History doesn’t have to be boring. As a kid, I was tricked into thinking that history was about names and dates of things I didn’t care about. The people in the textbooks didn’t look like me and I couldn’t relate.
Now that I have access to so much more information, there’s really no excuse for my lack of interest in learning more about history! I have a few San Francisco-based writing projects, so my homework is to read about the city’s history.
Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture offers a diverse range of articles including chapters on Filipino history, urban development, the Beat Generation, and suicide (the Golden Gate Bridge’s less popular history). This book is an excellent read for anyone who wants a nuanced understanding of San Francisco. There’s nothing boring about it at all! Even the chapter about the “unremarkable” Chinese Revolutionary Artists’ Club during the 1920s is fascinating and humorous. While the club didn’t garner national attention or even much local attention at that time, history is rich with forgotten people, places, and stories like these. “Unremarkable” stories can be just as important as what’s written in the textbooks.
It is no surprise that Reclaiming San Francisco is published by City Lights. City Lights is an independent bookstore in San Francisco which was founded in the 1950s and known for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s controversial poems. I’ve frequented City Lights on many occasions, and sadly, it’s the last bookstore standing in the neighborhood.
As kitschy as San Francisco can be at times, many tourists do come to the city because of its history of counterculture, activism, and arts. It may not be apparent to city dwellers who are busy at their nine to five’s, but people come from afar because they believe that the spirit is still there. I’ve heard countless stories from people who lived in the city decades ago and are drawn to return because it was and is a place of great meaning for them. Perhaps that San Franciscan counterculture spirit is somewhere next to the Twitter office on Market and Ninth, or on Brannon Street by Airbnb. It might be hard to spot with the city’s ever changing landscape, but I do think that spirit is still there. It’s just waiting for the right moment for its voice to be heard again.