Before discussing the gentrification and cultural death of a neighborhood, it is important to first discuss what La Miguelito's neighborhood represents. From the opening scene, one can already tell that the people of the Mission are from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. We see La Miguelito––a young Latina artist who is brimming with enthusiasm––mentored by Noktolonel, an African American woman of strong will and determination. As La Miguelito shakes her spray can and prepares to paint, the Coro Crewe watches intently: Sapphire Blue, an Asian girl wearing a jean jacket, squats next to Coco Cocoa, a hispanic boy who looks calm and cool in his gray hoodie. In the darkness of the night, their camaraderie shines through like a star, as Noktolonel mutters words of encouragement to La Miguelito: "See the scene, sis. Move with the sound. Yeah, La Miguelito, you close, you getting close. This your hood, baybay. See it, hear it, now we gonna show it" (San José 5). Through this scene, it is evident that El Barrio represents a diverse array of cultures that live together in harmony and community.
Moreover, El Barrio can also be mapped in murals, tags, and buildings. Throughout the Mission, Margarita has "painted the Virgen station to station . . . Full wall size murals, me entiendes, not this little gang desmadre", which symbolizes the prevalence of Latin culture in the Mission (San José 13). On every wall, there are "tags [of artists] thrown up, tags crossed out. History painted all across these streets, every other block in the hood––history told and shown" (San José 7). Nina's family building in particular can be mapped to a rich history of culture: "Lilli Ana’s Clothing Manufacturers. Upholstered the office furniture. Crazy cool combination plate of a place: pre-war Viet, post migration Black, and then their children married Mexican and Armenian, Salvadorean and Palestinian . . . We all came to the Mission" (San José 19). Therefore, the Mission represents diverse cultures not just because of its inhabitants; the neighborhood is filled with objects and symbols that also reflect the Mission's cultural richness.
When La Miguelito passes, the energy of the Mission changes as the mappings of El Barrio vanish. While Noktolonel, the Coro Crewe, and other inhabitants of the Mission still meet, there is a feeling of emptiness in their community. Noktolonel suffers the most from the death of her student and best friend, and she loses her motivation to paint: "what's the point without La Miguelito? She was my point" (San José 28). Furthermore, shortly after La Miguelito's death, Nina contemplates selling the family building, the symbol of generations of cultural diversity and hard work in the Mission. She muses that she is unsure as to whether she should "keep it or kill it. I can’t see which way. Can’t see anything- this neighborhood does it exist any more, I can’t even remember what I remember" (San José 17a). Nina's specific use of the word "kill" in reference to selling the building draws parallels to the death of Miguelito, and links it to the death of the culture in El Barrio as a whole. With the community fragmented and the cultural symbols shot, it is clear that the Mission is losing its cultural richness.
In particular, La Miguelito's death has a powerful effect on Margarita, La Miguelito's mother, who decides to white out all the murals in El Barrio. In her sorrow, Margarita admits that her motivation as murista of La Virgen was to give "La Miguelito . . . someone to see their way to the righteous path. La Miguelito- ojos to watch their back, when I can not. That is what I paint for my child" (San José 13). However, when La Miguelito died in front of one of her murals of La Virgen, Margarita concludes that La Virgen is a failure of a guide and protector, and therefore abandons all belief in La Virgen and elects to white out all of her murals of the deity. When she confronts her last mural of La Virgen, ready to white it out, she pulls out a gun and sneers: "White it out. Last one to white out. Virgen de Guadalupe . . . You scared a me, Virgen? How loca is that. I see you lonely, Virgen. Vieja. Estas sola. You not ready for me" (San José 55-56). Once again, the gun directed at the wall and, transitively, La Virgen, conjures themes of the murder of the cultural diversity of El Barrio. According to an NBC News report, La Virgen is an important symbol in Mexican culture who serves as "the ultimate Mexican mother." Her "death", then, at the hands of a Latina artist serves as an ironic symbol of a Mexican-American destroying the very foundations of her own culture. However, one could argue that La Virgen only serves as a scapegoat for the death of La Miguelito; the real culprit of the murder is the not-so-subtle structural racism in America. It is the failure of America to provide for immigrant, working class people the benefits of a safe neighborhood and the right to be free of prejudice that puts people like La Miguelito in the position that they are in. Margarita's decision to white out the murals, therefore, subtly implies that America's failure to provide for immigrants contributes to the deaths of immigrant people, which consequently causes the extinction of cultural richness in immigrant neighborhoods.
Margarita's white out response also brings up an important discussion on the racialization of death. Generally, death is associated with black and darkness. Yet here, Margarita's white out represents a death of sorts. It represents the loss of cultural richness, and it is also important to realize that by erasing all hints of culture from the Mission, Margarita is paving the way for gentrification––the final phase of cultural destruction. People like Yip and Yap are able to gentrify the Mission because it is cheap and easy to re-design a neighborhood that is completely blank: the murals, paintings, and cultural symbols are already erased. Therefore, the cultural suppression caused by "white out" causes gentrification to take place in these neighborhoods, which only exacerbates the issues that immigrant, working-class peoples experience.