photos while Courtney Dasher introduces Tuna before the book signing on Friday, March 6th, 2015.

Tuna’s Instagram has become a social media tool more powerful than Dasher ever expected.

“Social media is an outlet to connect with a community that is global, which is so fascinating to me,” Dasher said. “I don’t look at this as just an Instagram account. I have a lot of responsibility attached to me now and I want to make sure to use it to promote things that are encouraging and uplifting.”

Tuna may be the first Instagram pet to go on tour, but if he’s the first one you’ve heard of, you must not be one of Milla the cat’s 200k Instagram followers. The feline with comically small ears, whose owners ask for donations to fund treatment for her heart disease, is just one of an increasing number of Instagram pets with followings that dwarf those which rescue organizations can attract.  Compare the 8,400 followers of APA!’s Instagram to the 97k followers of Elfie and Gimli, two brother and sister cats born with dwarfism.

Tuna’s cartoonish appearance has helped catapult him to the top of the pack, but there is also a place on Instagram for more conventionally cute cats and canines. If you would like to share your own rescue pet’s story, but feel you don’t have time to cultivate a following,  you can submit a photo and story to Rescue Pets of Instagram. It has 71k followers.

While social media on Facebook and Twitter have played a significant role in grassroots movements for social change in recent years, University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Quigley says there may be a reason Instagram is appealing for promoting animal rescue, in particular.

“Considering Instagram has more than 200 million users, it’s a great place to spread a message and get people involved,” Quigley said. “It’s the perfect place for an animal rescue message, because Instagram is a visual medium. Who can turn down Tuna?”

Sexual Assault Cases High But Remain Underreported

By: Julianne Staine, Hymi Ashenafi, Jessica Barrera and Stacie Richard

photo by Stacie Richard

photo by Stacie Richard

Every 21 hours, someone is raped at an American college campus.

Various organizations provided by the University of Texas at Austin seek to support victims, educate the public and provide a safer campus by raising awareness.

According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, over 80 percent of victims in Texas did not report the incident to law enforcement.

Officer William R. Pieper of the UTPD Crime Prevention Unit said several theories come
into play as to why sexual assault cases are underreported.

“One theory that I put a great deal of weight in is that many victims fear they will be re-victimized by the process,” Pieper said. “This re-victimization rests in the knowledge that they not only will need to re-live the event through the investigative process and the criminal trial, but they also fear blaming questions will be asked of them.”

According to Pieper, blaming questions can consist of asking the victim what she was
wearing or how much alcohol she consumed.

“As a society, we all need to recognize that assaultive behavior is not tolerable under any circumstance, and the victim in not at fault or culpable for the assault,” Pieper said.

Rape Aggression Defense, a free course offered to female students, faculty and staff by UTPD, is designed to teach self-defense techniques against attackers.

“The UTPD Crime Prevention Unit also works diligently to review construction programs to help design a safer campus,” Pieper said. “During these reviews, we look at lighting, landscaping, callbox placements and for areas that may serve as a funnel or trap. We then offer recommendations to help create a safer environment.”

Organizations, such as Voices Against Violence (VAV), offer individual meetings with
victims to provide information about their rights and options. Topics of these meetings may include medical concerns or reporting options to law enforcement.

The Power House located in the Student Services Building at The University of Texas at Austin is a resource that provides counseling to the Suicide Prevention and Voices Against Violence Outreach groups. photo by Stacie Richard

The Power House located in the Student Services Building at The University of Texas at Austin is a resource that provides counseling to the Suicide Prevention and Voices Against Violence Outreach groups.
photo by Stacie Richard

VAV also provides victims with financial resources through the organization’s emergency fund, which was started in 2001 with the goal of increasing victims’ safety and coping.

Other initiatives in Austin, such as the Victim Services Division of the Austin Police
Department, aim to respond to victims’ psychological and emotional needs through counseling, criminal justice support and education.

According to the 2013 Austin Police Department crime and traffic report, there were 217 reported victims of rape in Austin. In the majority of the incidents, the victim new the suspect as a family member, a partner or ex-partner, a person from a brief encounter or as a non-stranger.

