Cooperative Endeavor: Daniel Phil Gonzales and Mary Valledor in Conversation with Jerome Reyes
Mary Valledor and Dan Gonzales have known each other for many decades through art, music, parties, activism, and educator social circles, all as lifelong residents of San Francisco. We met in Valledor’s home in Bernal Heights in late 2019 to reflect how their early lives intersected with the shifting socio-political and racial demographics happening across San Francisco neighborhoods in the 1950s. We discussed how Valledor and Gonzales encountered and eventually helped shape local ideas of education and inclusivity during a national and global period of civil unrest during the 1960s and 1970s. In between lots of laughs, Valledor and Gonzales recalled their lives in light of the instability and uncertainty of the current political moment. Whether it’s ethnic studies or Third Worldism, they’re still looking at the lessons of their shared past while working toward new ways they can shape the future. –JR
Jerome Reyes: I wanted to ask both of you to describe your backgrounds growing up in San Francisco. I think of certain neighborhoods like the Fillmore and Sunset, the growth of South of Market, a vibrant, shifting city, somehow much kinder than it is today. Who were you before you became these educators approaching half a century of respected work? And how were the parties, the music, the social groups, the ideas that foretold a rapidly changing worldview right here on the ground? Mary, would you like to start?
Mary Valledor: I was born in San Francisco in the Richmond District, over on Lake Street. Seventh and Lake. Actually, I was born on Fifth Avenue, and I then moved to my grandmother’s home when I was very young. I came from an Irish-Catholic background; my father was born in Ireland, and my mother was born in San Francisco. When I went to my Catholic grammar school, the teachers already knew me, everyone was watching me. They had educated my mother’s whole family, seven kids. My grandfather — her father — was a San Francisco policeman, and as a child, I was very fond of him because he rode a horse. My father died when I was young, so my grandfather during my early years was my hero; I had a different perspective on the police force than a lot of people did later on, through the years in San Francisco.
Daniel Phil Gonzales: What grammar school?
MV: Star of the Sea.
DG: That’s what I thought.
MV: It was a very small town in 1950.
DG: And Clement Street was the center of the universe.
MV: Yes, Clement — I walked from my school on Eighth Avenue to my house on Seventh Avenue, and along the way, I passed two of my aunts’ houses, and they would report to my mother that they saw me with lipstick on, you know? [Laughter] I was in trouble from the beginning. The nuns, my mom, and the whole family — there was a lot of pressure to behave, because ours was a big family and everyone was watching, which I think was common in those days. And when I was in school, I wasn’t crazy about the instruction — I would never think I was born to be an educator. I did okay in my grades, because it was easy, but I never went home and said, “Oh what a wonderful day, I just learned great stuff.” I was more about playing, having fun. I was very social.
JR: And Dan, you grew up basically in the same era of San Francisco but in a different neighborhood. What was that like?
DG: Well, I was born in South of Market, 31 Harriet Street, and within about a year we moved out to project housing in Crocker Amazon Park, the southwest corner, at Moscow and Geneva. They built stilt wooden housing for veterans returning from the Second World War, so it was a very mixed-race experience. My parents were from the Philippines. My father was born in 1908, there was a thirteen-year difference between him and my mother. She was very much embarrassed by that, despite the fact that it was common for that generation. But my mother was hypersensitive; she was the stereotypic, shame-oriented type. There was a very dominant Filipino bachelor society element in South of Market, much more so than the Fillmore — which also had a large Filipino population, but it was very much family oriented.
JR: How did your youths inform who you eventually became as teachers? These are such rich stories of growing up in the same city where you’d eventually teach, build infrastructure within schools, and train generations of teachers and artists. You grew up in a San Francisco that had a range of identities, full of interracial ties and fault lines, and people who looked out for each other.
MV: It definitely formed who I am today. I’m not Catholic or any of those things I was brought up with, but I still have the influences: structured law and order, follow the rules. I knew that my father was born in Ireland, but that didn’t mean anything to me. It never occurred to me that my grandparents were also born in Ireland, until someone said to me, “I like the way your grandma talks, she has such a funny accent.” And I thought, “My grandmother has an accent?” I was always aware after that, that the boys and girls that I went to school with were either Irish or Italian — we didn’t have a very mixed population, we did have some Asians, but not too many. I became very aware that people were taught and were received as different if they had an accent. It made me curious; I was always attracted to cultural differences in people, whereas I’ve found other people thinking that if they weren’t like you, they were not as good as you or not to be associated with.
