Finding Hope in Art: The Murals of the Mission in San Francisco
A few weeks ago I met up with two of my closest friends in San Francisco. I’m not really a “girls’ weekend” kind of person — that is, I tend to put fun last on my to do list. Usually when I leave my family, it’s for writing, even if writer friends’ are involved. However, when my-best-friend-since-third-grade, Paula, called and said she REALLY needed a getaway, I knew I had to show up. Our dear-friend-since-seventh-grade, June, was also down. Let the fun begin!
I found us a charming B & B that had once been a brothel. The nice people the Monte Cristo kept us happy with homemade cookies, scones, fudge, and breakfast made to order. We also spent a lot of time eating and drinking our way around the Hayes Valley neighborhood, thanks to Paula’s niece, a student at nearby University of San Francisco.
My favorite part of the trip turned out to be a tour of the murals of San Francisco’s Mission District, arranged by Paula. We met with a guide from Precita Eyes Muralists, a nonprofit organization that creates murals and offers art classes to benefit the Mission’s diverse community. If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, this area was originally populated by the Ohlone tribe, who were enslaved by Franciscan missionaries to build the Mission San Francisco, the city’s oldest building. After World War II, the Mission began to attract Mexican families, and later, immigrants from Central America, and remains the city’s Latinx center today (and famous for its ginormous burritos!)
The morning of our mural tour, my friends and I heard about the terrible mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Although there was no way to avoid feeling the pain of this terrible tragedy, (nor should we try to escape that pain, if we hope to ever address the issue gun violence) spending two hours discovering art steeped in an activist tradition proved heartening and uplifting.
Our tour guide shared several stories about how creating these murals brought the people of the neighborhood together. My friends and I took a photo in front of one artwork created on site where people lost their lives to gang violence. Many different members of the community came together to paint this mural and instill new energy here.
As much as our country and world is struggling right now, as much harm as we human beings do to one another, we also share the impulse to create, to collaborate, to make meaning and beauty. Maybe it was partly the pleasure of spending time with old friends and partly the perfect sunshine, but I ended the mural tour feeling more hopeful than I have in a long time. Next time you go to San Francisco, consider having a look.