According to a quotation frequently credited on the internet to 20th-century artist Frida Kahlo, “Nothing is absolute, everything changes.”
Perhaps with that sentiment in mind, San Francisco officially changed the name of onetime Phelan Avenue—a street that mostly services City College of San Francisco’s [CCSF] Ocean Campus—to Frida Kahlo Way on Friday, revealing new street signage to accompany the name change.
The street previously bore the name of James Phelan, father of 19th century Mayor James D. Phelan.
City College staff and students, along with Supervisor Norman Yee, objected this year to the street bearing the Phelan family name thanks to James D. Phelan’s racist politics—who ran under campaign slogans like “Keep California White”—particularly his antagonism toward Asian immigrants.
As Yee pointed out at hearings earlier this year, many CCSF students are precisely the sort of immigrants and children of immigrants Phelan would have driven out of California.
Though Phelan Avenue was technically named for the older Phelan, Yee argued at a Board of Supervisors meeting in June that the street’s naming was intended at the time to appeal to the former mayor’s ego.
Other City Hall lawmakers agreed, voting 11-0 in favor of a changing the name. The Kahlo moniker came by way of an advisory committee vote from neighbors and CCSF students and staff.
“As a community, we need to reckon with the racist legacy of our country’s past and rewrite our future,” said Yee in an emailed statement.
Yee also made reference to today’s anti-immigration politics, specifically citing the federal administration.
“Since Trump was elected, his administration has been spewing racist and anti-immigrant policies,” said Yee during his speech on Friday. “San Francisco, a city that rides itself on inclusion, tolerance, and respect, will not tolerate racism.”
Per city law, the signs still feature the former street name (in smaller text) for at least five years to minimize confusion.