Standing in line at an elementary school graduation I look at the colors surrounding me. The cars rolling by with loud colors and the lyrics of lives lived or once lived blaring from car speakers announcing their presence while the sky above whispers in its ever present blue; trees that have stood for generations show their skin and limbs proudly like the survivors they are. The others in line are mostly down home folk, Frisco natives or folks that have been in the city for generations, running in all directions, crossing streets, trying to make it before the light turns red, scurrying to get a place in line that is snaking the length of the street. The parents and relatives arrive with stuffed animals and balloons to show their love for their kids and the achievement of education. Pictures are taken and folks are excited and proud as the colorful balloons bobbing and hovering above their heads.
Women–mothers and grandmothers and aunties sprout up all over—all proud and full of smiles. Some look like floats, big boned, big cheeked—outfitted in tight clothing that is like another skin, balancing on heels and shoes that glitter in the early evening. Those mothers, whose lips are thick with sheen gleaned from the glint of sun that rests on the troubled faces of skillets, pots and pans; whose smear of kisses cover a child’s face and never comes out. Those women whose bodies are filled with dreams and screams and laughter and tears and stories; those women waiting in line, waiting for their children to walk across that stage; those women whose voices hit the air and sing out, whose laughter cracks through the clouds and make the rain fall in every color. With women like these, no rainbow is needed because the rainbow is wrapped around them and expands with their breath, laughter, dreams; giving birth to more breath, more laughter, more dreams.
I can’t help but look at the youngsters ready to graduate from Elementary school and wonder what pictures, poems and stories await them. I see all the children, all colors and backgrounds and voices. I think about my own elementary school graduation. I was a skinny little boy who’d broken his leg in a car accident. I was hobbling around on crutches. I remember those days in the city but those days are like broken reflections shed from the skin of a mirror. I see the generations pass by me, faster and faster, and I look at the trees lining the street in silent celebration. I see little boys dressed like men, neckties, slacks, hair greased sideways and upward and forward. The little boys run about and the little girls are dressed like their mothers. And the kids are on the stage in caps and gowns. And the kids have names like Tiburcio, Akil, Octavio, Fazon, Valeria, Maifa, Maricruz and other names that are poems waiting to be born and sung into the San Francisco air.
The theater is packed and the kids give speeches that speak of the struggle of their parents to raise them. Some spoke of their immigrant families and told their stories in English and Spanish, their voices rising like trees into the expanding sky. And as each child’s name was called to accept their graduation certificates, the mothers, uncles, grandparents, brothers and sisters released their own pent up dreams, rising from seats, not holding back. In a chorus of affirming claps and declarations of pride and calling out of names that would be the envy of any church or arena, those parents and friends showed who they were—down home folks with booming voices and emotion that pour freely. Their voices, their presence, their children are the meaning of San Francisco. Their faces are the color of flowers that need to stay here. Will these children be here, will they grow up here? Or will they be evicted from the landscape in which they give color. Will their faces be part of the mural that tells the story of our city or will there not be a place for murals anymore?