Tagging Gentrification: From "La Miguelito" to the Real World by tommy tran

How does "Who Shot La Miguelito" demonstrate and challenge gentrification in America?

In this project, I use the script of “Who Shot La Miguelito?” and my recollection of watching the play to explore some of the play’s key elements criticizing the current issue of gentrification in America, and especially in the Mission District in San Francisco. More specifically, I focus on the scenes involving the real estate developers Yip and Yap, and their negotiations between themselves and Nina, the building owner. These scenes demonstrate the process of gentrification, and displays the perspectives of both the gentrifiers and gentrified. Along with these scenes, I also engage with parts of the play that demonstrate the unique culture of the Mission district, along with the different ethnicities that live in this area. The scenes involving graffiti, by many different characters, and both the art and appearances of La Virgen de Guadalupe are especially important in discussing the culture in this district. After identifying the culture of the district in the play and the gentrification of it, I use real evidence to connect these scenes to the actual Mission District, which also experiences gentrification. I explain the effects of gentrification on the district, and the community’s resistance against it, in an attempt to preserve the culture that they have developed in their district.

A poster advertising the play in Berkeley. Pictured is a mural that depicts La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Miguelito, who are both featured as characters in the play. Mural by Twick ICP, and poster by Ben Dillon.

The basis of America’s formation was founded on the idea that people who sought refuge or freedom from their past countries could build a new life in America for themselves and their families. Although the country was originally created by white colonists who fought for freedom against Britain, these promises attracted people from all over the world. These minorities faced new hardships in America, however, in the form of institutional racism and white supremacy, that still exist today. Among the many hardships that minorities faced in America was the difficulty to find secure housing. However, immigrants were able to find space and created pockets of their own culture in America, such as Chinatown or the Mission District in San Francisco. These areas have been targeted, however, and actions have been taken to try and separate minorities from maintaining their access to these areas. More specifically, the gentrification of these communities forces minorities to move elsewhere, by driving the living and housing costs higher until minorities cannot afford to live in their own neighborhoods anymore. This trend will eventually eliminate the cultures that found their place in America, displacing minorities whose families have spent their whole lives in their pocket of culture.

Daniela Cervantes plays "La Miguelito" (red shirt) in the play "Who Shot La Miguelito?", which was performed in the Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley. La Miguelito raises his hand to the audience, imagining new graffiti art. Photo by Ben Dillon.

The play “Who Shot La Miguelito?”, written and directed by Sean San José and performed at the Zellerbach Playhouse in UC Berkeley, addresses this issue of gentrification, and counters gentrifiers’ false promises of “modernization” with the argument of preserving culture. My object of study will be the LiliAna Manufacturers building, which was passed down to Nina from her grandparents Lilli Ana and Vuong, the past owners of the building. There are many interactions that occur in this building, specifically regarding Nina's decision to sell or keep the building. We see the past owners Lilli Ana and Vuong reminisce about the building and its memories, immediately followed by Yip and Yap, real estate developers who excitedly imagine the building as new potential shops, such as a micro tequila-ria, to be sold for huge profits. Nina struggles with the decision she has to make. However, Nina eventually sells the building to the real estate developers, calling herself a sellout and that "her world is gone”.

The extensive culture of the Mission district is represented through the use of graffiti and tagging buildings, including the LiliAna Manufacturers building. Noktolonel, a graffiti art teacher, explains how tagging was able to spread culture and respect for fellow artists. One of her students, Eklectik, chose to draw over a faded Guadalupe painting, because she was “overpopulating the Mission. The lady is played out” (San Jose 45). However, Noktolonel informs her that the piece belonged to Margarita, La Miguelito’s mother, and that she needed to learn about respect. Margarita’s paintings were highly respected, and emphasized the importance of respect and religion in the Mission district.

Photo: "La Virgen" graces everyone she passes by, including Noktolonel. Photo by Ben Dillon.

The play highlights the topic of gentrification through the LiliAna Manufacturing building, located in the Mission District in San Francisco. This district is known as home for many minorities, in a city with a booming technology and business sectors. The expanding wealth from these areas spill over to the Mission district, threatening the minorities’ home with expensive companies that disregard the culture that existed in the area beforehand. Yip and Yap are two real estate developers that represent these sectors in the play. They mostly disregard the culture in the neighborhood and behind the building, wondering if they can use the community’s culture as another point of profit. Yap states that nobody would buy a building with “a grave of dollar store candles, circus posters, a hobo art installation. Who is gonna buy this?!”, and Yip elaborates, claiming that “the poster child for this ‘hood?’ A kid who got shot. Greeeeat. When has that ever worked.” (San José, 39). Their main concern lies in the profitability of the building, rather than the death of a community member and the preservation of his memory. They even wave off the memorial by stating that “it is a neighborhood known for death - I mean, ‘Dia de los Muertos’, partner?” (San Jose, 40). Yap downplays the importance of Dia de los Muertos, an important holiday to remember those who have passed away. They also attempt to spin the culture into profit, offering to open a new “micro tequila-ria”, and name it “El Dorado Inn” or “Live La Vida El Dorado” (San Jose 40-41). Nina is conflicted with choosing, because selling the building would weaken the culture that was built in the community. The other community members also opposed the sale, and the play depicted many of them yelling at the real estate developers, scaring them off. However, the sale goes through, and starting the one of many transactions that will eventually push the culture of the area aside, and drive the minorities out of their homes.