UTPD’s Officer Pieper said that in order for students to stay safe on campus, they should pay attention to the people around them.

“Walk with purpose, having your head up and your eyes open,” Pieper said. “Make eye
contact with other people, and nod so they know you’ve seen them. And know that most
assaults happen between people who know each other and in areas where you may have
felt safe.”

Rubber Duckies Raise Funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Austin

By Jamie Balli, Breanna Luna, Briana Franklin and Silvana Di Ravenna

It was a cold, Saturday morning as rain covered the empty streets of downtown Austin. The city seemed to be sleeping but under Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, commonly referred to as “The Bat Bridge” by Austinites, the very first Austin Duck Derby was taking place.

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A boat filled with VIP spectators awaits the start of the Austin Duck Derby 2014 . The event Benefitted the Boys & Girls Club Foundation. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

At the event, several people walked around sporting yellow duck-beak whistles while others were dressed in duck-themed attire. The event also featured a duck mascot available for pictures, dancing, and entertainment.

The Austin Duck Derby, held on Nov.15, launched a mass of more than 10,000 yellow rubber ducks into Lady Bird Lake. The ducks raced to the finish line to win prizes for their adopters. The ducks, which were bombarded into the water from the top of the bridge, marveled the kids and parents that happily awaited near the shore, bundled in hats and furry coats.

Besides the colorful spectacle that the event provided, which also included face painting, hula hoopers and live music, the purpose of the race had a serious goal in mind: to raise much needed fundings for the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and provides assistance to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area.

Every year, over 12,000 kids (and over 1,700 each day) are nurtured and taken care of in 22 welcoming Austin locations, which provide hope and opportunity to children ages 6 to 18. The centers offer various classes and activities including leadership development, arts, health and recreational sports. The club relies on volunteers who offer their time as coaches, tutors and activities assistants.

 

Kelly St. Julien, the East Austin Boys & Girls Club Director, said that all the funds for the Austin Duck Derby go to the Boys & Girls Club Foundation of Austin. They use funds to support programs in the clubs and to cover the large amount of expenses.

“At clubs, our biggest expense is payroll of staff and supplies. We have a lot of overhead in terms of consumables like paint, crayons, pencils, paper, basketballs, jump-ropes, and everything you can think of that kids like to play with. There are a lot of kind people in Austin who donate, but we need things on a regular basis,” St. Julien said.

At the Boys & Girls Club in East Austin, funds raised go towards drum sets, pool tables, ping pong tables, marbles, basketballs, and school supplies for classes taught by instructors. When they are not in class learning, children are able to play sports and games with other children.

11-year-old Sanoya, a member of the East Austin club, said that her favorite part of going to the Boys & Girls Club is the extracurricular activities.

“I like playing ping pong when I come to the club because it’s really fun,” Sanoya said.

Gina Hill, the Special Events Chair for the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, mentioned at the event that this was the first time the Duck Derby has benefitted the Boys and Girls Club of Austin. The Duck Derby races, which have been going on for 26 years, have been used during similar fundraisers across the nation in other cities for the Special Olympics and food banks.

A dancing duck was at the event to groove to the music. Several attendees took pictures and danced with the duck. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

“We are very excited to have raised 10,000 ducks and about $50,000 total in this effort today. This money goes into the programs that help the clubs kids. We hope that the event also helps raise awareness for the Boys and Girls Club of Austin,” she said.

The event was sponsored by more than 35 local national and local business, which provided prizes for the race. Sponsors included Amy’s Ice Cream, Whole Foods and the Austin Fire Department.

Participants had the opportunity to “adopt” a racing rubber duck for $5 dollars with the chance of winning anything from a round of golf at Palmer Lakeside Golf Course to a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta.

Andrew Garvin, who used to attend the Boys and Girls Club during his youth and currently does PR and Consulting on his own, became this year’s official promoter and face of The Austin Duck Derby.

He decided to participate in the race when Gina Hill herself invited him to join in at a different event. He said that the experience was the perfect opportunity to give back to an organization that did so much for him.

