My Homeland: The Mission District, San Francisco

The above is a shot of the house we lived in when I was a toddler, Mission District, San Francisco. That’s my daughter Emily.

I’m heading to San Francisco this week, to get away for a few days. It’ll be my vacation this year. Two of my kids live there, so we’ll hang out. And I’ve got plans.

I’ve always got plans. Vacations aren’t exactly my style. I was never one to sit on the beach or roam through tourist towns. Whenever I go somewhere, I’ve got to find purpose there.

Which Michelle interprets as, “He’s always got to be working.” Which, I don’t think is exactly true. It’s just, what’s the commerce in sitting around reading books on the beach? I don’t have to go to the beach to read, I read every day. Summer reading? That makes no sense. You should always be reading.

Whenever we do go on vacation, I bring a manuscript with me. I have to have order—work in the morning for a few hours, then spend the rest of the day doing, whatever it is vacationers do. Wherever I go, I must write.

Or, at least, create. Working on something that has meaning to me, I can’t do without it for long periods, can’t leave it at home to go prancing around the Grand Canyon or Dollywood. I can’t see the world, really, without running it through the sieve of my imagination.

Most writers I know are like this. They’re always thinking of their story or poem. They don’t leave it on the writing desk like people who leave undone paperwork in their cubicle for the weekend. It’s always with them.

So, yes, I guess that means, we’re always working.

But to me, there’s play involved. This trip to San Francisco has purpose. It’s my home town, my own terruño, my homeland, though I lived there only in the first few years of my life. But there’s something in San Francisco that is now calling my fifty-six- year-old mind back.

We lived in the Mission District when I was born. I plan to spend the next five days walking the entire Mission, because my head—seemingly of its own accord—decided it wanted to write something about the neighborhood. Maybe a novel, or maybe some poems will come out of it. I don’t know. I’m just going there to be.

Because, my childhood’s there. And, as we all know, all our stories? They inevitably begin and end in childhood. Louise Gluck once wrote, We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.

That’s the damned truth. Childhood—all of us surge out of it, and, whether we want to or not, as we get older, return to it. Or, at least, we should.

This time, I want to return to it. I want to look at the world one more time, from that childhood, my Latino childhood, which saved me from the other one.


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