SF Stories: Benjamin Bac Sierra

Puro San Francisco

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GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY LISA CONGDON

46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL 

Puro San Fran: These words have inspired me to somewhere beyond my city and to someone beyond myself. Puro San Fran, I have howled into our smashed streets, into the lush jungles of Okinawa, death deserts of Saudi Arabia, the overly intellectual classrooms at U.C. Berkeley — into barrios worldwide.

Puro San Fran can be literally translated into Pure San Francisco, but what exactly is so pure about this Golden Gated city is the subject for this musing.

As an adolescent homeboy from our Mission district, I shouted Puro San Fran with anger, as a demand to combat. In different evolutions, though, St. Francis blessed me with different powers that forced me to confront profound paradoxes, within myself and my home.

Puro San Fran is more than a battle-cry; it is a meditation, a mantra that has soothed me and granted me an identity that has fueled my consciousness. I like to pride myself as a Missionero and Cortlandero before gentrification of those gritty hoods, but it is idealistic impurity to tell the tale that the Mission district is all I knew. I liked to claim those territories as if I, we, owned those streets, but those streets were only half my story.

A veteran Muni bus rider by age 11, I would graffiti tag my name and the name of our break dance crew all over every neighborhood — the Haight, Noe Valley, Soma (back when all that existed there were dull warehouses), the Sunset, Excelsior, etc. At 14 years old, we, brown skinned, would blow white angel-dust smoke halos into San Francisco's spitting seashore at Ocean Beach. During the crack-era 1980s, we would drink and fight at rat-infested Union Square, a home for black-bearded bums who we would share our Mad-Dog 20/20 wine with. Parading our poverty on 30th street after our many 49ers Superbowl victories, we proclaimed the streets as ours, not knowing or understanding that the actual tar and cement would be "rehabilitated" (gentrified) before we would be, so that now almost all of my former San Franeros have vanished outside its borders.

Except for very brief stints in backyard cities, I did not truly explore outside of San Francisco until I was seventeen and joined the Marine Corps. Before then, I had never even heard of other major Bay Area cities called Santa Rosa, Richmond, Berkeley, or Menlo Park. My world, my life was Puro San Fran, but it was that spirit that also charged me forward, so that now I have trumpeted our unique city everywhere I have traveled. With San Fran spirit, I thrust myself into becoming a student, a writer, a professor, a father, a sinner, and a fuller human being.

San Francisco is changing, as it has always been changing, but we are at our roots Native American hippie Missionary 49er Giant locos. Thanks to our counterculture tradition, we believe in peace and diversity as an essence, yet we contradict ourselves by also being hedonistic kings and queens who wear the golden crown of capitalism on the West Coast. What goes on in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what goes on here in San Fran becomes a permanent tattoo on our souls, and we like to believe we have them, that stuff of souls. We live in the moment trusting it is forever. Go to AT&T Park during the Giants playoffs; you will feel the forever, and you will fall in love with it. Puro San Fran, therefore, is a hopeless romantic nostalgia for something that never really existed but that always is possible. With that purity, that hopeless possibility, that profound paradox, I write and represent us all. Con Safos.

Benjamin Bac Siera is a San Francisco City College English composition and literature professor and author of Barrio Bushido, an ode to Mission District vato locos.

Comments

MUCH RESPETO OG, IM FEELIN THIS TO THE FULLEST. R.I.P. TO THE OLD FRISCO.....IT WILL NEVER BE THE SAME....

Posted by LOS TOASTED on Oct. 17, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

Orale Ben nobody could say it better! Puro San Fran Por Vida

Posted by Guest Traviesa on Oct. 18, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

Beautifully said, thank you. Funny thing I was just talking to my ex the other day that is it sad that, this generation, our children will never experience the kind of neighborhood or neighbors we grew up with. We were remembering the Latin man who would walk up & down mission street hair greased back talking to himself and spitting, he never bother no one and we as youngsters respected him. Than there was the Korean man who was fully dress in his military suit walking up & down Mission street to his military march, again the same respect was given. Then there was the big African American man with his big black briefcase who shopped Walgreen on 23rd back in the 80's 90's everyday, he was named WOLFMAN, he was scarey but never bothered anyone...these were the many faces of my childhood along with all my Mission friends..as you wrote: "Puro San Fran".

Again, thank you for Puro San Fran words.

Posted by Azucena "Cena" Amador on Oct. 19, 2012 @ 8:25 am

Born & raised in San Francisco Mission 3rd generation and now living in LALAland my heart is always drawn back to my first home. I to ran the streets of the Mission living life on the edge. Always proud of where I came from. Standing on Mission & 19th with my children watching Carnival every year to playing in Dolores Park and Mission playground as a child, then with my children, now with my grandchildren. Re: the comment above I too remember some of the people you speak about. The one person I remember most was a gentleman who wore a red suit and literally painted himself red. There were so many different nationalities on the block I lived on we could have represented half the world. India, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vietnamese, Irish, etc. Thats what I loved about my City.Thank you for putting a word to the way I have always felt "Puro San Fran".

Posted by GuestSFGIRL9 on Oct. 20, 2012 @ 7:19 am

Growing up in the Mission District in the early 80's was a blast.the city in Northern califas will always be San fran Mission.i remember the many hoods and good homies i shared those times with.we took pride in creasing our clothes and respect was mandatory or else.the low riders we built the tradition they new generation now cruise at carnavals. Hitting the switch as we sparked a leno.we would start on 24th then and end up in ocean beach smoking two more.setting the rules that must be followed by all Mlssion homies.the day's.........Much respect to all Nuestra gente in the Mighty Mission District.Big weez SFM

Posted by Guest big weez on Jan. 16, 2013 @ 11:57 am

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