Evict the Yuppies

IMG_1977Evict Google.

From this, it’s very apparent from where I’m writing. There’s no point in trying to hide it. My neighborhood, or perhaps this city, is notorious for their campaigns to “evict the yuppies” or stated in plainer, more targeted terms, “evict Google.” Their campaign is characterized by the familiar tags over abandoned buildings and empty spaces. I am not Google, or even close to a software engineer. But it always occurs to me, are they referring to me too? I have never identified as a yuppie. This is mostly because I have never been in the world of business or banking, toiling for profit margins or to catch the attention of those higher in the food chain. Still, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who openly identifies him or herself as a yuppie (or maybe you do – I can hear the condescending pretension already…).

Anyways, what do they, referring to those who feel the need to share their thoughts on the matter on city streets, mean by yuppie? Well, there’s the book definition: “short for ‘young urban professional’ or ‘young upwardly-mobile professional’ defined as a young college-educated adult who has a job that pays a lot of money and who lives and works in or near a large city.” (Thanks, Wikipedia) But when they write on the walls of abandoned, boarded up corner stores and in a city where transplants are coming and going all the time, it can mean so much more. Are they referring to a certain social class, level of education, degree of wealth, or particular unsavory attitude? And do you have to convey only one of these qualities, or all of the above?

Obviously, at the macro level, they’re saying not-so-wonderful things about the gentrification of this neighborhood and the city at-large. But on the micro level, are they telling me to get out? I am a transplant. What right do I have to be here? Am I part of the problem that’s hiking housing prices up because I can get a job that will allow me to afford it? The thought is not particularly welcoming. And I can see the tensions it has created in my short time here.

In the first two weeks of my moving here, I emerged from my cave in search of some nice succulents to brighten up my office. I found a nice neighborhood shop. It was plain to the shopkeeper that I had just moved to the city and I told her I was just looking for something to make my office space a little happier. She asked where I work. “Oh, wonderful. You’re one of the good ones. At least there are still a few around here,” she responds to my answer. My friend, who had come with me on my mission that day, ironically, worked at Google. We both smiled and nodded, looking at each other and down at the register.

With this question in mind, I start with the most natural case study: myself. I wouldn’t consider my upbringing wealthy by any means, raised by a proud immigrant parent. But I did grow up with many privileges of the mid- to upper-middle class because that’s where my mother chose to put me. I am a product of higher education and unequivocally, generation Y. My daily attire is spotted with designer pieces and I regular indulge in a Saturday morning manicure. Yoga and spinning are mainstays in my weekly routine. I do not make a six-figure salary, engage in any pronounced start-up or tech culture, or sport the notorious Bay Area “lumbersexual” or “hipster” fashions. So, am I a yuppie? I don’t deny that I am part of the sweeping gentrification happening. However, it is difficult to accept that you are a part of an injustice characterized by involuntary migration, that is eviction.

So every time I read it on the walls, the thought bubbles to the surface – am I part of the problem? I’m trying to live my life as well as possible, and have a career too. That’s what brought me here. I’m also struggling with the skyrocketing housing prices and food, etc. etc. These are not, by any means, excuses. But, if I am part of the problem, is there anything I can do to address the issue? The solution, like the problem, is complex and multifaceted.

I would venture to say that gentrification is natural in many ways as urban areas develop. However, it is an anomaly that this form of gentrification is happening with alarming rapidity, and only adding to San Francisco’s history of evictions rooted in poverty, race, and culture. Newcomers need to become a part of and embrace the history and culture that is here, not overtake it. We must not replace it, but learn to grow within it. Get to know your neighborhood. Volunteer to work with the community right outside. (Okay, you might have to venture a bit further if you live in the Marina, but you get what I’m saying.) It will not solve everything or maybe not anything at all, but it will at least give perspective on what people are dealing with when you’re world is consumed by everything that goes into climbing that ladder, and connect you to a new (and perhaps truer) reality.

Now finally, all of these intentions, they can’t come out of guilt. Guilt only seems to accentuate the sense of privilege and otherness. This must come from love, empathy, and respect for what came before and striving to be part of what it will become.

You have always been the place you need

For more than two years, a poem has bounced around my head. It has nearly one million views and I suspect at least 300 of those views are mine. Each time I watch the poem, it catapults in a previously unconsidered direction and reverberates for days, leaving behind bits of new understanding.

This poem is called “The Type” and it is by the poet Sarah Kay. It is a love poem, but it is not the love poem that I wanted or expected. This poem is not about romantic love, though it is not dismissive of it. This is a poem about self-love. This is a poem about settling into yourself.

For context, this poem was inspired by a line in the poem “Detail of the Woods” by Richard Siken: “…Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” Without going into detail, I will say that for all of the years of my adulthood, I’ve been searching for a place to call my own. When you are searching for this place, the danger (and I fall into this), is to mistake romantic love, or the possibility of romantic love, or just romance, or sometimes simply attention, for a more basic type of love. It feels almost reflexive to do this, to accept a mismatched love as the answer to a larger question.

The poem says what I don’t want to hear. Maybe this is because I want to feel special and her words make flirtatiousness and romance and even love seem secondary to something else. Maybe this is because I recognize my own mistakes in some of what she says.

…Sometimes it is not you they are reaching for…but their hands found you first.

…Do not mistake yourself for a guardian, or a muse, or promise, or a victim, or a snack.

…You are not the answer. You are not the problem. You are not the poem, or the punch line, or the riddle, or the joke.

Kay’s words mean different things to me at any given time, but the constant lesson is that romantic love alone will not fill my gaps or reveal my place. At the most basic level, only I can do this for myself. I don’t know when I’ll get there, but I have the tools I need. Finding my place is not mutually exclusive to romantic love (because come on, we want to find that too!!), but I will continue to watch this poem over and over to remind myself that, as Kay says, I need a place to call my own, but at the most fundamental level, I have always been the place.

– M