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Campfire: Eviction Community Stories (page 2)

On January, 17, 2014, the “village” gathered around a campfire to hark the horrors of no-fault evictions of lifelong Mission residents and other San Franciscans provoked by rampant real estate speculation in the City. Fourteen brave storytellers shared their horrific experiences. The event titled “Campfire: Eviction Ghost Stories and Other Housing Horrors” was co-hosted by Adriana Camarena with the project Unsettlers: Migrants, Homies, and Mammas in the Mission District and Erin McElroy with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project at the Silverstone Cafe (24th Street near Mission Street), 6 -9 p.m.

The resulting documentary film series is Campfire: Eviction Stories. The series is composed of a documentary video (14 minutes) highlighting three Mission District eviction stories, followed by 12 mini-clips with bios for each participating storyteller or storytelling duo.

Benito SantiagoPatricia Kerman and Tom RappSarah BrandtPolo GonzalezRio YañezDonna JohnsonLisaRuth ElliottMichael “Med-o” WhitsonZeph FishlynSteven BlackLauren Montana SwigerJason Wallach and Sandy Juarez

Polo Gonzalez

(Born Mission local, worker, DJ)

Polo, his mom Ana Gutierrez, and his youngest brother Ruben received an Ellis Act Eviction in 2012 to leave their Lucky Street home in the Mission District, which has been the family dwelling for 34 years.

Ana Gutierrez—a disabled senior—is from Sonora, Mexico near the border to Arizona. As a young wife, Ana worked as a seasonal migrant worker fruit packing in Yuma, and picking and packing lettuce, tomatoes, and strawberries around Gilroy. She became a member of the United Farm Workers in 1968, and vowed that her children would not see the fields. In 1978, Ana and her husband brought their children from Arizona to the Lucky Street home. Two weeks after they arrived, a stroke put Ana’s husband in a coma until his death seven years later. There, in that home, Ana raised a family of five children, as a single mother. She was a holiday seasonal worker at the See’s Chocolate Factory in San Francisco, and ironed levis pants at the old Levi’s Strauss factory in the Mission, until she became a hospital worker. A few years ago, she retired with a disability from pushing the ill on gurneys and wheelchairs.

Polo is the eldest son of the family of five children. After he separated from his wife, he returned to live on Lucky Street with his mom and youngest brother. As a young man, being the eldest son in the family, Polo dropped out of school to help support the family. The Mission gave him almost every job he has ever known. “I grew up at a time in the Mission, when the general opinion was that nothing positive could become of Latino youth.” From early on, Polo was involved in community services in the Mission, including graffiti abatement programs, volunteering at event security for Carnival, and most recently, collaborating with the DJ Project at Horizons Unlimited, which teaches youth creative and business management skills. Today, he is a manager at a Philz Coffeehouse, where he politely admonishes clients who call The Mission, “The Mish,” to please call it by its proper name.

On the weekends that Polo has his kids, he can leave the house knowing that grandma is there to care for them. “… On my income, if I didn’t have cheap rent, I couldn’t pay alimony, child support, expenses, and support my mom.” Polo feels despair that his children will not grow up knowing the Mission, that he won’t ever afford to come back to the neighborhood he loves, and that his mom can’t stay in the barrio she knows in her elder years. He says with emotion, “Because she is fighting the eviction, I know that she is not ready to go.”

In March 2014, vigorous litigation by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic on behalf of Ana Gutierrez and her family led to the landlord desisting from their Ellis Act Eviction.

Rio Yañez

(Born Mission local, artist)

Río Yañez, alongside his mother Yolanda Lopez, father Rene Yañez, and Rene’s partner Cynthia Wallis, are being evicted from their family home at San Jose Ave, near 26th Street in the Mission by Realty West (related to Golden Properties, LLC), owned by notorious serial evictor Sergio Iantorno. His family has lived in the same apartment on San Jose Avenue since 1978. Their eviction date is in June 2014.

Rio was born 34 years ago in San Francisco General Hospital and has been involved with the 24th Street corridor of the Mission ever since. His parents have been artists and activists in the neighborhood for over five decades. He currently works at Somarts, a non-profit arts and cultural center, as a manager and curator. Rio is also a photographer and graphic artist, most recently known for his Ghetto Frida Project and as a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy.

About the eviction, Rio explained to Mission Local (10/2/2013): “Rent control is what afforded my parents with the opportunity to live in this city and make art. Being an artist means they have no savings, no retirement, no health care. They live check to check. For their dedication to art, that’s where they are. With elderly people like them, with limited income, this essentially makes them homeless.”

The eviction comes at a particularly difficult time because both [Rene] Yañez, who is 71, and his partner, Cynthia Wallis, have terminal cancer.”

