The following letter is a response to a great piece on SF Weekly talking about gentrification in the Mission District, a place I called home until rents got so ridiculous my family and I could no longer afford to live there. This was years ago, at the ass-end of the first dot-com bubble. Since then, a second dot-com bubble has made the situation noticeably worse for Latinos in the Mission and it shows no signs of slowing down. Whether you benefit from this displacement or you’re a Latino family who’s had to pick up and settle into the almost uninhabitable dead zone outside of the Bay Area, you have three generations of San Francisco mayors to thank. Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, and now Ed Lee have worked tirelessly to turn SF into the yuppie paradise it now is. And it’s not just the Mission: Bay View Hunter’s Point is feeling the pain, too. Gentrification threatens to displace the African-American community that has made that area home for decades. (Muni constructed a new T line metro rail that runs all the way down Third Street; I guarantee you it’s wasn’t built for the black community.) Pretty soon all of SF will be a playground for the affluent. By then, who the hell is gonna want to live here?
And now, without further ado, the letter:
Great article on gentrification in the Mission District.You say “evolution of 24th Street”, I say socio-economic Darwinism.As a Latino and exile of my once-beloved neighborhood, I generally sense in my people a great deal of defeatism towards gentrification that would have been unimaginable just 40 years ago at the height of the Chicano Power movement.Whatever the hell happened to us since then is beyond me, but if it’s anybody’s fault that Latinos are being shoved into the armpits of California (no offense, Stockton) it’s probably us.
But before us Latinos all stock up on Speed Stick, allow me to leave a few words of wisdom to the new (read: mostly white) residents of the Mission:
Dear hipsters and yuppies: (Is there a difference, really? I’m not being sarcastic; we really don’t know. We just call you yupsters for the sake of clarity.)
- Every time you walk down our streets at night, point and snap photos in our store windows while we’re working late, and go “oooh”, and “aaaah”, and “hahaha, isn’t that funny”, it’s actually fucking obnoxious. The Mission is not a zoo and Latinos actually resent being treated like exhibits in our own neighborhood. (“See the endangered Chicano in its native habitat before it’s extinct!) When the class-cleansing that started with Willie Brown has finally finished its work in San Francisco and there’s not a single one of us left, then you can open the exhibit. Maybe breed a few of us in captivity. Turn the place into a wax museum. Preserve the traces we left behind so that future generations can discover who we were. (“Look, they left paintings on the walls!”)
- You might think we don’t understand when you make fun of us, but chances are we do. (BTW, they’re called quinceañera dresses, they’re supposed to be big and colorful, and they’re designed for 15 year old Latinas, not a gaggle of snickering, siddidy, 30-something white girls already way past their prime. Sorry ladies, you couldn’t rock those dresses if you tried. If you find them overly ornate and ostentatious, why don’t you slip into something more your style, like a tasteful Scandinavian-inspired evening gown, or a bedsheet with straps?)
- As much as we all love organic patchouli burgers, not all of us can afford to eat at upscale “foodie” joints. Latinos for the most part find it counterproductive to impress first dates with conspicuous displays of wealth – we save that for the wedding. Nor do we feel the need to wow her with our extensive knowledge of the esoteric world of kelp-based Sri Lankan cuisine. You’d be surprised what we can do with pupusas and a sexy Spanish accent. Don’t you yupsters have your fill of pretentiousness in the art scene? Now you gotta be bougie about food? How about just thanking God for something to eat in a city where hundreds of homeless go hungry every day? But I’ll tell you what: you stop judging us for walking around with a Popeye’s drink, and we won’t make fun of your knit sweaters and corny old-timey mustaches. Anymore.
- Some things are just better left to the pros. There’s something not quite right when November creeps upon us and the only people not actually marching at Day of the Dead are Mexicans. It’s because we now know how black people felt when Elvis came along. Day of the Dead is a sacred Mexican tradition, not a Halloween after-party. Those of us who observe Day of the Dead have a connection rooted in hundreds of years of Aztec and Mexican culture that gives us the right to honor our ancestors in this way. The only connection yupsters have to Day of the Dead is a pasty, almost skeletal complexion.
- You can have Cinco de Mayo, though. It’s BEEN played out for a minute now and really, it’s all about the booze anyway.
Truth is, whatever armpit we Latinos end up shoved into, we’ll always bring the Mission with us. By the time we’ve all made the move to the unholy perimeter around the Bay Area, we will have brought with us drink, tacos, music, dance, murals, horchata, bachata, chancletas, women, men, rolling r’s, poetry, culture, and cholos. In short, we will infuse LIFE into those barren wastelands of 100 degree summers and meth. We turn armpits into cleavage! Pretty soon the Mission will be the new armpit of San Francisco and yupsters will once again be on the prowl for a new trendy area to gentrify. But as much as you yupsters won’t be able to resist telling all your friends about the scene in Watsonville and decide you want to “slum it up” for the weekend, please, this time do us all favor and stay home. Don’t come running to our new hood when you’ve turned yours into Whitebreadistan and it’s no longer cool anymore. Latinos know all about what happens to our neighborhoods when they become “hip”, and we hate packing.
– Ed (Mexicanus Chicanicus)
Over 10 years ago, I created an Aztec-themed villain in search of a hero. That hero would use a ring to power up his suit of armor, giving him agility not unlike that of a certain spidery fellow, and he would be the first Mexican superhero ever. Clearly, I hadn’t done my homework on the Mexican part, but it didn’t matter. I still wanted to add my guy to the relatively new pantheon of Mexican characters who didn’t wear ponchos or sombreros.
OK, at some point my character does wear a sombrero. A very big sombrero. It gets hot in the desert, what can I say?
It’s been a LONG time since high school. Since then the character that would have been a villain continued to evolve, and soon he turned into a hero in search of a villain. But the one thing I came to realize was that more than anything, was that my hero needed a purpose. A drive. Something for him to fight for. In short, a story. I wish I’d learned this stuff sooner, but hey, even Albert Einstein once thought the universe was Euclidean. And how old was he before he did that thing with the relativity and the E=MC squares and what not?
God, I hope I can finish this book before I’m THAT old. At any rate, if you’re reading this, you are among the very first to hear news about this project. I’ve kept it under wraps for over a decade, after several reincarnations and numerous false starts. Now it’s official – I’m getting it done. It’s coming soon. If this all sounds vague, it’s intentional. This is only a teaser. Xochitl isn’t even the main character, but she’s certainly the sexiest. Some of you have even seen the hero on my main page, but rest assured, he has also been a victim of my revisionary nightmare. Expect a new look for him.
So stay on the look out, follow me on Twitter, Facebook me, and if you’ve got a copy of the stickers I’m handing out, hold on to them. Collector’s item.