Illustrations by Hazel Quimpo.
The spirit of Esme Barrera is—not was—a powerful one.
Born in El Paso, Texas, and moving to Austin in 2004, Esme was tragically and mindlessly murdered early on New Year’s Day in Austin in 2012—and the explosion of grief was palpable but not quite as powerful as the expression of gratitude and, to put it as simply as possible, the need for life’s grander moments to outshine its darker ones.
As her longtime friend Summer Anne Burton put it, “When people who didn’t get the chance to know Esme started telling me they were sorry for my loss, I wanted to say, ‘I’m sorry for yours.’ Getting to know her at all is one of the best things that ever happened to me, even more so than losing her was the worst.”
While her murder case—closed in less than a year after her murder, with no motive other than the mental health instability of a man who also attacked four other people in Austin—spawned everything from think pieces in the Washington Post to Reddit threads searching for her murderer, it was her spirt and presence in the tangible that proved strongest: Cool, charming, charismatic, those who didn’t know Esme suffered the largest loss, a theme that proved to be the most important—especially for friend Kerissa Bearce.
“She was the most joyous of people,” Bearce said. “Her whole mantra—before every summer—was, ‘Make this a no-bummer summer.’ So the first summer without her, I made this punch-hole card that had a list of things to brighten your summer.”
And since then, every damn year, Bearce has completed a new one each summer—with the first one in 2012 including 20 activities to 2023’s version including over 60—where people were encouraged, if they were willing to pay postage for the cards to be sent to them, donate to Girls Rock Camp instead, a camp where Esme was not only a counselor but avid supporter in getting girls into music.No Bummer Summer is more than just doing things under the sun with the kids (should you have them). It is about rediscovering and harnessing that inner-child freedom in a world where the daily stresses of adult life seem compounded post-pandemic.
It even prompted Hazel Quimpo—the other half of Longbeachize—to use the No Summer Bummer programming for her own LB Littles endeavor her in Long Beach, where hundreds of family took on the checklist in order to, well, seize something. And it is something she is precisely trying to achieve again this summer.
“Life has a way of weaving beautiful connections that come full circle, and my journey with No Bummer Summer is a testament to that. Meeting my husband on the Weezer Message Board, alongside cherished friends like Kerissa and Esme, was an unexpected twist of fate. Now, years later, a partner in Longbeachize, we’re able to bring this incredible initiative to Long Beach, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude and excitement.
Quimpo expressed her heartfelt sentiments, saying, ‘It’s incredible how life’s paths intertwine. From that serendipitous meeting on the message board to launching No Bummer Summer together, we’re thrilled to honor Esme’s rock ‘n’ roll spirit, celebrate life, and create a summer filled with joy, community, and unforgettable moments.”
And yes, she still prints out the cards to those who wish to have physical copies (until she feels like too many have been requested, as she humanly should). And yes, people still ask for them—from all over the world, Bearce notes—which instills a bit of inspiration and some much-needed energy into Bearce’s endeavor.See the entire list
“The evolution has been interesting,” Bearce said. “I used to have an adult version and a kid version but then I started getting messages like, ‘Hey, just a head’s up, I’m sober,’ so checklist items like ‘Have a cocktail’ don’t really work—so I’ve created just a singular, mostly-everyone-can-do-these-things type list.”
This isn’t to say that Bearce—who already has much on her plate as a principal—doesn’t sometimes feel the all-too-human feeling of overwhelmed, with the sentiment of not following for a year oftentimes coming in strong.
“There’s really no sentiment of, ‘I don’t need to do this anymore;’ I want to do this,” Bearce said. “It’s just a lot of work and I think sometimes, ‘They can just print the cards themselves,’ but then I’ll get a message from a random stranger asking me when the cards are coming out—a genuine reminder of the effect of something as simple as this has.”
And while yes, Bearce has shifted from an adult-focused card to a more family-friendly version, part of the largest reason that personally pushes her to keep doing No Bummer Summer, even beyond the kind interest from strangers, is Esme herself.
Get The Longbeachize No Bummer Summer ListGet the list!
“No Bummer Summer was meant to be for adults, to find that childlike joy in the summer,” Bearce said. “A lotta people wanted to use for it kids—which makes sense, completely—but for Esme, it really was about all the adult things that weigh on us and finding those moments of joy that help us through. Even when she was alive, that’s how she was: Always at the front of the show, always dancing—always dancing. Of course, when anyone passes, people have kind things to say but with Esme, it’s something incredibly long lasting because she really was that kind of a person.”
Now it’s time to go create an epic summer playlist and maybe, at least for the adults, listen to it while getting day drunk.
For Long Beach’s celebration of No Bummer Summer, click here.