Real-to-life ‘ice Station Zebra’ Signals Us Cold War Drama Unfolding

Cold war scenario intensifying in Iceland akin to fictional ‘Ice Station Zebra’

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – So, the U.S. wants to upgrade its strategic military base at the top of the world to snoop on Russia’s nuclear submarines, eh? The cold war – the state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945 to 1990 – is supposed to be extinguished. But the Pentagon’s allocation of $21.4 million in refurbishments to the base says anything but, “the end.” The cold war rages on – of sorts.

Ice Station Zebra original promo poster. Wikipedia/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The Christian Science Monitor first reported that the fresh allocation to renew hanger facilities and restore infrastructure at the base is for the 2017 fiscal budget. The planned upgrades are for basing a squadron of sophisticated submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance planes there to help patrol the North Atlantic – and to counterbalance Russia’s flexing of military might in the region.

If this isn’t a re-engagement of the Cold War – what is?

Kind of recalls the 1968 cold war era suspense thriller, “Ice Station Zebra,” a film directed by John Sturges, starring Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine, and ex-pro gridiron star Jim Brown. Espionage took center stage between the two superpowers at the top of the world in the sub-zero Arctic.

A similar action spy thriller, 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” an action spy thriller directed by John McTiernan, and starring Sean Connery, and Alec Baldwin, infuses the submarine component into the real story.

In the current 2016 real-life scenario, the U.S. shuttered the Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland in 2006. It caught military analysts in both nations by surprise because it was a menacing Russian military agenda that spurred the genesis of the base in 1951, in the first place, not to mention, Keflavik was still a strategic lookout post.

“Having eyes and ears in Iceland brings tremendous strategic value and provides a listening post for the US and NATO allies in terms of tracking Russian movement, especially in the Arctic,” Carl Hvenmark Nilsson, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told the Monitor.

A squadron of sophisticated submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance planes will help patrol the North Atlantic and counterbalance Russia’s flexing of military might in the region. Photo: Boeing.

Furthermore, Nilsson says, Moscow’s revanchist foreign policy, as seen in Ukraine, helps explain its intensified military activity in the North Atlantic and Arctic. Russia has conducted three major military exercises in the region in the past three years: They include an operational-strategic exercise of more than 100,000 soldiers in 2014 and a snap military drill last March that was made up of 45,000 servicemen, 15 submarines, and 41 warships “displaying full combat readiness,” says Nilsson.

It would hardly seem prudent to ignore Russia in light of this, hence the $21 million dash back to Keflavik.

Iceland has been a stronghold for military strategists since World War II when Allied forces used it to track German submarines in waters stretching from Greenland to Britain.

NATO members, including the U.S., signed a bilateral agreement with Iceland in 1951 to operate the base. It became crucial for tracking Soviet submarines that were easier to detect as they navigated narrow underwater recesses off Iceland.

At its peak during the cold war, about 5,000 U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel and their families were stationed at Keflavik.

UFC 196 Provides High-octane Upsets

Masterful competition from men’s, women’s fights electrifies UFC 196 crowd

LAS VEGAS (MMS) – The UFC 196 action on Feb. 5 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was one of those nights where any fighter can win on any given night. That’s what happened Saturday as bantamweight Miesha Tate choked out Holly Holm into submission to claim the women’s bantamweight belt, and welterweight Nate Diaz submitted brilliant bombastic warrior Conor McGregor by administering a rear-naked choke in the second round, causing him to reconsider his brash 25-pound rise from featherweight to welterweight.

McGregor, the popular Irish featherweight 145-pound champion who opted to move up to 170 pounds to fight replacement for Diaz because of an injury to lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos, went head-to-head with Diaz but was rocked by hard Diaz punches early in the second round.

Diaz (20-10), a former UFC lightweight title challenger, was cut pretty badly above the right eye by the hard-hitting McGregor, but eventually got the better of the shorter fighter in the stand-up phase with stinging left-right combinations.

Diaz, equally proficient in jiu-jitsu, quickly took control of McGregor when the fight went to the ground, gripping the Irishman in a rear-naked choke that forced McGregor (19-3) to tap out 4 minutes 12 seconds into the round.

When the fight went to the canvas, “I knew I had it,” said Diaz. “My jiu-jitsu’s always there when I hit the ground. I’m a warrior. There’s a new king, right here.”

Moving up 25 pounds in weight appeared to tire McGregor as the fight went late into the second round. “I felt good in the first round, but I was inefficient,” McGregor said. “He was efficient, I wasn’t.”

