No room left in San Francisco for an artist who helped make the Mission what is

Join the march to support Rene Yañez and others facing eviction

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Rio and Rene Yañez
Jess Young

After four decades living and creating art in the Mission, iconic San Francisco artist and curator Rene Yañez is being threatened with eviction.

Yañez made local history in 1972 when he brought Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead, to San Francisco. The parade through the Mission District every Nov. 2 quickly became a Bay Area tradition, drawing thousands of people each year.

He founded the Galeria de la Raza and brought Latin America’s premier artists and photographers to showcase their work there. When the Museum of Modern Art rejected the work of a little-known Mexican woman, it was Yañez who gave a young Frida Kahlo a space to exhibit her paintings. He taught art classes for youths in the community and offered crucial support to many of the Mission’s mural projects.

In 1998, the San Francisco Foundation awarded Rene the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership.” Now, the man who has contributed so much to the culture of this city finds himself on the verge of being expelled from it.

Rene’s impending eviction from the house on San Jose Avenue where he has lived for the for 35 years is producing a fierce reaction. Fellow artist and personal friend Guillermo Gómez-Peña recently released an open letter expressing his outrage and rallying for public support of Rene’s cause.

“You are being physically and culturally evicted,” Gómez-Peña writes. “Shame on this city! Shame on the greedy landlords and politicians! Your sadness is ours…A city without Rene Yañez…can’t be called San Francisco.”

Gómez-Peña’s cry to action will be answered tomorrow (Sat/12) at 2pm at the Brava Theater on 24th Street with Our Mission: No Eviction, a march in protest of the Ellis Act, the law used to evict all of the tenants living in the five-unit house on San Jose, including Rene, his partner Cynthia, his former wife Yolanda, and his son Rio. (For more on tomorrow's event and the city's eviction trend, see our Politics blog).

On Saturday, Oct. 26, Brava Theater in the Mission will host “Our Mission: No Eviction!” a fundraiser in honor of Rene and Yolanda featuring art and performances.  All proceeds from ticket sales to the event will go to the legal expenses of fighting the eviction, as well as Rene and Cynthia’s medical bills; both the artist and his partner are currently battling cancer.

“They were kind of at peace that this would be their home when they passed away, in the community they’ve put so much into,” Rio told us. “Cynthia could be dying or dead while they are in the process of moving.”

Under the Ellis Act, Rene and Cynthia qualify for a year-long postponement of their eviction because of their illness, a fact which their landlord, Sergio Iantorno of Golden Properties, LLC, neglected to tell Rene when he offered him $21,000 and a years’ free rent if he accepted his eviction immediately.

Consulting his lawyer, Raquel Fox, Yañez was informed about the legal extension and proceeded to successfully apply for it. Even without her advice, though, Yañez would not have accepted Iantorno’s offer. As Rio explained, that amount is nowhere near enough for Rene and Cynthia Yañez to get another place in San Francisco, especially in the neighborhood that they call home.

“They are in their 70s. They aren’t looking for a huge buyout so that they can start a new life,” Rio told us.

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