DG: But you did witness that differentiation?
MV: Yes, finally. But at the very beginning, you know, you don’t. Until someone tells you, “Oh, you’re different!”
DG: Do you remember what age you were when you had that realization?
MV: Grammar school. So, under ten for sure.
DG: I came from a different experience, because South of Market was mostly people of color. The interesting thing is that I didn’t notice it either. I knew that certain people seemed to have a higher position in the social hierarchy, and you notice that even getting on the bus. Remember, the back of the bus was for people of color. There were no signs or anything, but we knew that if you were a person of color — and we used to just say “colored people” then — you’d go to the back of the bus. Behind that line just in front of the back door. I remember saying once to my mother, “Mom, there’s a seat open over there.” And she shook her head no. And I said, “But there’s a seat over there.” And she shook her head no again.
MV: Like, “Don’t talk about it, either.”
DG: Yes. And I said, “but, but,” and then she reached over and gave me the thousand-year pinch [Laughter] the one that your great-grandchildren will go “ouch!” It will become genetically implanted. They would never say racism. That wasn’t part of the nomenclature. They would say prejudice.
MV: “No, never heard of racism.”
DG: I thought that the world was half Italian, half Irish when I was growing up. Because that’s the way it was. I mean, even as a Filipino kid coming up in a mixed neighborhood. Every once in a while you’d run into somebody that was German or Jewish.
MV: All the Jewish kids lived one block up. If I lived on Seventh and Lake, they lived up the hill. And then little by little Asians were allowed to move into the Richmond District —
DG: It was called white flight. Middle class whites — Italian, Irish, Jewish — went two different directions.
MV: To the Peninsula or Marin.
DG: Exactly. See, we’re not crazy.
JR: This captures a shifting San Francisco: the texture of the everyday, the changes in the country post-World War II, and the ideas that were starting to formulate. What were the late ’50s and early ’60s like? What are the wild stories? I hear from that time period is that kids were allowed to be out late and there was a certain freedom and certain, even, safety —
MV: I was not allowed to travel anywhere if it wasn’t a Catholic school dance, other than the Richmond District. We could go to the Salesian Boys’ School in North Beach because it was Italian. We could go anywhere where there were Italians. I could go to Sacred Heart — and guess who was at Sacred Heart dances? There were Filipinos and Mexican boys and that’s who I danced with!
DG: Well, because they could dance.
MV: Because they could dance. And they knew I could dance, right away.
DG: She loved to dance.
JR: We’re putting that in bold.
MV: But my mother would not let me go to the Tri-High dances out here on Mission. She said, “You do not go into the Mission. There are, you know, some rough kids there.” That definitely piqued my interest; I went to a couple parties in the Mission, but it was the white shoe boys.
DG: Oh, the white shoes.
MV: The white shoe boys were the poor white kids.
DG: They were working class and the range of their turf went from the Flats to maybe as far as Dolores.
MV: One of my first big troubles in school was that I got called in the principal’s office freshman year because boys from Mission High were in the library across the street, yelling my name. [Laughter] I said, “I did nothing.” “And how did they get your name?” I said, “I don’t know, I went to a dance. Maybe I danced with one of them.”
DG: At which school?
MV: Star of the Sea. I went all the way through. So I felt like, “I’m getting in trouble for something that I didn’t do.” And not only that, these guys were nice. They were not rough, they were not wild, they were not doing anything except visiting the Richmond District. And my mom was like, “Well you know, Mary, just don’t give your name out when you go to a dance.” [Laughter] That was the answer.
JR: I see that in some of the research I do — every neighborhood was its own world in a way, and there is this rich, complicated interracial relationship across neighborhoods that shaped a larger San Francisco.
DG: Well, Filipinos and Chinese people started moving in, and Japanese Americans coming back from concentration camps were moving into the Richmond, because African Americans had moved into the Fillmore, where a lot of the Japanese Americans had formerly lived. So that’s, I suppose, who you would run into at Star.
MV: And kids from St. Mary’s School in Chinatown would come to Star of the Sea. I think they took a bus.
DG: It was the one-bus rule.
MV: And just a few Filipinos. The Reyes family lived right by the school. And Carlos’s family lived on Grove Street.
DG: The Villas, the Villas lived on Grove Street.
MV: But then they moved to 20th Avenue during that time. And that was a little bit unusual.
DG: Right, in the Richmond. It was rare to see anybody that was not white.
