Mourning with my Neighbors

Last Saturday my dad, my brother, Isaiah, and I had the opportunity to march and mourn alongside our neighbors on the anniversary Alex Nieto’s death. Alex was shot 14 times by police on Bernal hill after a dogwalker called 911 and reported suspicious activity. Alex was a security guard at a nightclub in the city and carried his licensed taser at his hip. He was a practicing Buddhist, a pacifist, community college student, provider for his family, and, according to his best friend, dreamed of becoming a youth mentor at Juvenile Hall.

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The memorial service started at the site of the shooting with an inclusive, interfaith service, after which we marched procession style to Mission Cultural Center a few blocks away. Along the way we stopped at the sites of other young men’s deaths. Some were lost to peer violence; others, like Alex, were victims of police brutality. One of these victims, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, was killed only two weeks ago– shot six times just around the corner from my house. We stopped traffic along the way, marching down the middle of the street, calling out for justice in alternating Spanish and English. Amidst the tragedy of the situation it was beautiful and humbling to see neighbors of all backgrounds coming together to peacefully protest and remember. 18124_10152725397095671_5325542933247161693_n

Despite this unity it was still hard not to feel like an outsider. I didn’t know anyone except the people I came with; it’s hard to get to know people here. I hadn’t known Alex, but I felt compelled to be present and support those who had. As I’ve grown up I’ve come to realize that love is more an action than a feeling. I would like to find ways to know my neighbors better, but in the meantime I can still love them. This isn’t necessarily something I am very good at yet.

As I wrote in my last blog post, my neighborhood hasn’t always felt like a very safe place to be, especially as a young woman. I feel guilty knowing that I may have walked past Alex or Amilcar at some point and either ignored or actively avoided them–a response to young men on the street that quickly became second-nature to me after I hit puberty. It’s hard to love people when you’re afraid of them, and I don’t want to live in that fear, but I do want to be practical. The more I think about it, the more I realize that taking the action to love my neighborhood won’t be a simple process.

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I am thankful to the community organizers and activists who brought us together on Saturday to march for Alex, I am deeply saddened by the injustice of police brutality and the lack of atonement shown by our law enforcement. I recognize that this abuse of power disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. I want to know how to support my neighbors in their grief and fear, and how to stand up for what is right, especially in a context where I have so much privilege. (In case you hadn’t noticed, police don’t gun down young, white women with any comparable frequency.) However, I do know that my distance from the fear experienced by my (primarily) latin@ neighbors means that a large part of my role is to listen to them, mourn with them, and echo their experiences.

Further reading about Alex Nieto, the memorial, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez:

Justice for Alex Nieto: a page run by his friends and family.

Mission Local shares neighbor’s accounts of Amilcar’s shooting.

Mission Local article on Alex Nieto memorial.

Loving my Neighborhood as it Changes

As anyone who has ever asked me about my city or my neighborhood knows, I love the place I live with a passion. My mom often tries to come up with scenarios in which I could be persuaded to move elsewhere and I am unfailingly stubborn in my loyalty to my city. I have lived in the house I live in now since I was four years old. However what it means to live here has changed vastly since then.

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7-year-old Hailey at a neighborhood art show

 

When we moved here, I thought I was the only blonde girl in all of San Francisco because I rarely saw other white kids in our primarily Latin neighborhood. Growing up, I soon learned that other people were scared of my neighborhood. And there were scary things. People got shot a lot in my neighborhood. Things got stolen; no hipster would have dreamed of leaving their fixie bike chained to a parking meter on 24th street when I was little. As a kid and young teenager I saw cars get stolen, drug deals go down, women threatened at knife point, all from my bedroom window.

My parents encouraged us to love our neighbors and our neighborhood not only in spite of its scariness, but because the scary things meant our neighbors needed the love. We picked up trash around the park on a regular basis, for a while we made pancakes with our homeless neighbors under the freeway once a week, we went swimming at the rec center and we played at the neighborhood parks with other kids who lived nearby. There were lots of things my brothers and I loved about our neighborhood. We could walk to the library, the corner store sold Now and Laters candy for only 25 cents a pack and we could buy sweet Mexican pastries from any number of panaderias. The hill by our house was perfect for adventures and by the time I was ten or eleven we could walk all over it by ourselves.

Between the scariness of frequent shootings and richness of culture and variety of places to eat, learn, and play, my neighborhood and I developed a very close bond. It’s safe to say that this is the only place in the world that feels like home to me.However, as I have gotten older and my neighborhood has shifted with the tech boom and influx of new people, new businesses and new culture, I have realized that there is a disconnect between how I feel about my neighborhood and how I am seen in it. Although many of my neighbors recognize me from the almost two decades I have lived here, others don’t and from some of them I feel the resentment towards the hipster “gentrifier” they perceive me as. Sometimes this resentment is verbalized, other times it manifests in stormy glares or refusal to give right of way when I am walking. The thing is, I completely understand it. This is not a post about gentrification, I would need more time to write on such a complicated issue, but I do know that the changes being brought to my neighborhood create tension between the “locals” and the “gentrifiers”, “hipsters” and “techies”. Everyone here knows someone who had to move because it’s getting too expensive, even though many of us (my family included) moved to this part of the city because it was the part we could afford to live in. I catch myself glaring at the google bus and the new, hip pop-up boutiques. I worry that when I move out of my parents house I will no longer be able to live in my neighborhood, which breaks my heart because this is the only place that will ever feel like this for me.

The neighborhood and I have changed alongside one another as I’ve grown up. We’ve been through tough times together and we’ve celebrated together, we’ve mourned and marched and worked together to make this a safe community. When I was seven I wrote to the mayor and chief of police; our car had been broken into and I felt upset and rattled. Police rarely ventured into our neighborhood at that time. If we called to report a shooting or a drug transaction taking place on our front steps it took them far too long to get here and often they were too late to do anything. I wrote, pleading to the leaders of the city to make my neighborhood, my home, safer. We saw an upswing of positive police presence that year and it gave little Hailey hope and a sense of empowerment to see that change effected. Fourteen years later, I’ve marched to protest the police brutality that has been increasingly common in my neighborhood. I still long to see change and peace in my community. I long to help make it a safe place for the people who live here to get to know each other and flourish together. I want to have the same hopefulness that seven-year-old Hailey had about bringing people together, but I also recognize that to many I appear to be an outsider. I may not be perceived as belonging here, but nowhere else is home either.

I am still trying to figure out how to love my ever-shifting community through the tensions and challenges it faces. I want to take on new actions to love my neighbors, but as a college student with an ever-shifting schedule as well as limited time and money, I am not sure how that looks yet. I am excited to experiment with intentionality in this area of my life, however, so this won’t be the last time you hear about this.