How does Sean San Jose convey that gentrification is killing America?
Who Shot La Miguelito tells mirrored stories of deaths in a community. One death is that of La Miguelito, a young, queer, nonbinary Latinx tagger. The other death is that of a building which acts as a sort of cultural landmark for the community. The play never names La Miguelito’s killer, but suggests that the same killer took both La Miguelito and the building. I intend to analyze the effect of placing these stories in parallel. The mirrored storylines focus on minority communities, cultural differences, identity, and gentrification. I intend to analyze how each of the elements focused on in the storyline create a version of America suitable for San Jose’s specific narrative and how that influences his message. Through this analysis, I will argue that America is being destroyed by gentrification. Gentrification killed La Miguelito and is killing diverse cities and cultures.
La Miguelito takes center stage. “‘Who shot La Miguelito,’” they say, mimicking the cries of their community, verbalizing the question in the audience’s mind. “I can tell you,” they say, “but you should figure it out for your own self.” Who Shot La Miguelito, written and directed by Sean San Jose, is constructed to allow the audience to do just that. Two stories are told in parallel: one is about La Miguelito and their death. The other is about a local building full of cultural history that is in danger of being sold to developers who intend to tear it down and replace it with whatever will help them make the most money. The story of the building conveys how cities become gentrified and the story of La Miguelito and their community describes the repercussions. By telling these stories together, San Jose constructs a narrative to demonstrate how gentrification is killing America.
La Miguelito’s storyline presents a definition of San Jose’s ideal America. This America lay its foundation in diversity and built unity. La Miguelito’s community in the San Francisco Mission District is made up of a diverse group of people. Because this production was directed by the playwright, characters could be adjusted based on the identities of the actors. The play works to highlight these identities: at one point, the actors announce their ethnicities. Lines are spoken in various languages - Lolito, played by a Latino actor, speaks lines in Spanish. Eklectic, played by a Filipino actress, speaks lines in Tagalog.
This community represents American diversity on a broad spectrum. In this community, people of all different backgrounds have come together and become unified while still celebrating their differences. They are literally unified, as the characters in the Mission District come together to form one chorus, the Coro Crewe. They stand together and they lift up each others voices so they can tell their stories together. In this photo by Ben Dillon, Eklectic delivers a monologue. Behind her stands the Coro Crewe, echoing her words.
The storyline about the building is an explicit narrative about gentrification. It highlights the influence those with power have over diverse minority communities. Merriam Webster defines gentrification as “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.” In the 1900’s, the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation instituted a neighborhood ranking system that became the basis for redlining, a process which promoted housing discrimination by making it difficult for people in certain areas to become homeowners (Nelson). The repercussions of this system are still felt today, as poorer neighborhoods that are targets of gentrification are often cultural hotspots full of people of color who, because of a lack of government support, cannot afford to live elsewhere.
Behind, a map of "redlining" in San Francisco; Green areas had the highest rankings while red had the lowest (Photo
Some argue that gentrification is beneficial; it brings jobs, makes neighborhoods safer, and often changes architecture to be more modern and appealing. However, mass gentrification has taken a corporate, capitalist turn and therefore become more aggressive. This gentrification “sanitizes;” it pushes out poor, working, and middle class people and erases their art, resulting in the displacement of people and loss of cultures (Moss). The gentrification in the play is headed by developers, who plan to turn the building into something trendy and appealing to the affluent young “techies” populating the Bay Area. The building they plan to buy has been in one family for generations. Vuong, a Vietnamese immigrant, and his wife LiliAna, an Afro-Latinx woman, created LiliAna Manufacturers, based in that building. Their granddaughter, Nina, sells the building to make money and leave the Mission District.
La Miguelito is more than a kid who got shot; they are a symbol. La Miguelito is presented in this play as the figurehead of their community, the unifying factor. La Miguelito is San Jose’s ideal America. As an individual, they represent multiple minority communities. They are Latinx, queer, nonbinary, and a person of color. It is more than their inherent diversity that allows them to be a symbol of America. They are young and full of hope and potential, rising in status and becoming a tagger to rival their mother (pictured to the left in a photo by Ben Dillon), just as America is a relatively young country which quickly rose in status and still carries the hopes and dreams of many who view it as a land of opportunity. La Miguelito’s connection to the building due to the location of their death also makes them a symbol of communities ruined by gentrification.