MV: Yeah. Leo [Valledor] was still in the Fillmore.
DG: There were a few African Americans at Washington, including the Mathis family. They lived really close to Washington High. Up on the hill.
MV: Johnny Mathis. He was very smooth.
DG: Yeah. He and his brother were track contenders — star athletes.
MV: And singing.
DG: Oh yeah, and singing. I remember white folks would talk about, “here come the n’s” on the bus and stuff, right? And then he came out with “Look at me…,” and he gets a forty-five that breaks all records, becomes a huge national hit, then all of a sudden it was okay.
MV: I can’t think of any wild things.
DG: What? [Laughter] C’mon. I was always a black sheep. I broke the rules a lot. Not intentionally. I was just a doofus that didn’t know any better. High school was pretty wild because I was part of the generation that discovered LSD. Before it was illegal.
JR: I love this story.
DG: In the ’50s, you know, the formula was out there. You could get a book on chemistry and learn how to make LSD and other drugs. And we had pretty good equipment at St. Ignatius — I went to SI, on the hill right next to USF. We had chemistry in third year, and you had to have it every day. And there were guys who were blending and making acid.
MV: In their classes?
DG: Yeah. I was lightweight — I was doing alcohol. We had Applejack and stuff like that in the room. I’d gone to Saint Brigid before that, and earlier, Saint Boniface, in the Tenderloin on Golden Gate. They had what I think was the best Christmas scene in the city— THE nativity scene. There was a space under the front entrance to Saint Boniface Church on Golden Gate Avenue — usually the girl’s playground — where a life-size nativity scene was staged. I was at St. Boniface School from 1953 to 1959. Every year we looked forward to that scene, with its actual livestock — sheep, a cow, a goat, a burro, and a tending shepherd. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were life-like statues, of course. It was beautiful, and profoundly Chistmassy. Don’t know when they stopped doing it. The 1957 quake rendered the masonry structure of the building unfit for use as a school, so for seventh and eighth grade I went to Saint Brigid’s, moving from the working poor ‘Loin to Russian Hill — but anyway, so the wild stuff. At SI, they made the mistake of allowing us for senior year, not to go to mass anymore at lunchtime. Instead they gave us two-hour lunch hours.
JR: That’s asking for trouble.
DG: Yeah. Well, we were the guys that invented skateboards, right? And then Hobie produced high-quality ones for the US market, “real” boards. Back then, skateboarders were also surfers; all of the guys that came in from the south part of San Francisco — the Sunset, and from Daly City or Pacifica — would go out to Kelly’s Cove by the Cliff House, and they would be dripping wet coming back for afternoon classes. Other guys would put their clothes in the washer and dryer at the laundromat a half a block away, and sit there catching up on their homework wearing only their skivvies. So the Jesuits were getting complaints about guys sitting there half-naked. [Laughter]
MV: I can’t believe this went on at SI. This is right up there by Lone Mountain.
DG: Right across the street. Turk and Stanyan.
MV: And then they moved. Well we called you cherries.
DG: Everybody was supposedly very virginal.
MV: I don’t know. You had to have better grades to get into SI than Sacred Heart.
DG: Yeah. At SI, the Jesuits wanted us to have broad perspectives; very risky to do, because they would have us read things by Philip Roth, Kesey, Ginsberg, all of that stuff. My favorite was Salinger. But I was such a bad kid from the perspective of my mother’s cohort. They couldn’t believe that I got into SI on my own accord, right? I was a first cut.
MV: Well, you were smart.
DG: I did well enough on exams so that I could get in and so they always felt that somehow my parents paid my way in, which was ridiculous. I mean, my dad was a baker’s apprentice and a custodian, and my mom was a key punch operator. Essentially a data entry person.
MV: But they both had jobs.
DG: They both had jobs. And those were the days when housing was affordable. So folks who had been living in the South of Market or even in the projects eventually were able to move into working class, single-family home neighborhoods. Like the Outer Mission turned into Filipinoville, turned into Little Manila out there.
But I don’t want to give the image that SI was entirely nuts. It was a high-pressure school. And the wealthier guys — there were two categories, right? Straight as hell and wild. I mean, these guys were brilliant. But crazy. [Laughter] One guy came from a whole family of doctors and surgeons, he went and stole a car and it had a lid of dope in it, and he got charged with that. It was a bummer, man. But they psyched him out. They said, “He’s a good guy, he’s just crazy.” And they put him in St. Mary’s, which was only two blocks away from SI! So we’d go visit him all the time while he was in St. Mary’s under psychiatric care.