Performers are standing in a circle, speaking to each other about their different cultures and supporting each other by stating, "Check!". Eklectik, a beginning graffiti artist, stands outside the circle. Photo by Ben Dillon

The actual Mission district in San Francisco experiences gentrification as well. According to the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder, the Mission district home prices have rapidly increased over the span of seven years, with some houses that used to cost $500,000 in 2009 now worth upwards of $2.5 million. These homes are extremely expensive, and discourage minorities from even attempting to purchase housing in this area. This area is also historically progressive, according to missionlocal.org, which supports minorities.

Map of home prices in Mission District, which increase every year due to gentrification of the area. Source in photo.

These similar problems have been present in American history before, as well. Redlining, as demonstrated in the play "A Raisin in the Sun", negatively affected African Americans in the 1960's, preventing them from expanding outside of their communities. Redlining discriminated against African American families and homeowners through unfair loans and opportunity to buy houses in general. This kept African Americans away from living in dominantly white neighborhoods and prevented proper integration into America.

Photo: In the play "A Raisin in the Sun", the Youngers family is approached by Karl Lindner, a representative of the neighborhood, who asks them to leave the house.

In addition to gentrification and redlining, the redistricting lines in 2012 caused the Mission district to become one of the only progressive districts in San Francisco, empowering the other downtown and business interests. People who live in these communities affected by gentrification have attempted to protest against it, both through demonstrations and graffiti. However, gentrification still remains a significant cultural problem, displacing the communities and families that build up the foundation of the definition of America.

Left: "The Mission is NOT for sale" sign held at a protest against gentrification in the Mission District in 2016. Photo by Tim Porter. http://www.timporter.com/seconddraft/?tag=gentrification. Right: Graffiti on the wall of Salumeria restaurant, an upscale restaurant in the Mission District. Graffiti was also used as a symbol in the play. Photo by Rob Angermuller.
2012 San Francisco District Map (left) compared to area of Mission District (middle), where the play is based in. These redistricting lines would cause District 9, which contains Mission District, to become one of the only progressive districts in SF, boosting downtown and business interests. The right map shows the state of gentrification in areas of San Francisco in 2015, with the Mission District depicted as purple for "Advanced Gentrification". Left map from https://www.hanc-sf.org/16-home/-sp-234/72-redistricting-why-should-you-care, middle map from Home Realty Investments, Right map from https://missionlocal.org/2015/09/sf-mission-gentrification-advanced/

Works Cited

Angelmuller, Rob. "Upscale Restaurants In San Francisco’s Mission District Tagged With Anti-Gentrification Graffiti." CBS SF BayArea, 5 Feb 2015, https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/02/05/upscale-restaurants-san-franciscos-mission-district-tagged-with-anti-gentrification-graffiti/

Cover Image: Araiza, Tirso; Ippolito, Lucia. “Mission Makeover.” Flickr, Greatest Paka Photography. 4 June 2017, https://www.flickr.com/photos/greatestpaka/34719913580/in/photostream/

Dillon, Ben. 'Who Shot La Miguelito?" "La Miguelito." "Eklectik." "La Virgen." Berkeley News, Brice, Anna. 18 Oct. 2019, https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/10/18/tdps-who-shot-la-miguelito/

Home Realty Investments. "San Francisco Neighborhoods." Home Realty Investments, https://www.hrealtysf.com/neighborhoods.cfm

Neiman, Emma. "SF Mission Gentrification at 'Advanced Stage'." Mission Local, 10 Sept. 2015. https://missionlocal.org/2015/09/sf-mission-gentrification-advanced/

Porter, Tim. "La Mission is NOT for sale." Medium, 21 Sept 2016. https://medium.com/@jake.prince415/parallels-between-tech-and-gentrification-in-san-francisco-b3f5ab961f98

Redistricting Task Force. "Community Unity Map." Hanc-SF, https://www.hanc-sf.org/16-home/-sp-234/72-redistricting-why-should-you-care

Steif, Ken. "Distribution of Mission District Home Prices." Urban Spatial, http://urbanspatialanalysis.com/dataviz-tutorial-mapping-san-francisco-home-prices-using-r/