Editor’s note: This post was written by museum studies graduate student Mariah Shevchuk in her neighborhood San Francisco cafe, as she was taking a break from her final capstone project. A native of Arizona, Mariah offers a wonderful perspective on what it is like to live as a graduate student in San Francisco. You can read more about Mariah by clicking here.
Life in the Richmond District
by Mariah Shevchuk
The calm yet constant bustle of the Richmond District is where I have nestled myself since relocating to San Francisco. The move from Southern Arizona was big, both in terms of distance and the amount of culture shock I initially went through. But it has been amongst this jumbled, melting pot of a neighborhood that I’ve found solace and comfort. But first, let me explain the Richmond. Part Little Russia, part Little Chinatown, there is an endless supply of shops and restaurants that reflect the immense diversity of a city like San Francisco. All within a five block radius of my house there’s a Russian bakery, a Polish delicatessen, a well-known San Francisco hamburger establishment, two Italian restaurants, two Japanese restaurants, a German pub, and countless Thai and Vietnamese restaurants (selling everything from a comforting bowl of pho to hot fried noodles to giant fresh sandwiches layered high with pork, cilantro and carrot). There’s also a Buddhist temple, two Russian Orthodox churches, and a Catholic school/church in my neighborhood. It’s normal to sit side by side with priests in full regalia while you eat your bacon and eggs at the local breakfast joint.
My favorite place to sit and watch my world turn is a humble, locally owned coffee shop called Ilana Coffee. This coffee shop is less than a block from my house (honestly, it’s about 70 feet away from my front door and I go there way more than I care to admit). The owners are a middle-aged Chinese couple who are always quick with a smile, a hello, and usually a joke (in addition to having my favorite orders memorized). They also have some seriously adorable kids that run around sometimes, shyly smiling at customers and laughing loudly. Cute kids often run loose around this neighborhood, with parents, grandparents or babysitters dawdling behind. It really contributes to the palpable feelings of safety and community we enjoy in the Richmond. I see them all from my tiny perch on Clement. It’s sitting here that I can eavesdrop on the old Russian folks who smoke enough cigarettes and drink enough espressos that their hearts should stop right there. Though their language is a mystery to me, I am comforted by hearing it—my paternal grandfather and his family also left that cold corner of the world for the American dream. When I leave my seat to walk home, I am passed up by a young Mexican family, whose mother calls out to her children in lulling Spanish as they approach the crosswalk. Again, I am comforted by the language of my family, this time on my mother’s side.
As I sit outside the coffeeshop writing this, soaking up some November sunshine, an elderly African-American gentleman (another regular) walks by and comments on how good the sunshine feels. He calls out to Lancy, one of the owners, as she runs to the nearby school to pick up her daughter Natalie. And another regular, an older Native American veteran, also comes through to get his caffeine fix of choice. This particular man can often be found sitting on this block, either at bus stops or here at my favorite coffeeshop. I love walking by him; when he sits he disconnects his prosthetic leg just below his left knee and seems to enjoy watching passerby gawk at his detached boot (he prefers to wear cowboy boots when he does this, though he can also be found sporting sneakers). Countless people of all ages have walked their dogs past me, including a young boy who stopped to wave while he waited for his grandfather to catch up. A young Jewish family, the elementary-aged brother and sister holding hands, walk by on their way home from school. People walk by speaking languages that I can’t even try to guess. It’s an amazing feeling of connectedness you get after spending just a few hours observing the Richmond. It warms my soul to watch so many different people, from so many different ages, backgrounds, and walks of life interact and engage with each other like racism or sexism was never a thing. Though it’s by no means glamorous, and it isn’t anything like what you might typically imagine when thinking of San Francisco, it’s undeniably my home. And my new home wonderfully represents the diversity and acceptance that a city like San Francisco symbolizes, making it the best possible welcome I could have hoped for when moving here.