6/27 – Malachi, Surrounded by Friends (El Centro, California) Day 2

Our second day interviewing Mathis and Jenny in El Centro, California was brief but significant. We had opportunity to see more of the town, but also to hear poignant stories from Mathis about how he deals with occasionally being overwhelmed. This would be our last day on the road, after a week of traveling around the US.

A hearty (and very typically Californian) lunch at a local In-N-Out Burger.
The following pictures depict an area of downtown El Centro. As you can see, the area was was mainly made to be a commercial district. However for reasons not completely clear, the streets and business here were mostly empty and completely closed, giving a bit of a Western “ghost town” air to this area.


Mr. Takeuchi prepares a shot of the street. Even car traffic was very low, which facilitated ease of filming.


Shooting in the middle of the road
It was 133 degrees, under the merciless heat and burning sunshine.
After shooting downtown, we headed back to the LGBT Resource Center. Before entering, the NHK shoots a short interview of Dr. Ikegami in the parking lot.
A central decoration of the LGBT Resource Center. The place was interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it served as a sort of safe haven for local LGBT members in an area that is still very conservative towards LGBT. Secondly, it was an information center for LGBT issues (lots of pamphlets were available regarding health care and psychological and personal help for both LGBT members and those surrounding them, like parents and friends). Thirdly, it served as a community center where courses were taught and support groups met regularly. The majority of materials available were written mainly in Spanish, which reflects the fact that 83.6% of El Centro residents are Hispanic (source: https://datausa.io/profile/geo/el-centro-ca).
Dr. Ikegami begins a second interview with Jenny and Mathis.
The crew asks questions also.
Mathis shows us how much he loves his collection of plush toys. While to most people this might seem childish, to Mathis these “plushies” help him deal with emotional overwhelm. Like our other autistic interviewees who have found different ways to cope with sensory and emotional overload (common characteristics of the autism spectrum), Mathis’ plush toys help him to calm down and feel secure.
Each plush toy has a name and a specific personality; each also has a personal story. One was given to him by Mathis’ mother (who he told us was the only person in his family who truly supported him, before she passed away) and another was given to him by Jenny. To Mathis these objects represent personal feelings and emotional safety.
Dr. Ikegami was allowed to play with the plush toys. Given how personal and emotionally charged these toys are to Mathis, this is quite significant.
More details of the decorations at the LGBT Resource Center.
The front desk and reception area.
This is a piece of artwork that caught this photographer’s intense attention. I thought of it as very powerful, especially in light of the fact that often LGBT people do not only have to deal with rejection and misunderstanding for not being heteronormative. As it is very apparent in the case of Mathis and Jenny, people’s lives are complex and often very different from what might be socially accepted.


Dr. Ikegami continues her conversation. Even though the conversation on this second day was shorter, it was very deep as they talked about deeply personal matters.
Being so emotionally engaged, this conversation was taxing to Mathis. Through it all, Jenny supported him. She has learned that physical contact is something important right when he begins to feel overwhelmed.


Upon finishing the interview, Mathis poses again for Mr. Takeuchi’s camera. He is surrounded by his favorite plushies and beautiful Second Life avatar Malachi.
On the road, on our way back to San Diego. Once again, the details of the Californian desert are impressive.
One last picture of the desert. As it is easy to see in the distance, going towards San Diego also means going up (the Imperial Valley is a few hundred meters below sea level, which partly explains its intensely hot weather).


Next Page:  6/28, 6/29 – Back in New York City, to Meet in the Virtual World

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