PROJECTS > The Mission Y2K

“The Mission Y2K?” is a research and public art project by artist John Jota Leaños in collaboration with three students from the San Francisco High School of the Arts (SOTA). The primary objective of the work was to establish a creative partnership that would extend out into the larger community of San Francisco. The project resulted in a public digital mural and a gallery exhibition at the Galería de la Raza that artistically mapped a historical cycle of displacement and resistance in the Mission District of San Francisco. The digital mural and documentation was displayed at 24th and Bryant Street from November, 1999 to March, 2000.

Historical Background
It became evident in our research that along with stories of success were repeating themes of displacement and abuse in the history of immigration in the United States and especially of that in the Bay Area. We identified our interest in dealing with an issue prevalent to the contemporary urban context of San Francisco and began to focus on the dramatic economic changes of San Francisco by examining the way in which these changes transformed communities. These insights led us to an in-depth study of the present and historic changes of the Mission District of San Francisco.

The Mission District is a historically poor, immigrant district of San Francisco that has gone through many variations from the time when the Ohlone Indians traversed the area until the present SUV tromping. Since the mid-forties, the Mission’s demographic has been predominantly Latino, but has always produced a rare cultural blend. The research was directed at revealing the cultural diversity of the district; however, this was stymied by the lack of data encountered on the Mission. It was through research into these empty spaces and untold stories of the district's forgotten histories that we were able to recognize tendencies of genocide, “culturacide,” removal and resistance to these forces that span from the 17th century until the present. We collected written documents, oral histories and historic images to recreate and pay homage to the infinite number of floating, undocumented stories that hover in and around the southern part of the peninsula.

The project sought to activate historical memory by juxtaposing advanced capitalistic techno-visions of a futuristic monoculture informed by historical amnesia with erased peoples and cultures that have once occupied the space of the Mission. The digital mural project considered the neighborhood’s rich history of mural making as well as the influx of corporate billboards as it referenced the mural aesthetic while straddling the line of advertising language. Essentially, the billboard stood as a creative form of resistance to the oppressive economic forces of gentrification all-too-present in San Francisco.

The following are a few written samples of the historical documentation presented to the public in November of 1999:

Document No. 1998-1
Data: Lilli Ann Whitewashed
Historical Narrative:
In 1998, the mural "Lilli Ann" painted by Jesus "Chuy" Campusano was whitewashed by the new owner of the building on 17th and Harrison. This violent act was done without the consent of Chuy, who died a year earlier, or the Campusano family in direct violation of the California Art Preservation Act. The new owner of the building unexpectedly came under enormous pressure to restore the mural through community protests, media attention, art interventions and even a hex put on the wall by a local Brujo. The public outrage led to a lawsuit that was recently settled for an unprecedented amount of $200,000 in damages to a public piece awarded to the Campusano family. The mural, unfortunately, will not be restored. The "MISSION Y2K?" mural is dedicated to the memory of Chuy, his mural and all of the erased and neglected public artworks of the Mission district.

Document No. 1795
Data: Ohlone Flee Mission
Historical Narrative:
By the end of the 18th century the majority of the Ohlone Indians were subjects of Spanish colonization and bound to hard labor on the Mission Dolores ranch. In 1795, a large group of Ohlone fled Mission Dolores toward the hills in the East Bay. Spanish soldiers at the Presidio conducted a hunt in order to bring the Indians back to the Mission. The Spanish were unable to recover many of the "escaped" Indians. This documented Resistance is monumental to the memory of a Mission culture that has largely been forgotten.
Around this time, a US Surveyor wrote:

"Never before in history has a people been swept away with such terrible swiftness, or appalled into utter and whispering silence forever, as were the California Indians."

Document No. 1980-s
Data: Low Riders Outlawed
Historical Narrative:
During the 1970s and 80s Low Rider culture thrived in the Mission District's diverse Latino culture. Cruising Mission and 24th Streets became a ritual in the district as low riders developed a unique art form and subculture. San Francisco authorities, however, associated low riders with gang activity and began a systematic crackdown on the culture. During the early 1980s, police tactics of setting curfews, measuring the distance of a car's bumper to the ground and prohibiting left turns along Mission St. led to the expulsion and displacement of low rider culture in San Francisco. The mural reproduced here was painted by Derrik O'Keeffe in 1975 at the same temporary billboard site of the Galería de la Raza.

Document No. 1969-71
Data: BART on the Backs
Historical Narrative:
In 1970, 22% of the Mission District residents lived under the poverty line. The extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system into the Mission was hailed as the key to economic recovery in the district. BART construction along Mission St. began in 1969 with promises of revitalization and ended in 1971 with many displaced residents. During this period the parking and shopping were disrupted causing a considerable amount of small and marginal businesses to go out of business. The BART mural painted at 24th and Mission St. in 1975 by Mike Rios depicts the ambivalent question of BART being held up by the people or riding on the backs of the lower classes. The image is produced here to bring to light the complexities within the promises of "revitalization" and "urban renewal.”

Document No. 1990-s
Data: Rent Prices Triples, . . .
Historical Narrative:
In 1997, the median rent in the Mission soared to $1,600. At the time, less than 25% of the District's residents could afford the median rent based on their incomes. A three-bedroom apartment that rented for $723 in 1997 now rents for $2,750. This trend of rent increases and gentrification has been perpetuated by the 150% increase in the number of "Owner Move-In" evictions between 1994 and 1997. Within this short period of time, The Mission has seen an influx of over-priced sit-down restaurants, vintage clothing stores, antique salons, etc. In fact, on Valencia St. between 16th and 18th St. more than 50% of businesses turned over (29 in all) within a two-year span. This is problematic in that many working-class residents of the area cannot afford to patronize these businesses that cater to the new haut-bourgeoisie of the Silicon boom.