the 'mission' of the colonizers How the Play Who Shot La Miguelito? is Microcosmic of the Westward Expansion Genocides


How is la Miguelitos death and the gentrification of the Mission District a microcosm of Westward Expansion?

In Who Shot La Miguelito, la Miguelitos death occurs quickly and is never resolved. To further understand this as an intentionally symbolic artistic choice I will analyze the script compared to the performance I saw. I will research gentrification and the effects of stereotypes of race and subsequently the reactions to death. I intend to compare the extermination of Native Americans in Westward Expansion to the death of La Miguelito in the Mission District. The developers in the play are representative of the colonizers. In this the play you see the through the whitewashing of the mural of la virgen, the mexican symbol of pride, and the prevention of la miguelitos first mural, an upcoming artist.

The Death of La Miguelito

Small aspiring graffiti artist, La Miguelito, from the San Francisco Mission District begins to shake their spray paint canister. Surrounded by the characters of their community and their mentor, La Miguelito begins to envision the scene in front of them. There is a loud shot and La Miguelito falls to the ground as the crowd disperses. The crowd runs in every direction in a scatter from the stage leaving the young teen sprawled across the floor as the shooter speeds away. From the audience you watch the stage darken and the lights focus on a hooded figure laying motionless. Silence fills the room and the stage goes black.

The play Who Shot La Miguelito? argues audiences preconceived notions of gentrification through the erasure of history and the extermination of growth.

There are many youth deaths in the Mission District.

As young La Miguelito falls to the floor and the surrounding people flee, the scene is set and the conflict has begun. The play, like the name implies, begs the question ‘who shot La Miguelito?’ As an audience member you expect the plot to stem from an attempt to resolve this question, but instead at the end we are left with the literal killer unknown. However, La Miguelito’s death was not due to just a gunshot, while it may have caused their physical body to pass, it is the gentrification of the life La Miguelito lived. The death of La Miguelito was not simply the death of a young teen but the death of generations of community and culture that was ingrained in the blood of the Mission District.

Gentrification happens in two waves in order to be successful: the erasure of history and the extermination of growth. The erasure of history makes sure that there is nothing sacred, nothing worth remembering. Tradition and culture are built off of history, without the foundations of traditions they are simply repeated actions. Without the weight of upholding tradition actions loose their communal and historical meaning. The actions are simply personal.

The extermination of growth comes after history is erased. To continue tradition or culture in must be passed down, in this case it is passed down generationally. One way to exterminate growth of tradition is like the colonizers in Westward Expansion who kidnapped children to teach them the ways of Catholicism instead of their native religion and culture. The second is what occurs in the play, literal extermination of successors.

In the play the authors depicted the erasure of history through La Margarita Robellio painting over her mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe. La Margarita was known throughout the Mission District for her murals, especially her most famous one, the mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe, which is the Mexican symbol or patriotism. The events that occur in the play cause La Margarita to become so distressed, depressed, and hopeless that she resents the patriotism, justice, and kindness that La Virgen symbolizes. Throughout the play Margarita has conflict with the image of La Virgen and goes as far as to paint over the mural. Margarita takes white paint and leaves the once large colorful mural whitewashed.

The second wave of gentrification the play addresses is the extermination of growth. To get rid of a culture you need to ensure it cannot survive through the generations. La Miguelito was a prominent upcoming artist who was born and raised in the Mission District, in fact their identity was heavily based on the pride they had in their city. When La Miguelito dies they are unable to continue the traditions of his mother, who did not paint anymore, nor build and inspire the community around them. Both of these together are what destroyed the Mission District and allowed generational and culturally significant landmarks to be sold. If the culture is not passed down, it loses its relevance to the decision makers of the time.

Connections to Colonizing

Manifest Destiny was a concept that filled the heads of conquerors from the 19th Century. The ideal that God himself had destined United States settlers to explore and take the Americas. This originated from a toxic mindset of European and Catholic superiority over the other. The settlers traveled and committed horrible atrocities against the native people of the Americas. This stemmed from engrained misconceptions of race and purity that caused settlers to view the native Americans as the "Other".