MV: If you did anything wrong, when I was in high school, the threat was you would go to juvenile hall, which is now being dismantled.
DG: Yeah! The YGC, we called it. The green house.
MV: We called it juvi. And that’s why I behaved — not that I was going to go there. Mom said I would go to a boarding school somewhere across the bridge. I don’t even think it existed, but I did not want to go to a boarding school. That was growing up in San Francisco, and we watched it change.
DG: There were a lot of changes.
MV: Before I went to New York, I was introduced to the San Francisco Art Institute — the wildest things happened there! I went to a couple of parties — “Oh my God, these people are naked! [Laughter] And they’re dancing and having fun and I think they’re taking drugs.” And that made me think; I knew there was more to the world than the Richmond District. I had to move to New York in order to break out, after high school, in 1958. We lived in lofts and we had to carry our laundry to the laundromat, towards the Village up near 14th Street, and one time some guy came in and started talking to us. A tweedy, nice-looking guy. He said, “What are you girls doing here?” We said, “Oh, we live down there. We’re with artists —” “Oh really,” he said. “Do you have parties there?” And I said, “Oh yeah, we have parties a lot and music, our boyfriends play instruments.” And he said, “I’ll tell you what. You girls look great and sound so good and everything. Here, take my card and give me a call next time you have a party.” And we’re like, “Okay, sure.” When he left we laughed. “Oh, he looked like a professor.” I told Leo we met this guy and I took the card out and he goes, “Timothy Leary? Oh my God! He’s the guy who makes LSD! We’ve got to invite him to our next party!” So that was my introduction to that. We had access to everything, but I’ve always been worried about doing anything more than just trying something. I’m not saying I didn’t inhale. [Laughter] But because of the alcoholism in Irish families, I was very careful.
JR: Let’s fast forward a bit to an amazing time in San Francisco: 1968. You are part of the Third World movement and the start of the nation’s first college [School, originally] of ethnic studies, which was 1969. In 1968 you participated in the largest and longest student strike in the United States, at SF State. It’s the hottest year, all over the world — there’s a shift of philosophy and student activism where you have colleagues from Columbia strike —
DG: There were strikes in Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City.
JR: Mexico City, London. What was the idea of the Third World and how did you live it, as this young person who really felt you could help shape the future of the world?
DG: I gotta mention two things. One: the Haight was starting to happen and it was a lot nicer than ’66, ’67 — by the Summer of Love it was not that good anymore. North Beach was really happening; there was an artists’ colony of musicians out there. In fact, there was one building on Columbus where Don Weir’s music store would open up, and right across the street was an apartment building — it was all musicians. People who would be playing in some of the bands that would make it worldwide, right? Like Jefferson Airplane and all that at the time. So, one, you gotta look at what was happening with the Haight, and two, you gotta look at the world music scene. We were the world music scene. Everybody was coming here because of Bill Graham being this great impresario. You could see Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Chick Corea on the same night as Carlos Santana in a small blues band. When he started he wasn’t playing what he plays now. Yusef Lateef could be there. And the same thing happened culturally. Incredible mixtures. There was conflict, but there was also mixture. Mission High School produced all kinds of bands. Poly, which no longer exists, produced lots of bands, including some of the people that would eventually join Sly Stone. If you weren’t in a band, something was wrong with you.
MV: Oh yeah, Malo, War. Yeah, yeah.
DG: Malo was part Filipino, War was in LA. Maharlika and Dakila were all Filipino, but heavily mimicking Santana’s Latin-rock-funk thing — even on their “originals.” When Malo disbanded, members migrated to other groups, some backed up Willie Bobo before he passed away. In fact, on his last great album, Bobo, some of the music was written by Abel Zarate, who co-wrote “Suavecito.” Richard Bean takes credit for it, but he just wrote the words; the music was written by the Filipino lead guitar player, who is still a studio guitarist in LA. So all this music is going on, all the culture’s going on. The literature is happening. The Jesuits started a magazine called Ramparts and you could intern from high school if you wrote very well. A lot of guys got a great start in that scene. This was before Rolling Stone got started, and it went nuts! I mean, San Francisco became the center of the universe. That was a good thing for several years, I would say until about ’65, ’66.
