In 1969, seven Central American young men were accused of killing a white police officer in San Francisco’s Mission District. Latino youth organized to free “Los Siete” and a movement flourished.
To celebrate them and their 50th anniversary, Mission artist Vero Majano created a live cinema production that will premiere April 26 and 27 at Brava Center for the Arts. This is a preview, and we recommend getting tickets for the whole show, which is filled with archival footage as well as live music.
Majano said she welcomed the pressure of the anniversary. She needed a deadline for the project she had been working on for 15 years.
First, she wanted to do a documentary. She got some grant money and flew to Mexico City to meet one of the members of Los Siete, Tony Martinez. She put down her tape recorder and started asking questions. But Martinez cut the conversation short and left for what “seemed an hour.” When he returned, he said: “I can’t do this. I have an appointment.” That was it for Vero. She wasn’t going to get anything more from him.
So she tried again, in San Francisco. She got together some women from the social movement. She had two cameras set up; her mom had cooked food for everyone.
“It was just going so good. But then at the end, I was going around for them to sign their releases. And they all sat around a table and said, ‘no.’” They wanted to see the final product first. “It was tragic for me,” Majano says. “And I was stuck for a couple of years.”
But she couldn’t let it go. She had grants she had to fulfill, and she had constant pressure from her family, who kept asking: “When are you going to get that show done?” But finally, the perfect deadline came up: the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Los Siete. “As a friend told me, there’s no such thing as a 51st anniversary!”
So, she got back to work. “I found my voice,” she said. As the co-founder of Mission Media Archives, she had found treasures depicting the Mission: “I want people to look at the footage as if it is a moving photo album and point to the screen: ‘Oh, that’s my dad!’ I want people to connect with my work.” Majano worked with two long-time friends: the director, Mary Guzmán, and the musical director, Greg Landau.
Not only that, but using the archives sends another message. In the late 1960s, there were no people of color producers, so Ray Balberan, who co-directs the Mission Media Archives with Majano, went to KQED and demanded that they hire journalists of color. The station agreed. That’s how Majano starts her piece — with a black and white dolly shot filmed by a student. She narrates over it. “‘I want to archive their Irish thickness,’ ‘the gathering of youth,’ ‘lovers getting to know each other.’ I want their history to be known.'”
So, yes, the show is about honoring the social movement of Los Siete de la Raza, and the struggle to get people out of jail. “Today, they would just have a bullet in their heads,” Majano said.
Majano’s performance is layered with nuance. “The pressures of being political heroes was heavy,” she said. “And some of them were not. Some who were acquitted did terrible crimes. They brought shame to the movement because after all the work that they did to set them free they committed crimes. So here is my question: ‘Does all power to the people include forgiveness?’”
The answer will be in the show.
Ongoing or Upcoming Events
Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27, 8 p.m.
Brava Theater, 2781 24th St.
May 9, Noe Valley Branch library. 4 p.m.
Remembering Los Siete de la Raza 50 year anniversary. Marjorie Heins in conversation with Greg Landau.
Marjorie Heins was one of the first to document Los Siete in her article “Los Siete de la Raza,” published in Ramparts magazine in March, 1971, and later expanded into a book titled Strictly Ghetto Property: The Story of Los Siete de la Raza.
April 5 – May 17
The Community Rises: 50 Years Of Cultura Y Resistencia From Los Siete To Today
Acción Latina Juan R. Fuentes Gallery
50 years ago, the arrest of seven young Central American men from the Mission District galvanized a movement and helped define a radical politics of self-determination. Join Acción Latina for an art exhibition and series of talks on the movement aesthetics and cultural resistance of Yolanda M. Lopez, Donna James Amador, the Basta! Ya! and the Los Siete Defense Committee.
Wednesday, May 1 to 6 p.m.
Free Public Plática: 50 years of Gentrification and Displacement from, from BART and urban renewal to tech shuttles and the Monster.
Wednesday, May 15, 6 p.m.
Free Public Plática: 50 years of Defending Black and Brown Youth, from Los Siete to Alex Nieto, Luis Góngora Pat and Mario Woods.
Saturday, May 8, 7:30 p.m.
The Women Of Los Siete De La Raza
518 Valencia St. (near 16th)
A free public talk presented by Shaping San Francisco, co-hosted by California Historical Society.
50 years after the arrest of seven young men from the Mission District galvanized a movement, women gather who were active in creating the multi-faceted community response that grew out of the Los Siete Defense Committee. From Basta Ya! — the newspaper — to Centro de Salud and La Raza Information Center and a free breakfast program, explore a lasting legacy in this plática, including Donna James Amador, Yolanda M. Lopez, Judy Drummond, Maria Elena Ramirez, Nilda Alverio, and author Marjorie Heins (Strictly Ghetto Property). Eva Martínez moderates.
For more information, please visit shapingsf.org.