Mission Critical: Keeping Carnaval a Neighborhood Thing

Carnaval, an explosion of Latino music and dance that wends its joyous way through San Francisco’s Mission district every Memorial Day weekend, was at its raucous best this year.

But despite the jubilant atmosphere, there was an undertow of worry in the air.

The working class Latinos who grew up in the Mission and have a longstanding relationship with Carnaval expressed concern about being priced out of their own homes. They also talked about how many of their former Carnaval colleagues can no longer practice or participate with their “contingents,” as the performing groups are called, because they have had to move so far away.

Where once there was only music, dance, pride and joy, there is now a growing sense of urgency as Carnaval becomes a space for community activism as well as art.

“On Carnaval Day, for families that have been displaced, they get to take back the streets,” says Annie Jupiter-Jones, Executive Director of Loco Bloco, one of the largest Carnaval contingents this year. “These streets are their streets again.”

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KQED Arts went inside this year’s parade to see and hear the action up close.

In this video story, we follow three contingents -- Jupiter-Jones’s Loco Bloco, the Brazil-inspired dance and percussion company Fogo Na Roupa, and the Trinidadian puppeteers Mas Makers Massive – and find that the passion for Carnaval is undimmed by gentrification.

Even as neighborhood participation is thinning, there is a resolute determination among the people who built Carnaval to keep its fire burning brighter than ever.

At a time when most of the news coming from the Mission is about locals being priced out for new condos and upscale eateries, here’s one reason to celebrate.

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