Then it started turning too druggy. It got nasty as hell. Too many runaways, lots of kids. That was the beginning of Huckleberry House, remember that? You had to take the good with the bad. At the same time, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement were going on, and two of the biggest protests against the war occurred here in San Francisco. I remember one that I walked in, around ’67, ’68 — it started around Powell and Market and went over the top of Powell toward the Embarcadero. People were protesting the draft and the war at the same time. It was huge! I’d never seen anything that big before. San Francisco had clearly established itself as this core area.
MV: For integration? Class integration.
DG: Class integration as well. It didn’t turn towards gentrification yet. But the working-class and the middle-class kids went to SF State. That’s why I think the strike happened at SF State rather than Berkeley. Berkeley gets a lot of the attention because of the Free Speech Movement. But the reality was, the earlier demonstrations downtown, on Auto Row, were protests against the mistreatment of Blacks in particular, who were denied loans for cars. And this same thing was happening with their bank loans to get homes. So even though the Civil Rights Act had been signed, people in San Francisco were still frustrated by the fact that there was this strong resistance against selling to non-whites. When people actually started moving into the Richmond, the Sunset, white flight occurred — what we talked about earlier. Whites started leaving the city in large numbers. I remember an article in the early ’60s that was on the front page of “California Living,” the center section of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was about the changes in San Francisco, an almost fear-ridden statement about the overwhelming presence of minorities, right. I was very troubled by it, but at the same time, I thought it was clearly a signal of the conflict that was to come. And all over the country — remember bussing?
MV: Right. Well that’s how I started getting into the public schools, bussing. I was a bus monitor. I was in New York from ’58 to ’68. I came back with Leo and then I had my son and then I went back to school. I went to State.
JR: What a time to come back.
MV: Yeah, well when I came back here, I asked a friend, “Where do we go to dance?” And he said, “We’re beyond that. We don’t do that here.” They were all so stoned. They didn’t know how to dance. It was right at that time, ’68, when the methamphetamines started going around, and the Summer of Love turned into this really scary, bad thing. So I avoided most of that and went back to school, because I could see what was going to happen and I knew I needed some papers so that I could get a good job. I had no idea I was going to be a teacher.
DG: Me either. I didn’t know.
MV: But when they started the bussing, I knew someone who offered me a job as a bus monitor. It was going into Black neighborhoods, or coming out. Then I went to State and the teachers were like, “Hey, you know what, all you need to do is take three more classes and you can get a teaching credential!” I thought, “Oh, teaching credential. I’ll make more money, I’ll be off when my son is off, I can take summer vacation.”
DG: Things line up.
MV: And I can teach kids some of the things I already know about how you don’t discriminate against people because of their color, or their class, or whatever. And if you work real hard like I did, even if you don’t have anything, you can do well. Then I got my teaching credential and it just took off from there. But it wasn’t that I thought I was a born teacher; I did know that I was a born mother. My heart was there so that the kids who had could not take advantage of the kids who did not have. My message was we’re all the same, we’re all together. It was that simple.
DG: So when you got your credential, what did you do?
MV: I got a job at Sanchez. I stayed there for ten years and I taught all different grades. Then I was a resource teacher, got out of the classroom, and then my principal said, “Why don’t you get an administrator’s credential? The PTA will pay for all this.” And in the meantime, what I did as a resource teacher [someone who can procure materials the teachers, students, or parents need], that’s the trick. I found out that I knew how because I grew up in San Francisco, I knew people from different neighborhoods. I could find art materials. Books on music, things that the kids could use to expand their education and experience, not so much get good grades. That was not my concern. I asked myself, “How can they feel better about themselves?” I got my bilingual credential from State too, so I taught Spanish-speaking kids. And Black kids that would be learning Spanish. My Spanish wasn’t great, but every year I would go to Mexico and take classes, all paid for by the school. As I did that, I realized, “Oh God, you can really put an art program together.” I started finding ways to get teachers who were interested in expanding their classrooms into teaching art.
JR: In the proposed courses of Asian American Studies at SFSU, artist practices are centered as actual classes, which is incredible. To look at artists as core parts of society; and at the same time the legendary Neighborhood Arts Program in San Francisco is starting.
DG: That’s right. By faculty from SF State.
JR: And you’re both putting all these parts together. Dan has this lifelong mission, still to this day, of putting teachers back into those neighborhoods, teaching kids from those neighborhoods, where you both are not just teaching, you’re building the infrastructure to show the city what it needs to do long-term. I wanted to ask a fun question.
DG: You mean it’s not fun yet? What are you talking about?
