The walls of San Francisco's Mission District are alive with the vibrant colors of murals depicting Latino history and culture. But the working-class section of the city is also ground-zero in a decades-long gentrification battle, one that poet and playwright Paul Flores captures in his solo show You're Gonna Cry. Influenced by hip-hop culture, he freely samples that production with spoken word poetry in bringing Mixtape to downtown Santa Ana, no stranger to gentrification itself.
With monologue, spoken word poetry, solo theater and maybe even a song or two, Mixtape remixes the spirit of his previous work without missing a beat. “The poems that I write or the spoken word that I perform is based on what is happening to a whole community in San Francisco's Mission District that has been going through gentrification for the last twenty years,” Flores tells the Weekly by phone. “What I've seen is my friends getting evicted from their homes and when they can't find housing they end up leaving the Bay Area.”
Displacement comes in many different forms. One of Mixtape's half-dozen poems called “Crowbar Thing” speaks on three immigrants beaten by security with the weapon when they tried to go into a paisa bar that flipped gabacho thanks to gentrification, a poignant portrait capturing forceful removal in its grimmer, violent tones. And San Francisco is losing more than its longtime residents and small businesses to the booms of the dot com and Tech industry over the years. Against forgetfulness, Flores upholds the city as the home of Latin Rock where Malo recorded its “Suavecita” anthem and beat poetry.
“Our history is written on our walls here,” Flores says. “We are surrounded by our history when you live in the Mission District.” He speaks on the culture and traditions with poetry pieces that celebrate San Francisco's beauty while refusing to shy away from its ugly shades. Flores combines them with colorful characters from You're Gonna Cry in a thematic way without a particular chronological order, just like hip-hop mixtapes back in the day.
Flores returns to OC at the invitation of Breath of Fire, a Latina Theater Company from Santa Ana. “I'm really excited to perform for some Latino folks in SanTana for real,” Flores says, touting Breath of Fire's work. Earlier this year, Flores came to South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa with his play Placas: The World's Most Dangerous Tattoo with Culture Clash's Ric Salinas playing a Salvadorean gang member in Los Angeles modeled after Homies Unidos activist Alex Sanchez. The humanizing, gritty tale is ultimately a redemptive one.
With Mixtape, Flores peels back the layers of a city undergoing contested changes with characters and poetry that infuses soul into sociology. “Art is one way to attract a lot of people to an issue,” he says. “We need to humanize gentrification in a way that is also asking folks moving in to say 'who is getting displaced so that I can live here?'”
Paul Flores performs Mixtape at Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. breathoffire.org, Fri. 8 p.m. $25 pre-sale. $30 door. All ages.