On Guard: Let’s end the 'SF native' xenophobia

Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photoSan Francisco locals' use of the word “native” should be interpreted as shorthand for wishing to preserve their roots.

The tech boom has fractured The City. As thousands of new tech workers stream in, tens of thousands of San Franciscans have been priced out. We all know this story.

But The City's transformation is also hastening a hotbed of hate. The shorthand for the divide — like all shorthand categories, half-useful and half-dangerous — is defined along the lines of Tech Newcomers vs. San Francisco Natives.

Does being a San Francisco native, or even a longtime San Franciscan, even matter? Some say birthright may credit more sway over the future of The City.

“New to the city? Work in tech? You're a plague and locals FUCKING HATE YOU. LEAVE. The Mission is for lovers, not the greedy,” a sign seen in the Mission reads, which is now making the rounds on Facebook.

I got a blast of this vitriol myself last week after writing a column on the need to build denser housing in the western neighborhoods. Not everybody took kindly to the suggestion.

“Joe, it's people like you who move to our city from somewhere else, declare it your home and immediately call for housing,” one reader wrote.

If someone suggested building dense housing in “your little shitburg,” he wrote, “You would want him out…We do not want you or your ilk anywhere near the sunset or richmond district [sic]. Please go away. Permanently.”

Thanks a lot, bud, but whoops: I'm a born and raised San Franciscan (Go Bulldogs!), who lives in the Richmond. But even if I wasn't, it doesn't matter — hate wins you no allies.

Why does the location of my birth change how my comments are received? When I gave my detractor my local bonafides, he backed down. I was glad to earn points from him, but what kind of strange weapons are these we bludgeon each other with in this town?

As in any city, natives (and longtimers) are not a monolithic people: Many speak of our Missionite artists and musicians, but there are also Chinatown natives, Fillmore natives, Richmond Russians, North Beach Italianos, Irish-Catholic old-schoolers and so many more.

I asked some of my friends about the importance of natives (and locals). Their answers seemed a requiem on the idea of San Francisco as a hometown.

We, “rage because we have no power over what's going on… we want as much of a voice as the rich interlopers have,” San Franciscan Andrew Callaway said.

“Most of my friends have moved, and are moving,” wrote Calliope Olivia, a native and local filmmaker.

“I'm frustrated over not being able to see having my own spaces, purchasing a house, or live a normal life,” wrote Cristina Flores, a fifth-generation San Franciscan.

“Roots, generations, shared experiences, beloved landmarks, beloved home teams, hated rivals,” unite us, my pal and 415 native Mark Wieland wrote. “That somehow is lost on outsiders because people think a city can't be a true hometown community.”

There are many sore spots to ignite our ire, it seems. I often feel it, too, sparked by the ghosts I see everywhere I walk in The City.

Watching well-dressed yuppies eat at fancy digs by 18th and Dolores streets, I often recall how my now-dead hippie father once lived by Dolores Park as a broke 20-year-old. And I seethe every time I walk through the monied Castro, remembering my elderly grandfather's Ellis Act eviction from his 16th Street flat. He died shortly after.

Still, anger does me no good, and undirected anger does no good for The City.

So, here is my plea.

To the newcomers: When locals say “native,” please interpret the word as shorthand for wishing to preserve our roots. This should not be a winner-take-all Ayn Rand dystopia. San Franciscans want to be able to be born here, to live here, to have (or choose not to have) children here, and to stay in our homes. Consider our culture before you replace a beloved locale with another Apple Store- esque coffee bar.

To my fellow longtime San Franciscans: Do protest constructively, but stop the hate because it doesn't help anyone. We should honor our history as a beacon to new transplants, and coach them to add to our myriad cultures — not displace them.

In our minds, locals are singing “I left My Heart in San Francisco,” a melancholy song about leaving, and missing, our home. Let's flip the script: “San Francisco” is a song welcoming both the return of locals, and newcomers.

It resonated when it was written in 1936, and hopefully it can resonate once again:

“San Francisco, open your golden gate, you let no stranger wait outside your door. San Francisco, here is your wanderin' one, Saying I'll wander no more.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

Bay Area NewsJoe FitzgeraldLong time san franciscansSF nativestech workers

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