McGregor can now choose to fight Dos Anjos (at 155 pounds) in July or return to defend his featherweight belt.

“I took a chance,” moving up in weight, McGregor said. “It didn’t work out. I’ll come back.”

Another improbable victory

In the other Ultimate Fighting Championship upset, Holly Holm, in her first title defense since taking the bantamweight crown from Ronda Rousey, fought masterfully through most of the fight with her rapt kick-boxing skills, keeping Miesha Tate at bay with punches and straight kicks.

But in the final round with 1:30 to go, Tate shot through Holm’s defenses, took her to the mat and applied a tight choke that spelled the end for the champion.

Tate had praise for Holm, who took the belt from Rousey last November with a spectacular boxing display punctuated by a devastating KO by a round-house kick to the neck.

In the fourth round, Holm squashed two takedown attempts by Tate, a 3-1 underdog, and appeared to have victory in sight with crisp left-right combinations, but the challenger stuck to a game plan of patience.

“[Holly] has a lot of heart,” Tate said. “[But] we had a great game plan. I knew I had to find the perfect moment.”

Black Mexico: the Legacy of Pío Pico

An amazing Afro-Mexican’s imprint on Los Angeles; Pío de Jesus Pico was the most influential Black-Mexican with roots to the original pobladores

This multiple-part series “Black Mexico: Unearthing the ‘Third Root’” will unravel the little-known history of how Mexico’s 15th-century assimilation of Spaniards, indigenous Indians, and African slaves eventually led to the founding of Los Angeles by Black- Mexicans and Mestizos in the 18th century when California was still under the rule of Mexico. Even though the Black imprint in Mexico is unraveling more and more as time moves on, the reality of the truth is still largely mired in a Shadow History because the masses do not frequent libraries and this truth has never been taught as a history lesson in Mexico, much less as historic text in the U.S. To now, this invaluable historic truth has largely been available as scholarly works. The Compton Herald sought out this history, scaled down its volume from multiple scholarly sources, and now present it in nine parts for public consumption. — the editor

Part VII — “Black Mexico: Unearthing the ‘Third Root’”

Pío de Jesus Pico, the son of a Spanish artillery sergeant, lived 93 years under the flags of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. By the 1850s, Pio Pico was one of the richest men in Alta California.

The imprint by the original pobladores in Los Angeles history is indelible. The African contribution, which was initially omitted by historians, was amended 200 years later by the time of the arrival of the City’s Bicentennial celebration in 1981, as was presented in Part VI of this series.

While the ongoing contributions of the sons, daughters, and cousins of the original settlers remain sketchy, one individual, Pío de Jesus Pico, the son of a Spanish artillery sergeant, offers an amazing story. The name Pico is a familiar Southern California name, from busy Pico Boulevard, the City of Pico Rivera, the Pico House, and Pio Pico State Historic Park. His name adorns several businesses, from corner grocery stores, fast food establishments, shopping malls, and dry cleaners. Despite all of this, much of what the general public knows about Pico ventures little beyond the persona.

In a lifetime that spanned 93 years under the flags of Spain, Mexico and the United States, his rise from humble beginnings to the highest office in the state places him among the most remarkable figures in California history.

Pico was born on May 5, 1801, at the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel to José Maria Pico, a mulatto; and María Eustaquia Gutiérrez, a mulatta. His life shines brightest after the death of his father, Jose in 1819, and mother, Maria — the last surviving member of the original pobladores — in 1860 at age 97.

Pío Pico lived 93 years. His life spanned several distinct periods of Southern California history — from Spanish colonialism to Mexican rule and from American conquest to L.A.’s prodigious growth in the late-nineteenth-century.

Pico’s paternal grandmother, María Jacinta de la Bastida, was listed in the 1790 census as mulatta. His paternal grandfather, Santiago de la Cruz Pico, was described as a mestizo in the same census. There was no question of Pico’s link to an African ancestry.

Pío Pico, himself, would succumb 34 years after his mother in 1894. He represented the clearest picture of the extended reach of the original settlers into the building of Los Angeles’ infrastructure in the early days. Before his expiration, he would go on to tremendous conquest in both business and politics.

The rise of Pío Pico

By the 1850s, Pío Pico was one of the richest men in Alta California. In 1850 he purchased the 8,894-acre Rancho Paso de Bartolo, which included half of present day Whittier. He bought the acreage from the heirs of Juan Crispin Perez. Two years later, he built a home on the ranch and lived at “El Ranchito” from 1852 to 1892. According to some accounts, the house at one time included 33 rooms, and served as a respite for neighbors, and business acquaintances traveling great distances between settlements.

