The below letter is a response received in a comment to Vanessa Carr’s article chronicling the life of Frank Peña, who was killed in front of Papa Potrero’s Pizza on September 20, 2009.

The article leads people to believe we all were getting high. There were some of us that stayed away from drugs. We grew up playing together. We only hung on Shotwell playing games like: 1,2, 3, heat, 1 foot in the gutter, hide and seek.

We were a family that looked after one another. We also were very involved in sports. We played in organized SFPD/Horizon softball league, Folsom Park football/Softball and Park N Rec Softball leagues. Every Sunday we would also attend church at St. Peter’s and St. Anthony’s. We were good kids.

Things started to change as drugs came into many neighborhoods and wanna-bes like East Los Angeles gangs were on the movie screen. I remember watching “Boulevard Nights.” This movie changed the Mission.

Before this movie, there was some lightweight marijuana, cruising and tagging. After the movie, things went out of control. People were trying to act like the characters they saw on the big screen. I was too busy with school, playing sports and working to get caught up. I was lucky because my friends protected me from going in the wrong direction. I could remember coming home from work and wanting to skip my night classes in order to hang out with the guys. My friends weren’t going to let this happen, as they walked me to BART and sometimes dropped me off at school.

My friends also had respect not to have drugs around me. When they wandered off, I knew exactly what was going to happen.

We were never a gang. We were a group of kids that depended on each other. We accepted each other for all our strengths and faults.

Shotwell was a special place, but now I fear for the new generation that is lost. Today they have cell phones, video games, drugs, gangs, etc.

Back in our days, just being together as a family was enough. We had respect for all the different neighborhood groups as well. We played friendly games between 22nd, Folsom, Treat, Precita, 14th Street, Day Park, Hampshire, etc. It was sad to see one of our family members losing his life at a young age. Any life lost is horrible.

The Shotwell way was not to show how tough you were, but to show how much you cared for family members. There are great memories that will never be forgotten.

I wish all our young people today could have an opportunity to taste life without watching your back while enjoying good times.

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Armand is a photojournalism and multimedia student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and is originally from Baton Rouge, La. His work history includes being a paper pusher in Los Angeles and a youth program coordinator in Ramallah, and is currently a student editor at Mission Local, which means he gets to read a lot of news and tell people what to do.

He also waits for the day when bacon and buffalo sauce combine on one plate.

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  1. “… and wanna-bes like East Los Angeles gangs … ”

    Surenos are wannabes? You boys in the mission were banging long before any hollywood gangster movie appeared on the screen.

  2. Ruben I really liked your story,I hope more people write in with their memories also!I cherish my childhood experiences in The Mission!Many Thanks!!