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Street Art of the Mission District: A Projection of Mestiza Consciousness

“Preservation and Permanence. You will see us when we speak through the walls. The heart never dies.”

Who Shot La Miguelito, Directed/Written by Sean San Jose (UC Berkeley TDPS)
How does the performance of street art become an external projection of creativity within a liminal existence and how does this support the prominence of mestiza consciousness?

Abstract:

Street Art in the Mission District of San Fransisco parallels the rich history of graffiti and tagging all across America. Though the lens of Sean San Jose's original play Who Shot La Miguelito, we are able to view the gesture of street art as a reflection of America as a performance in itself. Through its people, places, and time the history and presence of street art can be analyzed as an act of political resistance. Artists and writers, usually people of color, utilize street art as a way to reclaim space both physically and emotionally. For those living in the Mission District, many of which exist in a constant state of liminality - Chicana, non binary, gentrified. Many may see this existence in neither one or the other as a fearful and anxious time, but the street art of the Mission District teaches us that from liminality can stem monumental creativity.

Speaking Through the Walls

The lights are dim and the audience is quiet. Two performers share a connection. Two actors stand on an empty stage. Two individuals creating in a darkly lit alleyway. One, Noktolonel, leans back, observing her pupil contemplating her options. The other, La Miguelito, obsesses over every inch of their blank and barren wall. They are both of liminal upbringing and children of the Barrio. Miggie is eager to start painting, shaking her cans in excitement, but Noktolonel stops her before she can lay one color down. Noktolonel, with colorful braids down her back and chains around her neck, makes Miguelito envisage what they want they tag to be. What message she wants to send to her community. What message she wants to send to her people. How they want the world to identify them. Miggie wants to make noise, to be seen, to be heard. Miguelito wants to tag herself as the voice of the Barrio. Street art in the Mission District is far more complex than a representation of the cultural diversity living in the heart of San Francisco. The color choices, the locations, and subject matter; all serve to allow artists of the Mission District to take up space, both physically and culturally. Street art, tagging, and muralism are all performances used by the people of the Mission District to express their creativity that can come from constant existence in a liminal space. American has painted a narrative that living in the in-between, the borderlands, el Barrio, will never belong and live in a constant state of anxiety and fear. However, both authors Anzaldua and playwright Sean San José, would argue that existing in a liminal space, a liminal neighborhood, a liminal culture, can result in great feats of creativity. The performance of street art is a literal and metaphorical manifestation of Gloria Anzaluda theory of mestiza consciousness through its ability to foster creativity for those living in a constant state of liminality. It is through street art that those existing in a liminal state are able to find peace with their conflict and offer their own performance of America.

Within the context of of Sean San Jose’s, Who Shot La Miguelito, the setting of the Mission District sets the tone of liminality. According to Victor Turner,

“The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae ("threshold") are necessar- ily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial. “ - Turner, “Liminality and Communitas” , pg. 98

The barrio is a physical manifestation of Turner’s definition of liminality, for a multitude of reasons. Not only is the community undergoing a rapid rate of gentrification, but also the barrio is made up of citizens of various class, culture, and race. Its people are constantly conflicted between that of their own culture and thought of invading and dominating white culture. It is through street art, that the community is able to fight back, and use the artform as a form of political resistance. Due to the liminal nature of the barrio, the space has been able to develop its own creativity that grows around specific rituals, rules, and cultures. “Our neighborhood, which are extensions of our homes, which are extensions of our culture, are examples of how our lineage expresses itself” (Sean San Jose, 2019).

Additionally, we are able to see this projection of mestiza consciousness through street art in the time of the piece itself. The piece itself never existing in a singular linear time, just as many walls do within the Mission district. Thy art is in constant flux as other artists are able to have conversations with one another through their pieces. Tagging others work that they have beef with, or even getting permission behind the backs of other artists to get a mural commissioned. It is through this creativity, according to mestiza consciousness, that we are able to challenge the social norms and alter our realities. This creativity is a time of world making, a time where rituals and performances come about. A time where we are able to test our boundaries. The performance of street art is in a way a rehearsal for the new society we want to create. What if we embraced the idea of living in the borderlands? What is we could all live in the borderlands and not see liminality as a source of anxiety, but as a source of strength. If we learn to acknowledge all the ways we are between cultures and society we can all exist in a space that contains multitudes, and begin to value the multiplicity of identity. We can see identities not as conflicting but as cooperating and informing each other.

