Every city has its moment – a time when events and people converge in one place to define it for years to come. Drill down and those moments – often decades long – are generally associated with neighborhoods – Montmartre in the first years of the 20th Century, Harlem in the 1920s, Soho in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Cary Cordova’s new book, “The Heart of the Mission, Latino Art and Politics in San Francisco,” offers the first history of the Mission District’s moment – a confluence of art and culture that began in the late 1960s and lasted into the 1990s. The Beats, jazz, the 1968 student movement and the Central American wars all fueled a Mission Renaissance. “The Heart of the Mission” is a lively guide through this history, but it’s also an important book in documenting and contextualizing the work of Mission artists.
Cordova, a San Francisco native who teaches at UT Austin, traces the beginning of the Mission Renaissance back to the Latin Quarter in North Beach, and such early institutions as The Unión Española, also known as the Spanish Cultural center, a block away from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Latin music seeded San Francisco’s bohemian culture through some of the center’s tenants including the 1941 Marimba Club and the 1967 Tropicana Club. “By the 1970s,” Cordova writes, music of the North Beach Latin music scene had relocated to the Mission District.” Muralist Patricia Rodriguez describes to Cordova what that sounded like: “In every corner in the Mission in the seventies Santana was playing, Malo was playing, whoever was playing in the street.” Drumming sessions became part of Dolores Park culture, precipitating a debate over the right to occupy public space in the city”.
While a pan-Latino arts community would follow, initially Latino artists and musicians played in the city’s “avant-garde milieu” and “the evolving bohemian counterculture, perhaps most notably embodied in Beat and jazz cultures,” Cordova writes. The San Francisco Art Institute – then the California School of Fine Arts –and its training in abstract art and Bay Area figurative abstraction influenced artists such as Luis Cervantes, José Ramón Lerma and Ernie Palomino. Later, when the Mission District and its artists became identified with political and mural art, these and other artists continued to produce first-rate abstract, pop and assemblage art.
Gallery artists had a…