Identity Crisis: The Mission District Struggles to Retain it’s Roots

Perhaps there is no greater portrait of the disparity between the old and new San Francisco than what is displayed in the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Mission District. A vibrant and culturally rich area with a strong Latino community, it has undergone many changes with the redevelopment of San Francisco.

Originally called “the Mission lands” it is the location of the oldest standing building in San Francisco, and the oldest intact mission in California. Built in 1776, it is the true birthplace of the city, according to the Mission Dolores Parish.

To locals, the Mission is a chameleon. “It changes street by street, walking from Mission to Valencia it’s a totally different vibe,” said Casey Flores whose grandparents have lived in the neighborhood since the ‘80s. Walk along Valencia Street’s sparkling sidewalks and you’ll notice the vibrant murals that jump out from side streets amidst old Mission businesses juxtaposed by swanky storefronts.

The Mission District is home to many beloved dives, quirky shops, and cafés that range from mom and pop, to third wave. The neighborhood is also renown for its food with no shortage of taquerias and Central American cuisine.

The tech boom that has been growing since the ‘90s has caused an in flux of high rises and upscale businesses, and the pushing out of artists and families who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood. Flores, who himself has been living in the Mission for three years has noticed the effects of gentrification. “I went to a restaurant on Valencia with my dad and he said a ‘few years ago this was a completely different corner, you were either a gangster or selling drugs,’ Flores said. “The people have definitely changed, but in a way it’s a good thing, a safer city is a better city.”

According to Flores, the problem lies in the lack of affordable housing and the development of luxurious condos and apartments in an area that was once a community of Latino families. This restructuring of the city further exacerbates San Francisco’s homeless epidemic.

Hector Sanchez, has felt the pressure of the increasing cost of living and made the decision to move to Oakland, preferring a longer commute to work over the congested and pricey neighborhood. “I’ve lived here all my life and I just moved, it’s so overpopulated and it is really expensive,” Sanchez said.

This idea of commuting to the city is becoming an increasing phenomenon, as more and more people who work in the Mission cannot afford to actually live there. Take Isaac Payne, store manager at Mission oddity shop, Paxton Gate who commutes from Walnut Creek to get to the city.

In a city facing such radical changes the Mission is fighting to retain it’s identity, with community organizations such as Calle 24 leading the front to keep the neighborhood’s Latino heritage alive.

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