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Lunada: Lit on the full moon

The Lunada is one of the Bay Area’s only bilingual open mics.

Every month, on the full moon, writers, poets, musicians, and artists gather at the Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District to present their work in Spanish, English, or a mix of the two.

“In Latin America there is a history of gathering under the full moon, of families and communities gathering,” says Lunda host and curator Sandra Garcia Rivera. “It stems from that tradition.”

It’s a tradition that San Francisco resident Stacey Leigh has made her own.  

“As the moon becomes fuller and fuller I actually know this is coming so I’ve gotten in to a rhythm now, like uh-oh! It’s like a clock, I look at the moon and it’s like uh-oh it’s time for the Lunada!” says Leigh.

This is one of those nights. Thirty or so people are milling about the gallery, sipping glasses of wine and snacking on slices of pan dulce. Rows of white stacking chairs face one wall; a microphone on a stand makes it a stage. Sandra Garcia Rivera, Lunada’s host for the last four years, walks up to the mic. It’s showtime.

On stage, Garcia Rivera quips, “In case you’re lost, you are at Lunada Literary Lounge and Open Mic.”

Lunada’s been at the Galeria since 2004. But it started in 1998 in a Mexican restaurant in San Jose. Garcia Rivera says there was nothing else like it.

“Coming up as a spoken word artist, let’s say in the Bay Area in the 90’s, not every open mic was going to be very welcoming of a bilingual voice. If you want to speak in Spanish not all your audience is going to understand. But if you go to the Lunada, you know you are going to have an audience that will understand you,” she says.

Jaime Cortez is a writer and visual artist based in the Bay Area. He’s  one of tonight’s headliners.

He begins to read from one of his stories. “You think you’re so big I said. That’s cause I am said Cookie, I’m almost 15, I’m four years older than you, I’m taller than you, and all the other little punks on this ranch.”

Cortez grew up in a migrant workers’ camp in Southern California, and although his work is not autobiographical, he writes from firsthand experience.

“I’m the queen of Skyridge Farms camp,” Cortez continues. “And I’m not a beaner like you. What’s that? Idiot. It means your parents, you don’t have no papers to be in this country. You’re a mojado. I’m not a beaner. I was born in Hollister.”

In some situations, using derogatory words like ‘mojado’ and ‘beaner’ wouldn’t fly. And when you look around the room here, people do seem a little shocked, but everybody’s laughing.

“I grew up with that experience, surrounded by that and the humor that kind of was a daily part of life in the midst of the marginalization and the hardships,” says Cortez. “Humor as a tactic for survival, humor as a way of getting at the truth, a way of pushing back.”

Next up to the mic is Baruch Porras-Hernandez. He is a regular contributor at Luanda, and also hosts his own open mic.

“Lunadas at Galería de la Raza I honestly feel changed my life. I came to Lunadas because I’d heard of it, like a whisper, you know, and then I came and it felt like coming home. It felt like going to church. It felt like finally seeing people like me,” says Porras-Hernandez.

We’re standing outside the Galería, on the corner of 24th and Bryant. On this block there are taquerias and Mexican groceries interspersed with fancy coffee joints and hip new bars.

“There are so many unwelcoming spaces right now in this neighborhood that is at the nexus of this pretty aggressive change that’s happening,” Baruch says.

Lunada host Garcia Rivera says that change makes the monthly event more important than ever. “It’s the Latino community that I want to serve. And the Latino voice that needs to be heard at the Lunada.”

Although there’s no immediate threat to the future of Lunada or the Galería de la Raza, Garcia Rivera says the possibility is hard to ignore.

“That is a larger question that is related to the changes in the neighborhood, and the rents, and the evictions, and the sustainability of an arts institution in the Mission for Latino artists…But the Lunada is not going nowhere. Because the Lunada was here...Its related to the moon. Thats what I mean. You can’t stop it.”

It continues every month - just look for the full moon.

To listen to this story, please click on the audio link above.

This story was brought to us by Litography, a multimedia storytelling project based at KALW that maps San Francisco's literary past, present and future.