From the time she was eight years old, Mission-born and raised artist Vero Majano remembers hearing about Los Siete, the seven Central American men who were wrongfully accused of shooting a white San Francisco police officer in 1969.
“It was a story I would overhear, a conversation that would happen around adults,” remembered Majano, a filmmaker and storyteller. “I was fascinated by the sound of it…Los Siete.”
Majano’s multimedia performance piece, “Remember Los Siete,” combines found footage, spoken word and live music to create a unique take on the Mission’s Latino and working class history, intertwined with her own story. I saw a short preview of the work in progress during the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival and it is an unforgettable meditation on mercy, memory and The City.
“I listened to a recording of that performance and the point at which people see the footage of Mission Street, you can hear a collective gasp,” said Majano. “That feedback means we’re connecting.” she said.
Researching, revising and rehearsing “Remember Los Siete,” Majano had plenty of opportunity to see the symbiotic relationship at work between the artist and audience, combining the then and now, history and her own experience. Even her title, “Remember Los Siete,” was found on the street as graffiti. It also is the title of a calendar of events scheduled to commemorate 50 years since the shooting sparked a movement in her neighborhood.
“Los Siete is one of the anchors of the historical events that define The Mission,” said Greg Landau, the show’s musical director. He was a 14-year-old at Mission High when the Los Siete Defense Committee mobilized to seek justice against police brutality and the wrongful incarceration of the men.
“A lot of people mistake the Mission’s artistic explosion for something that happened in the ‘90s but it was in the ‘70s that a unique cultural community emerged, and Los Siete is an emblem for that community and culture,” said Landau.
Drawings of Los Siete appeared on posters, pamphlets publications and murals; the iconography, much of it initiated by pioneering Latina Yolanda Lopez, is associated with the tradition of community building and resistance.
“Everyone knows someone who knows someone. A lot of people have heard of the situation, but they don’t know the details,” said Majano.
On the morning of May 1, 1969, seven men, Gary Lescallet, Gio Lopez, Jose Mario Martinez, Rodolfo Antonio Martinez, Danilo Melendez, Jose Rios, and Nelson Rodriguez were suspected of robbery. A scuffle with two policemen ensued and resulted in the killing of officer Joe Brodnik. Following their flight from the scene, six of the men surrendered and were apprehended (a seventh man, Lopez, was never found). After a trial that lasted 18 months in which the defense said Brodnik’s police partner shot him accidentally, and the prosecution argued that one of the men grabbed the partner’s gun, the six were acquitted.
“I thought I was going to do a documentary about Los Siete but found out really quickly that isn’t my voice and came up against a bunch of walls. I put the film down for awhile and started doing storytelling,” said Majano. Her first film, “Calle Chula,” concerned the first wave of gentrification in the late 1990s and was funded by a grant from the Film Arts Foundation. She honed her storytelling craft performing in the Porchlight series, and supported herself working at the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center For The Homeless.
“We’re living in post-gentrification times,” said Majano. “If you’re still here, you are a survivor.”
Majano’s art is informed by her experience: growing up as the child of immigrants from El Salvador, navigating life as a young and queer Latina and working as a homeless community advocate.
“Someone’s grandparent probably owned a home and they didn’t catch up with paying the mortgage. It only takes that to happen and you’re on the street,” she said. “Or maybe you’re experiencing body trauma and you’re self-medicating.”
She spoke of the other indignities endured by the homeless population, including police harassment of those in the community who were formerly incarcerated
“I’ve worked with men who grew up with some of the Los Siete guys. Some of them eventually had to leave the country,” she said. Her insights are drawn from conversations with people whose trust she’s earned.
“Everywhere I go, someone says, that’s my uncle, that was my cousin, or I did time with that cat,” she said. “I’m in a lot of circles, the non-profit circles, the artist circles, and it’s a small town. You gotta be cool because everything comes around.”
For those of us from here, not only does everything eventually come around, there is a memory on every corner. My great-uncle had a market on Valencia, near the blocks where Majano grew up. The market has been a restaurant for some years now, but she recalled it, yet another local connection point.
“I think my mom had credit there. They wore aprons. And hats. No, maybe that was Lucca where they wore the hats,” she said, as her voice trailed off. Lucca Deli is closing on April 20. But she’s right about my uncle and his aprons: They were green.
“Things have changed but nature stays the same…for now. Like the way the light falls on 24th Street,” she said. “I fall for it every time.”
Majano has travelled to Latin America, Europe and across the country, but for an artist whose subject is home, there’s no place like San Francisco.
“People ask me all the time, if you could live anywhere…and I say here,” she said. “They ask where I’m from and I say, I’m Mission.”
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan. She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.
What: Remember Los Siete
When: April 26 & 27 8 PM
Where: Brava Theater, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $30 Brava.org
Information: 415 641 7657