Chances are, you’ve seen Cindy DeLosa’s work in windows around the Mission: small dioramas with “homie” figurines depicting iconic scenes and moments in the neighborhood. The “homie boxes,” as they’re called, can be spotted everywhere, but if you want to see about a dozen of them in one place, head for the window galley at Precita Eyes on 24th Street, where Cindy is the store manager.
A friend of mine who knew I wanted to learn some Mission history and was looking for long time residents introduced me to Cindy. It makes sense that she’s at Precita Eyes. Its visitors center has the best tours for murals in the neighborhood. As artists themselves, the guides are highly knowledgeable about the Mission’s public art. And Cindy, who knows the art currently decorating the Mission, is also a human memory bank for its past.
Cindy is a third-generation San Franciscan; her father grew up in the Fillmore, her mother in North Beach. Cindy herself has lived in the Mission for more than 60 years, longer than most of her neighbors, and she still loves it here. But she doesn’t always feel that it loves her back.
The Mission of her youth, she says, was a more genteel place. “The guys were such gentlemen back then,” she says. “They would wait for the girls outside of school until the bell rang, with flowers, and they would be dressed really nice. When I was growing up a guy had to have class and be respectful with good manners.”
She takes me to that time through some photographs.
At 14, she looks more dressed-up than the average adult today. “We all dressed to impress, it was all about being classy and self-respect was very important,” she says. “Everything was different, I don’t see younger generations taking after the same customs we had. Everything is about technology and interaction is a lot less intimate.”
Cindy got married and had her son at 22. She worked as part of the ground crew for PanAm Airlines, then United, for 14 years before being laid off in 2003. Then in 2010 she received an Ellis Act eviction from her landlord.
“Being Ellis Acted was terrible. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be able to live in my own neighborhood or my city anymore because I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” says Cindy. Sure enough, she was forced to move into various friends’ homes for different periods of time and eventually landed in a tiny basement. For the past two-and-a-half years, she’s been on a waiting list for senior housing, with no guarantee of a new home.
Cindy believes that working at Precita Eyes gives her a clear perspective on what is being embraced and what is being exploited in the Mission today.
“Our most precious holidays have become something distorted,” she says “Dia de los Muertos has been taken over by non-locals who parade in face paint and have no real knowledge about the culture. It just sends the wrong message to the children who now have to grow up watching this along with SantaCon.”
Not only has Cindy outlasted the old Mission, so have her homie boxes. Discolandia and the Dominguez Bakery, both places she memorialized in her dioramas, have closed in recent years. What’s more the price of “homies” has gone up, from 50 cents at gum machines to as much as $24, she says. Cindy is now accepting “homie” figurine donations so that she can continue to produce these wonderful works from the Mission about the Mission.