I can’t believe a whole semester flew by already! I still remember the day we picked our districts and my feelings of disappointment when my third choice for a district was chosen for me. I remember how I put the Fillmore as my first choice because of the convenience, the Tenderloin as my second choice because it seemed like an adventure, and Bernal Heights as my last random choice because I’ve never visited that district. In hindsight, I am so thankful I got Bernal Heights. What a lovely district I got with so many kind and helpful residents who guided and helped me with my stories, especially Buck Bagot. What a beautiful district with a rich and fruitful culture filled with history and fascinating stories. I’m still in awe with how everyone knows each other there, which helped me tremendously with getting sources.
With any other districts, I had this preconceived idea of Bernal Heights before even going there. I thought Bernal Heights was just another yuppie filled neighborhood with a bunch of dogs, babies, and boutiques. Of course, I also thought it was the reverse Castro as well because I knew there was a large lesbian demographic there.
In some aspect, some of these generalizations of Bernal Heights are true. Yes, there are a lot of dogs and babies running around. Bernal Heights even got its nickname Maternal Heights because there are so many mothers with babies there. Push aside these stereotypes and you will discover that Bernal Heights has a lot more to offer than meets the eyes.
Just like a lot of other districts in San Francisco, there is a huge disparity between the old and the new, the poor and the rich, and the non-English speaking citizens and the English-speaking residents in Bernal Heights. Gentrification is a huge issue there that many long time residents see as a threat to the mixed-income and multi-cultural atmosphere of Bernal Heights. There’s even a Bernal Heights neighborhood center whose mission is “to preserve and enhance the ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity of Bernal Heights and surrounding neighborhoods.” I shall get back to the neighborhood center shortly…
Although the influx of new residents pushed a lot of the old working class residents out, they also brought with them positive changes to the neighborhood. In the 1980s, the area succumbed to drug traffickers, daily gang-to-gang violence, and related crime that left residents living in fear. By the 90s, shops opened up, starting with Good Life Grocery and Liberty Café, and the new residents along with the community activists in Bernal Heights cleaned up the neighborhood. Robberies and daily crimes still occur, but the neighborhood crime rate definitely has changed dramatically for the better.
Throughout this whole semester, I got to learn about the internal struggle Bernal Heights faces with preserving their heritage and cultural diversity in times of change. Trying to find that balance of embracing changes and maintaining history is a difficult task that the residents of Bernal Heights face, but it is something that’s unavoidable and that is being addressed now. My final story about the library mural touches on this topic.
Anyways, back to the neighborhood center…If it weren’t for the neighborhood center, I would’ve failed and crashed in this class. I literally got all of my stories from them, starting from hood to my final trend story. I wrote about every program they offered, including their senior programs, youth programs, and low-income housing programs. The Bernal Heights neighborhood center is literally the heart of the community and I am so thankful it exists.
My first trip to Bernal Heights was the most daunting task ever! I can still vividly remember the cold sweat I got from being so nervous about approaching complete strangers. I’m somewhat of a shy person, but because of this class I had to overcome my fears of talking to strangers. Thankfully, all of the residents who I’ve encountered at Bernal Heights were all approachable, except for that one lady I wrote about in my other blog…but even then, in the end she was still helpful. This class taught me the value of talking to a stranger and learning about his/her stories. You’ll never know what interesting stories are out there until you put yourself out there. Of course, not all stories are interesting or relevant, but it’s worth the try. I can say I’ve mastered the art of bullshitting, thanks to this class.
Thank you Yvonne and everyone for a wonderful semester ☺