The Pío Pico Adobe Ranch House built on “El Ranchito,” near the San Gabriel River around 1853. The home was later swindled away from Pico and fell into disrepair. In 1907 the Pío Pico Adobe Ranch House was restored and deeded to the State of California in 1917. Pío Pico State Historic Park re-opened in September 2003 after a three-year major renovation project. Photo: parks.ca.gov

The land was also a working ranch. After gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, the demand for beef surged with the Gold Rush, and vaquerostended to Pico’s large herds of cattle and horses. He eventually became one of the wealthiest cattlemen in California controlling more than a quarter million acres of prime grazing land. Most of the ranch has since been subdivided into the cities of Whittier, Montebello, and Pico Rivera,

In 1883 inclement weather gave rise to a devastating flood that wiped out most of the mansion, leaving only the foundation and a few walls. It is preserved today as Pio Pico State Historic Park.

Pico and his brother Andres, another leading figure of Mexican California, also owned Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, an immense tract in northern San Diego County, which today is the sprawling U.S. Marine Corps base, Camp Pendleton. Pico also individually owned more than 500,000 acres comprised of large estates (ranchos) near Whittier and in the San Fernando Valley.

Pío Pico, governor of Alta California

Looking back nearly five decades before Pico became fabulously wealthy, he served twice as governor of Alta California, and the last governor of the territory under the rule of Mexico. Pico was a mover and a shaker, to say the least, in the annals of early California. His rise to the governorship did not come by conventional means.

Upheaval marked both of his terms, and in each case, Pico succeeded an ousted governor.

In 1831, a dispute over California’s mission lands escalated into an open revolt against the rule of Gov. Manuel Victoria, who refused to secularize the missions, to transfer their vast property holdings from ecclesiastical control to civil possession and use.

Victoria and the rebels, led by wealthy landowners, converged on Cahuenga Pass on Dec. 5, 1831, launching the Battle of Cahuenga Pass, where Victoria was seriously injured, forcing him to flee vacating the office of governor. As the senior member of the territorial legislature, Pico became governor by default, but his tenure was disputed by Victoria’s hand-picked successor and lasted less than three weeks. Following his brief stint as governor, Pico remained busy politically and became administrator of Mission San Luis Rey. Pico had established himself as a leading political figure in California and within 18 months, led the secularization of the missions.

ComptonHerald.com | Andrés Pico
Don Andrés Pico was the younger brother of Pío Pico. General Andrés Pico was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Andrés Pico never married, but adopted several children. Andrés Pico died in Los Angeles in 1876. Photo: “Andres Pico c1850” by unattributed – Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

As the story goes, Pico joined the Mexican army for a brief time in 1828. The following year, he received his first land grant of 8,922 acres near San Diego, named Rancho Jamul. Years later in 1841, Pico and his younger brother, Andrés, were awarded the 133,441-acre Rancho Santa Margarita.

Pico steered the missions under civil control in 1831. The secularization paid great dividends, as the awarding of such vast land grants would not have been possible under mission ecclesiastical control.

Following the end of the Mexican-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Pico reclaimed his title to the land he had previously acquired and re-invested in still more real estate becoming a wealthy and influential private citizen.

Further secularization of the Missions

Trade and commerce further increased with the complete secularization of the California missions by the Mexican Congress in 1833. Extensive mission lands suddenly became available to government officials, ranchers, and land speculators. The governor made more than 800 land grants during this period, including a grant of over 33,000-acres in 1839 to Francisco Sepulveda which was later developed as the Westside of Los Angeles. Sepulveda Boulevard remains one of the area’s major thoroughfares.

Much of this progress, however, bypassed the indigenous Indians of the traditional villages who were not assimilated into the mestizo culture. They were regarded as minors who could not think for themselves and were increasingly marginalized. Due to increasing debt and rampant alcoholism the indigenous people increasingly found themselves relieved of their land titles and the properties repossessed.

Pío Pico weds María Ignacia Alvarado

Pico found time to take a brief respite, settle in San Diego and marry María Ignacia Alvarado on Feb. 24, 1834, in the Plaza church. It was attended by the entire population of the pueblo — 800 people, plus hundreds from elsewhere in Alta California.

While in San Diego, Pico ran for office in 1834 as the first alcalde (magistrate) of San Diego after the secularization of the missions but was defeated. He challenged Gov. Juan Bautista Alvarado on various political issues and found himself in trouble with the government, imprisoned on several occasions.

