The long term framework and strategy is to explore themes of human development and the human condition through a committed effort of communication between myself and these young men of the SoMa.
We’ll examine the simple things, like birthdays, and we’ll examine the not-so-simple things, like how Obama’s economic plan can affect them (or if it even will).
If there ever was a reason to tell stories, and vindicate these old ideals of catharsis and empathy, these young men are it…
Dear Ira Glass,
The first time I heard your voice I was in high school. I don’t remember the stories of the particular episode, but I do distinctly remember losing myself while driving. I mean, I was still driving, along the 5 south freeway in San Diego, most likely from working at the library, passing the Calvary Baptist Church and it’s pink walls, and Chicano Park with its contested narrative…
I was committed to your show thereafter. I made sure to notch out Sunday afternoons, and keep my schedule clear an hour before your show, and an hour after your show.
I remember turning my volume up nearly full.
I remember opening my windows so the neighbors would hear and hopefully connect with me. I recall popping my head out the window often when amused or when struck with epiphany, usually in hopes to catch someone listening along… but that never happened.
I remember laying on my back staring up at the ceiling… or closing my eyes to type out the letters and words in my head to make sure I remembered moments of catharsis, feelings of empathy.
Your show taught me the art of the pause, the mastery of writing, and the sleekness of editing.
You continue to be my ace in the hole, I try not to share your strategies too often, but these days, I find myself returning to your tips more and more, and it’s not like I haven’t committed the points to memory, it’s just that I find you’re like a friend that’s always there…anyway.
Even though I’m not the filmmaker or storyteller that I aimed to be when I was 16, your perseverance and ethic still gives me hope….
Again thank you.
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.
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:
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.
Alleluia Panis and Dianne Que are the main outfit in KULARTS. The organization is invested to present the indigenous, and the post-modern works in Filipino cultural production. KULARTS is one of the few organizations in the nation that has a sustained and distinct presence in bringing forward comfortable AND challenging facet of Filipino expression.
In addition to running the seasonal POMO shows, KULARTS often collaborates with Galing Bata of the Filipino Education Center and Bessie Carmichael Campus in the SoMa to teach SoMa youth ways to express and articulate.
Below is my fly-on-the-wall experience in a day of their summer program last year.
I’ve been working with them this year in a pilot project funded by the California Council for Humanities – California Stories initiative. The CCH is another solid group that has shown support to various humanities-based organizations and supporting efforts to document the narratives that are glossed over my mainstream media.
We’ll be having a test screening, open to the public of projects-in-works on May 15, 2009 at the Bayanihan Community Center on 6th Street and Mission. Our final screening will be on June 6, 2009.
Holy cow, how long has it been?!
I’ve only been on a soft hiatus.
In the interim of publishing I’ve been trying to get new collaborations going, new connections established, maintaining relationships, and repairing strained ones – all with varying degrees of success.
There’s a long list on paper of items in the queue to be blogged about…
Thanks for re-joining me.
I’ve been a terrible blogger on this site as of recent, but I hope to redeem myself with this entry.
This year has brought about a lot of learning, thankfully.
I learned that no matter what, people will lay their lives on their homes. Outside of family, and our health, it’s often all we have. With support and love from family, friends, and community members, a home will ALWAYS be a home, no matter the critique– shortsighted, unfounded, and conflated as it is.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed out on a lot of events since October, ranging from the Planning Commission Hearings on the final steps of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, to the United Playaz Thanksgiving Celebrations. I’ve a backlog of footage that still needs to be edited, interviews that need to be wrapped up, photos to still take… tick tock tick tock!
No matter, the SOMA is still there, residents still dance in the streets, stay warm behind their homes, smile with each other, laugh before they go to bed, persevere and dream in slumber.
On December 19th, SOMCAN ran their annual Pasko event at the Bayanihan community center on 6th and Mission. Festivities were full with Lechon (Roast Pig), festive performers young and old alike. The space bustled, and while I’m glad I was able to get some footage at this gathering, it still wasn’t nearly enough to feel the crowd’s presence.
Featured on this short video is Marti Dulalas–I confess, I should have done more interviews, but Marti has been the impromptu guide during these events, and she holds it down! Jazzie Collins, a longtime community advocate and resident provides her jovial input. Also on this video is Jack De Jesus, aka Kiwi Illafonte, staff member of SOMCAN. The youth from Galing Bata and Bessie Carmichael filled out the night with a postmodern mix of bilingual carols, hip hop choreography, and redux versions of other classic tunes.
As I managed to be a fly-on-the-wall, I scanned the crowd often from behind the camera. I always attempt to follow a mental checklist of shots to get. Sometimes I get through the checklist properly, often times I get caught up in balancing out the anonymity and participation. On one of these b-roll items on my list I caught sight of this fellow:
After continuing with filming, I realized I needed a quick break outside. I greeted several folks I recognized, but mostly kept to myself, assessing what else I needed from the event. Standing in thought amidst all that is 6th street, I could not resist the charm that the night had… and I think I zoned out for a minute. Unsure of how to reset my thoughts, I started devising more opportunities to appease my need for technical and narrative precision (which I will perpetually work at doing), but these were moot to complete presence without camera, and active emotional involvement, interaction…
Next thing I knew I was smiling… at what? I can’t articulate.
Shaking myself from the breather, I noticed the same lolo walking towards me, or rather, the exit. I immediately turned my camera on, attempting to get a more dynamic angle to integrate with the previous footage, as seen above. As he continued to move towards me, I began to watch his face, and began to remove my face from the camera screen, a technique I employ to assure that I’m seeing the right things.
Making eye contact, we smiled at each other again.
The doors slid open and we were within inches of each other. We said nothing. He placed his hand on my wrist, and not to prevent me from recording. I placed my other hand on his. We parted.
