At Home Abby Gust, Alex Sanchez, Tessa Holmes, Victoria Gomes

The Mission: a place of community, Art & resistance


The Mission District has been a flourishing cultural and artistic focal point in San Francisco. With the formation of the Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, and the Galería de la Raza, Mission has become the epicenter of activism interacting with the arts. Yet the most public and prominent works are the close to a hundred ever-changing murals that line Mission’s streets and alleyways, featuring vivid political and cultural themes that cross continents.

Murals of the Mission
"La Mission wasn't one individual but a community, an unofficial group of artists... in 1971, nothing beautiful had ever happened to Latinos in the united states, so we set out with our art to remake the world a beautiful place for ourselves."
Alejandro Murguía, San Francisco Poet Laureate


The Mission has been a predominately Latino neighborhood since the 1940s, solidifying a strong pan-ethnic cultural identity ever since. With deep working-class roots, there has been a consistent vein of social mobilization in the face of challenges and change.

1960s: Protests against urban renewal initiatives.

1970s: Anti-discrimination movements.

1980s: Protests criticizing U.S. interventions in Central America

1990s-2000s: The fight against evictions, rising rent prices, and gentrification.

Murals addressing police hypocrisy, the 'transforming' housing market, and LGBTQ+ rights in the Latino community.
the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

In the Mission, the influx of the affluent described in the dictionary definition above is often those associated with the or tech booms, blamed for the 'hyper-gentrification' of the Mission in recent years. Alternatively, the 'poorer residents' mentioned are often families spanning generations who have called, and made, Mission their home over decades. As luxury condos, fair-trade coffee shops, and high fashion stores replace bodegas, mechanic shops and panaderías, the newcomers are blamed for 'bleaching out' the very Latino culture that drew them in the first place, and at an accelerating pace and scope.

Fig 7. Depicts the population of non-white residents in the Mission district in 1900, 2000, 2013, and 2015 for each tract of the Mission District. Tracts are sectors of the district (made up of groups of blocks). The Mission District has 12 tracts and their corresponding populations show fluctuating non-white populations, especially in tracts 6-11 in 2015. The 2013 and 2015 lines fall lower on the graph, showing the overall trend of a declining percent of the population being non-white. Based on the US Census data and our own analysis, we have found a statistically significant difference between the non-white population of the Mission in 2000 versus 2015 (found in the appendix).
Fig 8. Depicts the change in rent prices from 2000-2013 compared to the change in non-white population in the Mission from 2000-2013 based on individual tracts. With r = -0.558, this scatter shows a moderately negative correlation. Though this correlation is about -0.5, it is only capturing a 13 year timespan. Within just over a decade, the relationship of non-white populations decreasing and rent prices increasing can be seen. Though not necessarily caused by one another, this relationship points towards the issues of gentrification in the Mission.

I joined… the waitresses the norteño trios the flower sellers

the blind guitarist wailing boleros at a purple sky

the shirtless vagrant vagabond ranting at a parking meter

the spray-paint visionary setting fire to the word

and I knew this was the last call…

and we were going to stay angry

and we were not ever leaving

not ever leaving.

Alejandro Murguía, "16th and Valencia"

burning Man

Burning Man is an organization that started in 1986, when Larry Harvey and Jerry James burned a human effigy for the first time on Baker Beach, San Francisco. As the annual gathering for burning the wooden structure continued to grow, they moved to the Black Rock Desert, where the ‘Burners,’ as the participants are called, live in the temporary Black Rock City. Burning Man’s slogan, “A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers,” reflects the ten principles the organization has developed as core aspects of a Burner’s lifestyle. They endorse values as radical inclusion, gifting, radical self-expression, communal effort, leaving no trace, and participation, which are believed to impact the behavior of more than 67,000 attendees (2016) beyond the one-week experience at Black Rock City.


cre·a·tive Place·mak·ing
an evolving field of practice that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community's interest while driving a broader agenda for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place (Markusen & Gadwa, 2010).

In order to understand how the meaning of home is defined within the Mission District, our group prepared three white cardboards with one prompt question: “What makes you feel at home?” which was available in both English and Spanish, as we intended, given the demographics of the neighborhoods, not to discourage those people who feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts in Spanish. With the resources at hand, we went to three locations in Mission, where we encouraged everyone that passed by to write or draw anything that comes to their mind as a response to the question. We did not apply any selection criteria based on, for example, age, ethnicity, or economic status, that would limit the population sample welcomed to engage with our project. We faced this attitude as a way to promote Burning Man’s principle of Radical Inclusion, which implies that everyone is welcomed to participate and express their feelings and opinions as they wish.

