San Francisco

On A Challenging Day, Finding Optimism In The Upper Haight

The Upper Haight may be one of the most left-leaning neighborhoods in one of the most politically progressive cities in America. So as a new president takes office today, it's not surprising that some local residents are feeling fear and anxiety for what's ahead.

But on a recent foray through the neighborhood, we had no trouble finding happy faces and optimistic outlooks, from a promising young fashion designer, to popsicle-loving kids, to the sage wisdom of a local bartender. 

Here's how Upper Haighters are joining together to help their community, and make the best of a challenging time. 

Shay Perez of Haight Street Market.

“Everyone is my favorite customer.”

Shay Perez of Haight Street Market may have one of the friendliest smiles in all the Haight. “I know a lot of the locals around here,” she said. “I love this, the person-to-person conversations.”

“I just try to make the best of the day,” she said. She also enjoys picking up her stepdaughter from school. Afterward, the two share a ritual: getting coffee and hot chocolate.

“I have two dogs who make me happy,” she added. “Ash and Bella, a chihuahua-dachshund mix and a pit bull.”

Cameron and Myles Bautista in front of the Chinese Immersion School.


Cameron Bautista, age 8, and and his brother Myles, age 5, were hungry when we caught up with them on Tuesday outside of the Chinese Immersion School.

What makes Myles happy? “Popsicles!” he said—preferably two, orange and strawberry. When he’s an adult, he thinks life will be “funner,” and he imagines being a grownup will allow him to play with people and drive. When asked what kind of car he’d want, he beamed a huge smile and said, “I don’t know. A minivan!”

Cameron is excited for an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe where he’ll snowboard. “I take lessons,” he said. He’s also a fan of Pokemon cards and Spam musubi, a Hawaiian snack made with Spam, rice, and seaweed.

Bree Dils, a shopkeeper at Relic Vintage.

“I was so excited. It was one of the greatest feelings.”

Bree Dils only moved to the Haight a couple of months ago, but she has worked at Relic Vintage (1605 Haight St.) for years. In December, she graduated from the Academy of Art University, where she studied fashion design.

Two things make her especially happy: working with vintage clothes, and her new job at Opera San Jose, where she assists with costumes.

“There were no words to describe" her first day at the opera, she told us. "I’ve just never been in a place like that before, and it’s kind of what you’ve been waiting for, your whole career in college.”

Natalie Terry and Fr. Ray Allender, S.J., at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

“I’m excited about who we’re becoming.”

“I’m excited about who we’re becoming,” said Natalie Terry, director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center at St. Agnes Catholic Church (1025 Masonic Ave.)

In preparation for a fearful political climate, where mass deportations have been promised, the church has joined a network of Catholic communities in declaring “sanctuary status.” It's now a safe space where immigrants and their families can find support, including protection from immigration officials.

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” said the church's pastor, Fr. Ray Allender, S.J. Despite the fear within immigrant communities and the challenges of climate change, "it’s bringing people together. You see groups gathering. I think that’s wonderful. The community brings a smile to my face. It gives us life.”

Genevieve Coleman is a bartender at Zam Zam.

“You wanna know what makes people smile?" 

Genevieve Coleman has worked in the Upper Haight for a decade, and is currently a bartender at Zam Zam (1633 Haight St.) “It’s a really close-knit community. That’s what makes me smile. I enjoy coming to work.”

Acknowledging the world’s problems, she said, “Let’s take it back. Let’s take our city back, our society back. The things that matter, as opposed to the things that are stupid.”

Recently, she started asking customers to avoid using their cell phones when at the bar. “You get people off their phone, the whole atmosphere is suddenly changed,” she said. “You wanna know what makes people smile? Talking to each other, and having fun when you’re not at work.”


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