New and Old Residents Engage Over Pupusas

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Usulutan, a Salvadorean restaurant on 24th Street, welcomed a particularly diverse and determined crowd Monday night. Swapping business cards over pupusas, third-generation Mission residents, tech start-up founders, nonprofit professionals, recent transplants, activists and more all gathered to do the simple, but challenging, work of meeting new people.

The dinner was the first public event hosted by Engage SF, a new organization committed to bridging the gap between new and established neighborhood residents in an effort to enhance diversity and build community. By the looks of the assembled crowd — about 50 people — Engage SF was so far doing a pretty good job.

As the crowd mingled, Laura Yanow, a native San Franciscan and former teacher at Horace Mann Middle School, explained to two twenty-something tech workers about the importance of salsa music in the neighborhood’s history. The twenty-somethings listened intently.

“It’s so important that this is happening,” Yanow said about the event. “We need more positive conversations because we’re all meshed together.”

“I hear about all this conflict in the news,” said Thomas Devol, a recently-arrived programmer. “Whenever it’s more antagonistic I want to question it… It’s been great to be at this, I’ve love meeting new people.”

Engage SF formed, in part, out of response to the perception that the public conversations about tech workers and longtime residents had gotten too polarized and overly simple.

Most of the long-term Mission residents who attended have deep roots in the Mission and were not part of a group that came later in the 1990s in a more recent wave of gentrification. New residents included employees from Facebook, Google, start-ups and recent transplants interested in learning more about their new neighborhood.

“It’s time for all of us to start engaging, put a human face to these groups we’ve been talking about, because there’s been so much antagonism,” said one of the event’s organizers Christina Olague, a former planning commission member and city supervisor.

Started originally through informal conversations between Olague and Chris Murphy, co-founder of the start-up Zoomforth, Engage SF has had three previous private dinners that brought longtime community activists together with new residents who work at tech companies. The group plans to host a large dinner like this one on the second Monday of every month.

“We really want to build community from the bottom up,” Olague said to the crowd at one point in the evening.

Engage SF hopes to educate the two distinct communities about each other and promote neighborhood institutions and organizations as avenues for deeper community involvement. On Monday night, that educational effort meant a tour of the mural organization Precita Eyes, followed by a question-and-answer session about the longtime neighborhood institution.

After guests at Usulutan filled out name tags, they then crossed the street to the mural nonprofit headquarters where Precita Eyes business director Cory Devereaux was on-hand to lead a short tour.

Neighbors new and old asked questions such as how much the murals cost to produce, what the process is like to produce them and even the elemental question of why the murals are even important for the neighborhood.

“We love doing this,” Devereaux said, as the group filed out. “We’re very enthusiastic about reaching out to new communities.”

The main aim of the night was to introduce neighbors to each other who may have been strangers before. As the group filed back into Usulutan, a short presentation had different members of the community, as well as event organizers and Supervisor David Campos, sharing some words.

As part of the evening’s structure, Mission artist Carlos Gonzalez stood before the crowd and told his story of growing up in the neighborhood, his work painting murals with at-risk youth, and his friendship with the beloved, recently deceased salsa DJ Chata Gutierrez. He explained that he was at the Engage SF dinner in part to help raise support, and funds, for a mural he hopes to paint in honor of Gutierrez on the corner of South Van Ness and 24th streets.

Gonzalez explained that the departed DJ was a beloved member of the community and an early champion of salsa music, with several people in the crowd adding admiring details to his descriptions.

Erick Arguello, president of the Calle 24 merchants and an Engage SF organizer, then asked a member from the tech community to volunteer to introduce themselves to the group.

Thomas Devol volunteered, saying that he’s been in San Francisco for two years and works for Rally.org, a crowdfunding site for social causes and nonprofits. He turned to Gonzalez and said he’d love for his company to help organize the fundraising campaign for the proposed mural.

“It would be great for the tech community to give back,” Devol said.

“There’s been some tension because we’re not talking to each other…it’s easy to dehumanize each other without knowing each other,” Campos said to the crowd. “For us to move forward, it’s not what happens at City Hall, it’s what happens on the ground.”