The creativity thriving from this liminal space is further exhibited through street art culture in the characters within Who Shot La Miguelito as well as through Gloria Anzaldua’s theory of “mestiza consciousness”. According to Gloria,

“The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality, she operates in a pluralistic mode—nothing is thrust out, the good, the bad, and the ugly, nothing is rejected, nothing abandoned. Not only does she sustain contradictions, she returns the ambivalence into something else” (Anzaldua, 1987).

The performers in this piece do not simply take up space as the characters on stage, but also bring their authentic selves to the stage. Their characters embodied who they were as a people and as individuals. They were able to express who they were through their tag. Tagging itself is usually a signature from a writer who uses spray paint to place it on multiple locations. The turn bombing implies tagging your name on a wall and filling it up. Here we can see how graffitti as well as muralism is an act of political resistance and a way of reclaiming space for people of color. The playwright of the play reiterated this when describing his Phillapino / Portirican immigrant upbringing. “Because of being raised as a catholic, in a low income house, as the son of immigrants, I began to lose sight of places to experience, share, and feel things. The theatre was where I could do that.” Just as Jose’s place was the theatre, the citizens of the Mission District’s place was the barrio.

Additionally, we are able to see this projection of mestiza consciousness through street art in the time of the piece itself. The piece itself never existing in a singular linear time, just as many walls do within the Mission district. Thy art is in constant flux as other artists are able to have conversations with one another through their pieces. Tagging others work that they have beef with, or even getting permission behind the backs of other artists to get a mural commissioned. It is through this creativity, according to mestiza consciousness, that we are able to challenge the social norms and alter our realities. This creativity is a time of world making, a time where rituals and performances come about. A time where we are able to test our boundaries. The performance of street art is in a way a rehearsal for the new society we want to create. What if we embraced the idea of living in the borderlands? What is we could all live in the borderlands and not see liminality as a source of anxiety, but as a source of strength. If we learn to acknowledge all the ways we are between cultures and society we can all exist in a space that contains multitudes, and begin to value the multiplicity of identity. We can see identities not as conflicting but as cooperating and informing each other.

It is through the street art of the mission district that the performance of what we know as America appears to be challenged. It is a long running conception that those who exist in liminal spaces must succumb to a life of constant struggle, fear, and anxiety. Although their is validity to this statement as the dominant white power strcutures create barriers for people of color, this liminality can also develop great feats of creativty. Just as the show Who Shot La Miguelito does, the show itself poses questions about present day issues influences the present.

Images of the Virgin Mary (Left, Upper Right) Who Shot La Miguelito, Directed/Written by Sean San José (UC Berkeley TDPS) (Lower Right) Mission District Mary: San Fransisco, CA, Photographed by Delaney Marchant

Street Art Terminology

Tagging:

A spray painted piece included a writer's name, their logo; quickly executed with low risk of being caught

Bombing:

Spraying a writer's tag multiple times over one wall; used as a political act of resistance and a desire to reclaim space. Bombing is tied in with the idea of destruction in foreign countries by the US Government.

Throw Up:

Usually a tag created in bubble letters with a three color fill; one for the fill, one for the outline, one for accents. Fast execution with low risk of being caught.

Piecing:

Piecer are held in higher regards on the streets ask it takes longer to do a complex piece and has a higher risk of getting caught.

Racking:

Walking into a store, and steeling an entire rack of spray paint in one run. OG street artists will say that the only way to get your supplies is through racking.

Black Book:

A book where a writer's can plan and practice their pieces. Having a piece solidified in muscle memory allows writers to get their pieces up faster will less risk of getting caught. Writers' protect their black book as it is proof of their crimes.

Crews:

Families of artists work together because its more fun to paint with friends, collectives of artists are able to keep watch out for each other; its harder to pin something on one artists when there are many.

Bibliography

Alexander, Bobby Chris. Victor Turner Revisited: Ritual as Social Change. Scholars Press, 1991.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands: the New Mestiza = La Frontera. Aunt Lute Books, 2012.

Jose, Sean San, and The cast of Who Shot La Miguelito. 23 Oct. 2019

Ming, Leong. Mural Tour of the Mission District. Nov. 9. 2019.

Who Shot La Miguelito, Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, Berkeley, CA. 2019

Para La Mission: collaboration between Hyde and Mel Waters
Created By
Delaney Marchant
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with an image by Jeff Kepler - "Hydrate with Art"