Note: This letter to the editor was sent by Maria Villalta to the Bernalwood editor in response to his article “Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Permanent Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill.” We invite supporters to leave a comment in favor of the permanent memorial as well, although it currently seems like Mr. Lappin is not approving nor publishing those comments sent by supporters of the Nieto Family.
To: Mr. Lappin, editor of Bernalwood
Dear Mr. Lappin,
My name is Maria Villalta, I was a friend of Alex Nieto and I am a member of the Justice and Love for Alex Nieto Coalition. I am responding to your post titled “Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Permanent Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill.” I am surprised at the tone of your article about the Nieto Family’s request for a permanent memorial for their son Alex Nieto on Bernal Heights. The request for a permanent memorial has been a long standing request of the family since the very early moments after his death, and I would assume that having a permanent memorial would be a proposal supported by the Bernal Heights neighbors who for two years and a half have kindly and generously supported the existing community memorial.
Soon after Alex’s death, his family, neighbors and community began keeping a memorial and altar for him at the site of his killing. Refugio Nieto maintains the altar daily on Bernal Heights along with anonymous community members who leave offerings of love and respect towards Alex. On the 21st of every month the community joins Elvira and Refugio at the altar, in prayer and celebration of Alex’s life. You are all invited to this upcoming month celebration of Alex’s life on Wednesday September 21st, 2016 at 6pm.
Establishing a memorial altar at sites of tragedy is a sacred tradition of Latino communities with deep ancestral and spiritual roots. An altar is a sacred place for sacrifices and gifts offered up to God, Our Creator. An altar is a place to show love towards our deceased. Memorials are official forms of altars; an important part of everyday American culture as well. Memorials allow people to remember a deceased loved one or an important public figure or event. The killing of Alex Nieto is now a historic event of the City that sparked a historic Latino social justice movement for love and justice over the senseless, avoidable and brutal killing of a young community member by the San Francisco Police Department.
As a San Francisco native I can tell you that many other native residents feel that Alex Nieto, a young, joyful, working class, student, and community organizer represents the spirit of the Latino Mission and Bernal Heights; a representation of the beautiful brown and black people that used to walk through these neighborhoods without questioning their safety or belonging to that land. The altar on the hill represents the ultimate sacrifice; a good life was lost at the hands of police. Alex was well known in the community, because of his dedicated community service since he was a youth. The brutal killing of Alex caused a lot of pain in our communities in Bernal and the Mission District and we should be allowed to mourn and uplift our beloved dead one.
In memory of Alex Nieto and in support of his parent’s demand posed to the Board of Supervisors this past September 13th, I am asking their Bernal Heights neighbors to join us in demanding the Board of Supervisors to issue a resolution for a permanent altar and memorial in his honor. To begin mending broken trust with the Nieto Family and their community, the very minimum the Mayor and Board of Supervisors could do is to provide the permits and resources to establish a permanent memorial for Alex Nieto on the hill. Have it be an act of restoration of all the trauma SFPD has caused the brown and black communities decade after decade. Let it be a protected space were we can safely grieve and be assured that any vandalism to the site will be prosecuted. We have asked that the City and County of San Francisco also pay for this memorial as it paid for the bullets that killed Alex. Whichever reading of the facts you wish to have and whichever stance you may have on a justice system that systematically sides with police, Alex Nieto’s killing by SFPD caused great harm in our Latino community and that harm needs to be mended by an act of restoration by the City. A memorial could mark a new beginning in which deathly use of force by SFPD is the last resort and sanctity of life the first principle of its police force.
On September 13th, your neighbors Elvira and Refugio Nieto petitioned the Supervisors of San Francisco to support a permanent memorial for their son Alex Nieto. We were accompanied in our request by Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez, Justice for Luis Góngora Pat, Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, Compañeros del Barrio, the Church of St. John Coltrane, La Raza Students Organization in Hastings Law School, District Candidate Isawari España, Our Mission No Eviction, the Cultural Action Network, San Franciscans for Police Accountability, Poor Magazine, and the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, alongside many individual supporters who showed up for the Nieto Family at the press conference prior to our public comment petition.
We invite you to support our demand to the Board of Supervisors to restore harm caused by this City to Alex Nieto, his family and our Latino community with a permanent memorial at the site of the ongoing community memorial. The Nietos are considering a commemorative bench would be nice and plaque, but with our request approved we will welcome community input around a proposed memorial.
A permanent altar and memorial gives old school San Franciscans hope: Hope that the City we love and hold dearly to our hearts will attempt to restore our broken relationships with authorities and allow family, friends and the community to know about their past and design a better future together. According to Tyron Edwards, “Quiet and sincere sympathy is often the most welcome and efficient consolation to the afflicted.”
A friend of Alex Nieto, San Franciscan native, and member of the Justice & Love for Alex Nieto Coalition