A year later In 1835, the Mexican Congress declared Los Angeles a city, making it the official capital of Alta California. It was now the region’s leading city.

Ten years later in 1845, Pico — having already been chosen in 1844 as a leader of the California Assembly — was strategically positioned to succeed another deposed governor, Manuel Micheltorena, who had been appointed by the Mexican government, who was staring down a rebellion by Californios who wanted a native-born resident to hold the office.

The influential Pío Pico led a popular coup against the unfavorable Micheltorena near the Cahuenga Pass in the Battle of La Providencia, after which Pico became acting governor. One year later in April 1846, he was appointed as Micheltorena’s permanent successor. Pico didn’t waste any time exercising his authority to make Los Angeles the capital of Alta California.

Conquest of California

By then the very real possibility of war hung over Alta California as the United States had designs on the Mexican province and other northern territories of Mexico. Pico’s governorship would crumble soon thereafter upon the arrival of invading American forces later that year. Pico fled to Mexico to prevent the conquering Americans from capturing him and taking him prisoner.

The U.S. declared war against Mexico on May 13, 1846 with U.S. forces quickly overcoming Mexican forces, occupying Santa Fe de Nuevo México and Alta California Territory, then invading parts of Northeastern Mexico and Northwest Mexico; meanwhile, the Pacific Squadron conducted a blockade, and took control of several garrisons on the Pacific coast farther south in Baja California Territory.

U.S. army General Winfield Scott captured the capital Mexico City, marching from the port of Veracruz, virtually unopposed. The war lasted one year until the fall of 1847 and ended in Mexico’s defeat, resulting in the loss of approximately half of its national territory in the north. When news of the war reached California, the fall of Mexican California was swift. The U.S. captured Monterey on July 15, 1846, prompting Gov. Pico to issue the following proclamation:

“Pío Pico, Constitutional Governor of the Department of California, hereby makes known to its inhabitants that the country is threatened by the United States by land and by sea, that it now occupies Monterey, Sonoma, San Francisco, and other frontier points to the north of this department, where the Stars and Stripes now wave with further threatenings to occupy more ports and towns and to subdue them to its laws; therefore, this government, having stood firmly resolved to do its utmost to oppose the most unjust aggression committed during late centuries, caused by a nation possessed with extraordinary ambitions, purposely authorizing a cleverly disguised robbery, exercising power over us during a period of political weakness.”

It was one of Pío Pico’s final acts as governor. As American forces advanced on Southern California, Pico fled to Baja California in a futile attempt to raise a resistance force. In the end, Los Angeles fell to the invading troops, and the American capture of Mexico City in September 1847 sealed California’s fate: it became a permanent American possession.

The aggression heaped upon Mexico by the U.S. also established a long-held belief by Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans to this day, that the U.S. stole California.

Pío Pico’s focus on business

Pico returned to Southern California after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established peace between the United States and Mexico. Although Pico would never learn English, relying instead on an interpreter, he remained one of Southern California’s leading citizens through much of the 19th century. He was a brilliant businessman and dealmaker as evident by his great wealth. But little is known as to the genesis of earnings. It can be assumed that Pico’s initial investment came from military service in Mexico, as the Mexican government was known to repay military service with the awarding of land grants.

RELATED: Historical Timeline for the Pio Pico State Historic Park

In 1868, Pío Pico sold his vast landholdings in the San Fernando Valley to provide capital for the construction of the 33-room Pico House (Casa de Pico) on the old plaza of Los Angeles, opposite today’s Olvera Street. At the time of its opening in 1869, it was the most lavish hotel in Southern California and the city’s first three-story highrise.

ComptonHerald.com | Pico House
The 33-room Pico House (Casa de Pico) on the old plaza of Los Angeles, opposite today’s Olvera Street. The Pico House was the first lavish hotel in Los Angeles. The first highrise in the city extending three stories, the hotel opened in 1869. The building was deeded to the State of California in 1953 and is now a part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument. Photo: cropped from Flickr/jen

By the advent of the early 1900s, however, the Pico House had lost its splendor and was in decline along with the neighborhood, as L.A.’s business center moved further south. After decades of serving as a shabby flop house, it was deeded to the State of California in 1953 and is now a part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Monument. It is used today occasionally for exhibits and special events.

