Arts and CultureSan Francisco

Native San Franciscans are Like Unicorns. This is What it’s Like.

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image of native San Franciscans by Mia Nolting for The Bold Italic

Guest post by Kelly Navarro

Transplants, this piece is not for you. We’re not saying we hate you. We like you, we really do. But this one, this is dedicated to the homies, the real OGs. Who are we? Some call us Unicorns because of how rare we are, we’ve almost become a myth. We grew up here in The City and Bay Area and even if we leave for a short time, we always gravitate back.

I am a 5th generation San Franciscan. Yes, you read that correctly, five generations. I was born October 31st, 1986 at Saint Luke’s in the Mission. And when I start popping them out, no matter where I am living in the world, I will come back to this city to give birth to a 6th generation. My parents live in the east bay now where I also grew up. We visited my grandparents every weekend and in high school and thereafter I was always in the city I love. I still go to the same bars I went to when I was in my late teens (when carding was more lenient.) I didn’t go to high school here, so I feel like I dont have as many bragging rights as some of my friends, but I still consider myself part of the Unicorns.

My love and history for this city is rich and deep. I remember getting onto the muni with my grandfather as we went on adventures. I still have writings from elementary school describing zoo trips and getting ice cream after seeing the seals at Pier 39. Early in his life he worked at a restaurant in North Beach. My favorite photo of him behind the bar hangs on the wall at my parent’s house. He once told us a story, later confirmed to be true, that he was engaged to Joe Dimaggio’s sister but broke up with her because “her nose was too pointy.” My mom once lied to my grandmother and told her she was going to Teen Group at the local community center. She was really at a Janis Joplin concert at the Fillmore. I inherited my rock n’ roll wild-child spirit from my parents. My mom remembers meeting my dad near Guerneville at a cabin on the river. She thought he was weird because he wasn’t being very social. He was ironing his pants the entire time. Now that I’m older, I realize he was likely very high. They later worked in the same office and ended up together. My dad, an immigrant from the Philippines remembers getting excited about seeing “two Golden Gate Bridges” as his ship came into the bay to dock. He went to Mission High with both Carlos and Jorge Santana. He still loves to drive me home and tell me about all the places we pass and how he remembers them from his childhood.  I am the youngest of four, and each of my siblings have their own tales to tell. All these stories only begin to scratch the surface.

image of classic SF icons from The Bold Italic 

Being a Unicorn is a strange anomaly as well as a hard image to maintain. You love your teams no matter how awful they are doing, even if you’re not that big of a sports fan. You know it’s your duty to go as dumb as you can and sing along to every word of the Thizzle Dance if it comes on when you’re out for the night. People ask you for restaurant recommendations because obviously you must know. You can’t really help them since you’ve been going to the same places (if they are still open) for decades.

You remember when gangs, drugs, and violence ran rampant in Dolores Park. Part of you wishes it was still that way, but you’re also okay with how it is now. Dolores is now home to events like “Caturday,” and you’re cat loves it. You hate gentrification and long for the days of old but secretly embrace the change because there are some really awesome places have popped up within the past few years that you enjoy. It’s also heartbreaking to see so many people displaced and some ending up on the street because of an ever changing city that caters to the rich. You do what you can to help, though it’s not much because you too are living that struggle. Because you live for the struggle, it drives you. Sure there are other cool cities that are much, much cheaper, but they’re not for you. You provide any kind of color that you can in a vanilla culture of basics. But when you walk the same familiar streets since childhood, Hieroglyphics in your headphones, that chill crisp air hits your soul and you know there’s no place like home.

Many things have been written about this city, love affairs, hate affairs, everything in between. Herb Caen made a career of it. Counter cultures were born here. The greatest music not only came from here but continues to come out of here. It’s rare to find your friendship family. Mine include both Unicorns and transplants alike. It’s harder to find real art but so worth it when you do. We live in the underground that everyone thought had died.  We’re doing a great job holding down the fort. It’s no wonder people long so badly to come here. Because it is really cool here. We made it cool here. It was Kerouac who wrote “It was okay with me once again I wanted to get to San Francisco, everybody wants to get to San Francisco and what for? In God’s name and under the stars what for? For joy, for kicks, for something burning in the night.” Each member of my family, so many of my friends, they all have their own love story with their hometown.  To even write all of mine down would be an epic series filling several books.