After the organized remarks, the gathered group was encouraged to order food and introduce themselves to new people. Many lingered over their meals of tamales and pupusas and chatted with a previously unfamiliar neighbor for well over an hour.

“What I’m finding is people really do what to contribute,” Olague said as the crowd started to disperse, explaining that she thought the night went well. “You just need to provide people a place to plug in, a way to get involved.”

Miguel Bustos, a longtime political organizer whose family has lived at the corner of 24th and Harrison for three generations, gave Olague a hug as he was leaving, but expressed some skepticism.

“You have some people who come to the Mission like they’re Christopher Columbus and they’re discovering it,” Bustos said. “I’m sure everyone wants to be an ally, but it’s how you follow through… Having these conversations is very easy, it’s how they’re going to be received that matters.”

For Oli Medina, who came to the Mission from Mexico 18 years ago, the Engage SF event was nothing but a positive step.

“This is a beautiful evening, because maybe we can do something from it,” Medina said. “I’m Mexican and the Mexican community always opens it heart to everybody. You come to my house, I’ll make you a tortilla, that’s just what I do.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Laura Yanow’s name, it has since been corrected.

35 Comments

  1. Love the article but please correct the spelling of the word “pupusa”!! Thanks

  2. John

    An encounter like this is a much more positive and constructive idea than all the bashing of different classes of people that comprises most political debate here.

    Extremist ideology and rigidity should evaporate when you realize that people are not caricatures and stereotypes.

    Landlords and tech workers are people too.

  3. nutrisystem

    Until the CEOs want to talk about solutions, such gatherings are merely feel-good exercises that do NOTHING to address skyrocketing housing costs and the destruction of SF’s human ecosystem.

    What’s rotten here is the game, not the bit-players.

    • John

      But that’s exactly the problem here. You see one side as right and one side as wrong and evil. That is exactly the kid of narrow, blinkered thinking that we need to deconstruct.

      And you talking to people different from yourself would be a great start to that process of enlightenment.

      • nutrisystem

        John, I speak regularly with friends and acquaintances involved with technology, science, medicine, the arts, the trades as well as retired neighbors who have been in the Mission since birth.

        I am not a Luddite, but I also don’t have blind faith that technology will automatically be a positive force for humanity (as most techies seem to believe). Because of my contacts and experiences, I feel I have a pretty clear perspective on what’s happening.

        The problems of human ecosystem destruction are not solved by “people getting to know one another” (although that’s always a good thing), they are solved by major policy shifts.

        • John

          nutrisystem, I think the problem here is that you perceive that we need a massive change and re-alignment of policy to “save” what you are calling a human ecosystem.

          Whereas I (and, I believe, most of us) instead think that we are basically on the right track but might need some tinkering along the way.

          I think you are a smart, educated and passionate guy. I’d probably like you personally, not least because I can divorce someone’s politics from their nature. But I also think that are doomed to failure here.

          Why? Because overthrowing major multi-national corporations is harder than overthrowing governments. And because the US is based on corporations and the wealth they generate.

          Living in the US and hating corporation is like living in France and hating cheese. You can do it but it’s no fun and ultimately futile.

          • nutrisystem

            Corporations are like children – they need to be raised with some structure and discipline in order to become good citizens. If we just let them do whatever the hell they want, then we might just get monsters, very big powerful monsters.

            The society grants corporations the privilege of existence, and has the right to set the ground rules. This truism has largely been forgotten in the USA, but can and should be remembered.

        • ThatGuy

          The problem is he’s a nut job.

          • nutrisystem

            Thinking’s not for everybody, ThatGuy. Now why don’t you take your pill and settle into the sofa for the Gilligans Island marathon.

    • bp

      Perhaps you should stop hacking away at the bit players (e.g. the folks riding the shuttle buses you so loathe), then.

    • ThatGuy

      You’re such a whiny little bitch. Shut the fuck up.

      Seriously, do yo do ANYTHING but complain?????

