Adela Martinez, my grandmother, remembers well how grateful she was to make the Mission her home three decades ago.
She is 100 years old now, but when she first moved into a three-unit apartment building behind Mitchell’s Ice Cream, she explored the whole city. “I went all over San Francisco, all over,” she says. “I used every type of transportation: bus, Muni, BART. The only thing I didn’t like was the escalators. I always took the elevator. I would go out at 2 o’clock and not come home until the stores closed.”
Martinez left Nicaragua soon after the 1979 revolution, and spent most of the 1980s staying with relatives in Mexico, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. Life in Nicaragua was dominated by the civil war. “Anyone who could get their kids out of the country, they did. Young people couldn’t study. They were forced to go out into the fields to plant corn or plant beans. Or to fight,” she says.
The Mission made a good home. She attended mass at St. James on Guerrero Street and went to grocery stores in the neighborhood. “I loved all the fresh fruits and vegetables. You could get any kind of meat, high-quality meat, cheaper meat,” she recalls.
House prices have gone up so much, and she knows how hard it is now for younger people who grew up here buy a house and stay. But she is still happy here.
The Mission was a natural place to settle since most of her family had moved to San Francisco. People here spoke Spanish, and some of her children had started businesses in the neighborhood. Her sister-in-law was the first in the family to move to here and lived on Guerrero Street for years.
In that first apartment behind Mitchell’s, a Cuban man lived by himself in the back unit, and a Mexican couple from Guadalajara lived in the front. Wonderful wonderful people, says my grandmother, especially the wife. “She worked at a restaurant. When she dressed up, she looked like she could have been the Primera Dama. She was beautiful.”
Whenever a Vicente Fernández song would come on, because the singer is also from Guadalajara, the neighbor woman would joke, “He’s my boyfriend. He doesn’t know it, but he’s my boyfriend.”
After she moved out of the apartment behind Mitchell’s, my grandmother lived on Folsom for a couple years. One day a kind Nicaraguan woman told her about the Coleridge Park Homes, a building for seniors near 29th and Mission. That woman even gave her some rosquillas, a small Nicaraguan pastry.
“God knew what He was doing,” because a one bedroom apartment opened up at Coleridge and she has lived there happily for more than a dozen years. “It’s on the third floor, so it’s very safe. Nobody bothers me,” she says.
Martinez stays very up to date on the news. She becomes animated when talking about President Daniel Ortega back in Nicaragua and his violent response to protesters. “He’s a murderer,” she says. She is skeptical of politicians who make too many promises, like the newly elected López Obrador in Mexico.
My grandmother is a night owl and happily spends hours talking well past midnight. It’s tough for her to leave the apartment, and just about every day, she can be found sitting next to her radio. When a song she particularly likes comes on, she tapes it on a cassette to play again later. Her memory is still incredibly sharp and she can recite exact lines from her favorite songs.
Most of her family lives in the Bay Area, so someone is always visiting or bringing her food. Just this year, one of her daughters moved into an apartment in her building.
She is lucky to be surrounded by a big family: seven kids, 26 grandkids, 34 great grandkids, and 4 great-great grandkids. She says, “My family loves me and cares for me, and it’s their love and attention that has allowed me to reach this great age.”
Adela Martinez has lived in the Mission since the 1980s. Frank Martinez is one of her grandchildren.