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"Who Shot La Miguelito": gentrification as a new colonialism or a different version of the old colonialism?

Abstract

The following will be my interpretation of a scene from the play "Who Shot La Miguelito." I will be focusing on a scene in which the protagonist's, Miguelito, mom, Margarita, is whiting out a mural that she painted of The Virgen. This mural was a symbol of protection to oversee not only La Miguelito, but the community and all aspects that the community upholds. Unfortunately, after the death of La Miguelito, The Virgen has lost its purpose and in the eyes of Margarita, so has the city. Through the display of photos, I wanted to show America -- as a vision of color, diversity, and hopefulness. I wanted to display America as it was intended to be, a land of opportunity, while also focusing on what America currently exemplifies as a country of both homogeneity and heterogeneity. Our beautiful heterogeneity is slowly being striped away to become a homogeneous figure that dates back to the foundation of this country. This is through mechanisms surrounding the mentality of ownership and entitlement by the most recent form of colonialism that we refer to as gentrification. This scene of the white out is a representation of gentrification as a redefined version of colonialism.

All three photos capture the use of street art as a peaceful protest against gentrification and destroyed neighborhoods. (Pictures by @jackinsights from Instagram)
“Eklectic” in Who Shot La Miguelito. UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon.

Gentrification, especially within the past decade, has become a concern in the urban parts of numerous cities. This process screams invasion, massive exclusivity, marginalization operating under the mindset that it is the revitalization of urban areas [3]. But first, let’s formally define gentrification. Gentrification is the umbrella term for the arrival of affluent people into an existing urban district, with a related increase in rent and property values [4]. This leaves several consequences for the inhabitants of these urban cities. For one, the arrival of these wealthier newcomers changes the district’s character and culture. For another, the increase in property values and the change in culture drives these long-time residents out, forcing them to relocate [3]. And for what? Reduced crime rates, investments in building and infrastructure, and increased economic activity in these areas? The benefits of these changes are enjoyed disproportionally by the new arrivals and less by the inherent residents themselves, who instead find themselves economically and socially marginalized. To me, this sounds like modern-day colonialism or rather a redefinition of the old form of colonialism.

Picture by Laura Longwell from "Travel Addicts"

Like colonialism, gentrification is operated through the notion that America is the modern man’s property, enabling human exploitation through the migration of individuals into urban areas as if it inherently belongs to them. It caused by capitalism and the way the affluent are obsessed with land acquisition, for political control, and for economic power [4]. This is America’s system of organization and it stems from Western reason and Eurocentric colonialism. Western ethos and eurocentrism have historically oppressed racial and feminine archetypes, with men continuously infantilizing and idealizing women and people of colour. The relationship between Eurocentric colonialism and rationality consolidates this relation of domination. As gathered from the Cuboniks Xenofeminist manifesto, western reasoning shapes our perception of the modern and rational person [1]. In turn, this causes degradation to those who are non-European because reason and power persist solely through the archetype of European men. The standard of the reason is European whiteness and any groups outside of that are thus affected by these standards, but cannot change these standards because they have no power over what is deemed rational or not. Our understanding of what is rational is founded upon specifically western reason and this organizational view of white, male domination are affecting the practices of today’s society, afflicting everybody who is considered as the out-group [1]. This is all to say, the groups that were in power from the beginning persists in holding this power, allowing them to so easily interject into urban communities, driving the inhabitants out, and making it their own.

“La Virgen”. UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon.

The play Who Shot La Miguelito? exemplifies this notion of gentrification as a different form of colonialism brilliantly. The play follows the murder of a young street tagger, named La Miguelito, in San Francisco’s Mission District. Along with his death is also the death of immigrant, working-class neighborhoods through gentrification. One of the most profounding elements of this play was the scene of Margarita, La Miguelito’s mom, whiting out her mural of the Virgen, or La Virgen de Guadalupe, that was portrayed in human form, statue form, and mural form. The Virgen was painted by Margarita as a symbol of protection, protection of her child, her community, her culture, and the surrounding area that she would overlook. Now The Virgen is being wiped away by the same person that constructed her because of her betrayal in allowing La Miguelito to be murdered right in front of her. During the play, several elements were coming together in the scene in which Margarita whites out the portrait. As Margarita is wiping away, the Coro Crewe is moving in and Ekelectik is tracing in. With each stroke of her white-out movement, she asks questions -- a series of "Whys" regarding the death of La Miguelito — and with each question, more whiteness closes in. As the Coro Crewe moves in, the audience hears a series of "white-out, white-out, ..." and a then series of "CHECK." Each “CHECK” is exclamatory and startles the audience, as it should. With each stroke, anger within Margarita builds. At first, she asks why the Virgen would let La Miguelito die, then it gradually builds to questions about La Miguelito's differences and gender identity, until she accepts the fact that this Virgen will be the last thing she paints. To Margarita, the Virgen has no place on the wall if she allowed for the death of La Miguelito. Once her dialogue is over, she continues to white out, stroke by stroke, and the Coro Crewe becomes prominent. It starts with "Cement" and a loud and in unison "CHECK," then it progresses to "the Bart Station" and "Mission" with yet again a louder "CHECK," then to groups of people, namely "Latinx," "Techies," "Buddhists," or "Queers" and then ending with "The family Building." Each component that was said between each CHECK (the Bart Station, the Mission, Catholic, Queers, Building, Margarita, etc. ) were all elements that the community possessed. The differences were that some were still in place, some no longer exist, and some will no longer exist if gentrification were to continue.