The fall of Pío Pico

Unfortunately, Pico’s wealth and affluence would fade 10 years later. He lost the hotel and other properties to foreclosure. The narrative that branded Pico was that extravagant living, heavy gambling, fraud, and bad business practices conspired to rob him of nearly everything he had accumulated. He was forced to liquidate his real estate holdings and his final years were spent in near poverty.

It is believed that Pico was later swindled out of his home and rancho in present-day Whittier. And even though he defended his position and fortune in more than 100 legal cases, including 20 that were argued before the California Supreme Court, he never regained his previous standing and died a poor man.

In 1893, a committee of local boosters and history enthusiasts asked him to appear at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition as “the last of the California dons.” Pico refused, considering it an affront to his dignity.

Pío Pico died in 1894 at the home of his daughter Joaquina Pico Moreno in Los Angeles. He was buried in the old Calvary Cemetery on North Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles, but his remains, as well as those of his wife, Maria, were disinterred and relocated in 1921 to a modest tomb in El Campo Santo Cemetery, now in the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry.

A daguerreotype c. 1852 shows Pio Pico at age 51. He drapes his arm around his wife with two nieces flanking the couple. This image and demonstrates signs of apparent acromegaly. The enlarged inset emphasizes his dysconjugate gaze but with normal lateral eyebrows. Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Foundation. Caption: US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health.

Besides Pío Pico’s gradual fall from grace, he also suffered a physical malady called acromegaly, the excessive hormonal production of the pituitary gland resulting in abnormal growths on the face, hands, and chest. The disorder was also accompanied by occasional symptoms of a headache, double vision, loss, fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, frequent urination, extreme thirst, severe snoring, muscle weakness, and impotence.

The legacy of Mexican California’s final governor is permanently enshrined in street names, schools, parks, and businesses across Southern California. Los Angeles can be proud of its history owing to its greatness, in part, to an enduring personality — an amazing Angelino named Pío de Jesus Pico.

Part VIII of IX parts, “Black Mexico: “Unearthing the Third Root,’” continues.

Uncharted: Teach About Black Mexico in Schools

“History is history” – the suppressed truth of Latino- and Black-American historical assimilation

Before the truth of the birth of Los Angeles was revealed in 1981 prior to the Los Angeles Bicentennial celebration, historians had relegated the seeding of what has become one of the world’s great megalopolises to a pioneering group of Spaniards and mestizos. That’s the way the original history was written.

Thanks to the ethical due diligence of the late University of Southern California historian Doyce Nunis, Jr., and a special Los Angeles Bicentennial research sub-committee organized by him, the truth was unearthed that a major African presence was also involved in the seeding of Los Angeles. In fact, the research revealed that more than half of the original pobladores, or settlers, that arrived in seed and nurture colonial Los Angeles were infused with African blood.But it was flawed.

They were the Black-Mexicans biased historians tried to suppress.

But truth hushed to a whisper will cry loud!

To put it bluntly, certain members of Los Pobladores 200, an association of about 250 people who trace their lineage to Los Angeles’ original settlers, were disturbed to learn that information attained from census archives in Seville, Spain by the Nunis sub-committee found that the majority of the pioneering settlers to Los Angeles were not pure blooded Spaniards and mestizos — but rather, mulattos and mestizos. The mulattos were an assimilation of African and Spanish blood.

In other words given the universally accepted “One Drop-Black Blood,” postulation, the mulatto pobladores were unquestionably Black.

The original plaque at Olvera Street commemorating “Los Pobladores,” had for many years omitted any reference to the African heritage of the Black pobladores. But all that changed after the Nunis fact-finding mission, which led to the replacement of the old plaque with the current one which accurately depicts the multiracial makeup of the founders.

Doyce Nunis Jr. was professor emeritus of history at USC College and editor of Southern California Quarterly. Photo: Historical Society of Southern California.

Olvera Street was a favorite destination for elementary school “field trips” prior to 1981 for children throughout Los Angeles County. This writer remembers it well. Prior to 1981, the county’s students were not privileged to the truth that Black-Mexicans were not only involved in the colonizing of Los Angeles but were the dominant settlers in the city’s founding.

Unfortunately, divulging the history of the original pobladores was a racially political hot potato. Some of the descendants of the mestizos settlers were very sensitive — even angered — to the prospect of being revealed as having African blood. The truth that Black- and Latino-Americans share a lineage of colonial assimilation that binds many of them at the hip, was an unspoken taboo for many Latino families in, and before, 1981 — and for all intents and purposes, still largely remains in the shadow of ignorance. For Black-Americans, the revelation has hardly been broached.

