Updated is a new Mission Local series that is doing just that: updating old stories to see what has happened to the people and places we have written about.
Ten years ago, a group of local artists channeled their existential dread about the rapid gentrification of the Mission into a showcase of their work in the Mission Icons in a Time of Change exhibit.
“The artists involved in the exhibit were like an NBA dream team of artists from the Mission and the Bay Area,” said Rio Yañez, who curated the exhibit with his father, Rene Yañez, who died in 2018. “That roster, community, and lineup of artists was a snapshot of a time and a place in the neighborhood.”
The 10 artists also included Ana Teresa Fernandez, Jesus Barraza, Melanie Cervantes, and Jos Sanchez.
Mission Local was there to see it. The artists spent a week together before the exhibit at the Levi’s workshop on Valencia Street, creating screen prints to display. Fernandez explained the concept of her screen print of the word “hipsteria.”
“Hipsteria,” a combination of “hipster” and “hysteria” is not a lighthearted term referring to a thirtysomething in a Vampire Weekend shirt and Birkenstocks throwing a tantrum about a kombucha fermenting endeavor gone horribly wrong.
Rather, Fernandez said then that she used the term to invoke the idea of Mission Icons being destroyed in a time of redevelopment and gentrification.
Rio Yañez said recently, “The show happened at such a chaotic time in the community, but it almost seems quaint now. The change has become so much more accelerated.”
These changes are personal for Yañez and Fernandez.
Yañez grew up in the Mission at 26th Street and San Jose Avenue. When he walked out of his front door growing up, he saw people who had been in the neighborhood for years, generations even.
Now, Yañez says, the people he grew up with are all gone. In fact, in 2013, his parents, Rene and Yolanda Lopez were almost evicted from Rio’s childhood home. They were only able to remain because the Mission Economic Development Agency bought their building.
Fernandez — who was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and moved to the Mission in 2003 — wasn’t so lucky: she was evicted in 2015.
“I have bittersweet feelings about the Mission,” Fernandez says now. “It was my home for a decade, and I did a lot of growing up there as an artist. Since I was evicted, though, I haven’t looked back or really engaged in the Mission. I don’t recognize it today.”
Fernandez said that what made the Mission vibrant and energetic was the convergence of cultures and the uniqueness that the shops and restaurants would, quite literally, bring to the table. As the area becomes more upscale, the folklore that bound Fernandez to the Mission is disappearing.
Even the space where the gallery was has now changed, Yañez points out. The Levi’s workshop was located at Valencia and 16th streets, along the 16th Street corridor.
“The 16th street corridor was one of the last holdouts where there were still Mexican dive bars where people who looked like my uncle would go,” Yañez said.
The loss of spaces from Yañez’s childhood has been difficult for him to grapple with. Yañez mourns the absence of the movie theaters that used to line the Mission’s streets until the mid-1990s.
“The movie theaters used to be social epicenters for young brown folks,” Yañez said. “The loss of those movie theaters devastated the community in a way that we can’t measure.”
Mission Pie’s closing also hit Yañez particularly hard. Although it had only been around since 2007, it held a lot of good memories.
“Mission Pie was me and my dad’s spot. My dad loved the banana cream pie there,” Yañez paused. “It’s challenging to lose that.”
Covid-19 is yet another factor leading to the demise of beloved Mission businesses. The virus has also necessitated Yañez and Fernandez rethinking how to engage audiences with their art.
Yañez is currently working on creating an adapted version of the Día de Los Muertos exhibition that his father curated every year from the mid-1970s until his death. Yañez envisions an event this year with limited public access and options to view virtually.
Fernandez is working with Creativity Explored, a nonprofit organization that supports artists with disabilities, on their Immersive Exhibitions. She has also tried to positively engage people by creating billboards on the Great Highway in the Outer Sunset where she lives, one of which was a piece dedicated to George Floyd.
Fernandez says that she would only go back to the Mission to work with Creativity Explored, which is located at 16th and Guerrero streets. Yañez, like many a San Francisco native, he says, now lives in Oakland. He occasionally returns to the Mission to visit his mother.
“I sometimes spend time walking through the streets, and I see no trace of the family businesses that were there for decades,” Yañez said. “The Mission is still worth fighting for, but it is a question of what that means.”
See all in Updated.
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