By Julie Zigoris
Mayor London Breed has allocated $4.7 million of San Francisco’s fiscal budget to Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latino community-based nonprofits — organizations that were hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
$400,00 will fund the “We Are Bruce Lee” exhibit at the Chinese Historical Society of America, with another $600,000 for an art gallery and welcome center adjacent to the exhibit. Other grantees include the Mission District’s Carnaval, the Chinatown Festival of Lights, and small businesses in Chinatown.
“So many people have been impacted as a result of this pandemic and one of the hardest hit groups has been our BIPOC communities,” said Ralph Remington, director of cultural affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission. “We truly believe,” he continued, “that by supporting the arts, the arts will help not only these impacted communities recover, but will help San Francisco as a whole recover.”
Executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) Justin Hoover said, “This grant allows the museum to step it up to a level commensurate with other museums in the Bay Area.” He pointed out that unlike many major museums in the Bay Area, the CHSA does not receive guaranteed annualized funding.
“Here you see another kind of structural inequity in that the symphony and opera and fine arts museums get major funding every year, but little community nonprofits that are working hand-in-hand with local champions of diversity and equity don’t,” Hoover said. “These are real people on the ground who have to struggle to find light bulbs.”
San Francisco’s Carnaval had to cancel their 2020 celebration in light of the pandemic, but that didn’t stop them from pivoting to serve their community — another example of how small nonprofits are doing difficult, on-the-ground work to meet residents’ needs, according to Rodrigo Duran, executive director of Carnaval.
The Carnaval organization transformed into the Mission Food Hub, with Roberto Hernandez facilitating grocery distribution for those in need. Hernandez was distributing up to 500 bags of groceries from his own garage before the project moved into a warehouse on Alabama Street. At their peak, the Mission Food Hub was handing out 9,000 bags of groceries a day.
“We shifted all our staffing and volunteers to contribute to this new endeavor,” Duran said, adding,” We’ve created a safety net, so that we’ve leveraged all our relationships.”
Carnaval has existed for 44 years, with a vast network of connections in the Mission. Duran said, “You’ll often see elderly women and men, mainly Latino, who were at one point in line looking for food. And they decided to turn around and volunteer their time to give back to their communities.”
Carnaval evolved in September 2020 to become an in-person resource fair, which spanned three blocks instead of the seventeen of the traditional Carnaval. The resource fair had job and education opportunities — including a City College-dedicated table — as well as music and dance in the midst of the pandemic. “Festive spaces allow for dialogue and relationship,” Duran said. “The City paints the festival as only a parade, but underneath that it’s a safe platform for people to connect.”
Carnaval did another resource fair in May 2021 that used the same blueprint and partnered with the Mission Merchants Association.
“Carnaval is not just Carnaval — it’s a web,” Duran said. While Duran claimed the road to recovery will take about five years, the funds secured from the City are a good start. “We’re really grateful,” Duran said. “This money will circle back to our businesses, artists, residents, and the general fabric of the City.”
May 2022 will witness a return of a close to normal Carnaval, according to Rodrigo, including a 20-block parade. “We’re excited,” he said. The organizations receiving funding are eager to begin a new chapter after all the difficulties of the past few years.
Chinatown has been fighting anti-Asian sentiment in addition to the pandemic. “There’s the dual pandemic of Asian hate,” Hoover said.
Many in the AAPI community are afraid to go out at night given the recent spate of Anti-Asian violence, which makes it difficult to plan museum receptions that are typically held in the evening, according to Hoover.
“The Mission has been ground zero for a lot,” Duran said. “Ground zero for gentrification, almost cultural erasure. And then we became ground zero for the pandemic.”
The non-profit organizations were chosen through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process in conjunction with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the San Francisco Arts Commission, according to the Mayor’s office. “These funds are an investment in our economically vital cultural sector and also in racial equity,” Remington said.
The Bruce Lee Exhibit “shows a Chinese icon in a very positive and unifying light. Nothing divisive, nothing siloing the Chinese, but rather showing that through people like Bruce Lee, the Chinese were always involved in fighting for equity and justice,” Hoover said.
“We’ve never had any money like this as an institution,” Hoover said. “This is the oldest such museum and archive of its type. We’re a national — even international — research resource. It takes incredible work to manage it.”