When people suggest I live in a "bad neighborhood," I'm usually annoyed. The San Francisco Mission has been my home for over 35 years. It is what it is. For those of us who live here, it is our place. Last week I walked the main thoroughfare in the south Mission, looking for changes.
We've had an outbreak of gang murders lately. Nobody is happy about that.
Nearby, a disturbing mural echoes the challenge of the nearby shrine.
And not far from there, kids play in one of most colorful mini-parks in the world.
The rectory of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest buildings on the street. When I first moved here, there were still small remnants of the Irish population that dominated the neighborhood until after World War II. According to neighborhood legend, an Irish rector once ran guns from this building to the IRA. The Irish moved to the suburbs during the postwar housing boom. Immigrant Mexicans and Filipinos moved in. In the 1970s, holiday services at St. Peter's were trilingual, in English, Spanish and Tagalog. The contemporary mural shows Mexican heros.
The church-owned building down the block has become a fitness gym -- while still covered with the 70s era mural showing a woman peasant tractor driver. This dates from the building's days as the home of the pro-Maoist publisher, China Books. The neighborhood has been extremely resistant to gentrification, and not only because it is poor and scary. Many Latino families have been more likely to move in to Mission buildings than to sell when the parent generation died. The new gym's advertising is in both Spanish and English.
A newish feature of the street, competing with the profusion of taquerias, are five or six hip places to drink coffee and enjoy free internet.
Some are techno-sterile.
Others are homey and funky. All are considerably more white than most of the other stores or passersby. The original south Mission coffee house (not pictured) called itself La Boheme, serving as a gathering place for poets and impoverished left intellectuals.
A detail from a mural on the Mission Girls service center expresses the neighborhood's better aspirations. Sometimes this aspirational inclusive community is how it is.