Behind the Project: Chivas Sandage
It’s always fun for us here at Creative Visions to watch our interns (“Visionaries”) gravitate towards certain projects upon arrival. Each unique intern ends up having a handful of favorite CAP projects, and it’s interesting to see how those reflect his or her personality.
Visionary Jessica Sutton studies forensic psychology, so it was not hard to see why she gravitated towards Salt Wind Redemption: Love and Murder in South Texas. This project investigates the hate-crime committed against a young lesbian couple, and the story of the survivor, Kristene Chapa. Here, Jessica shares her reflection on a conversation with CAP member Chivas Sandage, and dives into a side of the project we seldom get to hear – the story of the CAP member.
Visiting the Creative Visions website can be an inspiring and yet intimidating process. Scrolling through all of the active CAP projects can make a person feel a bit underachieved. At the same time, one can’t help but be inspired to attempt incredible goals. Reading about the struggles that people are working to overcome makes the rest of the world seem like an open field rather than a foreboding cliff. It is easy to be personally motivated to become a creative activist. One thing that isn’t often addressed, however, is the process of making the films, books, plays, and photo journals, among other projects, that enable these stories to be told. The “behind-the-scenes” information is often overlooked. The stories of the people behind the story are often neglected. What is it like to make a film or write a book about a tragedy? Was it difficult to experience living the way you did while gathering the information you needed for your stories? Questions like these can be extremely helpful to all of the aspiring creative activists out there.
Chivas Sandage is one such activist whose personal story has not yet been told. She has spent countless hours and resources to make sure that one story about two girls is told. Her dedication and selflessness deserves recognition. Chivas began her journey with Creative Visions based on her connection to a story about Mary “Kristene” Chapa and her girlfriend Mollie Judith Olgin. Tragically, the girls were robbed, sexually assaulted, and shot while they were on a date. Mollie did not survive the attack but Kristene did, and now she wants to tell her story. Kristene contacted Chivas, who is working to give both girls a voice.
When I spoke to Chivas for this article, she told me about how she was drawn to Kristene and Mollie’s story. There is a photo of the girls that shows a tender, innocent kiss on the cheek passed between the two. Chivas said that when she saw the image, she was reminded of a kiss that she and her wife had shared, one for which they were verbally bashed in public. She said the photo brought her to tears. She felt a connection with the two girls. People do not often consider how personally connected creative activists are to the stories that they represent. It is not a detached, mechanical job done to elicit pity and money, but one of passion, compassion, love, and a burning desire to reach out to the whole world with their stories.
After agreeing to write the book with and for Kristene, Chivas set to work. She and her wife, a photographer, traveled to Texas to meet Kristene and her family. Together, they visited the scene of the crime and talked with Kristene about what happened. Since then, Chivas has made other trips to Texas for interviews, to get to know the community surrounding the story, and to become familiar with the case and the investigation. She says that she’s become attached to Kristene and her family and the community, and to the work of telling this story. It is not simply a quest to tell a “good story” but to understand the truth about what happened and how this crime affected the community.
This narrative non-fiction books aims to tell the larger story—much of which the public does not know, Chivas says. She also focuses on the romantic comedy of Kristene and Mollie’s relationship before that tragic night, the loss of Mollie, and Kristene’s amazing ability to overcome her physical and emotional trauma. Kristene’s own writing appears throughout the book, and her voice is personal as well as funny and inspiring.
Chivas never imagined she’d write about a crime such as this one. Her background is in non-fiction and poetry. Currently, she’s put other projects on hold, including two memoirs. And she’s put everything on the line to make this book a reality. Chivas spoke about the challenges that she faces in making this book, and eventually, the screenplay, happen. She and her wife are personally funding this project, and it has been a struggle for them. Even though it’s felt like a gamble, Chivas says she would do it all again. She spoke about Kristene and Mollie is such a caring way. Her connection to them is palpable and enables her to continue with this project.
This story is one of love and loss but also of survival and recovery. Chivas said she’s felt humbled to be asked to write this book with and for Kristene, and has great respect for Kristene and Mollie and their families. Kudos to this amazingly inspiring woman for continuing to stick to it and write through it all just to tell Kristene and Mollie’s story. Hopefully, her determination will inspire many creative activists-in-the-making, and that is one very important aspect of Chivas’ and other activists’ work. It is so important to tell stories like these, to get the word out about difficult issues about which many people may not know. That is a creative activist’s motivation. They do the things that they do because it is necessary to give these issues and stories a voice. There is no reform without awareness.