In this essay, Gano argues that while Michelle Tea’s Valencia records and celebrates the particular, oppositional social practices of the Mission’s queer community as its members successfully create and claim space in the city, it also presents the reader with a Mission conspicuously cleansed of the racialized struggles of Latinos and people of color more broadly who were, in this very time and place, being pushed out of the neighborhood. Gano situates this novel within two primary, entwined generic contexts: the urban frontier narrative and the “American neoconfessional” memoir. Gano first shows that the novel engages with a kind of frontier nostalgia, most powerfully expressed by Frederick Jackson Turner and commonly deployed in the rhetorics surrounding late twentieth-century gentrification. This particular form of nostalgia simultaneously romanticizes and mourns the passing of a wild and wooly space of opportunity and personal freedom; in Valencia, this is the transitional space of San Francisco’s Mission district in the early 1990s. Michelle, the book’s protagonist, heroically navigates the mean streets of the Mission in her search for love; as is typical of what Leigh Gilmore has called the neoconfessional memoir, Valencia emphasizes the protagonist’s success in overcoming personal hardship while minimizing a broader historical and social contextualization of individual struggle. After all, there are winners and losers on the urban frontier: this nostalgic look back at the exhilarating San Francisco punk dyke scene depends particularly on the overt occlusion of the racial dimensions of gentrification. Drawing on the work of cultural geographer Neil Smith, Gano argues that the whitewashing of the urban frontier in Valencia is not only central to its generic success but is an important element that helps to enable a heroic narrative of gentrification process more broadly.


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pp. 362-382
Launched on MUSE
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