JR: It’s really fun! But another fun question, there’s these objects that embody this history too, like Dan has car keys for sports cars of that 1970s era, and written documents that illuminate the formation of Bay Area student activist movements. And Mary, we joked about how you had this red Mustang, that was my introduction to you, how cool you were. What are the objects that you hold dear, especially from the ’60s and ’70s that are legendary in your memory of San Francisco? It’s a nice way to look at history, with the objects you both have, whether artwork or musical instruments.
MV: I just have art from people I met along the way, like Ruth Asawa. I happened to be at Sanchez School, where she started her art program. I don’t have a Ruth Asawa [Laughter] but I wish I did. I don’t have car keys right now. I have work by Patsy Krebs, who was my lifelong, very good friend. I have some Carlos Villas, Leo Valledors, I have a Manuel Neri.
JR: I mean, we’re sitting in your living room. It’s all here.
MV: And all the music. I was in the jazz world in New York. So when I came back I didn’t know. “What is all this talk?”
DG: Broadway and Columbus had jazz. And then there were little places, Relax with Yvonne on Haight and Jack’s at Sutter. They had a jazz at dawn session. KJAZZ was still around.
JR: Dan has this amazing collection of tapes, musical instruments, records, and it speaks to this period.
DG: Yeah, I still have my Hammond B3, with twin Leslies. I have a ’65 Alfa Romeo Spider and a ’67 Alfa Romeo GTV. Remember that GTV?
MV: I don’t think I have any San Francisco things.
DG: Relic stuff? When they were talking about possibly tearing down the Palace of Fine Arts in the early ’60s, I got a piece of that. It wasn’t supposed to last that long! They thought that if they made it out of cheap stucco, it would fall apart —
MV: It was like a decoration, yeah.
DG: But then it ended up lasting, so they decided to keep it and restore it.
MV: I remember when re-development in the Fillmore was happening and a lot of Leo’s friends —
DG: Got moved out.
MV: — wore moving van whites and overalls, and would get trucks and go into the old places that were going to be demolished and take mantel pieces, chandeliers, all this great stuff.
DG: The doors, the Italian doors.
MV: The windows. And all that was just trashed.
DG: Some of it was moved.
MV: It’s called “re-development,” but Leo’s house got trashed. They gave his family this big, beautiful Victorian, for I think $10,000. And they were happy to get it.
DG: Well, it was a lot of money back then. I mean, you could get another house for maybe about $15,000.
MV: But they never did. That’s the whole thing — his family was gone and he was by himself. Talk about watching my San Francisco change.
DG: Oh yeah.
MV: It was much meaner than it is now. Not only could you not rent a place or buy a place, but they tore down the place you had and gave you a couple of thousand dollars and said, “Goodbye.” It was difficult for families that didn’t have a lot of education to buy a house in San Francisco. You’d go to Daly City. That’s where all the Fillmore residents went. I do have empathy and sympathy for people who say, “my San Francisco” when they’ve been here ten years. [Laughter] When they say, “It was Latino!” “No, it was Irish. It was Irish before that!” And it was Italian before that, and they got kicked out and they moved to Burlingame and across the Bay, the East Bay. They had to. It keeps changing. I’m not saying that it makes it any better.
DG: I missed a lot of this stuff. Even though it was racially segregated, if you were aware of where the boundaries were and you avoided the conflict you could get along. And what I really liked, especially when I went to Saint Brigid’s — within three blocks, there were all kinds of delis, there was a great milkshake parlor. It was a drugstore, but they had a counter.
MV: On Van Ness?
DG: Yeah, on the corner of Van Ness and Pacific. Near the Hippo. Remember the Hippo Burgers? And then we could walk down to Union Street and you had delis galore. Octavia, all the way down. It was fantastic. You could get all of the loose stuff: Deviled egg, French fries, salami, cheese, everything. It wasn’t packaged. They would just wrap it up and give it to you. Waxed pickles, remember?
JR: I wanted to say, because the three of us are teachers and it’s interesting to be able to talk about what that is. SFAI holds a dear place in your heart and I’ve taught there, I’ve worked there. I’ve actually spoken in your teacher’s program multiple times —
MV: That’s right, I invited you.
JR: — and by the time both of you become teachers, you’ve already lived through so many versions of San Francisco. How did you eventually build the SFAI program for teachers, and now at USF, where you currently teach? What philosophy do you have today for young teachers and young art educators?
