Arts and CultureSan Francisco

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

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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