Nunis’ team had been assembled to establish the indisputable truth about the contributions of Black-Mexicans to the seeding and nurturing of colonial Los Angeles. The multiracial ethnicity of the pobladores had been rejected as rumor by the scholarly establishment and never accepted until explicit census information was found in an archive in Seville, Spain. Documents there confirmed that 12 families recruited by Gov. Felipe de Neve, the first Spanish governor of California, arrived from the Mexican provinces of Sinaloa and Sonora.

The voice of history resounded. The “third colonial root” from Africa revealing assimilation with Spanish and indigenous roots in colonial Mexico to produce the multi-ethnic blend of Mexico in 2015, also found its way to California and plowed its way into the fertile ground that spawned the City of Los Angeles

Nunis, who died on Jan. 22, 2011 at age 86, said at the time of the revelation — “history is history; you can’t change it. And the sub-committee found the evidence.” He will be forever remembered for leading the fact-finding research that set the historical record straight.

Had the truth been known and highlighted in American history curriculum in schools across the U.S. and Mexico from the beginning — certainly in California where, today fractious relationships between Black- and Latino-Americans erupt into random violence in shared neighborhoods, and high schools, a bond of peace and understanding might have served to prevent the mayhem that seethes — not to mention the turmoil in penal institutions between Black and Brown gang factions.

It’s not too late. The truth of a shared history between Latinos and Blacks in Mexico, and indeed all of the Americas, can be infused into the history curriculum of all grade levels in schools across America.

After all, as Dr. Doyce Nunis, Jr., once famously said: “History is history; you can’t change it.”

Ignorance languishes in darkness. But the truth is light. And the light vanquishes the darkness.

Dominguez High Students Headed to MESA Nationals

Jennifer Barrientos and Azucena Castro
Jennifer Barrientos (center) and Azucena Castro (wearing award-winning prosthetic arm design) celebrating their First Place win at the state MESA competition. At rear is MESA advisor Emmanuel Ikeokonta. Photo: courtesy CUSD.

Prosthetic design wins state competition, sends students to nationals; others encouraged to pursue STEM fields


COMPTON (MNS) — Two of Compton Unified School District’s best and brightest have advanced medical prosthetics technology one giant leap with the design of a low-cost prosthesis that won First Place overall in California’s statewide competition for Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA).

Dominguez High School seniors Jennifer Barrientos and Azucena Castro will be heading to Ogden, Utah in June to represent CUSD at the national MESA competition — an historic first.

According to the national, non-profit Amputee Coalition, a consumer educational organization representing people who have experienced amputation or are born with limb differences, “Each day, more than 500 Americans lose a limb,” a reality that gives immense credibility to the prothetic design by Barrientos and Castro, whose affordability carries tremendous future-design implications.MESA features several categories for grades 6-8, as well as 9-12. Barrientos and Castro entered the Prosthetic Arm Challenge category, where teams of 2-4 people were challenged to design and construct a prosthetic arm according to strict guidelines, produce a technical paper on their design, and present an academic poster to a panel of judges. The completed product had to come in under a budget of $40.

Per the MESA competition guidelines, “The Prosthetic Arm Challenge involves the development of a low-cost prosthetic device to complete a set of pre-defined task. Teams are tasked with research, design, construction, testing, and competition using a trans-radial prosthesis designed to complete the following tasks:

•  Distance Accuracy Task: greatest distance and accuracy achieved by throwing bean bags into the Target Zone in the fastest time.
•  Object Relocation Task: fastest time achieved by placing all objects into and removing all objects from a specified container.
•  Dexterity Task: greatest number of bolts and nuts correctly placed and secured onto the testing device in the fastest time.
•  Design efficiency: greatest ratio of device performance to device mass.”

Barrientos and Castro fashioned their prosthesis using a mailing tube, duct tape, rubber bands, a synthetic belt, claw, and eraser. The combined value of the items was $25.

Of their achievement, Castro said, “It’s really exciting because it’s the first time Dominguez High has made it this far. I hope that our accomplishments can influence others in the community to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”

Barrientos acknowledged the hard work involved to create a winning design:  “[It] really pays off. If you have the persistence to do something, it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you live,” she said, adding, “Mr. Ike [student MESA advisor Emmanuel Ikeokonta] always pushed us to do great things. He’s always been there for us.”

“Jennifer and Azucena are very dedicated, hard-working go-getters who are never scared of the level of work it takes to be successful,” said Ikeokonta. “These girls are not just students to me; they are like my adopted children.”