Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Assimilation or separatism in SF?

Jim Meko is worried about "the loss of gay neighborhoods" in San Francisco. But gays have to face the same reality that every other minority in American history has had to face---assimilation. 

The genius of the American system is that it can assimilate every ethnic and religious group that arrives and/or emerges from the depths of US social life. Gays, long scorned and abused both as individuals and a group, have now reached the point---in San Francisco, at least---where they are increasingly living in city neighborhoods other than the Castro district. Hence, this "loss" is really a sign of success.

I've been critical of the misguided attempt by city leaders
to "preserve" Japantown," and it's hard to see any difference between preserving a Japantown that has only 10% of its residents of Japanese ancestry and the "historic preservation" of the Castro.

Meko and the Soma Leadership Council see a necessary alliance between the South of Market Filipino community and the LBGT community:

Both communites have experienced a declining population, with demographics shifting the center of gravity for the Filipino community further down the peninsula and the LBGT community, still recovering from the ravages of the AIDS epidemic, taking advantage of greater acceptance throughout the Bay Area by moving away from traditional gay neighborhoods. Nevertheless, South of Market remains the symbolic geographic center for both communities.

Both communities have events that attract tourists:

The Bindlestiff Theatre is the only resident Filipino theater company in the United States, Bessie Carmichael School offers the only two-way Spanish and Tagalog immersion program in the Bay Area and cultural celebrations such as the Pistahan Parade and the colorful Christmas Lantern (Parol) Festival attract tens of thousands of visitors from around the country. Likewise, SoMa's gay leather community has established such an international reputation that the term "Folsom Street" has become a brand name for kink. The Folsom Street Fair, the third largest annual outdoor event in the State of California, has inspired similar events such as Folsom Street East in New York City and Folsom Europe in Berlin.

The success of these communities in establishing themselves in the city is now threatened by assimilation, which can only be a good thing for everyone. By all means keep the events that attract tourists, like Japantown still has its annual Cherry Blossom Festival. After all, tourism is the city's largest industry, and these events, like the Cherry Blossom Festival, will increasingly be seen as marketing strategies for their neighborhoods. But why kid themselves about the desirability of remaining ghettoized within San Francisco? Assimilation is a good and necessary thing; it's what the US is all about.

This being San Francisco, however, Meko and his comrades have enlisted city government to help them do whatever it is they think they need to do to "preserve" their communities:

The Western SoMa Task Force has acquired a full time staff member at the Planning Department who has begun to write the Strategic Analysis Memo outlining existing conditions as they relate to cultural preservation and the Complete Neighborhood Fabric Committee has placed cultural preservation on its July agenda.

Just as Japantown enlisted city officials---including Mayor Newsom and Supervisor Mirkarimi---to "preserve" it, gays and Filipinos will find plenty of political support for their misguided effort.

Fortunately, it will all be in vain, since people don't want to live in ghettos, and the Great American Assimilation Machine will do its good and necessary work.

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