I live in the Castro-Mission neighborhood in San Francisco. To anyone familiar with the area, you immediately know what kind of neighbors I have. For those who don’t, here’s the rundown.
The Castro is synonymous with Gay. Like, really really gay. It’s the birthplace of Harvey Milk’s movement, as I am reminded when I walk by the famous camera shop, newly occupied by the HRC shop. There’s a huge gay flag flying on the corner of Market and Castro. It’s crawling with shirtless gay men and posters advertising all sorts of gay parties, bashes, events. If you’re strolling around there on a random Saturday afternoon, you won’t walk across coffeeshops or bookstores or hair salons, you’ll walk across gay coffeeshops and gay bookstores and gay hair salons. The outside of the Starbucks looks like the outside of the gay bar across the street; even the laundromat has a fricking giant rainbow flag inside!
The Mission is synonymous with Mexican. Like, really really Mexican. The bus stop and billboard ads are in Spanish, and may or may not feature members of the Mexican futbol team. Mission street sometimes reminds me of downtown Mexico City, with it’s various “variety” shops. The menus of the taquerias are not in English, and at the Walgreen’s in Mission they sell imported goodies such as Duvalin, Bimbuñuelos, and Vitacilina. Yes, it’s the Mexican mecca.
How Sworn Enemies Became Friendly Neighbors
Now, why is this significant?
Mexico is a third-world, Latin American, Catholic country. Homophobia is prominent. I bet if you do a random survey in a random neighborhood in Mexico, asking people if they’d be comfortable having homosexual neighbors, the results would be negative. (Yet we have gay marriage in Mexico City – it’s a hotly contested topic, vowed to be banned by the president himself – but there it is).
However, here we are in Castro-Mission, the intersection of Mexicans and Gays. And given the situation just described above, you’d expect constant fighting, cat-calling, bickering, maybe even riots. But there is none of that. Nobody seems to mind each other’s national origin, race, or sexual orientation. So is it just a simple coincidence that the Mexicans who decide to take up residence here are simply the choice few who are not homophobic? Or is it something else?
I have a theory. Well, it’s not my theory, it’s a theory in psychology, but it applies to this situation. Living in close proximity to a group of people makes them familiar, and in turns it dispels myths and stereotypes and other erroneous preconceived notions about them. It makes them real. What this translates to is that Mexicans hear about gays and think all these awful thoughts, but when they actually come and live with them they realize, “hey, they’re not too bad.”
So just by the mere fact that Mexicans and gays are inter-mingling in their daily lives dramatically alters their outlook on the queer population. This is likely emphasized by the cultural atmosphere which permeates the queer oasis that is San Francisco, where Gays aren’t just tolerated. Thus knowledge, familiarity, and proximity foster acceptance and understanding, and the Castro-Mission neighborhood is a prime example.
This may be oversimplifying the issue a bit, but it’s the only reason I can come up with to explain all normal interactions I see everyday between obviously Mexican and obviously Gay people, which you would not expect to see in actual Mexico.
And of course, for a pair of Mexican Gay Queers like us, it’s truly a welcoming home.