San Francisco’s Frida Kahlo Street Replaces Former Racist Mayor’s Legacy


After a public vote, the people of San Francisco have settled on renaming a street Frida Kahlo Way. Once named after the former San Francisco Mayor James Phelan, the street’s new name will act as an antithesis of Phelan’s mission and a reflection of a heterogeneous population.

Amid the pushback against countrywide motions to get rid of memorials, Kahlo’s latest recognition is right on time. Increased displays of xenophobia over the past year or so have solicited harder work on behalf of those who wish to rid America of any memorabilia contradicting the nation’s intent. Phelan’s views on immigration and the migrants themselves were never kept secret. In fact, his anti-Asian politics made him a frontrunner and carried him through a successful campaign for Senate. The former mayor was praised as a philanthropist but his campaign, stamped with the slogan “Keep California White” was noticeably close-fisted. He worked more to take than to provide, penning a 1901 essay titled “Why the Chinese Should Be Excluded.”

Though successful now, this is not the first time locals attempted to have the street renamed, KQED reports. In the early 2000s, people worked to have it named after the Filipino activist Violeta “Bullet” Marasigan. Though it failed, having successfully gotten a dormitory named for Phelan at the University of San Francisco changed restored hope. Phelan Avenue was located near the City College of San Francisco.

Among those for whom the street could have been named after, Thelma Johnson Streat and Chinese American historian Him Mark Lai were also considered.

While the vote was fair, many worry that Kahlo may have reached a position of overrepresentation, making no room for other historical figures. The icon has multiple murals that she painted and some dedicated to her, an annual festival, and original works in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts according to Latina. But it might be an unpopular opinion as the polls were open to all.

The city is also working toward having the “Early Days” statue removed from the Pioneer Monument at the Civic Center. The statue is one of a Native American on the ground beneath a cowboy and a priest, appearing to conquer him, the Examiner reported.

Over half of San Francisco’s population is nonwhite, meaning that the city has a duty to reflect the values of myriad people. And a street named after an official whose mission it was to rid the entire state of its now-second largest group did not cater to the task at hand.