Rio’s dad Rene Yañez is a living Mission legend with worldwide acknowledgement for his artistic contributions to Chicano art, as an artist, curator, and supporter of grassroots organizing. Rene significantly influenced the sense of place of the Mission District by participating in the founding of essential cultural institutions and traditions, as well as by influencing cityscapes such as the redesign of the 16th Street BART plaza. Various biographies can be found about Rene Yañez, all of them highlighting his contributions to developing the arts in the City:

“René Yañez galvanized a large community of Latino and Chicano artists and their allies from all communities. The list of artists he supported at early stages of their careers reads like a who’s who of internationally-recognized Latino artists, including Rupert García, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Ester Hernández, Yolanda López, Carmen Lomas-Garza, Enrique Chagoya, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Gronk, and ASCO. Active as both a visual and performance arts curator and artist, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. In 1998, he received the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership” from the San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area.” (Artist profile, La Galeria de la Raza website.)

Rene’s most recent work is his first zine Zine a la Mode: Over a Pot of Coffee (2014), limited edition work available at Alley Cat Bookstores on 24th Street in the Mission. Zine a la Mode provides a topsy turvy visual and lyrical narrative of street and art culture in Mission, with references to its erosion by gentrification.

Rene Yañez lives with lifelong partner, Cynthia “Kiki” Wallis. Kiki was born and raised as a fifth generation San Franciscan. She is a successful photographer and mixed media print artist. Previously, Cynthia worked for 20 years as a director and producer, and original founding member of the Asian American Theatre Company (1974-1994). Kiki is also known for her documentation of visual and performative artists and art works in the Mission and City art scene. During her recovery from cancer, Kiki has been working on a children’s book titled “Rum Tum Tum” based on “Picture Book Parade”, a song composed by her grandfather Joe McKierman (a songwriter in the 1920s).

Rio’s mom Yolanda Lopez is a legendary Mission artist and social justice activist. She is a third generation Chicana born in San Diego in 1942. Yolanda awoke to social justice work as a student at San Francisco State University: “I did not become aware of our own history until 1968 when there was a call for a strike at San Francisco State, a strike for ethnic studies. I heard the men and women that led that Third World Strike speak and I understood at that point what my position was being part of this long legacy of being part of the oppressed people, just like Black people. In 1969, there was an incident in the Mission District where seven young men were accused of killing an undercover policeman. And I had joined a Chicano group after the San Francisco State strike and we became Los Siete De La Raza (The Seven of the People) after that incident. I was interested in learning how to draw, so when to Los Siete (The Seven) to be a part of them, all of a sudden there was a need for the tools that I had, my ability to draw.” ( Yolanda’s work is extensive and various biographies can be found about her, including a recent book by Karen Mary Davalos, “Yolanda M. Lopez”, UCLA, (2008).

Yolanda’s latest work is an installation collaboration with Adriana Camarena (Unsettlers), involving enlarged copies of her Ellis Act eviction papers and a “murder board” used to riddle out the parties responsible for her egregious eviction. The work is titled Home Studio: Eviction Scene Investigation, 27th Annual Sólo Mujeres Exhibit: HOME/Inside Out, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (March 12-April 18, 2014). This installation will be followed by Eviction Garage Sale at La Galeria de la Raza (May 3-4, 2014), during which Yolanda and her son Rio will put their home belongings up for sale. In a third installment, Yolanda will try to find a home.

Donna Saffioti-Johnson

(Community worker & ‘Hood Momma’), Pearl Street, San Francisco

Donna, her husband Robert “Jawara” Johnson, and the family dogs Xochitl (age 4) and DJ (age 2 and ½) were served with Ellis Act eviction papers in 2012, and forced out of their 73-B Pearl Street in San Francisco by serial evictors Kwok Chung Wong and Har Kwan Luk. Since 2003, this company has Ellis Acted 30 units in San Francisco, including the 6 units at Donna’s former home building on Pearl Street.

Originally from Detroit, Donna arrived to San Francisco in 1980. Her first job was as an au pair, and her first lodging was a vestibule under a stairwell. Donna moved into her Pearl Street apartment in 1984 and lived there for 29 years, until her eviction. She has worked 34 continuous years providing community services. In the ’80s, she worked in AIDS prevention and intervention, and founded one of the earliest youth needle exchange programs in the City. Donna has worked at Horizons Unlimited for 26 years, primarily, in substance abuse and prevention education in jails and schools, and as an individual counselor and street outreach professional. She is a beloved Hood Momma to many street affiliated youth with whom she has come into contact through work and life.

Building directly from the foundations of trust laid by Donna and a formal collaboration with Nora Reddick, Executive Director at Horizons Unlimited, Adriana Camarena worked with a group of gang-affiliated youth to form a collaboration called the Late Night Poets. The Late Night Poets are now working towards self-publishing a book of their poetic writings.

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