San Francisco: The Mission

As soon as you get to San Francisco, walk the Mission.
Do not pass go.
Do not collect $100.

Because if you so much as blink, all of the social work strongholds and Mexican mainstays will have gone up in smoke. In their place, technocrat cocktail bars, hipster boutiques, and luxury housing will have superimposed themselves on this otherwise humble neighborhood in a slow-motion tragedy.

So we walk the Mission. “Let’s go,” my friend Nicole says the minute I get to her place. She is a second grade elementary school teacher at a school made up of mostly economically disadvantaged students and her partner is a social worker for the overflowing San Francisco homeless community. Thus, it is important to mention that every time I have seen this city, I have seen it through their eyes. And their eyes are privy to one of the worst growing pains of this historically beloved place: ordinary people being priced out of their homes and neighborhoods.

8“There is a conspiracy theory,” Nicole narrates as we turn the corner and are enveloped in the aroma of freshly-cut marigolds and pan de muerto. We are only a few days shy of the Day of the Dead and the Mexican community is preparing in vigor. Sugar skulls for sale line the street and people rush around in a flurry of shopping for all the special food rations and presents that they will leave for their deceased loved ones at the altar. “I know you love conspiracy theories,” she says. (I do).

“There have been a lot of mysterious fires in the Mission lately. And people are saying that the fires happen so that the landlords can cut their losses and build more upscale housing units. It’s another way to get around rent control.”

This was the same topic that had defined our conversation on our walk when I first visited four years ago. Since then, Nicole explained, the situation has only gotten worse. After seven years of living in the Mission, she and her partner have grown tired of trying to compete with the young, six-figure salary software engineers who continue to descend upon the city. So, reluctantly, they’re making plans to leave.

“San Francisco doesn’t represent what it used to,” Nicole says. “It used to be a mecca for social activism and multiculturalism. It used to be a very progressive city, but you see less and less of that. Now you see all these fresh-out-of-college tech people moving in. They earn tons of money, but don’t have any time or interest in spending it on something valuable, on the community.” She pauses here, because she is ever careful not to paint everyone with a broad brush and in her next breath, she lets her Midwestern optimism shine through clenched teeth. “But not everyone is like that. I have friends who work in tech and they donate tons of money. I even have one friend who specifically donates money to the organizations we work for. Some people really do care, but there are not enough of them.”

We turn onto Valencia Street, the new hipster main street of the Mission, and the landscape gets noticeably whiter. “Even the sidewalks sparkle on Valencia Street,” Nicole jokes. “I think it’s some kind of recycled glass they put into the pavement, but it’s still a bit ironic.”

We walk for awhile in silence, a palpable weight of fear and despondency suspended between us; because the death of the Mission was not at all unlike what we were witnessing on a larger scale across the United States. There is a kind of making way for a new order that has little interest in social welfare, cultural diversity, and community integrity – all the things that we had celebrated and promised to struggle for during our days together at university.


Now the air felt stale. Homeless people were omnipresent and despite the perfectly-kept dollhouse facades of the signature San Francisco homes, life did not feel perfect. Any semblance of an altercation rattled us to the bone.

For example, I had lunch at a Mexican pizza place one day. (Regardless of the advertised ethnicity of the food – most restaurants are run by Mexicans). Serrano’s (3274 21st Street) is a small hole-in-the-wall where one can get a slice of good pizza for approximately $4, to go or to eat at one of their four tiny tables.

I was alone, eating my pizza and eavesdropping on the Spanish conversations about the weekend when an African-American man came in and politely ordered a slice of pizza to go. When it was ready, the cashier informed him: “The to-go box costs $1.”

The man jerked back in surprise. “One dollar? One dollar?! All the years I been coming here and you never charged me for a box and now you’re telling me it’s one dollar?! Why?”

The cashier looked at him with a bored expression.

“Are you charging white people for a box?” the man reeled around and connected eyes with me. “Hey – YOU! Did she try ‘n’ charge you a dollar for a box?”

I feigned swallowing my pizza so as not to respond because I desperately did not want to participate in the conversation.

The man didn’t wait. “Unbelievable!” he raged. “I’ve been coming here all my life! All my life! I’m not going to pay a dollar for a stupid box!” He grabbed his pizza off the counter and stormed outside, where he proceeded to get on his bicycle. He balanced the piece of pizza in one hand and let out a long “one-dollar” howl before he rode off.

I think he was right, but his response depressed me all the same. I was supposed to be in San Francisco: the City of Love and all around me, I saw hate.

* * *

The next day, I went to the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts to see the altars on display for the upcoming Day of the Dead. ($2 entrance). El dia de muertos is said to have origins in Aztec culture and the celebration of the goddess, Mictecacihuatl. (Nowadays, she is depicted as La Calavera Calatrina). The festival, which seeks to honor deceased loved ones, is best-known in Mexico, but it is now celebrated all over Latin America as well as in other parts of the world where Hispanic communities reside. It is a holiday that deeply moves me because of the time and love that families dedicate to building beautiful works of art in remembrance of those who have passed away. Here are a few examples of this homage:





Unfortunately, I had to leave San Francisco the day before the holiday celebrations commenced so I was only able to see the preparation, but it was enough for me. It was enough to understand the importance of keeping the Mission alive and community diversity at the forefront of our conversations. I came to these conclusions before Trump won the election, but I am writing these words after that new reality. And I am now more convinced than ever that we must roll up our sleeves and fight for a kind of beautiful, culturally diverse world worth living in.




If you are going to travel to the United States, a comprehensive travel insurance plan is essential, given the excessive cost of medical care in country. Furthermore, it is important to research your plan carefully, as many travel insurance companies offer coverage everywhere EXCEPT the United States.

In addition, keep in mind that public transportation is quite limited outside major cities and you may be spending a lot of time in the car. However, San Francisco is an exception to this norm. The city is fairly walkable and has a variety of public transportation options. This is a good way to get in your daily dose of exercise.


Unfortunately, the typical U.S. diet is heavy on carbohydrates, corn syrup, and salt so diabetics must be very careful. There are plenty of organic and ecological alternatives, but they come with a hefty price tag. Here again, San Francisco stands out above the rest because one can find a wide variety of healthy, ethnically diverse options when eating out. For example, here are three of our favorites in the Mission:

La Taqueria – 2889 Mission Street – Cheap/Good/Authentic Mexican Food

The Spice Jar – 2500 Bryant Street – Asian Fusion Food

Udupi – 1007 Valencia Street – Vegetarian Indian Cuisine


Most alcoholic beverages contain sugar and may cause dehydration. For diabetics (and for anyone, for that matter!), it it is important to drink in moderation.

Revolution Cafe – 3248 22nd Street – a funky, friendly neighborhood joint with outdoor patio and deadly good live music

The Homestead – 2301 Folsom Street – a classy bar that’s been around since Prohibition

Amnesia – 853 Valencia Street – intimate live music & craft beer for all kinds




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