MV: Well, networking. You know, it’s resourcefulness. The resourcefulness that you get from trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And along the way you meet people from many, many walks of life. I was lucky enough to be in groups that had many different levels and when I would meet someone, I would look for something kind and generous and fun and exciting we could do together. Maybe they had some resources that we could combine, either by fundraising or acquiring actual materials that you might have as a family or a group of Spanish speakers. In the art world there’s many people that are sympathetic to teachers who want to educate either students or children about the higher echelons of art, to be informed and appreciative of it. It’s not always simple. Fundraising does not come easy for me. I don’t like to ask for money. But if you tell people what you need, they will give it to you — if you use the right language.
JR: I want to ask Dan as well, how do you teach advanced graduate students and parlay a certain message around community initiatives? There’s this wonderful thing that I tell people — that Carlos Villa’s historical advisor was Dan Gonzales, his art historical advisor was Mark Johnson, and his art education advisor was you, Mary. And that’s one way of framing such a beautifully complicated city that is worth fighting for and worth staying in. So I want to ask again, what do you tell people — in the same way that Mary’s talking about teaching philosophies?
DG: When you’re talking about grad students —
JR: Students in general.
DG: Yeah, I was going to make a distinction. Each generation of kids that comes in, and I measure that in five- and ten-year periods, is different, right? They’re all reflective of the conditions of the general society, and specifically the neighborhoods that they came from, their school experience, and all that. And so you have to be willing to adjust to how you see them, and how they see themselves. That’s not easy. Because we come from our own framework. A lot more kids are just outright middle class, and when we were going to school, most of SF State was working class kids. I was going to ask you, you were going there when the strike was happening.
DG: Was that disruptive to you?
MV: No. It was exciting to hear from Civil Rights icons like Angela Davis, who would speak to the students.
DG: She came to work for us, yeah.
MV: We would join whatever was going on. Sometimes I had to leave because I had other jobs. But no, it was so exciting to be in school. That was the core at that time, that was what was going on.
DG: The kids of any generation get curious about what that period was like, because they see it as having generated so much stuff. When you look at institutions in the city you see them starting in the late ’60s and early ’70s, right? Or they can be community service groups, they can be global NGOs, they can be women’s groups, they can be gay groups, they can be drug treatment groups. All of those programs started within about a five-year period, between ’68 and ’73.
JR: And a wonderful focus within neighborhoods. Specific sites, specific areas.
DG: Exactly. NAP, the Neighborhood Arts Program, was a major element of that. They were getting resources from what used to be traditional funders of social activity rather than art activity. And so the San Francisco Foundation, for example, started funding more art projects. They set up a specific fund, the hotel restaurant fund, that directly served art programs, exclusively. And we thought, “Wow, this is really cool.”
MV: And taking money from the opera to fund art? Like, wow.
DG: That’s right, it was really radical.
MV: And both Leo Valledor and Carlos Villa [Mary’s first and second husbands, both established and critically acclaimed, San Francisco-born visual artists] taught at neighborhood art centers.
DG: Yeah, I think that’s one of the few times I ever met Leo, was at —
MV: Brannan? SOMArts?
DG: No, even before that. Canon Kip.
JR: A fantastic, service-oriented organization to this day.
MV: With lots of Filipino kids.
DG: Sure. And people didn’t know that it was religion-based originally. It was a mission. Canon Kip has done everything.
MV: That made the difference in Leo and Carlos’s lives. Having those jobs, to be able to take that back to kids that they related to.
DG: One of the Robles brothers, Russell, got a gig working for the arts program, the Arts Commission.
MV: He married the arts commissioner’s daughter.
DG: That’s right!
MV: Benvenuto. Yeah, that’s right.
DG: Russell was another guy who went to SF State. He was super cool, right? Suave as hell. He had that small Grove Street gallery. That’s where a lot of Filipinos got their first shows. Like Alex Niño, a great freakin’ graphic artist, man. He did the original Conan the Barbarian comic — the cover for that, and the interior.
MV: He was great. I miss Russell.
DG: It was a fantastic time. The music and the art and the literature all came together at once. From my perspective, it started with the Third World thing. Because a lot of the push for joining the strike and explaining what the strike was about — explaining what we wanted in terms of relevant education — meant you gotta see the legitimacy of our cultural and political perspective. The notion of cultural pluralism played a role in all of that. So theory was growing around this push.
MV: To make it more —
DG: Representative. Just real.
MV: For ethnic studies. Ethnic studies — people didn’t even know what it was.