In this course we have studied Manifest Destiny in Dan E. Clark's work 'Manifest Destiny and the Pacific'. This allowed an insight into the minds of the colonizers. The colonizers did not doubt their right as conquerors of the Americas. The American colonizers wished to exterminate the Americas and rebuild them in their own image. They slaughtered thousands and kidnapped children to re-educate them in the ways of Catholicism. They did not question the authority that told them of the success they were destined for and therefore did not empathize with the people they slaughtered.This lack of empathy can be explained in Edmund Husserl's concept of "Otherness".

The Othering of Others

Philosopher, Edmund Husserl, founder of the concept of 'Otherness' that attempts to explain Imperialization and Colonialism. The idea of the Other is an object of consciousness that is an explanation for mistreatment due to lack of empathy and understanding of a group or individual different than oneself. The philosophy that one only has the perception of the consciousness of oneself and therefore sees anything obscure as a threat to the sanctity of Oneself. The concept of relativism is in play, as oneself is unable to fathom the experience of existence of another and fear for self preservation and the climb for power.

This had the same effect as the death of La Miguelito. In killing Native Americans the colonizers not only fear-mongered the citizens that survived but stole the youth that would continue on the Native American traditions. As they exterminated the Native American culture there was less opposition for them to build the America they wanted, and the ideals of Manifest Destiny carried through.

Images from emotional monologues from characters in Who Shot La Miguelito?

In Who Shot La Miguelito? audiences watch the same atrocities of death and destruction occur. The play wonderfully portrayed the damage that death and erasure of culture does to a community as the Mission District that was full of vibrancy and life gets sold to the developers. The play is microcosmic for the atrocities that occurred throughout history. The audience can make the connections of La Miguelito's death and La Miguelito's mother's whitewashing of the mural of the Mexican symbol of nationalism.

Whitewashing the mural was, in my opinion, the most important scene of the play. Whitewashing was metaphoric of hiding the darkness inside, like whitewashed tombs referenced in the Bible. Painting over the mural La Virgen shows that they are covering the 'dirty' culture underneath, not stripping it away, simply masking it and pretending it never existed. The remains of the mural will linger there forever, similarly to the culture that gets whitewashed as the Mission District develops. This was a symbol of white superiority over a group like in Westward Expansion. Which is why I argue that Who Shot La Miguelito? is microcosmic of the gentrification of colonialism.


Even today, we may see examples of colonization or gentrification. Berkeley's very famous, People's Park, is known for its large homeless population.

UC Berkeley's desired destruction of People's Park to build new housing for students may be seen as a form of gentrification. Removing a community of homelessness that has multiple people that identify themselves with this population. UC Berkeley is a highly prestigious institution known across the world for its quality education status. The people who attend UC Berkeley themselves are highly educated and pay to attend this higher institution. To make room for more students the Chancellor and Board of this university are trying to allow more housing as well as reduce homelessness and crime in the city of Berkeley.

This can be an example of gentrification because a community is being expelled and being replaced by a wealthier, more educated, and more sophisticated community of youth that will continue their own legacy of educated and wealthy. While some may see this as an improvement, it is still an example of gentrifying a community.

Gentrification is so prominent because many people do see it as an improvement. It is up to the reader or observer to come up with their own opinion of whether the renovation of the community is worth the culture that is lost.

Ad promoting the gentrification of the Mission District

The play Who Shot La Miguelito? dives into the morality of gentrification and its effects. This being a play written and performed at UC Berkeley speaks a lot about our liberal community and how we react to freedom of speech while still being a high class institution. This play begs the question, "what does our voice matter?" Or "what can we achieve through performance?" This performance was a perfect representation of our class, it performed America. Who Shot La Miguelito? revealed America's history and made me question even the present everyday I live with.

Thank you for reading!

Watch the author, Mari Wong, discuss the premise of this project and click below to read her process reflection.


“Manifest Destiny and Indian Removal.” Smithsonian American Art Museum , americanexperience.si.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Manifest-Destiny-and-Indian-Removal.pdf.

San Jose, Sean. “Who Shot La Miguelito.” 20 Oct. 2019, University of California Berkeley.

“Westward Expansion.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Aug. 2018, www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion.

“What Is Genocide?” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/what-is-genocide.