Isabel Barraza


“I’m a single mom and I’m glad I got to spend time with my son today. I’m 61 now, I had him when I was 42 because I was busy doing other things. When I was 39 I thought, I’m not in the perfect relationship, but this is what I want and this is what I’m ready for. It’s the best thing and the hardest thing, and the most wonderful thing in the world.”


“What’s the hardest part of being a mom?”

“Well when you live away from an extended family, you end up having to rely quite a bit on strangers and what you can afford. It’s never the ideal mix. If you know enough to recognize babies need certain things, you know they need community. Here in the bay there isn’t always that community. Some of us have created families here. I got here in 1980 and I still consider a lot of the people I know from them my family. My actual family is elderly so I spend a lot of time going back to where I grew up. My step dad is a WW II vet who has dementia. So that part’s tough. And people are starting to move away. It’s getting so expensive to live here. But thanks to new media we’re able to stay connected to the families we’ve built.”


“Sounds like even though it was challenging you did find the community you were looking for?”

“Oh sure, especially through the arts here in the mission. I didn’t live in San Francisco when I first lived here. I started law school in Hastings in ’81 but I was here everyday. I would always stop at La Boheme and get a latte or coffee before I went home. I moved here in 1991 and got involved with the Mission Cultural Center.”

“Where are you from?”

“I grew up in New Mexico in a place very similar to the mission district called Old Town in Albuquerque. Then I went to Connecticut for 6 years. I wanted to try something completely different. I encountered wind chill factor and snow…all that. Thank god for the salvation army. Albuquerque is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains but I never felt cold like that.”


“What’d you want for your life when you were in college?”

“I wanted social change. To figure out why my neighborhood, which was undergoing gentrification back then, was cut outta city government and all that, was so dispossessed. I wanted to figure out what power was all about and figure out how to make change.”

“So that was college, what did you want for your life when you were 10?”

“To be an astronaut.”

“What about when you were 30?”

“To be a part of the mission community. And I still am, but I’m getting a little more marginalized. I’m a civil servant, I’m been working for the California attorney general’s office for 30 years, hopefully I can hang in there another 3 or 4. For those of us who graduate from college, civil servants were the people we looked up to. The person who had pride and a future to look up to was the mailman. He was this wonderful person. For me, that sort of job gave me the opportunity to pursue artistic things, pursue political action, because I had a steady income. Now we’re in such a weird bubble more and more people are getting marginalized. Maybe there’s enough anger because of Trump’s action that people think that somehow we can work together to make change.”


“What role do you think La Placita is gonna have in that process?”

Well it was a place that was no persons land. People left their dog stuff there. It was dark. I saw a shooting there. I couldn’t believe it. Now it reminds me of the markets in Mexico. You eat together, you live together. I hope this can connect some of the older folks with some of the younger folks who are coming in to the neighborhood a little disconnected. I think it’s slowly but surely having that role. Most of us pick and choose where we go in our free time and go to places with people who have like interests. It’s good to hang with people who are from different walks of life. It’s good to know who your neighbors are.”


“What do you like to do in your free time?”

“Afro-cuban dance. I’ve been taking Yoruba dancing since the 80s. I love salsa. Later on tonight I’m going to Cha Cha Cha to listen to a Cuban band. Still reading up on my own history. Still figuring out why culture doesn’t have the value I think it should.”

“What’s your greatest strength?”

“Trying to bridge differences in people.”

Come out on 4/30 for the grand opening of La Placita at the Mission Community Market:


April 29, 2017