Andrew Garvin, the official promoter and face of the Austin Duck Derby, stands near the duck race and takes observations of the event’s success. Garvin used to attend the Boys & Girls Club during his youth and hopes to give back as much as possible to the organization in order to help other children who are in similar situations that he faced growing up. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

“If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club I wouldn’t be where I am today. I lived in a low-income house and we didn’t have a basketball court or gym equipment, computers, assistance nor tutoring. The club gave us a place to be and it was a good social setting for kids that didn’t have that opportunity outside of class or outside school,” Garvin said.

According to St. Julien, the Austin Duck Derby is a way to get the entire community involved while informing them of what the club does. It is also a fun event that is easy to take part in.

“We really wanted to make our fundraising more accessible to everyone. Only so many people can attend our Boys and Girls Club spring luncheon, our fall gala, and our golf tournament. The duck derby serves a dual purpose of getting the word out about who we are to people who might not know us while allowing people to support us, and culminate that in a fun way,” St. Julien added.

Duck Derby Video from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.

 

 

Austin Yogis Unite at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival

By Silvana Di Ravenna, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi

If you’re looking to unwind after a long and stressful week, going to a 4-day-long festival in the heart of downtown Austin probably isn’t at the top on your list – but you might rethink that after hearing about Wanderlust.

From Nov. 6-9, the Wanderlust Yoga Festival brought Austin yogis to 4th Street and Brazos for four days of diverse yoga classes, music, art and community. Beginner, intermediate and expert yogis alike found classes that fostered physical, mental and spiritual growth and relaxation in a healthy and welcoming environment.

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A group of attendees at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival take part in a class. Festival activities were spread out over four days. Photo by Andrew Masi.

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Zoe Mantarakis shows off one of her favorite yoga positions. Mantarakis led several different classes at the festival. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Zoe Mantarakis has been teaching yoga in Austin for 14 years. She led five very different classes at Wanderlust Austin this year, embodying the wide spectrum of yoga the festival offered.

She started with a self-empowerment class on Friday morning called “Nectar Within” and a meditative class called “Om Shanti Bliss-out.” Later that evening, she switched gears and led “Boom Boom Pow Black Light,” a collaboration with musician DJ Manny that she called a “party on your yoga mat.” She also taught a class on Saturday on her style of yoga rooted in ancient Sanskrit philosophy, “Yoga Illumined,” and a class on Sunday about self-discipline called “Tapas: Fire Within.”

Though her classes were very different from each other, they were “all on the same spectrum,” Mantarakis said, because they focused on creating community.

“Yoga is about bringing a community together and creating a tribe. So there’s many ways to accomplish that, and all of those ways are yoga,” she said. “So if it’s just sitting still and meditating, that’s yoga. If it’s having a party where we’re conscious and we’re all coming together, that’s yoga.”

Newcomers and expert yogis alike found Wanderlust classes that suited their needs. Festivalgoer Stephan Mazerand has been practicing yoga for about three months. His first love is running, and he discovered yoga as a way to help him stretch better.

Though he’s still a beginner, he was able to find classes at the festival that worked for him and helped him grow.

“The problem is I’m a runner, so I can’t straighten out properly,” Mazerand said. “There’s a bunch of poses. I’m not very good at them, and so the instructor was helping me out a little bit, you know.”

In an effort to get festivalgoers out of their comfort zone, Austin yoga teacher Dani Whitehead hosted an open-to-everyone acroyoga “jam” session. She hoped to get people to try acroyoga for the first time, but also provide an opportunity for advanced yogis to “come out and show off.”

“Acroyoga is kind of like dancing. There’s ballroom, there’s hip-hop, there’s contemporary, there’s ballet,” she said. “It can be for fun, it can be for performance, it can be as a workout, it can be to make friends. You can do anything you want.”

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Dani Whitehead demonstrates her strength in a partnered acroyoga session. Whitehead teaches acrobatic partner yoga in Austin, and feats like this draw students to her classes. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Whitehead has been practicing acroyoga for about three years. Though it is more vigorous than traditional yoga, she hopes to get more people into it and grow the community.

