THE INTERSECTION: Raising a family in the Tenderloin

Feb 16, 2016

THE INTERSECTION looks at change in the Bay Area through physical intersections and street corners — where different cultures, desires and histories meet every day. 

Season one focuses on Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood that some feel is changing, while others feel it’s getting worse. What you’ll hear this is season is what producer David Boyer found while spending the better part a year getting to know the people who live and work nearby.  This is episode two — listen to more

You never know what you’re going to find at the corner of Golden Gate and Leavenworth in San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

Yesterday, an elderly woman was selling turquoise painkillers— chlonapine—right out of her hand. A few days ago a group of millenials from a nearby tech company were handing out granola bars and fruit. But on this sunny afternoon, there are kids on the corner. Reading their poetry.  

What’s it like to grow up  in the Tenderloin? What’s it like to raise kids here? That’s the focus of installment two of THE INTERSECTION.

 

While Kids might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Tenderloin. But the neighborhood has by far the highest density of children in the city—somewhere between 3 and 4000 kids. Within a 1/2 block of this corner—Golden Gate and Leavenworth—there are two childcare centers and De Marillac Academy, a tuition-free Catholic middle school.   

The kids reading their poems on the corner are in the 8th grade. Britney Pirring’s poem, “You See, I See” shows us the Tenderloin through her eyes.

 

You see gum covered dark gray pavement.
I see a man on the pavement, praying for help.   
You see an ambulance, proving how dangerous this neighborhood is.
I see a person who's about to save the life of another.

You see a beige building, with broken windows and stained walls.
I see mom, taking care of her four children, saving all her money for their future.

You see a gloomy neighborhood, scary and stained.
I see hopeful community, learning and living.

 

In just a few lines, Britney challenges perceptions of the neighborhood. Her neighborhood.

“The assignment was to write a poem about your neighborhood,” she explains. “And I just thought about how other people see it. It's just thought as like a bad neighborhood, with bad people. A lot of people don't want to go into the Tenderloin. And I was just trying to...open their eyes. They don't know that, you know there’s a lot of families live here.”

Britney’s is the youngest of four kids, who have all attended the school. Her parents, Michael and Eva, have been together for 25 years and have lived in the Tenderloin for even longer. They raised all four kids inside the same 400 square foot apartment just a couple blocks away from the school.

 

“Raising a kid in the Tenderloin, versus other parts of the city, I think you just kind of have to watch them a little closer,” Michael explains. “Her brother walks her to school everyday. And I’m sure she sees things you wouldn’t see in other neighborhoods.”

“I see there’s some people doing bad stuff,” says Britney. “But there’s also children walking to school with their families. But I don't really stay outside in the neighborhood often.”

“She doesn’t get much sun. Put it that way, living in the Tenderloin,” her dad jokes.

Instead, when Britney isn’t at school, she spends most of the time in her apartment. Making a fort. Doing homes. Watching videos on YouTube and playing video games. Her favorite: Minecraft.

Liking many parents in the Tenderloin, Michael and Eva work. A lot. “I'm working day and night,’’ says Eva, who immigrated from the Philipines in the 1980s. By day she’s a home healthcare aide and at night she’s a shoe clerks at DSW.

Her husband has a long day, too. He works in battery maintenance all the way in Livermore at the Laurence Livermore Lab. “It's a rough commute,” he admits. “Almost 100 miles everyday roundtrip."

While he’s been able to raise family on his salary, he wants more for his daughter. “I don't want my daughter doing what I do. I'd rather her use her mind to work—more physical. You know, be more of a white-collar worker than a blue-collar worker.”

“I think she wants to be a leader, or a writer, or I don't know,” says Eva. “It's so hard to predict. But she is so very smart. And I told her, ‘I guess. You got daddy's brain. But you got my beauty.’”

For now, Britney is torn. “Sometimes I want to be a coder. Like, coding website or videogames. Other times I want to be like a famous music celebrity LIKE. Arianna Grande. But I want to have like a brain like Gandhi. Because he made really powerful changes in the world. And powerful speeches. I want to have like a brain like his. And a life like Arianna Grande.”

 

   

Sure, it’s an unlikely combination. But—believe it or not—Britney’s dream life might not be as farfetched as it sounds. She worked with a local musician to put her poem to music.
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To hear the song and more from the family, click on the audio link above. Or subscribe to the podcast and listen the entire season of THE INTERSECTION.

THE INTERSECTION is a new podcast produced by David Boyer and KALW. It looks at change in the Bay Area through physical intersections. Street corners. Where different cultures, desires and histories meet every day.

Season 1 focuses on Golden Gate and Leavenworth in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood that some feel is changing, while others feel it’s getting worse. What you’ll hear this is season is what producer David Boyer found while spending the better part a year getting to know the people who live and work nearby.  

THE INTERSECTION was made possible with a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission and support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the NEH.