San Francisco’s history is rooted in Latino culture
San Francisco’s history, heritage, arts, culture and comida have roots that extend far south of the U.S. border.
Spanish missionaries arrived in San Francisco (then known as Yerba Buena) in 1776. A Catholic priest named Father Palou founded Mission San Francisco de Asis, which still stands in the Mission District as Mission Dolores on 16th and Dolores streets. It is the oldest structure in San Francisco.
California and Mexico were part of Spanish territory until 1821, when Mexican independence marked the end of European rule in California. The missions’ influence shrank while ranching and trade increased.
Latino Culture in Post-Mexican California
The Mexican-American war (1846-1848) ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In that treaty, the United States agreed to pay Mexico $18,250,000; Mexico formally ceded California (and other northern territories) to the United States.
Mexican citizens living in these territories became Americans "overnight," although the terms of the treaty gave these Mexicans one year to accept their American political status. The treaty granted them full rights of citizenship as well as protection of Mexican-American language, culture and land, although the articles dealing with land protections were later removed prior to ratification by Congress.
The vast majority of Latinos chose to stay and become full U.S. citizens. Although the treaty promised that the landowners in this newly acquired territory would enjoy full enjoyment and protection of their property as if they were citizens of the United States, many former citizens of Mexico lost their land in lawsuits before state and federal courts or as a result of legislation passed after the treaty. Most land grantees and their families retreated south.
During the California Gold Rush, at least 25,000 Mexicans, as well thousands of Chileans, Peruvians, and other Latin Americans arrived in California. Many of these Latinos were experienced miners and had great success mining gold in California. Their success aroused animosity by Anglo prospectors who intimidated Hispanic miners with the threat of violence and committed violence against some. Anglo miners also drove Hispanic miners out of their camps, barred non-Anglos from testifying in court and imposed exclusionary standards similar to Jim Crow laws in the case of African-Americans. Between 1848 and 1860, at least 163 Mexicans were lynched in California alone. Many Anglo 49ers turned to farming and moved, often illegally, onto the land granted to Californios by the old Mexican government.
In the early 1900s Mexican and Mexican American migrant farm workers labored under squalid conditions in California. At that time, the Mexican Revolution and the series of Mexican civil wars that followed pushed many Mexicans north. Many U.S. farm owners recruited Mexicans and Mexican Americans because they believed that these desperate workers would tolerate living conditions that workers of other races would not.
Mexican workers often earned more in the United States than they could in Mexico's civil war economy, although California farmers paid Mexican and Mexican American workers significantly less than white American workers. By the 1920s, at least three quarters of California's 200,000 farm workers were Mexican or Mexican American.
During The Great Depression, the United States government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will. More than 500,000 individuals were deported, approximately 60 percent of which were actually United States citizens.
The attack on Pearl Harbor launched the U.S. into World War II and sent men to the military and the California Japanese to internment camps. Lobbied by frantic growers, the federal government scrambled to establish a program that would replace the missing workers and be ready for the harvest of 1943.
The contract labor agreement between the U.S. and Mexico was known as the Bracero Program (bracero from the Spanish word brazo for arm, meaning strong-armed worker).
By the 1950s, some workers had sent for families and settled into a new life. A worker with a green card could stay on at the end of the harvest season if a rancher agreed to employ him year-round. By the end of World War II in 1945, the agricultural program under various forms survived until 1964, when the two governments ended it as a response to harsh criticisms and reports of human rights abuses.
During the 1940s through the 1960s, large numbers of Mexicans moved into San Francisco’s Mission District, giving it the Latino character it is known for today. During the 1980s and 1990s, immigrants and refuges fleeing civil wars from Central and South America joined the Mexican population. Today, the neighborhood is ethnically and economically diverse, comprising half Latino, one-third Anglo (White) and 11 percent Asian.
Modern Latino Culture
Numerous Latino artistic and cultural institutions are based in the Mission, as the district is known. The Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, established by Chicano (Mexican-American) artists and activists, is a rich art space serving all ages of the community. It is considered the “epicenter of Latino culture,” with rotating exhibits, classes and lectures.
The Mission’s Galería de la Raza, founded in the 1970s by local artists active in el Movimiento (the Chicano civil rights movement), is nationally recognized as one of the Bay Area’s respected arts organizations.
Balmy Alley Mural Project is a small alley in the Mission where visitors can see a collection of murals painted by Mexican and Central American artists. Many murals were initiated by the Chicano Art Mural Movement in the 1970s and inspired by traditional Mexican paintings made famous by Diego Rivera; many can be found on Balmy and Clarion alleys.
The Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center has guides available to show murals in San Francisco either by foot or bicycle.
While the Mission District is a magnet for all-things Latino, other parts of San Francisco also feature murals from Diego Rivera. These include: The Pacific Stock Exchange, the San Francisco Art Institute and San Francisco City College.
The Ancient Americas collection at the de Young Museum houses collection of objects from Mesoamerica, Central and South America. Specifically, The Harald Wagner Collection of Teotihuacan Murals, the largest group of Teotihuacan wall murals outside of Mexico, a Peruvian mouth mask of hammered gold from the Nazca culture.
The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) features Latino art as part of its commitment to the San Francisco Bay Area to support local arts and reflect the region's diversity. The YBCA has included Teresa Fernández and Julio Cesar Morales and other local artists in its exhibits.
