Digital Projects

My interest in the Mission District of San Francisco started when I first visited El Tecolote, a bilingual neighborhood newspaper on 24th Street in the Mission. After diving into the newspaper’s rich archive, I was struck by its function as a tool for community building – for mobilizing residents in the neighborhood, for connecting them to resources and events, for promoting activism, and for warning the Mission’s inhabitants of unsafe spaces. From early on in the research process, I’ve wanted to craft a series of maps that seek to demonstrate how this local newspaper connected residents to the neighborhood that surrounded them, and also how it connected Mission Latinos to the larger city and region (especially through culture, activism, and social services).

Gathering data and implementing a series of maps is one of my primary research goals for this academic year, and what follows is a teaser of sorts. The maps below offer a brief glimpse of the possibilities that these maps of the Mission might hold. These maps include data from 1970-1974, a dataset that I’m actively extending by OCR’ing newspaper records, finding mentions of places / safety / community, and pairing this data with GPS data.

The first map shows data from El Tecolote’s “Noticiero” section that offered a calendar of local events, alongside other miscellaneous listings like job postings and short blurbs about social services. The locations mentioned, while spread throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area, were densest in the Mission. This density demonstrates the newspaper’s dedication to supporting local establishments, events, and resources, while also celebrating the importance of proximity and walking distance to these features in an urban area. Guiding residents to these spaces, El Tecolote ensured that residents could meet their needs (e.g. finding a bilingual dentist or day care), enjoy the cultural offerings of the Mission’s Latino cultural institutions, and locate events and celebrations nearby.

These listings are spread among community organizations, social services, locally-owned businesses, and public spaces, and in my larger project, I consider the importance of mobilizing residents to each of these types of spaces. Using public spaces for gathering and socializing, for example, was important to Latinos in the Mission District. Dolores Park, the BART plazas, the 24th Street Mini-Park, and other public spaces provided residents spaces to gather, celebrate, socialize, and speak out. The maps I’m currently creating look at these mentions of spaces throughout a twenty-year span (1970-1990) to examine how the neighborhood changes and how residents shift in their use of local spaces. These maps also show the shifting boundaries of the Mission, the ebb and flow of “safe spaces,” and the connections binding Mission Latinos to radical activists throughout the Bay Area and even throughout Latin America. Creating these maps provide a dynamic visualization and research tool for the history of the Mission District and Latinos in San Francisco.

Using these maps, we can visualize how the Mission’s pockets of safe spaces – Mexican bakeries, legal help centers, and Latino art galleries. Quite often, however, the spaces around these spots were not so safe. For example, a resident may have felt comfortable speaking Spanish while buying groceries at a local store but then faced harassment from the police while walking home. Another may have felt safe while receiving help with immigration paperwork but went to work where they were paid an unfair wage. Another series of maps I am creating consider how the newspaper identified unsafe places for Mission residents – spaces to be cautious in and watch one’s surroundings more carefully.

The map below identifies some of these types of spaces mentioned in the newspaper, which I’ve broadly categorized as follows:

  • Crime and Violence
  • Cultural or Racial Discrimination
  • Labor or Economic Problems
  • Police
  • Urban Redevelopment and Gentrification
  • Other

Clicking on each point reveals further details about the incident that I pulled from El Tecolote.

Sites of physical violence and of labor, economic, cultural, or educational discrimination increased near the borders of the Mission as Latinos encountered more outsiders like police and neighborhood newcomers. El Tecolote helped residents recognize these spaces as dangerous so that they could avoid them or at least increase their vigilance as they moved through them. For example, the paper detailed five intersections with high crime rates near the northern border of the Mission (Bill Garcia, “Police and the Mission Part 2,” El Tecolote, June 16, 1971). While the neighborhood’s boundaries may have been most dangerous to Latinos, hostile spaces existed throughout the Mission. For example, the paper described businesses that discriminated against Latinos as unwelcoming spaces – a Safeway grocery store in its labor and produce-buying practices and thrift stores and mechanics for selling poor-quality goods and by promoting gimmicky sales like “Dollar Days” (“Safeway Does It Again,” El Tecolote, September 29, 1971; Dorinda Moreno Gladden, “Second Hand Stores,” El Tecolote, January 26, 1971). By noting these occurrences, El Tecolote perhaps created a more watchful populace prepared to defend the neighborhood.

These maps provide only the briefest of introductions to what I hope to accomplish in my efforts to gather and map data from El Tecolote, but hopefully demonstrate the fruitful possibilities of pursuing this research.