Lots of people complain about changes in San Francisco. They see technology workers as threats to the city they love. I get it, but I don’t agree. Witness my recent post “Deported from San Francisco: A Fable.” Why? Many complainers conveniently define themselves as real San Franciscans and anyone who arrived in town a day later as pretenders.
We’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. I’m both. People always have moved to find better opportunities. San Francisco didn’t exist as a major city—and an instant one at that—until the 1850s when the Gold Rush drew newcomers from around the world. They built a “hella” city. Their efforts, not their birth records, made them San Franciscans.
So what am I? Could be I’m a real New Yorker. I was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens. But I’ve basically been away since I went off to college at eighteen. I lived in Texas for a while (San Antonio) and settled in San Francisco forty years ago. Would people who’ve moved to Manhattan or Brooklyn in the last decade consider me a real New Yorker now?
Do four decades in the Richmond District make me a real San Franciscan? I worked here, started a business, bought a home, brought up three children and became involved in public schools and my synagogue. I remember Mayor Joe Alioto, Giants shortstop Johnny LeMaster, the Omelette Parlor at SFO (best pancakes around), Blum’s at Macys, Bernstein’s Fish Grotto and Muni’s green-and-cream buses and streetcars (fare: 25¢). Do I count? Would I count with thirty years residency? Twenty?
What about my kids? They’re native San Franciscans. But my oldest son lives in Los Angeles. My middle son lives an hour east of Nashville, Tennessee. My youngest son lives here, but he spent three years at Humboldt State, a year in New York and another in Detroit before returning. Was it wrong for him to come back? Are my other two kids welcome?
Yes, San Francisco is changing. That’s only natural. Cities are akin to living organisms. They constantly evolve. That also goes for neighborhoods. Irish and Italians lived in the Mission before Latinos. Jews filled the Western Addition before African Americans—and my own Richmond District before an exodus from Chinatown thanks to the old 55 Sutter bus. Even New York’s fabled Lower East Side was German and Irish before it was Jewish. As the Jews moved out, other ethnics moved in. Today, the Lower East Side is hip.
Maybe it’s natural to think that those who come to a place after us lack bona fides. But what makes someone a San Franciscan or New Yorker or Chicagoan or whatever is the commitment they make to their city. It takes time to sink roots. But no law says people can’t pass through as they seek the place that’s right for them.
San Francisco’s challenges, marked by high rents and home prices, are very real. Placing the blame on people who make a good living is bogus. Turf wars hurt, not help. We can and should treat each other with more respect—and find genuine solutions while we’re at it.
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Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books, too.