Annually during Memorial Day weekend, the Mission District celebrates Latino culture with “Carnaval,” the largest multi-cultural event in San Francisco showcasing the best of Latin American and Caribbean cultures and traditions. Food, music, dance and art span eight blocks, with a brightly festive parade culminating on Sunday.
Latino-inspired Annual Eventsnspired Annual Events
Cinco de Mayo (May 5)
Dolores Park, Dolores and 18th St., 415-206-0577
This community-based cultural heritage event commemorates the self-determination of the indigenous people of Mexico.
Mission District, 415-920-0122
San Francisco's version of Mardi Gras, Carnival is one of the City’s largest annual public events, and features exotic Carnaval dancers with a mixture of Latino, jazz, samba, Caribbean influences. Carnival’s festive parade on Sunday morning draws upon a broad cultural pageantry.
Viva Las Americas!*
Pier 39, 415-705-5500
Hispanic heritage is the focus of this event, featuring music and dance performances commemorating the artistry of Mexico and Central and South America. Face-painting and craft-making for kids.
October - November
Day of the Dead
Mission Cultural Center*
2868 Mission St.
The Mission Cultural Center exhibits Day of the Dead alters, and organizes workshops and other Day of the Dead events.
Latino Film Festival*
Castro Theater, Galeria de la Raza, Mission Cultural Center and other venues, 415-454-4039
This quickly-growing festival spotlights the best in U.S. premieres, documentaries, features and shorts emerging from Latin America and Latino filmmakers.
Upscale restaurants specializing in cuisine south of the border are located throughout the City. These include:
Colibri* (Union Square)
438 Geary St.
Destino* (Hayes Valley)
1815 Market St.
Maya* (South of Market)
303 2nd St., # 130
Mexico DF* (South of Market)
139 Steuart St.
Tres Agaves* (South of Market)
130 Townsend St.
Zazil* (Union Square)
845 Market St., # 400
The Mission District is the center of Latino culture, and the neighborhood includes inexpensive Mexican, El Salvadorean, Nicaraguan and other South American food. Some restaurants to satisfy a craving include:
El Toro Taqueria
598 Valencia St. (at 17th St.)
2889 Mission St. (between 24th and 25th streets)
3318 Mission St.
San Miguel Guatemalan Cuisine
3263 Mission St.
Dolores Park, named after Mission Dolores, boasts 13.7 acres bounded by 18th St. on the north, 20th St. to the south, Dolores St. to the east and Church St. to the west. It features recreational areas, and has been a center for cultural activities since the 1960s. It has hosted political rallies, festivals, Aztec ceremonial dances and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. It also is home to a statue of Miguel Hidalgo, a liberator-priest who is considered the “George Washington” of Mexico, donated by Mexico.
Stores and galleries that sell Mexican, El Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Peruvian popular art populate San Francisco.
Polanco Gallery in Hayes Valley is the Bay Area's only gallery devoted exclusively to the arts of Mexico. The gallery features old lacquer trunks and boxes from Olinala, Guerrero; puppets and marionettes from 1920's Puebla and Mexico's major theatrical companies; ceramics, vases, and plates from Puebla, Oaxaca, and other states.
393 Hayes St.
Encantata Gallery in the Mission also has Day of the Dead art, Mexican jewelry, ceramics, home decor, bags and books.
904 Valencia Street
(between 20th and Liberty streets)
Casa Bonampak in the Mission has fair trade Latin American imports, including Day of the Dead art, folk art, clothing, cards and papél picado.
1051 Valencia Street
For more shopping ideas, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.
Whether its salsa, meringue, samba or cumbia, the Mission District features a vibrant night life for salseros to cut loose. Some suggestions:
650 Indiana St.
3140 Mission St.
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.
Golden Gate Park
Media contact: Jill Lynch, 415 750-3553
Galería de la Raza
2857 24th St
Media contact: Carolina Ponce de Leon, executive director,
Mission Cultural Center
2868 Mission St.
Media contact: Jennie Rodriguez, 415-643-2778
2981 24th St.
Media contact: Susan Cervantes, 415-285-2287
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission St.
Media contact: Kimberly Kuni Harding, 415-321-1307
Diego Rivera murals:
Pacific Stock Exchange, (Alegoría de California, 1931), 115 Sansome St.
San Francisco Art Institute Diego Gallery, 800 Chestnut St., 415-771-7020
City College San Francisco, 50 Phelan Ave., Media contact: Debra Porter Valdez, 415-239-3127.
*San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau member
# # #
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The San Francisco Visitors Planning Guide is available at the Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St., at the corner of Powell and Market streets, lower level, Hallidie Plaza. A visitor's kit may also be ordered online at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com, by phone at 415-391-2000 or 415-392-0328 (TTY/TTD), by written request to the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, 900 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94102, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Domestic and international shipping charges apply.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers non-stop links with more than 30 international points on 25 international carriers. The Bay Area's largest airport connects non-stop with more than 65 cities in the U.S. on 20 domestic airlines. For up-to-the-minute departure and arrival information, airport maps and details on shopping, dining, cultural exhibitions, ground transportation and more, visit www.flysfo.com.
Note to editors: To access and download images from the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau’s online photo gallery, click on the link http://www.sfcvb.org/travel_media/photolibrary.asp.
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