DG: No! And we didn’t either. We demanded Third World studies, and we got this compromise, ethnic studies. And I said, “What the hell? Anybody could ask to be part of ethnic studies.” And they said, “Why is that a problem?” And I said, “We just had the Six-Day War between Israel and everybody, particularly the Egyptians. What happens if the Egyptians ask, and the Israelis ask? What do we do about ethnic studies then?” But the dilemma remained an academic issue until the conflict over the Malcolm X mural in 1995. It was criticized as anti-Jew and anti-Israel. Then international tensions over the “two-state solution” played out on campus in 2005. With the addition of Arab Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas, AMED, in 2007, the constant friction of the Middle East hit us hard in the last twelve years, that’s when it got really serious. But it didn’t happen back in the ‘70s when I figured it might.
MV: You were there at the very beginning of ethnic studies.
DG: Yeah, I was one of the founders. I was not just a striker — some of the strikers got moved off campus, some were banned from the campus after trials happened. After the Strike, the work was all about writing the details of proposed curricula, developing bibliographies, locating and interviewing prospective teachers, recruiting students to enroll in our classes, and campaigning for stronger public support from our respective communities. It was exciting, energizing, but it was hard, time-intensive work. We got much-needed advice and assistance from a few members of the college administration and several faculty: Dean Daniel Feder, Urban Whitaker, James Hirabayashi, Nancy McDermid, and Dean Joseph White come immediately to mind. Whitaker and Feder really haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. When we’re talking to students today, I start by explaining that it’s a different time. You gotta look at the specific conditions that you come from, and understand where we have parallel and related experiences, and where the experiences are clearly different. It’s Marxist, in a way. His position was you can’t divorce yourself from the reality of history. His problem was, everything was an economic and class analysis — but culture is more than that.
MV: It fans out.
DG: Exactly. And classical Marxists do not consider the value and impact of art in their discussions. They’re always talking hardcore materiality and economics. The thing that bothers me about what we were doing, even in the early days, is we didn’t put enough emphasis on art and music. And that’s still a problem.
MV: Well you were trying to teach history, right?
DG: History, literature, and identity.
JR: We’ve looked fifty years back and even further in the conversation. What do you think we can look toward in the next fifty years?
DG: First of all, you know the criticisms. They’re from people that have only been here ten years. How much of San Francisco has changed? I don’t know, we’re being critical, and I guess a little bit negative. But we think it’s kind of strange that we’ve seen so much drastic change occur in the city and here we have people complaining about what’s happened within the last ten years. I understand that complaint, because they saw a culture diminish, and they didn’t see how great it was before. So they didn’t have the whole scope of that diminution, right?
MV: Know your history. They’re so busy going forward, they don’t realize that there’s value to history. That’s the difference in the culture. The elders know it. I don’t mean to be a complainer, but I think that a lot of people think about me like, “Oh, she’s so old that we know all the answers. We’re new, we know the new thing. You don’t know.” And I like to think that a lot of people of my generation have a lot of answers, and it comes from knowing your history! Our parents taught us that!
JR: Both of you have been relentlessly looking for answers. You’re still as curious as you were.
DG: Yeah, it’s harder to be as curious because things have gotten so technocratic, right?
MV: That’s where younger people think, we don’t know how to use emojis, so they figure we don’t know anything! They don’t realize long before that, people drew or talked.
DG: I go to other peoples’ family events and I’m talking to the old guy and his own grandchildren aren’t asking him the same questions, you know? They break out the pictures and stuff, and it’s mind-blowing what they’ve seen and what they know, what they really understand.
There are strong parallels with what’s going on today. It’s just that today the class change in San Francisco is so absolute. And their investment in the city isn’t the same as it was for us. They’re happy that there’s all these restaurants that they can go to and have a huge global variety and all. But they are not as protective, for example, of the Mission District and the flavor and the feel that the Mission has, and that’s being destroyed by gentrification. I’m fearful that in the short run, the attempts that are being taken up now to address gentrification and to create so-called “affordable” housing? They’re going to fall short. People are literally living out of phonebooth-sized rooms.
MV: Or on the street.
DG: Yeah, that’s right. SF State kids are in RVs all around the campus. So, we’re a little late. But I think it could change for the positive if that generation that just got out of college uses their economic and political presence to —
MV: Make positive change.
DG: Exactly. To take the right direction. They’re asking the right questions — and we have at least some of the answers. That back-and-forth synthesis is one of the great blessings of teaching. Cooperative endeavor, it seems, is again the key.