Ghetto Frida’s Mission Memories
Artist Statement by Rio Yañez
Ghetto Frida’s Mission Memories is both an extension of my Ghetto Frida series of graphic images and interviews and a tribute to the collective childhood experiences of kid who grew up in the Mission District in the 80’s and 90’s. Ghetto Frida, started out an exercise in adapting an exhausted icon into a modern context. In this piece her personal history with the Mission District is presented in a comic book style layout.
In my generation of Mission kids, the movie theaters that lined Mission Street were the epicenter of the neighborhood’s Latino social scene. Personally, the New Mission theater represented the beauty and the allure of contraband in the Mission. Inside, adults would light up in the theater’s smoking section, old ladies would peddle fake gold jewelry and Watchtower magazines, teenagers would break out into fights, and old men would fall asleep and snore through the loudest blockbusters. The closure of every last theater along that strip was the surest sign of the cultural shift that was taking place in the Mission at the end of the 90’s. It was the turning point that led to our social scene giving way to expensive restaurants and hipster bars.
Perhaps the most dated reference in the piece is the act of cruising Mission Street after a 49ers Super Bowl victory. Gone are the days of Joe Montana inspired trips down Mission as are the days of Magic Burgrs. Hunt’s Donuts (aka Magic Burgrs and Donuts) was the infamous diner that featured misspelled words in its signage and the claim that it was open for 25 hours. Many adults knew it as one of the seediest places to get food in the Mission but I’ll always think fondly of it as the only business to have a generator running during the neighborhood wide power outage of 1998. My father and I waited in line around the block to buy a cup of coffee from Hunt’s.
Of all of the icons featured in the layout, only U.S. video is still intact. The shop’s owner, Mr. Kim, has been a fatherly figure to many generations of kids growing up in the neighborhood. If your parents rented movies at U.S. Video, Mr. Kim became your unofficial Korean uncle. The perseverance of U.S. Video was a longtime mystery to me until my father explained to me one day that Mr. Kim is the only person that sells porn in the immediate vicinity.
The icons and common history of the Mission District that I grew up in is quickly fading from the consciousness of those that now live here. My intention with Ghetto Frida’s Mission Memories was to create an accessible documentation of that history. I can only imagine what the future will hold when kids of future generations become nostalgic at the thought of organic vegan cuisine at 18th and Mission.