Every year, East Side/West Side introduces readers to inspiring, ordinary people whose stories left readers wondering: What ever will come of them? From the tormented Syrian-American daughter to the indomitable African-American photographer and the boys basketball team in pink sneakers, let's catch up to the class of 2012.
Syrian Civil War
Ghaidaa Mousabacha sleeps better today after her parents and sisters barely survived the bloody siege of Homs, Syria.
"I'm so blessed for that," she said after New Year's Day.
Still, her father fled to Damascus where he can't get regular therapy for an arm injured by a sniper. A sister escaped to Egypt and her frail mother remains in Homs, afraid to leave the house. And this winter is more frigid than usual.
"Every time I talk to my parents or other family members, they complain of how cold they are and how concerned they are about the safety of everyone due to checkpoints, snipers, car explosions and the threat of chemical weapons," said Mousabacha, a middle school teacher in San Jose.
Meanwhile, she still raises money here for humanitarian aid there, and she also organizes rallies and letter-writing drives and bravely speaks to the media on the record about the murderous Syrian civil conflict.
"I would like to end with a positive note," Mousabacha said. "My family members and many Syrians I know who still live
Wars that end, of course, tend live on in personal ways we can't imagine.
Decorated Vietnam War veteran Charley Trujillo decided last year to return a small battle flag his father captured in World War II to its "rightful owners" in Japan. Others now want to help him complete that very personal pilgrimage.
"The responses have been positive," said Trujillo, an author and publisher from San Jose.
The Saratoga-based Ed Gomersall Cultural Scholarship, he said, wants to help him find the survivors of the Japanese soldiers whose faded names appear on the flag, the type Imperial Army soldiers typically signed and wrapped around their bodies.
But he doesn't have any solid leads yet on their surviving relatives in Fukuchiyama, the unit's hometown. Trujillo intends to return the flag in person to honor his father and his Japanese foes at the time and to help him deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder he still has from Vietnam.
"I do not know how long this is going to take," Trujillo said, "but I am going to give it my best shot"
Almost every trendy neighborhood has a hip coffee shop by now, but last year one appeared on the unlikeliest corner in central San Jose.
"The business is much better," said Sandra Zamora, co-owner of the I Java Cafe in San Jose's hard-edged Delmas Park, which is cut off from downtown by Highway 87. "Not making millions, but we are surviving and working very hard to make it successful."
The cafe received good Internet reviews on Yelp and Facebook. The local neighborhood association and a group of cyclists now meet there every month. Because there's little foot traffic, Zamora and her partner, Nadir Ali, are wooing Meetup groups, artists and visitors to the Children's Discovery Museum, which sits on the other side of the freeway.
I Java is considering a radical menu addition for any hip, caffeine joint: menudo, a traditional Mexican tripe soup believed to cure hangovers.
Meanwhile, photographer Sherrie Green has not found a permanent home for her striking photos of African-American leaders in Monterey County.
"I had a heart attack back in September," said the straight-talking 57-year-old Santa Claran. "I've kind of been out of it, on a lot of people's prayer lists."
Once an aspiring photojournalist, she returned to photography in the late 1990s and produced a striking series of portraits featuring successful African-Americans in the Monterey Bay area. Some of her photos will appear in February as part of a Black History Month exhibit at Seaside City Hall.
"They had such a giving spirit," she said of the pioneering black leaders her camera capture so well. "I just wanted to give something back."
And finally, the year ended well for cancer patient Lisa Bantilan
and her son, Grant, the speedy but introverted basketball player at San Jose's Independence High School who inspired his teammates to wear pink sneakers on the hardwood floor during games. Pink is the color of the movement to cure breast cancer.
"I'm doing much better," said his mother, a survivor of a double mastectomy and aggressive chemotherapy. Grant's team lost only one league game and made a proud run in the playoffs.
He's now a freshman at San Jose State University with no time for hoops. But in place of the pink sneakers is a pink ribbon inside his car.
"Everything is good," Mom said.
Let's hope for the same this year and the next for all of the East Side/West Siders.