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Everyone was invited to participate in the acroyoga play session, as long as they did so safely. Photo by Andrew Masi.

“It is such an amazing practice to do with your friend, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your children – and I am all about supporting that coming together and bringing people in, but also staying safe and taking care of each other,” Whitehead said.

Austin yogi Elizabeth Davis led hiking classes at Wanderlust to help people to “take their Austin outside,” expand their consciousness and find the magic in every moment. She urged her hikers to do self-inquiry work and have “authentic conversations” about their negative or shameful thoughts so that they could move past them and appreciate the present.

“Every moment is truly a gift. It’s a gift that we’re even together as human beings,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be a part of this amazing experience and community. It just reaffirms why I’m in the yoga community and why I do what I do. And I just couldn’t be more happy.”

Austin’s festival is just one of the many annual Wanderlust Yoga Festivals held across the U.S. and around the globe, including Canada and Australia. The festivals help grow and connect the many yoga communities across the world, Mantarakis said.

“To me Wanderlust Festival is all about tribe. And that’s essentially what it is. It’s a traveling group of yogis that grows at each spot and cultivates community within a certain location but then also across boundaries,” she said. “Once we’re connected, we’re a tribe. Across state lines, across country lines.”

Wanderlust Yoga Festivals Across the World (map created by Emma Ledford)
Wanderlust Yoga Festivals are held in multiple locations across the U.S. (including Hawaii), Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Click here for the schedule.

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond

By Maria Roque, Jamie Balli, Lingnan Ellen Chen, Sara Cabral

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

October heralds pumpkin mania—a time where one can buy pumpkin-flavored everything, and Austin businesses are cashing in on this trend.

It all started when coffee conglomerate, Starbucks, introduced their signature fall beverage, the pumpkin spice latte, 10 years ago. Since then, businesses and brands nationwide began offering pumpkin-inspired products. Sales of all pumpkin-flavored foods and beverages increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. In the last five years, pumpkin sales have risen 34 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Austin, businesses have contributed to the trend by offering seasonal products from about September to November, all featuring the orange squash.

Amanda Bates is the co-owner of Tiny Pies, a local bakery that specializes in handheld sweet and savory pies. Their seasonal pies include the traditional pumpkin pie, the apple walnut pumpkin, and the ginger bumpkin, a blend of pumpkin pie, chocolate brownie mix, and gingerbread crust — flavors that Bates says keeps them baking all day.

“I think it is both for commerce and kind of the nostalgia, bringing in all of the flavors that you grew up eating at home with your granny,” Bates says. “We will put out a tray of pumpkin, and they sell out immediately.”

In addition to keeping the fall holiday spirit alive, as a Go Texan member, Tiny Pies takes pride in sourcing more than 70 percent of their ingredients locally.

“That’s one of the cornerstones of our business is to actually highlight what is seasonally produced locally,” Bates says. “And so right now pumpkin is one of those things that’s being grown and that we can get.”

While pumpkin pairs well with the ingredients used to make pastries, it is also popular in savory dishes.

Goldis Sausage Company purveys unique sausages out of their food truck located downtown. Owner Keenan Goldis created a seasonal sausage for 512 Brewing Company’s six-year anniversary.

“When I was offered to cater the 512 Brewing Party I was overcome with joy, so I decided to grasp the opportunity to throw in some nice autumn flavors,” Goldis says. “So I think that I did a pretty good job of capturing the very essence of a Brandenburg sunset on a cool autumn night.”

The sausage features 512’s six year anniversary Dubbel beer, pork shoulder, cayenne, garlic, mustard seeds and, of course, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

“It sold like crazy. People just wanted that sausage, that sausage, that sausage,” Goldis says. “So yeah, people definitely get excited about it.”

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond from Maria T. Roque on Vimeo.

Farms across the United States have expanded to meet the demand for the vegetable.

Acreage dedicated to pumpkin farming has increased by about one third in 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the hot Central Texas weather is unsuitable for pumpkins to grow, farms and other establishments in the area buy pumpkins from the Western United States to sell during the October pumpkin season.

