On Thursday night at Casa Bonampak, a festive Latin American goods store filled with trinkets and indigenous clothing, owner Nancy Charraga was getting ready to give her business a fitting farewell. Casa Bonampak will close at the end of the month after 21 years; hard-fought attempts to find another owner came up short.
Charraga was dressed in a deep blue Huichol ceremonial outfit that covered her from head to toe. She headed to the back of the store to chat with some friends from Danza Xitlalli, a dance troupe who were there to headline this ceremonial closing.
The back room was filled to the brim with boxes full of papier-mâché flowers, vibrantly colored fabric and treasured family pictures. Charraga placed aromatic white flowers into the hair of her friend Marina Diaz Flores; Flores wore a cream-colored white gown that belonged to Charraga’s tia.
“I’ve seen the change that she had from the store when she started out very small and then she got into the store here on Valencia Street,” said Flores, a longtime Mission resident and Salvadoran native.
“It became more and more filled with beautiful things and people and events, so it became it like a meeting place for a lot of people in the Mission.”
Flores described herself as a shy person, and Casa Bonampak served as a social club of sorts for her and others. Now that the store is closing, she doesn’t think there is any other place in the neighborhood that can feel this need. “Not for me. I don’t think I belong in the Mission anymore,” Flores said.
Outside the storefront, the Xitlali dancers wore their own unique, colored indigenous outfits, complete with feathered headdresses and beaded leg braces.
The sound of a blown crustacean shell horn and the smell of incense emanating from a cup signaled the start of the festivities. The dancers began with a song that had a bittersweet melody.
Charraga sat in a chair by the door with her mother on one side of her and her tia on the other. Once the song ended, an elderly woman began beating on a drum with gusto. The performers moved perfectly in tandem, one after another on the sidewalk, performing dances meant to honor Charraga and her contributions to the Mission community. The performance drew Casa Bonampak regulars and passersby confused yet captivated by the sight.
Little children stood five feet away from the dancers’ feet, which moved at lightning speed. A man riding past on a lime green bike braked abruptly so he could watch. Onlookers filmed it all on their phones.
The dancers stopped in between in their performance to say a few words to Charraga. Roberto Ariel, dressed in a light blue outfit with white lining, said he was at first a little skeptical about Casa Bonampak’s opening in 1998. “Being somebody born and raised in the Mission, you understand when I say, ‘Who is this person opening up a store?’” Ariel said with a chuckle.
Spending time with Charraga helped him to see her as someone committed to creating a safe space in the community where people could shop, talk and learn from each other.
Ariel said told the crowd they had just performed a fire dance meant to “burn away all the doubts you may have about closing” as well as the burdens some community members had put on Charraga to continue running the shop. She listened intently to all the speeches, visibly touched by their words.
Charraga closed out the festivities with an emotional speech of her own. She told the story of how her shop came to be, the move from 24th Street to Valencia and 21st, and a few memorable encounters with locals.
Once, she said, a man came into the store with his son, gazed at an Emiliano Zapata poster, and asked her to teach him about the famed Mexican revolutionary.
Another time, a homeless person broke the store window to steal silver. Other homeless people in the neighborhood, however, were frustrated by the theft. Charraga said a Navajo man who was living on the streets offered to fix her window — he used to be a contractor.
“This is more than selling products,” she said.
After her speech, The performers invited the crowd to participate in a friendship dance. They held each other’s hands as they moved slowly in a circle, dancing in and out. Young and old, Mission natives and newcomers — they all gave Charraga a friend’s farewell.