No room left in San Francisco for an artist who helped make the Mission what is - Page 3

Join the march to support Rene Yañez and others facing eviction

Rio and Rene Yañez
Jess Young

When something broke in their building, Yañez and his family often did not even tell the landlord about it. If they did ask him to fix something, and he ignored their request, no complaints were ever made. “Because of rent control, we tried to keep a low profile,” Yañez acknowledges. “We tried not to bother the landlord or make too much of a fuss, because we did not want to find ourselves in this position.”

Rene has been aware of how precarious his situation is for years. Iantorno attempted to evict him multiple times. He watched as neighbors, nonprofit organizations, and local artists accepted their own eviction notices without a fight. When he first opened the Galeria in 1970, Yañez had a list of artists living in the Mission that neared 200 names. Today, it does not even reach 20.

“Since 2000, they’ve started this thing in the Mission,” he states. “They were very quiet about it at first, but now it’s accelerating. Willie Brown started it, this trend of redevelopment, eviction, displacing people without consideration. He opened up this gaping wound in the Mission, and now these developers are throwing salt on it, trying to kill the patient,” he chuckles. “People get really upset when somebody paints over a mural, like, ‘It has history, it has value, it’s been here for years,’ but they don’t have anything to say if the muralist gets evicted.”

Legally, there is not much that Yañez and his family can do in the coming year to stop their eviction. Even an advocate like Cook admits, “You can’t reverse an Ellis Act. All you can do is fight it, try to make it clear that it’s not worth the landlord’s while, that they’re gonna be in for a world of headaches, costs, and public shaming if they do this.”

Yañez has not accepted the eviction, but he is preparing for the worst, searching for a new home for Cynthia and himself. He continues to scour the Mission, in vain. “I love the Mission,” he explains. “I’ve been there 40 years. I adopted it, it adopted me. And it needs cultural preservation,” he says, curling his hands into fists that bang the air. “We saved the community from really greedy people who had absolutely no interest in who we were as a people. They just saw us as savages standing in the way of them making money. That attitude is still here. It’s actually worse than ever—unregulated and devastating. When I see the trucks moving people out, older people who have no idea where they’re going, sometimes they go downtown to the hotels—I just think it’s really heartless,” he finishes, his eyes wide in earnesty.

Guardian of San Francisco culture that he may be, Rene and Cynthia Yañez will be forced to leave the city in search of somewhere more affordable if their eviction occurs. In that event, there is little chance that the elderly man will be able to return to the city to curate SOMArts annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition as he has every year since he began it.

“I’m hoping that I can hang in. It’s a throw of the dice, but I still have some miles left in me,” he says, his eyes drooping wearily.

There is a chance that the exhibition, which opened today (Friday/11), might be Yañez’s last. Every year, he changes the theme. This November, the Dia de los Muertos exhibition is dedicated to all the living battling cancer, and  all the dead for whom that battle is over. Each piece is haunting, and all together it is a stunning collection encompassing a range of ages and races to touch any and every person that sees it. Like a loved one lost to cancer, the exhibit leaves you wanting more, yet so grateful fpr what you have experienced.

His last or not, it is something that Yañez can be very proud of.

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