The more time I spend in the Castro, the more the neighborhood changes in my opinion. Over the course of these past few months, the Castro revealed an identity to me that goes beyond the “gay neighborhood,” and continues to do so each time I return. It is a complex city-within-a-city that maintains a delicate balance between residents and tourists, the homeless and well-off, pizza parlors and gourmet restaurants, Victorian facades and contemporary architecture, and bondage fetishists and hopeless romantics.
The Castro is a neighborhood famous for its rich history. It made the transition into modernity while still encouraging a general awareness of past events that shaped the neighborhood into what it is today. For example, Harvey Milk Plaza, The LGBT Museum, and the Human Rights Campaign are characteristic of the Castro’s charm and also solidify the history of challenges its residents have overcome.
I learned the most about the neighborhood not from reading about it or even spending time there, but from talking to the people. I was lucky enough to have opportunities to learn from homeless men and women, restaurant and shop workers, students, drug addicts, activists, realtors, security and law enforcement, yogis, nudists, and Castro natives. Each individual had a different story and experience to share, but all of them agreed that the Castro is a one-of-a-kind lively neighborhood that is experiencing many changes.
The Castro is sometimes referred to by its original name, Eureka Valley. It was dominated by Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian immigrant families in the early 20th century. After World War II, thousands of gay members of the military were discharged in San Francisco, and by the 1960s, the Castro was the center for LGBT rights. In the 1970s, Harvey Milk put the neighborhood on the map as his campaign to improve the lives of the gay community gained media attention. Ever since, the Castro has been known as the United State’s largest gay community, and the neighborhood prides itself for being tolerant and accepting.
From my experiences, almost everyone I spoke with was friendly and had something interesting to say about the neighborhood and their experiences with it. At the beginning of the semester, I was wary about having to talk to strangers. I was worried about how they would react and I didn’t think anyone would be willing to talk to me. However, this grew to be one of my favorite aspects of reporting. It’s a wonderful feeling talking to others, and most of the time it would make them happy to know that someone was interested in what they had to say. It’s also a great feeling getting first hand opinions of happenings in the neighborhood.
I’ve always loved the Castro, and now I have a new appreciation for the neighborhood. I feel more connected, as if reporting on the neighborhood made me apart of it. Being a reporter in general has helped me see things differently. I pay closer attention to things that are happening, I notice small details, and try to spot people that have a story to tell. It has opened my eyes to things I normally would have missed, and that alone has made this a wonderful learning experience.