  4. Old Mission Neighbor

    “Most of the long-term Mission residents who attended have deep roots in the Mission and were not part of a group that came later in the 1990s in a more recent wave of gentrification. ”

    That about sums it up for me. The protestors and activists in all of this aren’t actually long-term Mission residents at all and they aren’t interested in any sort of dialogue. Their hatred is motivated by self-loathing, an insatiable desire for authenticity, and a general anti-everything attitude.

    These people’s only identity is to judge others, create division, and spread angst. A sad existence indeed, and I’m not surprised that they aren’t interested in these sorts of community events.

    • ThatGuy

      I agree. I interact with PLENTY of old and new Mission-ites and I’ve never run into what this rag-mag continues to promote. That being said, this was (finally) a positive article. Thanks ML.

      And nutri-fucktard, go fuck yourself.

      • nutrisystem

        You never run into concern about gentrification when speaking to people in the Mission and SF in general?

        Now it’s clear that you’re a liar and/or don’t even live here.

        And btw, profanity isn’t a good way to make a point, it just makes you look stupid.

        • John

          nutrisystem, in a tribal town like SF, it is very possible for two people to move in different circles and get very different impressions.

          I also never meet anyone who has the kind of anti-landlord, anti-progress, anti-development ideology that you have. And yet you never meet anyone who doesn’t.

          The only thing to learn from that is that you hang out with people like you and I hang out with people like me.

          How many landlords, RE developers, realtors, hedge fund managers, bankers and techies do you talk to? How many property owners do you talk to?

          Oddly, even my tenants, who you might think are enraged about this stuff, don’t seem to give a crap. They are too busy working hard and having fun to try and turn the city upside-down with a socialist revolution.

          • nutrisystem

            I’ve found that housing hyperinflation and cultural cleansing are general concerns of people at all wealth levels. Even high earners like MDs are complaining about housing (e.g. he gets married and wants a bigger apt or to buy a house and there’s no way).

            Of course, it may not be the first thing to come up in conversation – people are busy in their great endeavors – and owners have a giant consolation prize (so they aren’t exactly sweating), but to argue that these are general-non-issues is BS.

          • John

            Well, if you ask people whether or not they’d like cheaper stuff, they will always say yes. That doesn’t translate into any public policy imperatives.

            You are correct that RE being pricey affects everyone. Even 2 million doesn’t get you anything that special like it would elsewhere.

            But the real point is that people are willing to pay more here than elsewhere because they like it here and because the jobs are here.

            I would not move to Aspen and then whine that it’s expensive. I knew that when I set off on my journey and accepted it as a legitimate cost. I don’t move to Aspen and demand to that housing be deflated just because others there are richer than me.

  5. BillMarston

    Funny I am “part of a group that came later in the 1990s…”.

    The first wave of “dot-commers” from the 90’s pretty much used the Mission as a place to party. At the end of the night they went back to the Marina,Pacific Heights,Walnut Creek, Cupertino etc. Yes, they actually commuted back then. When the bubble finally did burst, the shitty folks left the Mission alltogether never to be seen again.

    Those who stayed were the ones that actually lived in the Mission and loved the Mission for the right reasons. You can still find them still shopping at local fruit markets, shops, eating burritos and would never think to step into Tacolicious.

    That is the difference, these old school dot-commers are surely not “billionaires” and added to the community that is now the Mission.

    Sure rents went up, during that time and occupancy was at an all time high, but when the bubblers left that is when people who wanted to stay got in on affordable but in no way cheap rent.

  6. Bob

    This is an active and growing city, but based on ML you would think it is a big nursery school full of crybabies looking for a handout from the city and/or technology companies to preserve their ethno-hippie paradise. Have a neighborhood party if you want to. But I don’t get the need to keep everything the same so as not to offend whichever ethnic group feels most entitled to trademark a given neighborhood.

  7. landline

    Of course, meeting new people with different interests and backgrounds is almost always good. However, plenty of existing cultural and social organizations already have such opportunities; for example, the Mission Cultural Center. It’s not that hard to interact with various aspects of Mission District culture if you are new to the neighborhood and make an effort. I notice almost no newcomers at one of my favorite yearly events, the Cesar Chavez birthday celebration on 24th Street, which remains thankfully only slightly commercial.