Crystal Haryanto (left) as “Sapphire Blue,” Abner Lozano (back center) as “Lolito,” Anna Sharpe (front center) as “Noktolonel,” and Geovany Calderon (right) as “Coco Cocoa” (UC Berkeley photo by Ben Dillon)

The incremental whiting out with each succession of questions, the reactions from the whiting out, the subsequent startling "CHECK" are all elements of the districts that have been slowly disappearing. There is literal whiteness in the sense of whiting out of The Virgen’s mural as a result of lost hope, and whiteness in the sense of white people's entitlement to whatever land they encounter and their displacement and erasure of native bodies. Ghettos, slums and barrios are white-constructed concentrations of racialized poverty and exclusion where violence is prevalent. With the movement of whiter and affluent classes into these urban spaces through gentrification, mass exodus and removal and the consequent over-policing, rape, invasion, and even death then becomes the defining characteristics of these spaces. They lose their sense of community, their vibrant cultures and become completely destructed and dismantled. The people who experience this trauma are those who are descendants of past colonialism, re-experiencing the trauma of the past in the current time. Margarita's whiting out of the Virgen speaks on the literal erasure of what once was a vibrant culture. To her, Miguelito's death was at the underwhelming negligence from The Virgen, but for the rest of us, it’s attributed to the rapidly changing community that is forcing an exodus, invasion, and so much more. This new version of the old colonization that we recognize as gentrification is wiping vulnerable communities of their belief and of their sense of community. So what is America with the seemingly rapid disappearance of our vibrant cultures that once defined America? America is now not defined by its inhabitants but rather the actions of its inhabitants. However, these forces aren't working together, but rather against each other in a battle that puts the livelihood of the most vulnerable at risk. Whiteness is America, as it always has been, but these accelerating efforts to "fix" urban America is both literally and figuratively removing our color and our diversity.

The Plaza 16 Coalition and supporters rally at Mission Dolores Park before a San Francisco Planning Commission public hearing on proposed housing developments for 1979 Mission Street at the Mission High School auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Picture by Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner.

Pictures from and of the Mission District: a perfect case study for colorful America. Beyond its history, the Mission also has a special mix of residents and influences—leaders of the area’s eclectic Latin American community share the neighborhood with artists, students, and small business owners. Pictures by Laura Longwell from "Travel Addicts."

Bibliography

[1] 1. Cuboniks, L. (2018). Xenofeminist Manifesto: A Politics for Alienation.

[2] Jose, San. Hamilton: Who Shot La Miguelito, Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, 2019.

[3] Bryant, Lynda. "What is Gentrification?." POV, 17 June 2003, http://archive.pov.org/flagwars/what-is-gentrification/

[4] Wharton, Jonation. "Gentrification: The New Colonialism in the Modern Era." 22 June 2008, https://go.gale.com/ps/anonymous?id=GALE%7CA218606468&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=1556763X&p=AONE&sw=w

Reflection

I have learned a lot from this process, specifically about how to use performance as a medium to express what I’m passionate about in my studies. I’ve learned about the different ways different mechanisms define America. I’ve learned about what constitutes as a performance and how practically every action is a performance, or at the very least, a portrayal that people perceive differently. Initially, I had a hard time figuring out which piece to focus on for this project and even when I found a piece, I then had a hard time understanding how to create something that would portray what I wanted to express regarding America. Through the process and workshops, I got to gather input from my classmates as well as receive a glimpse of their projects and see how my peers used different pieces to exemplify their version of America. From this process, I learned that it’s best to just start with my thoughts on the issue I wanted to focus on regarding America and then build off of my arguments through the performance piece I chose. Once I had an idea and once I have thoughts written out, then I needed to refine them, which takes not only input from my peers but also a lot of research about the issue as well. I think through this process, I have found that words hold weight and the way you frame or perceive of an issue may be seen differently by different people. It’s easy to misconstrue information and fall short through ignorance on a certain issue and so it’s very necessary to do research as well as talk to others. People see things differently and that’s especially true if they’ve undergone different experiences in their upbringing. Environment, disparities, and other factors heavily influence the lens through which an individual looks through. That’s why I really enjoyed hearing the different presentations because a lot of students talked about America through the experiences they’ve encountered throughout their life. Receiving input from my peers was really insightful and helped with the development of my project. Additionally, looking at other projects gave me inspiration for how I wanted to construct my website, which was another challenge I encountered. I wanted my website and the imagery it contains to represent what I wanted to express about America. Words can be powerful, but I think the use of imagery to convey a message only makes the content of my words more potent. Luckily, I was able to find images that perfectly encapsulated the imagery I wanted to convey about gentrification in America as well as come up with a flow for the website that leaves an impact to its viewers (or so I hope). I really enjoyed the whole process of this project because it was unique and allowed me to use creativity and performance, in all regards, to convey a message that I am passionate about. To wrap up, I think the amalgamation of our different projects in this class constructs the entirety of America because each project brings something different to the table.