This essay was featured in the exhibition catalogue for Home is something I carry with me and later published in Art Practical, Issue 2 “Nomads and Residents.”
Home is something in a state of perpetual motion. Through the repetition of actions and rituals we construct, rebuild, and reaffirm home day after day. It is a place we are constantly moving towards and yet, it is often something we must distance ourselves from. There are homes we outgrow or that never quite fit—places we must leave in order to remake ourselves, carrying with us past experiences as we generate our new versions of home. For thousands of people, the search for home led to San Francisco. Despite the city’s small geographical scale measuring a mere seven square miles, the looming threat of earthquakes, and the rising cost of housing, San Francisco remains a destination that people gravitate towards. Over time its popularity was established through the promise of gold in 1848, the political and cultural rebellion in the Sixties and its reputation as a center for queer culture. San Francisco has been built and rebuilt through the stories of those who first inhabited the land and those who continue to migrate here.
My house has three stories. I live on the top floor amidst Victorian era architecture characteristic of many San Francisco homes build in the 19th century: ornate trim and wainscoting, a built-in bookshelf, bay windows, and elaborate light fixtures. My landlord, Mrs. Lopez, bought this house in 1973 and moved with her family from the country of Columbia to California. At that time the Mission District was known almost exclusively as a Latino/a neighborhood with thriving local businesses and cultural establishments. For fifteen years, Mrs. Lopez raised her two sons in the flat on the top floor of this house. Today she resides in the converted garage apartment, and one of her sons has relocated to the downstairs flat. Upstairs, in the flat where the Lopez family first settled, I live among a rotating ensemble of friends and housemates; members of a makeshift family who seek shelter here. This house, much like the neighborhood, is constructed of layered histories—the majority of which remain invisible to me. There are parts of this history that I cannot access, that are made visible only through the act of imagining who came before and where and how they used the space that now surrounds me.
The longer you live somewhere, the more knowledge you gain about the stories that have accumulated there. I was born in San Francisco and raised north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I left the Bay Area briefly only to be drawn back by the pull of a place that is home. In a way, I inherited this city from my parents. My mother and father are East Coast transplants who followed the now legendary exodus of their generation to the 1960s promised land: San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Their histories are intricately tied to this place. I know the exact location in Golden Gate Park where they celebrated their marriage and can identify which front door in a row of Victorians leads to the first home they shared together on Castro Street. Although they left the city years ago, it is because of their migration that I am here; my presence adds yet one more story to our family’s attachment to San Francisco. Through this history I have inherited not only the city, but the social and political responsibility that come with living in one place for an extended period of time.
In today’s political climate of economic recession, home becomes a story about wealth and property rather than people. Last June, California residents faced threats to rent control through a proposed amendment to the California State Constitution, inconspicuously folded into a proposition called the “California Property Owner and Farmland Protection Act” (Proposition 98). While this proposition was ultimately defeated, it exposed the vulnerability of renters and sent a clear message about whose properties are considered valuable, and therefore, protected. In a gesture similar to Proposition 98, San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom recently vetoed the “Renters Economic Relief Package,” a bill created to provide flexibility for renters facing unemployment and struggling to survive in the second most expensive housing market in the country.