I made sure to take pause, if only for a second. If there’s anything that I’ve learned working solo is that I always gotta check-in with myself.
Reflect. Reassure. Repeat.
What we did for each other that night, that singular moment, is what I’ve been trying to do everyday, with or without camera…
…and I’m sure it’s the same for him.
Thanks for reading, see y’all next year.
I sat in the classroom for a class called, “Economic Development, Housing and Neighborhoods in San Francisco” I was audience to panel with April Veneracion from SOMCAN, Tony Kelly from the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, Nick Pagoulatos from MAC and Dolores Street Community Services. from the Post War Period to the Present,” taught by Calvin Welch.
The topic: Eastern Neighborhood Plan and how the represented organizations have been organizing from the ground up as “amateurs” against City Planners, Redevelopment/Real Estate, and other “Professionals.”Some talking points and observations:
SOMCAN was borne out of rampant redevelopment in the SOMA. As a response, a small and hardy group of concerned community members linked arms and ideas and mobilized a significant number of SOMA residents. Taking heed to the needs of those who are most likely to be displaced (i.e. people of color, immigrants, low-income), SOMCAN made sure to assist in dealing with eviction notices, receiving services, and working towards building neighborhood-friendly institutions. Some results were the rebuilding of Bessie Carmichael, the opening of Victoria Manalo Draves Park, and the saving of the Trinity Hotel Apartments.
The Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association was founded in 1926 continues to service the Potrero Hill district. Tony Kelly introduced the organization as a set of residents and property owners that work for the neighborhood, simple and plain – they house no experts other than those that know the neighborhood simply because they’ve lived there for over 10 years. The Boosters have an integral voice and have recognized their neighborhood is invariably affected as much as the residents of the SOMA and the Mission.
Nick Pagoulatos also comes from a legacy of vibrant, dynamic, and sustainable Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that operate out of the Mission. Upon first glance, it seems that the Mission is impervious to the wiles of City Planning and Redevelopment, however, the increase in market rate housing has create conditions almost parallel to a slow bleed that won’t clot. Longtime residents (some families have been renting their property for over 20 years!), are being displacement to the rippling effect of rezoning, and landowner buyouts to convert the said properties into market rate (i.e. uber expensive) prices.
It’s still about the economy. Land scarcity in this 7×7 region pushes on this bottom line. Questions of who’s paying who for land dictates who lives where and what business gets done, and it make sense in a very elementary way, yet when you involve egos and (perhaps) greed, then the arena turns into a gladiator’s ring as opposed to an open forum. Allusions aside, it’s difficult to operate in housing and planning CBOs within an economic system that inherently is about competition more than it is about equity, and that’s the crux of the problem. I’m not asking for a coup, far from that – like most of the organizers from these neighborhoods, I’m part of that voice that asks to use the tools that have been put forth by those from the neighborhoods. This translates into this sensible idea that everyone pays an amount appropriate to their abilities. The city works with tax increments—the hotel industry has always been a tapped source. Another area to explore is how to go about legalizing certain offices that have planted themselves in locations that aren’t zoned for that use. Or actually holding developers to their end of the deal when it comes to a building fee per square footage (often redevelopers are given the option to include affordable housing or paying out to the city a certain amount, most often opt to pay out), but I’ve read that there have been enough administrative loopholes or just straight stinking attempts to follow-through that causes a loss in uncollected hundreds of millions of dollars that would go back towards building affordable housing. To note, if land is scarce, and building up and out is even more difficult, simply because there is no more land then the next viable step would be to appropriate “Air” space (just learned that term last night)—floors in these newly proposed developments with height increases… all of these options, and several more have been understood to diffuse this potential bomb and subsequent explosion of this idea of a downtown filled with the privileged.
Which actually segues me into another talking point where a young gentleman of color brought up a befuddling question (to me at least) to our panel—I’m paraphrasing here, but I understood his question and his context as such – with a “Conservative” Base (i.e. status quo, profit driven), that has consistently either through policy or outright explicit conversation expressed distaste in working with CBOs and their constituents to get them more housing and to operate on a premise of equity, why bother continuing the fight? He additionally pointed out that this whole sub-prime mortgage loan debacle was said to be blamed on the low-income (Do low-income folks even qualify for these loans?). He capped with this disarming, yet valid question/statement of “What’s so bad about Gentrification?” Perhaps terming gentrification as “bad” is a misleading understanding, I mean folks who pay and have that mobility and access to resources should be able to live wherever they want right? It’s not a bad thing, that’s the nature of our economic system. I don’t necessarily agree, a home is a home and anyone should have the liberty to choose where they live… Aside from displacement, there are other nuances that make gentrification’s processes and movement distasteful – don’t get me started on Co-opting and Re-appropriating cultures… okay, I’ll stop and get off the soap box.
Needless to say, I’m refreshed by local politics. Nick had asked about the blog and how I got started, and I just told him simple and plain – City planning is the penultimate form of art. What does that mean? As an artist you dictate, manipulate, position folks into a narrative by means of your chosen medium. As an artist one can inspire through a painting, photo, etc. to incite change – however, most of art is to be deciphered, and there are expressions that mask the message, leaving the audience either in sublime appreciation, or quizzical confusion. In City Planning the block is the medium and form, as planner you dictate narrative directly, you cause people to rethink their positions in life – folks either mobilize, think about mobilizing, whatever, the bottom line is that you create an internal/external movement.
I wish I can make it out next Wednesday, when the class hears speakers from the “other” side.
For more updates on the progress of the Land Use Hearings go to the MAC blog: missionantidisplacement.blogspot.com; if you want the nitty-gritty, go to the SFGOVTV website for recordings of the hearings.