Elgin Christmas Tree Farm has been selling pumpkins since 2002. Their pumpkin patch offers families an opportunity to partake in fall activities such as pumpkin picking and hayrides.

Owner, Twyla Nash, says they do well with the pumpkin sales, and buy about a semi-truck and a half of pumpkins to meet the demand.

“We have not had a great increase, but we feel that the popularity of dealing with pumpkins, selling them, having pumpkin events, has increased,” Nash says. “So there’s more places for people to go to buy their pumpkins and to do different activities involving pumpkins. The wealth is spread out amongst different businesses.”

Within Austin city limits, Tarrytown United Methodist Church has been running a pumpkin patch every October since 1988 to help the church youth fund their summer mission trips.

Heather Heard is a lifelong Tarrytown United member. Heard started working the patch as an eighth grader, the first year it was started. Now, her daughter is in the youth program, and Heard continues to work the patch along with the youth and other parents.

Heard says she has seen an increase in pumpkin sales.

“The weather has been so nice that people tend to come out more as a family and buy more pumpkins,” Heard says. “I definitely think that there has been an increase in sales this year.”

Heard says when the Tarrytown United pumpkin patch started they sold about a truckload of pumpkins. Now the church ships in two semi-trucks of pumpkins to sell—that’s 43,000 pounds of the vegetable.

“I think everyone comes and it has just become a family tradition for them,” Heard says. “They come and they take pictures and they pick out their pumpkins.”

Whether used for decorating and carving or baking and eating, pumpkins have become a staple of the fall season in the United States and in the heart of Texas.

Austin Celebrates Life and Death Through Viva La Vida Fest

A papier-mâché skeleton adorned in paper marigolds looms over festival attendees at the Viva la Vida festival on October 18th. Photo by Olivia Starich.

A papier-mâché skeleton adorned in paper marigolds looms over festival attendees at the Viva la Vida festival on October 18th. Photo by Olivia Starich.

By Jane Claire Hervey, Olivia Starich, Elizabeth Williams and Alex Vickery

In a sea of papier-mâché, face paint and elaborate costumes, Austin’s 31st annual Viva la Vida festival kicked off the city’s series of Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican holiday during which people remember and honor loved ones who have died. Because of Texas’ close proximity to the Mexican border and the state’s influx of Mexican immigrants, the holiday has grown to reach communities far beyond its origins.

Austin’s Day of the Dead events typically begin in mid-October (to accommodate the city’s hectic event schedule) and extend into November. Sylvia Orozco, the executive director of the Mexic-Arte Museum and one of Viva La Vida Fest’s founders, said that Austin’s Dia de los Muertos events offer a cultural interpretation of the holiday.

“It was actually a very traditional, authentic event, and I kind of just fell in love with it,” Orozco said.“I thought it was beautiful. So when we came back to Austin [from Mexico City], and we wanted to start a cultural organization, that was the first event that we organized to do.”

Viva La Vida Fest, which began in 1984, begins with a procession through downtown that includes dancers in paper maché masks, 10-foot-tall puppets and parade-goers in full skeletal makeup. The parade honors a special theme or component each year. This year’s theme paid tribute to deceased soccer players in honor of the World Cup. Orozco said the procession themes give the festival a unique Austin flavor.

“Because of the creativeness of the city and people liking parades and processions and kind of dressing up, I think it becomes extra special,” Orozco said. “Each year, we have a special component, so we actually contribute to the creativeness of the Austin celebration with the procession.”

Austin Celebrates Dia de los Muertos from Alex Vickery on Vimeo.

Although the holiday is often mistaken for Halloween by those unfamiliar with its background, the festival is much more than music and skeleton costumes. At Viva La Vida Fest, festival attendees celebrate those who have died and the idea that death is just another phase of life. Lynette Lor, a festival attendee, said she has celebrated Dia de los Muertos in Austin since her childhood.

“Dia de los Muertos means, to me, remembering those who have passed away and keeping their spirit here with us today,” Lor said.

