Walkabout.

A partial document on the South of Market, San Francisco

Project(ion): SoMa Voices

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For the last several months I have been working with KULARTs on a pilot project that attempts to create an apprenticeship program model to re-interpret the South of Market Neighborhood.

The program was structured to allow artists in the mediums of writing, (maga)zine production, and film/video production to create projects with interns that explore themes of neighborhood, home, and the magical. Artists were given a substantial amount of autonomy to develop a curriculum that would permit students to come away with an overall positive creative experience.

The culmination of the three arms was a presentation that took place on June 6, 2009 in the Latino Room of the San Francisco Public Library. The space held a room full of enthused parents, community members, and youth who were involved in varying capacities.

While it’s obvious to me, and others employed in the selfless realm of education, that the rewards of instruction and mentorship are more latent, theoretical, conceptual (and like so many others in this field I’ve often struggled with levels of investment and capacity when students aren’t as engaged as I would like). The SoMa Voices Project was a program that immediately bore fruit. Teacher or not, one could not deny the positive energy that brimmed when witness to students (also their instructors, and mentors) diligence.

If you weren’t present at the event, then you missed out.

Really.

Obviously, on the love and nostalgia being cultivated in the room, but the historical, and arguably political acts taking place unknowingly.

The zine, aptly titled SoMa Voices: Re-imagining the South of Market, contains clear thoughts and ideas that demarcate solid/porous boundaries on how much the youth impart their experience in the SoMa…

The manifestations of laughter embedded into brittle brick walls…
…the complicated feelings towards violence attached to previously loved reds and blues…
…a nuanced pearl of resentment that began when they were unexpected asked to heal the broken spirit of an individual…

…all of that is contained in the words they crafted in their stories, the images they froze for the zine, the voices that were allowed to expand and contract in the videos.

Assisting and culling out their re-imaginings involved a relatively traditional methodology, but still hip to integrate relevance. MC Canlas’ Ethnotour was a ramble about downntown, revealing the hidden history underneath one’s nose. The tour took place around the South of Market, and as far as Union Square (an expanded ethnotour includes several missions around San Francisco). Who would have thought that Jose Rizal’s trip to San Francisco is commemorated on a plaque on the corner of New Montgomery and Market Street? Imagining a San Francisco during Rizal’s time and the context of his stay leaves loads to the imagination: where was Rizal in his political development? What scenes in San Francisco provided some kind of respite from the turbulence occurring overseas? Did Rizal enjoy the fish the same way he would in the Philippines? It’s in this imagining within the context of Canlas’ ethnotour that provided a vehicle to take a different look on the impressions that one leaves in a space.

Memory and commemoration in the public and personal spheres are consistent in this theme:

Palimpsest.

Technically, it refers to parchment paper that has been written on, erased, and reused but still contains traces of the previous text.

Theoretically, it’s been appropriated to spaces (in addition to literature) – and the inherent layering that occurs when not only buildings are razed, but even when buildings themselves are painted over and over and over… and years laters the traces trickle out, sometimes erupting to remind the unsuspecting person that the city has a past life that is more present.

The South of Market is such a space, and that concept has been subtley integrated in the video interviews.

SoMa Talks are informal conversations with youth in the SoMa in a seemingly fleeting moment of growth. Their impressions of their location in life and in the SoMa becomes embedded in spaces that have their own memories and own narratives. Their sometimes modest, sometimes contested, sometimes lackadaisical communications belie their physical age, and the same could be said about the youth these interviews were filmed at in the SoMa.

I’ve included the YouTube videos on the blog entry. In addition to being amused by what the youth had to say, please note the locations the interviews took place.

Kyrene’s interview took place in the Yerba Buena Gardens, for more information for this historically controversial space peruse the pages of City For Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco, by Chester Hartman. Vicente’s interview took place at the Alice Street Community Gardens that sits on Lapu Lapu Street (on a block that includes Rizal Street, Mabini Street, and Bonafacio Street), in front of a mural that documents the progress of Philippine History (Trivia Question: take a second look at the figure up at top of said mural the next time you’re there, guess who that is…think Kularts). Sheila and Jodel’s interviews took place at the Victoria Manalo Draves Park which is a trophy of a community movement, and is surrounded by some spaces such as the Hall of Justice (the jail overlooks the park, not that inmates get to see the park) on one end, and the Federal Building on the other end of the skyline, and flanked by Bessie Carmichael Elementary School – the placement and zoning complicates a simple walk in the park, with these symbolic and charged spaces.

It’s subtle, but still compelling to take in all of the history of SoMa and have this benchmark in these youth’s lives. It’s a conversation that continues between terrains internal and external [thanks to JPG for that articulation]…

Finally, it’d be interesting to follow up often in these interivews and these spaces at every four years in their lives, to mark their stories, their relationships, their will on their worlds. Where will they be then? How much would SoMa change in relation to their own development?

P.S. You can still purchase the zine here.

* Special thanks for the California Council for Humanities – California Stories Initiative for funding most of this project.
Extra special thanks to all of the partners involved – Alleluia Panis, Dianne Que, Patty Cachapero, Mitchell Yangson, Chris Woon, MC Canlas, Filipino Education Center/Galing Bata, Tina Alejo, Glen Jermyn, and Galing Bata staff, Irene Faye Duller, Anthem Salgado, Christine Balance, Kyle de Ocera, and all volunteers.

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One Response

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  1. thank you for such a concisely poignant reflection on soma voices. i couldn't have articulated the process better. we need to have an exit/eval meeting soon. will be hitting you up in the very near future. thanks again for everything, rj!dianne

    dianne

    June 17, 2009 at 4:24 am


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