With a salsa band playing in the back patio and a packed, gyrating dance floor, El Rio’s Salsa Sunday party proved an opportunity for a community of activists, politicians, and friends to come together to help one of their own: former Mission community activist and District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague.
When a fire tore through her Baker Street apartment on Christmas Eve, Olague’s home was destroyed and she lost her longtime friend and housemate Randy Sapp, co-owner of the Cole Valley magic shop The Sword and Rose. All her possessions were burned in the fire, and without renter’s insurance, Olague had little resources to rebuild her life. But Sunday’s event brought in $1600 to help Olague recover in addition to an ongoing crowdfunding campaign that has collected more than $11,200.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” Olague said at Sunday’s event. “There’s so many people here from all these different communities — there’s the Latino, queer, housing activists and my spiritual community here. To see this outpouring from so many different people, it’s really healing, actually.”
Prior to becoming supervisor, Olague served as president of the Planning Commission, and was a longtime housing-rights advocate before that. She’s now president of the Latino Democratic Club and works at the Mission nonprofit Arriba Juntos. With more than 100 people flowing into El Rio’s patio throughout the course of the afternoon, her wealth of connections were apparent.
“Those of us who have worked alongside Christina know that she has dedicated her life to one of the most important things there is in this city: affordable housing,” said Supervisor David Campos, Olague’s former colleague, to the applauding crowd. “It’s especially tragic to lose a home in the middle of a housing crisis… We need to make sure we take care of this woman who has done so much for this community.”
“It was a wonderful year serving with Christina, it was also a horrible year,” said supervisor Jane Kim in reference to various other political battles. “But [Christina] was always there to step up, no matter what.”
When he first heard the news of the fire, Gabriel Halaand, a union organizer and longtime friend of Olague, initially organized the online fundraising effort on the crowdfunding site Wepay. Proceeds from El Rio’s bimonthly Salsa Sundays often go towards a charitable causes, and this particular Sunday came together from organizing by Tom Temprano, activist and promoter of the popular party Hard French, and with full support and donated proceeds from the bar’s owner Dawn Huston, as well as co-sponsors on the board of Supervisors (including Breed, Olague’s former political opponent) and political leaders like Senator Tom Ammiano.
“A lot of people if they lost an election would just disappear,” Haaland said. “Christina didn’t disappear. She’s continued to show up — at rallies, at community events. I got to say that that takes a lot of guts…It’s important to keep someone of her quality and depth of social commitment in San Francisco.”
Olague told the crowd that her landlord has promised that she can return to her former house once it is restored, but is currently looking for a two-bedroom apartment to share with her sister. Though she admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable with all the attention the night brought her, she expressed extreme gratitude to the gathered crowd.
When the speeches were done, attention did shift away from Olague and onto the dance floor. Couples young and old, gay and straight, showed their support for the cause with some seriously impressive salsa moves.