Punks support autism advocacy in Riverside

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A collection of punk rock cassettes is on display at the Punks in the Park market at Fairmount Park in Riverside on April 10. Katie Cox, 32, a member of the Inland Empire Harm Reduction, compiled the collection over the years. She gave out drug harm reduction kits at her booth. (Brian Calderon | Viewpoints)

By Cheetara Piry

An energetic and intimate gathering of people found themselves at a park browsing vampire-fanged earrings, chunky chain-linked chokers and intentionally offensive t-shirts calling out the KKK. 

A punk scene girl duo and behavioral therapists spearheaded their first mutual aid event to promote autism awareness to extend research featuring dozens of female-ran vendors at Riverside’s Fairmount Park on April 10.  

The girls brought their own stereo to liven up their section of the park. The speakers blared sounds of electric guitars and aggressive head-banging bass that attracted a generous crowd to the vendors.

The event successfully raised $700 in donations in honor of Autism Awareness Month. The organizers said the funds aim to further investigate autism since there is currently a limited amount of information on the condition. 

Sylvie Hanaoka, 30, and Karina Jones, 29, both specialize in applied behavioral analysis, working closely with children who have autism.

“We want to contribute to the research,” Jones said. “We want to do our part to help figure out what is causing it.”

According to The Hub, Johns Hopkins University’s health and innovation news platform, the diagnosis of autism is more frequent now than ever before. 

“The prevalence of autism is on the rise, but its causes remain unclear,” The Hub said in a 2017 article.

Jones expressed deep compassion for helping contribute to behavioral science. She is currently working toward becoming a board certified behavioral analyst.

The platform Punks in the Park originated in 2017. While the market April 10 was their first event coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said helping the community has always been prevalent throughout the punk scene world.

“What a lot of people don’t know about the punk scene is we try to do a lot of things to benefit other people, especially the homeless, disadvantaged, disabilities all of it,” Hanaoka said. “So a lot of the vendors are very supportive of what we’re trying to do and accomplish.”  

Hanaoka and Jones tag-teamed in creating the event by joining forces with several independent vendors — all but one happened to be women-run.

The vendors were very supportive of the event’s community awareness. They were able to showcase their products and donate if they chose to, which many did. It featured an assortment of items ranging from racks of ripped clothing held together by safety pins to Harley Davidson goods, vintage items and custom wood-burning art. One vendor even distributed free drug safety kits. 

Several vendors work with autistic children, want to enter the medical field or have had family members diagnosed with autism.

Ember Lorraine Contreras, who runs a small business called Boob Ross, showcased her wood burned art as well as live paintings for sale. She is on track to become a nurse and was well aware of the event’s intent to raise awareness for autism research. 

“I was excited to join and help raise money for the research,” she said. 

Katie Cox, 32, a vendor who is also a band member of Headdress, spread awareness by offering free narcan, an opium overdose reversal drug, as well as safe snorting kits.

As a member of Inland Empire Harm Reduction, her intention is to humanize individuals who use drugs and to promote a safer environment for the community, she said.

“Drug use is a part of our world,” Cox said, quoting one of IE Harm Reduction’s founding members. “We seek to minimize its harmful effects rather than ignore and condemn those who use.”

Patrons who came to support expressed appreciation for the event happening here in Riverside.

Yessie Ramirez, a customer from San Bernardino, attended with her boyfriend. She found the event through social media and said the awareness behind the occasion was the specific reason for her attendance.

Ramirez made sure that the first thing they did upon arrival was drop money into the donation box.

“That was the main focus,” she said. “We did that first, because we don’t want to distract anything from that.”

She expressed gratitude for the event’s gathering and was glad to be surrounded by the positive and approachable group of punk scene women. She said events like this usually happen in the Los Angeles area, so it was refreshing for her to be able to attend an event close to home. 

“Everyone was so kind, everyone was helpful and everyone’s here not only for a good time, but to support something that they think matters,” she said. 

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