First published Dec. 20 at 6 a.m.
Consider the story of Mary and Joseph: a young couple with minimal rental history and a meager carpenter income move to a new city to find that an influx of new tenants make for an insanely competitive rental market. Finding no vacancies, and with a baby on the way, they instead make due with a temporary AirBnB rental in a shabby in-law unit in an bartender’s garage.
While the Nativity story isn’t a perfect allegory to the Mission’s current housing woes, its parallels were on the minds of many of those gathered on 24th Street Thursday to celebrate Las Posadas, a Latin American Christmas tradition that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s struggle to find lodging.
“I think it would be a great year to draw some specific political ideas from Las Posadas,” said Isabel Santis, the event’s chief organizer and member of the sponsor, Red Poppy Art House. “People need to do something as a community and do something about all that’s happening now, with the Ellis Acts and displacement.”
Las Posadas literally means “accommodations” and traditionally involves a procession through the streets in which participants go door-to-door asking, and being denied, shelter. (Sounds like Craigslist.) At the final door, the procession is let inside a home or church and a piñata-busting party ensues.
Twenty-fourth Street’s Las Posadas, which has been historically organized by the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, had participants in a candlelit procession winding down 24th Street singing Spanish-language carols to various businesses which had donated food to the Red Poppy’s celebration.
Two revelers carried a papier mâché altar of Mary and Joseph amidst a two dozen person procession of teens, senior citizens and everyone in between, speaking in Spanish and English.
For the most part, businesses let in the wayward couple and caroling entourage. At Ronconcito Nicaraguense, Fruitlandia, Espiga de Oro, Basa Seafood Express, La Victoria Bakery, and even Liberty Tax Services, guests and workers heard renditions of “Feliz Navidad,” “Noche de Paz,” and “El Niño de Tambor.” There was no room in Pig & Pie.
Walking down 24th Street with a candle in her hand, Patty Davis, a resident of the Mission for 26 years, felt optimistic about Mary and Joseph’s chances if they were looking for housing in the Mission today. “I think this would be a good place for Mary and Joseph, I think they’d find succor in the Mission,” she said. “Some people would definitely let them in—they probably wouldn’t knock on my door, though, I’m a Pagan.”
“I think the Mission has a huge heart, so I’m sure they’d find shelter somewhere,” said Eloise Eyvette as she helped carry the Mary and Joseph altar. “We’re going through a phase right now, this is the ‘me generation,’ but at the same time you have people who really care about this community.”
Turning up Folsom Street, the procession ended at the Red Poppy Art House on the corner of 23rd. After a singing the traditional “Las Posadas” song, the group and their special baggage entered for a fiesta of food, music, and a handmade piñata.
Santis (the realist of the bunch, certain that Mary and Joseph would completely fail to find housing in today’s rental market) hopes that Red Poppy’s celebration of Las Posadas will happen again in future years despite the diminished Latino population in the neighborhood.
“Every person I’ve talked to from a Hispanic country misses this kind of thing,” Santis said. “What I hope participants will get out of this event is an increased sense of community because we need to fight for this community’s survival.”