    Maybe these dinner get togethers will have a small impact on displacement at the margin. Someone might hesitate to move from paying a big rent to buying a building and evicting the current residents in order to move into it himself and/or to seek speculative profits because he shared pupusas with his poorer neighbors. However, the economic incentives remain as does the fact that wealthier newcomers are competing with existing residents for scarce housing.

    This event reminds me of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 where Puritan pilgrims and native people shared a feast to commemorate the first harvest they shared. Surely, some pilgrims admired the culture and society they encountered in the “new world” and were thankful that the native people helped them survive the unanticipated more difficult physical environment in their new home. But we all know how that story ends.

    • John

      How do you know there are “no newcomers” at the 24th Street celebration? Can you tell a newbie just by looking at them? How?

      Given the value you ascribe to meeting people with different views and backgrounds, can you describe the efforts that you have personally made to talk to realtors, RE investors, landlords, tech executives, hedge fund managers and speculators? Are you open to learning from them?

      • landline

        I meet new people all the time. I wrote “almost no newcomers.” What medication do you take for your OCD, which asserts itself in your stalking behavior and excessive posting to shut down discussion?

        • John

          OK, so in other words, you cannot tell if a stranger is a newcomer or not, and so have no idea whether there are no newcomers, a few newcomers or lots of them.

          And you decline to state whether you have made any efforts to talk to different people and learn from them, even though you demand that they do exactly that.

          • nutrisystem

            John’s like a 12 year old boy who always has to have the last word… the kind of entitled brat that results from soft, over-indulgent parenting.

          • John

            So, in other words, you cannot refute me? And that frustrates you, and so you turn personal.

          • landline

            OK, I’ll bite, oh troubled one. The newcomers tend to shun engagement when a stranger tries to speak with them, even a warm, friendly one like me. Also, when they mingle in groups, they spend their time looking at their smartphones rather than talking to each other. A broad generalization to be sure, but I see few of these types at the Cesar Chavez celebration.

            If only the masters of capitalism were accessible to someone like me so we could exchange ideas. I am patiently waiting for my invitation to the next Bohemian Grove or Davos gathering.

            Then again, I still have old college friends with whom I am still friendly, though no longer particularly close, that have had careers at the highest levels of investment banking, venture capitalism, medicine, and other businesses, like old-school technology, entertainment, for-profit education and e-commerce. Many are perfectly nice, even liberal, but I am struck by their lack of knowledge and limited depth of interest into the pressing issues of our time. A disquieting combination of conformism and complacency.

            Some mental health professional would have a field day with you analyzing the emptiness of your life that compels you to obsessively share your largely vacuous musings on various comment pages in search of virtual companionship and conflict. How many websites? I know of this one and sfbg.com.

          • John

            ” I am struck by their lack of knowledge and limited depth of interest into the pressing issues of our time”.

            Maybe because what you think is pressing is not so to many others?

            Sounds more like your college buddies have all been successful and you have not, so now you and they have little in common.

            My mental heath is fine, thank you. It’s really not a lot of time and effort to submit posts here, and I’m usually doing other things at the same time.

            But it’s good of you to care.

    • nutrisystem

      The 1621 first Thanksgiving analogy is perfect.

      The Indians were feeling all warm and fuzzy about humanity, thinking “these Pilgrims seem like nice people… so intelligent and industrious… we’ll get along just fine. There’s plenty of North America for ALL of us!”

      • John

        It’s fascinating to me how cynical you are about the idea of talking to those whom you perceive as your enemy.

        My experience is that there are few problems that cannot be resolved if people stop stereotyping each other and actually get to know each other as individuals.

        The farmer and the cowman should be friends.

        • nutrisystem

          I’m not saying talking is bad, just irrelevant.

          The farmer and the cowman being friends didn’t help them when the owner of the railroad set ruinous cargo rates. (true CA story, btw, starring Leland Stanford as the railroad tycoon).

  8. Abby

    Hi! Does anyone know how to get in touch with the Engage SF folks? I can’t find them through web search.

    Thanks!

    Abby

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