I am filled with nostalgia for a place I struggled to function in
The day my plane lifted off the ground from San Francisco International for the last time, I felt myself breathe a deep sigh of relief. It was over. My time in the Bay had ended. I was free from the overpriced housing, food, and lack of melanin in my neighborhood.
I had liked San Francisco for about a week. I landed in August 2017, desperately looking for a place to live, only to find housing costs that ate over 30% of my paycheck. I quickly found a housing market that was ruthless and picky about who lived in what neighborhood. For the first time in my life, I made a rental resume with a complete recounting of where I’d lived, landlord’s contact information. Attached was a screenshot of my bank account, credit score, and other information that made me stand out to landlords. After an exhausting week and half, I found a room in the Sunset District with a woman who eventually became one of my dearest friends. However, the struggle of finding housing soured me towards my new home. I became resentful of the houses of San Francisco, for all they represented to me.
Walking down the streets of San Francisco, I would often sign in irritation at the colorful houses that danced in the California sun. I could never have one. Not here. Not in the city where the median cost of a house was $1.3 million. There was no conceivable way I could save up money to buy a house in the Sunset, Mission, or Noe Valley. Those were the neighborhoods of Facebook and Twitter executives, not meant for anyone like me. San Francisco began to feel like a cruel tease and my resentment grew by the day.
Despite my growing anger, I did find love in my neighborhood, the Sunset District. I developed a warm relationship with my room mate and fell in love with the restaurants located nearby, frequenting a small Korean restaurant that had the best bibimbap. Only 10 minutes away was West Portal, with a street near the MUNI station that reminded me of my hometown. Far from the hustle of the Financial District, I felt safe in the Sunset. It was quiet, near the ocean, and unapologetic about its space as a residential area. However, even in a place where I felt content, I also felt like an other. As a Black woman, I rarely saw people who looked like me.
Visiting Oakland was like walking into a new world. Murals had pictures of men and women who shared my skin and hair. It was a humanizing moment to walk into Oakland, and yet also sad. Gentrification had taken its toll on the city. People with my skin tone did not live in the fancy new buildings where UberEats and DoorDash drivers stood outside, waiting for their customers to open the security locked doors. Fancy craft beer bars and delicious eateries filled the city, but were filled with White faces. People who, while sipping their mango ale, made faces at the people who walked down the street, pushing shopping carts.
For many months after leaving, I believed there was an active out-of-touchness on the part of those who chose to stay in the Bay. They were content with the inequality, gentrification, and superficial lives they lived filled with brunch. However, in hindsight I realize I judged those in the Bay Area with undue cruelness veiled in my jealousy. My grievances were in part, due to the White aloofness, but also with economic system that created high costs of living and gentrification. I did not hate the Bay, I hated that I did not have the economic means to thrive there. I was resentful and jealous.
I also have to acknowledge my role in gentrification. I remember casually asking someone from the Bay if I, a Black woman, was taking part in gentrification. They paused and finally said, “Yea… you aren’t from here and are living in our neighborhood without the local knowledge of what we created, so yea… kinda.” It was a tough pill to swallow and one I still grapple with now. Gentrification is more than finding an apartment in a new city. It is entering a place with no prior knowledge and being complicit in the destruction of the local culture to fit your comforts. It also was a moment of learning: if I was to move to a new community, it was my responsibility to learn about its history and culture. It was a turning point, and has lead me to research the history of my new home here in Southern California.
As a former resident of San Francisco, I realize the Bay Area is a situation where everyone is in survival mode. Life is economically unsustainable for the general population. Even those in tech, who are often considered the cause of high costs, live in fear of falling from grace. It has created a eat or be eaten mentality that most residents do not know how to cope with. They just hope they never lose their jobs and glance at thinning bank accounts that do not have the 3-months reservoir our boomer parents advise we keep.
These days, I find myself missing the Bay Area deeply and my memories of happiness begin to usurp the anger towards wage inequality. First Fridays in Oakland, where Black business owners sold their goods always made my heart dance with joy. I could disappear into the crowds of melanin and flourish. In the Mission and Castro, I could meet with friends at local businesses that had been there long before the gentrification process. Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences was like something out of a dream, where science and experimentation roused the child within me. Then there was my neighborhood, the Sunset, where I laid my head to rest and found peace from the stressors of life. Finally, there was the people that I grew to love. From all walks of life and age groups, who like me, where just trying to function in a vicious economic ecosystem.
There was good in the Bay and for most of my time there, my jealousy blinded me to the beauty. However, I also realize that the Bay was not built for a Black woman on a non-tech salary to flourish. It was time to move on and find a new home. So here I sit, far south, thinking about the cool summers where evening fog blanketed my neighborhood, ushering me to sleep.
I miss you, Bay Area, and I am sorry I judged you so cruelly.