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WHIte Out: An Essay on Cultural Suppression Authored by Sean Lin

Abstract

How does "Who Shot La Miguelito?", and specifically, the theme of white out, illustrate a future of cultural suppression and gentrification that stymies the ideals of a fully inclusive America?

Abstract: Sean San José's newest play, Who Shot La Miguelito, tells the story of the diverse community in the San Francisco Mission District, and how the death of one teenager in the neighborhood, La Miguelito, affects the whole barrio for the worse. This essay first discusses the cultural significance of the Mission by mapping parts of the mission to their cultural histories. The discussion then turns towards how the death of La Miguelito causes the cultural richness of the Mission to fade. Most notably, the actions of Margarita, La Miguelito's mother, in response to her child's death are discussed as a means of emphasizing the structural racism prevalent in America, the racialization of death, and the death of cultural richness in immigrant, working-class neighborhoods throughout America.

How does the Play, "Who Shot La Miguelito?", envision a future of gentrification and cultural suppression that stymies the ideals of a fully inclusive America?

ESSAY

La Miguelito gesturing to the crowd (Credits: Ben Dillon)
La Virgen touches Noktolonel after the loss of La Miguelito (Credits: Ben Dillon)
A Before and After Photo of a gentrified neighborhood in the United States (Credits: Stephanie Maida)

Description: Margarita stands defiantly in front of the mural, a colorful depiction of La Virgen that she crafted long ago. "White it out. Last one to white out. Virgen de Guadalupe," she says, her eyes locked with those of La Virgen. She continues, "Now I see fear. You scared a me, Virgen? How loca is that. I see you lonely, Virgen. Vieja. Estas sola. You not ready for me." Her black leather jacket contrasts with the tropical pinks and oranges that adorn La Virgen. From the audience, I see Eklectic shuffle to center stage, carefully placing her steps as if not to get caught. She's impossible to miss because of her bright yellow blouse. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then pulls spray paint out of her bag: "Plum. CHECK Magenta. CHECK Rusted Gold. CHECK Turquoise. CHECK Ah! Where is it- where where- Phew! Emerald." Margarita greets her. Eklectic, startled, jumps a little as she turns around. They make small talk.

Eventually, Margarita asks: "What do you think of this piece?" Eklectic cocks her head diagonally, and says, while twiddling her thumbs, "I don't know. I don't really like her eyes." Margarita, with a tone of seriousness and resolve, replies, "Yeah. That makes me pissed. Here- this will make it easier for you." In a quick motion, she snatches the white out from Eklectic's bag, and makes a big, diagonal stroke to white out La Virgen. Then, she leaves. Eklectic, eyes wide and mouth gaping, hollers, "Putang ina! You can just do that?" With that, she scampers off.

White Out: An Essay on Cultural Suppression

Sean San José's brilliant play, Who Shot La Miguelito, explores how the death of a Mexican teenager, La Miguelito, affects her immigrant neighborhood, the Mission. While the Mission begins as a culturally rich neighborhood, the death of La Miguelito changes all of this, and causes the Mission to transform into a gentrified neighborhood devoid of any cultural value. At bottom, the Mission is mapped to murals, tags, and other objects of cultural richness, and the death of La Miguelito spurs the destruction of this mapping through the actions of the people in El Barrio––most notably, Margarita's white out response––that ultimately leads to cultural suppression and gentrification.

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.

The Mission District of San Francisco (Credits: Ben Dillon, Jon Wachunas, Karen Lau)

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 suffers from the loss of her child, La Miguelito (Credits: Ben Dillon)

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.

This discussion has illustrated the cultural richness of The Mission through maps, and how the actions of Margarita and other residents of The Mission in reaction to La Miguelito's death lead to cultural suppression. While the discussion has focused mainly on The Mission, it is important to note that this phenomenon of cultural suppression and gentrification happens in immigrant, working class neighborhoods nationwide. According to CityLab, a data-centric news group, "displacement is happening at a regional level in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York City. But Washington, D.C. tops the list: Around 36 percent of D.C. residents have been living in an areas that have experienced displacement." Evidently, neighborhoods across the country are experiencing gentrification and displacement. Who Shot La Miguelito, then, serves as a warning to the people of America to not only preserve these neighborhoods for their cultural value, but seek to improve the lives of the people in these neighborhoods to provide them with more opportunity and less prejudice, in order to truly make the American Dream a reality.

BiblioGraphy

Diaz, Francisco. “‘Race, Space and Contestation: Gentrification in San Francisco's Latina/o Mission District, 1998-2002.” EScholarship, University of California, 20 Sept. 2013, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/5c84f2hc.

Mirabal, Raquel. “Geographies of Displacement: Latina/Os, Oral History, and The Politics of Gentrification in San Francisco's Mission District.” The Public Historian, University of California Press Journals, 1 May 2009, https://tph.ucpress.edu/content/31/2/7.

Nyborg, and Anne Meredith. “Gentrified Barrio : Gentrification and the Latino Community in San Francisco's Mission District.” EScholarship, University of California, 19 Aug. 2011, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/77z2w2sf#author.

Reyes, Raul A. “Our Lady of Guadalupe Is a Powerful Symbol of Mexican Identity.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 12 Dec. 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/our-lady-guadalupe-powerful-symbol-mexican-identity-n694216.

San José, Sean. Who Shot La Miguelito. UC Berkeley TDPS, 2019.

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Created By
Sean Lin
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