Orozco said that the Mexic-Arte Museum hosted its first Viva la Vida Fest as a way to bring the beauty of Dia de los Muertos to the city. In addition to the festival and the procession, the Mexic-Arte Museum hosted an exhibit of eight altars this year, which were created by different families and organizations in the community.

From the colorful parade to the Mexican food, Viva La Vida Fest pays homage to the original meaning of Dia de los Muertos, but many of the celebration’s events are fundamentally different. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos occurs on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. The first day, Dia de los Angelitos, is for remembering children and infants who have died while the second day is for remembering older loved ones. Families create altars inside the home or in cemeteries and decorate them with photos of the person and offerings, such as the person’s favorite candy, liquor or a package of cigarettes.

Symbols of the holiday include: calaveritas, candied skulls made of either sugar or clay; marigolds, the traditional flower of the dead; and candles, which are both meant to guide spirits back to Earth with their scent and light. In Mexico, these items are used to decorate altars and graves. These symbols are an important part of Austin’s interpretation of Dia de los Muertos and can be found in the festival’s decorations and floats.

Peter Ward, professor of sociology and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said that Dia de Los Muertos is a peaceful, happy time for its participants. Rather than being a mournful reminder of those who have died, the holiday serves as an opportunity to keep their spirits and memories alive.

“One dies three times in Mexico,” Ward said. “The first is when your soul leaves your body—you actually pass away. The second death is when you’re interred in the ground. And then the third death is when no one remembers you anymore. And that’s a very profound thing.”

For Ward, Austin’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos shares an atypical interpretation of death with Americans. The event imparts Mexico’s positive attitude regarding the loss of life.

“I think this is the big difference some societies have over us in the United States,” Ward said. “We’re not terribly good at cultivating this memory. It’s something we find difficult to do.”

While Austin’s Viva La Vida Fest presents a Dia de los Muertos much different from Mexico’s, Orozco said that the celebrations still expose the community to the traditional spirit and attitude of the holiday.

“It’s more about embracing death than being scared of it,” Orozco said. “It’s still feeling that those family members that you honor and remember are still a part of you and your memory.”

A Budding Artist

By: Claire Edwards, Madison Hamilton, Helen Fernandez, Melinda Billingsley and Jonny Cramer

Michelangelo used a 50-foot ladder to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Picasso required a vast color palette to coat his geometric shapes. Banksy operates through complete secrecy. Shannon Donaldson needs a little water and a well-lit room to keep her art alive.

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in sculpting from Stephen F. Austin University, Donaldson didn’t know in what direction to take her artistic abilities.

“I never knew where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do,” she says. “Finally I found this little niche of succulent plants.”

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

In 2012 she founded Flowers on the Fly with an ice cream bike and a few dozen succulent plants. Her business flourished – no pun intended – when she started pairing the cactus-like plants with funky vases, pots and sculptures that she purchased from local shops.

After securing her three spots: South Congress, The Drag, and downtown Austin – Donaldson became the go-to succulent vendor around town.

University of Texas at Austin student, Leigh Brown has started working with Donaldson to personalize her purchases.

“I buy succulents from here every three or four months,” says Brown. “I design a setup with her and she’ll go and get the plants for me.”

Not only do UT Austin students enjoy sprucing up their dorm with stylish succulents, the local art community has praised Donaldson for her innovation. RAW, “the natural born” art show hosted at The Belmont in downtown Austin, invited Donaldson to showcase her work. Her setup ranged from succulents sprouting out of glimmering black skulls with lit up eyes to blue dinosaurs with plants growing out of their back. The creativity and attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed – her cart was placed on the first floor, directly across from the main stage, where RAW attendees crowded around in admiration.

“My favorite thing is the succulent gasp – it’s the moment when people see my cart and they’re like ‘Ah that is so cute!’”

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree, she says she wasn't able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree. She says she wasn’t able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Even though her succulents have been in high demand among the art community and UT students alike, Donaldson doesn’t have any desire to raise prices. Ranging from $4 to $25, her succulents are cheaper than most art – and plants in the area. An appreciation for high-quality, reasonably priced art was a key component when creating Flowers on the Fly.

