Itzpapalotl on Dia de los Muertos in San Francisco’s dirty-hipster neighborhood, the Mission. (The translation and re-conjugation of verbs is my own doing.)

The Day of the Dead, in my neighborhood, is practically the only day in which being Mexican is cool; just as cool as having a fixed-gear bike or having seen the Infidels before they were famous. But just like any other foreign festival adapted to the taste of gringos, it must be scraped of all feeling.

In this case, it is imperative to put your Halloween costume back on, stagger out toward 24th and Valencia while drinking a Corona or something similar, and jumping up and down from the indiscriminate consumption of skull-shaped candies. They don’t take flowers, they don’t light candles, they have never seen ‘bread of the dead‘, they have no dead: they’re satisfied with their Pulp magazine and some memory of the Grateful Dead. Faces are painted like skulls, because that is the tradition, no?

They will discover that in Central America first we go to clean the graves and then organize a crazy carnival of brushes, rags, and a tub of water to spend three days shining holy objects.

The last word, fetiches, I translated as ‘holy objects’, but the direct translation is (well, duh) ‘fetishes.’ No, not like foot fetish. But the original definition of the word: An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.” It’s easy to see how the use of the word then changed to “any object, idea, etc., eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect, or devotion” … and then finally today’s common usage of, well, you know, getting freaky.

I bring all this up not only because I’m curious to see how many people will click on the outgoing links to fetish sites, but because a friend of mine once described San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood as one giant fetish. You get off at the 16th street BART station and you’re surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes. You’re also in one of the hippest neighborhoods in the entire world. It’s probably the only place where you can get a taco for either 50 cents or 15 dollars on the same block. The Mission is home to every type of hipster you can think of. Bicycle hipsters, bookish hipsters, punk band hipsters, hip-hop hipsters. There is no such thing as eccentricity in the Mission because to be eccentric is to be expectedly normal.

Half of the neighborhood is a pullout from The Fader. The other half? Latin America. According the U.S. Census Bureau, just about all Latinos in San Francisco live in the Mission. These aren’t third generation East LA Latinos … this is still an immigrant neighborhood through and through.


The crazy thing – especially when taking into consideration that San Francisco is the most liberal city in the entire US – is that the interaction between hipsters and Latin Americans in the Mission is entirely limited to that of buyer and seller, cook and consumer. Walking around the Mission reminds me of walking around Cuzco, Peru where colonial settlers built their cathedrals and palaces directly atop the foundations of old Incan structures. The entire city is built in layers.


Those layers also exist in the Mission … at least metaphorically. The Mission is: 10 blocks, two universes, one neighborhood.