Another Burning Man principle that we experienced during our field experience in the Mission was Gifting. People received our initiative to go there and ask about their feelings as a gift, an opportunity to express their impressions on a topic that other people do not usually care about. Many participants came to talk to us and sincerely thanked us for doing that. Some even tried to retribute the act by giving us food and sharing stories.

Mission Dolores Park: Dolores Park is a community park located on the border of the Castro neighborhood and the Mission District. We chose Dolores as a location for our project due to its widespread attraction to different demographics. From families and children to local friends and tourists, Dolores is a common space for many people, and our wide ranges of responses reflect that.

24th St. & Mission: A transit hub in the heart of the neighborhood, 24th & Mission Street is a prominent location for festivals and rallies that have taken place throughout its history. We chose this location to capture responses that embody the historical and cultural roots of the Mission.

Clarion Alley: In between 17th and 18th Street on Valencia, Clarion Alley lies in a part of the Mission that is known to be representative of the pinnacle of gentrification. There is an underlying irony between the murals criticizing gentrification on a street where its effects are so directly seen.

The Boards

Mission Dolores Park
24th St & Mission
Clarion Alley


Fig 1. Depicts the distribution of the language of responses at Dolores Park.
Fig 2. Word map distribution to the prompt “What makes you feel at home?”

24th & Mission

Fig 3. Shows distribution the languages participants responded in at 24th & Mission. Compared to the the language distributions of other locations in the Mission, 24th St. BART station had the most responses in Spanish
Fig 4. Word map showing distribution of responses to the prompt at 24th Street and Mission Street.

Clarion Alley

Fig 5. Depicts the distribution of the language of responses at Clarion Alley. It has the lowest amount of Spanish responses (as compared to 21.74% at 24th Street and 5% at Dolores).
Fig 6. Word map distribution of responses to the prompt in Clarion Alley.

The responses we obtained from the cultural interactions in the three locations were, in general, related to the words family, love, and friends. Each place, however, showed interesting particularities. More than 21% of the responses from 24th & Mission, for example, were written in Spanish, as Figure 3 shows. Responses from the Clarion Alley, where only 2% of the contributions were in Spanish, reflected a different demographic profile, being the cardboard with more words that represent products one can buy (e.g., ‘yoga mat,’ ‘tea,’ and ‘smoothies’), as Figure 6 illustrates.

The cardboards with the writings and drawings represented, in our project, the physical concept of a home (i.e., the material structure of a house). They incorporate, through the ink used, a manifestation of the participants’ feelings about home. Burning the cardboards, in this context, means letting go of the importance of the physical space because the immaterial legacy from the reflections we promoted is more valuable. It affirms that even though the displacement of home is a painful process, hardly ever is the meaning of home found in the place itself. It is a reminder that ‘family,’ ‘love,’ and ‘friends’ will accompany you no matter where, and that is what really matters.

The burning of our cardboards took place on Baker Beach, San Francisco, where the history of Burning Man began in 1986. It also connects to their principle of Leaving No Trace, which describes how the impact of an attitude can be more meaningful to someone’s life than leaving a material construction. Welcoming people to reflect on what makes them feel at home and express their conclusions as a means for cultural empowerment was the main milestone our project achieved.

We envision the next steps to this initiative to focus on sharing online the virtual archives we have gathered for the presentation of this project and, therefore, connect more people to the idea of promoting cultural exchange through community reflections and freedom of expression. We want to inspire people and motivate them to use ordinary resources (e.g., cardboards) as facilitators for the establishment of other pop-up creative places.

"To Build a Home"

We are on our way

With posters, videos, poetry

Our Mission in words I’ll portray

About a world we chose not to unsee


Wait, ‘portraying’ seems unsure

How can I picture those people?

If the origins here were set to go

By those without enough colors


Yeah, no rhyming up there

No beauty up the hill

If this is Silicon Valley

In the bottom we stand still


Gentrification sounds a nice word

If you, like me, don’t get the meaning

If you, like me, got exiled to a meaningless world,

You don’t hope to see hope in this tour for sightseeing


Oh, wait! Check those kids with a white board


They ask for the feeling of being here

They get the feeling of being from abroad




Yoga mats

A dog


They make me see what I didn’t

So I look in their eyes to make sure

Our souls communicate and theirs get to hear

How sincerely I pronounce this thankful note


Thank you.


Mi amigo, there’s only one thing left to say:


If we burn down the walls of the Mission,

The home we created has a broader place to stay

-Victoria Gomes


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