Starting a business was a big risk for Donaldson but it paid off – proving to her family and self that unconventional paths can be successful.

A Budding Artist from Claire Edwards on Vimeo.

Inaugural Stargayzer Fest Celebrates Austin Queer Community

By Anna Daugherty, Emma Ledford and Alex Vickery

More than 100 LGBTQIA musicians, artists, drag performers and comedians from around the world took the stage for the inaugural Stargayzer Festival on Sept. 12-14 at Pine Street Station.

Zahira Gutierrez of Houston band Wild Moccasins sings during their Saturday set. Photo by Alex Vickery

Zahira Gutierrez of Houston band Wild Moccasins sings during their Saturday set. Photo by Alex Vickery

Despite the rainy weather, Austinites of all ages and orientations turned out to support the diverse range of talent within the queer community.

“We’ve got comedians and drag and performance art and we even have yoga and visual artists,” festival organizer Brett Hornsby said. “I think a lot of other pride events just kind of focus on one area alone, and so we just wanted to be as diverse as we could and show the broad spectrum that is being offered.”

Stargayzer has been years in the making, Hornsby said. Over the last five years, he was inspired by the diverse range of queer artists he met while touring with performer Christeene Vale.

“I think by [touring] I discovered how much incredible queer talent there is all over the world and how it’s kind of being overlooked,” Hornsby said. “I wanted to bring everyone together and make something that’s focused just on that.”

Photo by Alex Vickery

Two festivalgoers skip around puddles after the rain clears at Stargayzer Festival at Pine Street Station. Photo by Alex Vickery

Scheduling Stargayzer for the weekend before Austin Pride Week wasn’t intentional, Hornsby said, but it was good timing. The weather, though, was less than ideal, as rain soaked the festival grounds all day Friday and part of Saturday.

Pegzilla, from Toronto, poses with her "baby." Photo by Alex Vickery

Pegzilla, from Toronto, poses with her “baby.” Photo by Alex Vickery

The festival atmosphere, however, was anything but gloomy. Austin-based comedic drag performer Rebecca Havemeyer embraced the unexpected weather.

“I like how we have rain. We never have rain in Austin,” Havemeyer said. “The grass is growing and the ants are crawling.”

Tamara Hoover and Maggie Lea, co-owners of queer-friendly bar Cheer Up Charlie’s, said that Hornsby came to them with the idea for Stargayzer about six months ago. They jumped at the opportunity to see the Cheer Up community in a different element and location.

“Overall, this community has come out no matter what weather parameters they were given,” Hoover said. “It’s been a really awesome display of how supportive our Austin community is for each other.”

Lea agreed, adding that many festivalgoers didn’t just come for the headliners, but to support the lesser-known local bands and the Austin queer community as a whole.

When Hornsby began booking for the festival, he started with the better-known artists. He ended up getting so many submissions that he had to start turning people down.

“We discovered, on top of everything else, how much crazy stuff was out there, so going through it was really fun,” Hornsby said. “People are like, ‘Oh, you booked all the gay artists in the world!’ But that’s not true at all. There’s so many more.”

Regina The Gentlelady and her band Light Fires traveled all the way from Toronto for the festival. They played pride festivals before, but were attracted to Stargayzer because of the quality and diversity of the talent.

“It’s just a nice showcase of queer talent, and a really broad range of things,” she said. “There’s drag queens and then there’s bands that you wouldn’t even necessarily know are queer, or don’t have a queer agenda or anything, but they just are.”

"Have you ever seen a hairy bagel?" L.A. comedian Brad Loekle entertains a crowd on the main stage between musical performances.

“Have you ever seen a hairy bagel?” L.A. comedian Brad Loekle entertains a crowd on the main stage between musical performances. Photo by Alex Vickery

Though it had its share of challenges, Hornsby hopes the first Stargayzer Festival will create a foundation for the event to happen again next year.

“There’s a lot of groups to juggle and shuffle, but they’ve all been patient and really excited to be a part of something like this,” he said. “We want to make this happen. And whatever happens, happens.”