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Upscale culture and gang violence share a small space

In San Francisco's Mission District, gang violence is layered atop the flourishing restaurant and club scene that has grown up in recent years.

September 21, 2011|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

The echoes of that era are strong. Neighborhood native and filmmaker Vero Majano just bought a poster at auction that was crafted in 2000 by an anti-displacement coalition. It shows two upscale white diners and proclaims, "Come Enjoy the Mission. CLEANER WHITER BRIGHTER Tablecloths." The message, Majano said, is "almost timeless about what's happening in the Mission," reflecting a cluelessness by newcomers that the neighborhood has a deep-rooted culture — including long-standing gang issues.

Still, many believe the latest revival is different. "There's a lot of interest by the younger kids in the history of the Mission," said Chavez, a longtime resident. "They may not speak Spanish, but they're interested in knowing the stories."

Matt Martin, 37, who pulled his silver scooter into a neighborhood alley one recent evening before meeting friends for dinner, called the Mission a "complicated onion."

The first-grade teacher's example? A tenth of a mile separates Valencia Street, with its array of trendy restaurants and boutiques, from Mission Street, which bustles with Mexican discount clothing stores, beauty shops and botanicas.

It is that diversity that draws most newcomers, Martin said, although he concedes that for plenty of others it's about "'I like cheap taquerias when I'm drunk at 2:30 a.m.'"

Tea, who recently moved out of a flat near the site where Puch-tzek was killed, said her friends in the neighborhood are concerned with the closeness of the violence. "Everyone's talking," she said.

But for Alfaro, more concrete efforts from businesses and residents to reach out to Mission youth would go further than talk.

"To me, it feels like there's a lack of engagement," he said. "There hasn't been that spirit of cooperation, and I think there needs to be.... It's our kids who are getting shot."

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