Sometimes I visit the Mission District of San Francisco, where I was born. It’s not the same, and it’s getting worse. Google moved into the neighborhood. On the east side of Valencia Street, it’s still Latino. I walk by and smell the tacos and pupusas, and hear Spanish conversations in the lilts of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala. There’s a store that sells Donald Trump piñatas.
Cross Valencia, and there are no pupuserías, no carnicerías, and zero Spanish. In their place are new coffee shops with boutique themes like Borderlands Café, which caters to the tech crowd that doesn’t look older than sixteen. They’re talking a
whole different language, or languages: HTML, PYTHON; they wonder what to do with their surpluses of cash. They’re in the mission, but really, they’re in a bubble of silicon. And yes, they’re mostly white. Which means the Mission—that is, my mission—is doomed. The Google buses pull through here every day, carrying thousands of tech workers to Silicon Valley. The rentals around the shuttle stops, due to their convenient location, have tripled in price. Latinos are moving out. White folk and Indians with shitloads of money are taking over.
My hometown disappoints me to no end. Everyone screams about gentrification. But it’s happening and, pretty soon, there won’t be any Latino voices in the Mission to cry out against the Zuckerberg-zeitgeist that, like the rest of our country, couldn’t give a flying fuck about the poor.
I visit, and walk within the shrinking territory of my roots, in order to feel the first of my two childhoods, one that has sustained me through the constant sledgehammer blows of the childhood that followed, when the violence began.
These streets birthed a humdrum infancy. A Salvadoran monotony. Though built on a fault line, the ground of this first childhood never shifted. The Mission was a colony of El Salvador. Thick tortillas, a Spanish that was more intimate than most, with our third pronoun for “you,” vos, which goes beyond the informality of tú. Vos is a gift of a pronoun, a Salvie love. For me, it means I’ll give my life for you.
My first address is in the 700 block of Capp Street. It was my Bethlehem, where the women gathered round, my mother, cousin Marina, all the sexy aunts who cooed over me, the half breed babe, and made me whole. The chronic caress of macho-training women made it clear, they’d kill for me.
They never got the chance. But, they prepared me. They gave me myself, within the roots of a country that has known more trauma than any nation should. A stubborn nation that, each time a dictator or a U.S. president set out to crush it, raised its head, grinned through the pain and said That all you got, pendejo?
My Salvadoran blood has been my liberation. I can’t put it any other way. That’s why I, at age nineteen, went looking for the pulse. I moved to Central America, worked in war zones, where I learned how to resurrect, over, and again.