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  1. Gail Foland
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Kelly thanks for the article I am also 5th generation born at Mt Zion Hospital in 1948. My daughter was born at Children’s Hospital in 1966. I just think that it is sad what has happened to this city. It was a wonderful, small town when I grew up filled with middle class families and today no middle class families can afford to live here. Being a small business owner it is sad that most of the family owned businesses could not afford to stay open with commercial rents ridiculously high. They had to shut down and that has really changed this city with only corporate america able to afford to be here along with the tech industry. We have lost the diversity we had with art, music, theatre and poetry that we could go out and see every night.

  2. April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Thank you for this. I am not a native but , moving here at 7 and living here 30 years since, I feel it is pretty close. I went to Grade School, Middle School & High School here in the city proper. Took MUNI or School. Buses everywhere to get around and it was safe. People looked out for kids and each other. But, Uber and Lyft have ruined things here…as well as yes, the focus of our local government on giving tax breaks to the already uber rich as incentives to come here – without thinking of the impact on lower to middle income residents of this city. its a far cry from the Harvey Milks of the days gone by and its sad. very sad. but i will live here as long as my rent control will allow. And appreciate the beauty of our fair city’s location while i can. thank you for the article.

  3. whoknows
    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Gah, I’m really getting sick of all this fetishizing SF “natives.” Everyone who lives here either moved here from someone else, or their family did. And those people who’ve moved here, they come from somewhere. Somewhere that has probably evolved and changed just as much as SF. It is not some high honor. You do not chose where you’re born, only where you live. If you’re a fifth generation resident, maybe you’re a coward, afraid to embrace change or challenge your perceptions. Of course you get upset about “outsiders.” You’re just a nativist know-nothing with a minuscule world view. The people who leave the comfort and security of the place they knew to seek out a (hopefully) better life – those are the people who should be celebrated.

    • Emmanuelle Antolin
      April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

      Some people value history, legacy, tradition, knowledge that is handed over time, a slower and more in-depth experience of a place. Nothing wrong with moving to new places, but why the hostile, judgmental language and perspective? What are you threatened by? “You’re just a nativist know-nothing with a minuscule world view.” Wow. Nice one.

    • Emmanuelle Antolin
      April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

      I’m not interested in picking a fight with anyone. I’m just upholding the dignity of the person who wrote this piece, and those of us who agree with her.

    • Die Auschlander
      April 20, 2020 at 11:16 am

      You’re objectively a trash human being. Keep your stench to yourself.

      • whoknows
        April 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

        Wow, thanks for the incisive and thoughtful reply. You seem like a reasonable and intelligent person.

    April 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Beautifully said. Im 4th generation and wish my 2 kids could have been the 5th born here, but the fact that I can still bring them to the house I grew up in and to the spots I loved as a kids is priceless

  5. NoStampAct
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Unicorns? Cute 80s.
    There is a certain kind snobism here, must be both born in the city as well as went to all schooling here.
    My line was trading furs w/the Russians long before the Gold Rush.

    However, no matter the credentials, if you don’t have the right politics today, you must hide.
    To keep peace, you keep your mouth shut.

    It’s definitely not “The City that Knows How.” (That went away when the Chronicle took down the Sutro Mansion, put up that monstrosity of a tower on top of Twin Peaks, and changed the song to that maudlin Left My Heart.)

    Nor the same state that had a lot more freedom in all ways.

    60s Hippie Generation

  6. Meco11
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    St Luke’s born never left SF and still here!

  7. ProjectD
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Hello, fellow unicorn. I, too, was born in the city on Oct. 31st. You’ve made my night.

  8. lu ryder
    April 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Thank you. When you mentioned that “chill crisp air”, I don’t know, it hit me. That’s what home feels like. I feel like I gave up. I had to get out, it was best for me. But I miss my home every damn day. I know everyone wants to live in San Francisco, I just wish there was room for all of us.