Union Square

By Emma Cockerell and Frances Zhuang

A young girl gleefully glides across the ice at Union Square in San Francisco, laughing in delight as she weaves around the legs of adults who tower above her. Suddenly she wobbles and crashes to the ground, and begins to cry. Her father picks her up, dries her tears and brushes off the flecks of ice stuck to her pastel blue puffer. All is well again.

Families and couples swarm around the father-daughter-duo, all here to enjoy the ambience of Union Square during the holidays. A larger-than-life Christmas tree, adorned with twinkling golden lights, illuminates the square, with numerous families crowded around for the obligatory group shot. The buzz of a myriad of different languages and dialects from all around the world can be heard over the mellifluous holiday tunes playing in the square, reflecting the diversity of the people present, who hail from all walks of life and will be affected to different extents by the oncoming changes following January’s inauguration of the new President-elect. Verde drove up to Union Square in San Francisco to get a feel for what the holidays mean to people old and young, and how their experiences this year are affected by the election.

The Teacher

Elizabeth Buchanan, a schoolteacher at Albany Middle School, was shocked and displeased by the election, but tried her best to enjoy the holiday season in spite of the events that occurred.

“Obviously the election was awful,” Buchanan says. “People just didn’t see it coming … Personally it [the year 2016] was great, but on a political level it was atrocious.”

Her holiday plans have also been affected this year, as her family’s celebrations typically include people who chose to vote for Trump this year.

“We have to go visit my husband’s family up in Washington state for Christmas and they are Trump supporters, but I read an article sort of explaining the background [behind why they voted for Trump],” Buchanan says. “I hate to be so classist, but it’s the blue collar way of thinking, and I feel a lot better about it now.”

The Rainbow Angel of Union Square

In contrast to Buchanan’s fiery comments regarding Trump supporters, Robert Heart, clad in an iridescent sequined costume, seems oblivious to the upheaval at hand, giving no mention of the election in his response.

“[To me, holiday season means] being the Christmas angel of San Francisco,” Heart says. “I’m able to put smiles on people’s faces.”

The Expectant Couple

For Kelly and Dave Kuchinsky, Bay Area natives and a multicultural couple who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, the holiday season comes with both positives and negatives, such as the arrival of a baby and the election of Donald Trump, respectively.

“We’ve got a baby coming due in January, so hopefully we’ll … make sure the baby’s happy and healthy and survives the new president,” Kelly says. “They’re due on inauguration day, [when] we were supposed to get a female president but instead we’re getting a monster … so we’re making sure we’re going to raise them with the right values so the future can be better.”

Despite their objections to our new president-elect, the Kuchinsky’s remain optimistic about the holidays and are determined to enjoy the season.

 “It’s a scary time, but the holidays remind you that the people you have around you are not the people in … that building [the White House],” Dave says.

The Family Man 

Jim Ausman, a manager at Google, took a rather direct approach to dealing with the election.

“For the first week I didn’t cope very well, I just kind of got drunk every night,” Ausman says. “You kind of just have to let go of the belief that you can control your destiny. It [the election] just happened. The secret to your character is in how you respond.”

After he came to terms with the results of the election, Ausman realized that different groups would be affected in drastically varied ways.

“I’ll be fine, [as] I’m some rich white dude who lives in Silicon Valley, but I have a lot of friends who are immigrants or who are here illegally, and it’s going to be hard for them,” Ausman says. “We need to come together more than ever.”

However, during the holiday season, Ausman’s focus is no longer on the election.

“I’m not thinking about it [the election] anymore, I’m thinking about the Christmas tree and how nice it is to be with family,” Ausman says.

Being in Union Square also appears to have an uplifting effect on Ausman, who chuckles as he recalls old memories and nostalgia.

“I proposed to my wife right in front of that diamond store [in the corner] thirteen to fourteen years ago,” Ausman says. “The first time I came to San Francisco [in 1987] I was supposed to meet my friends in Union Square, but due to a snafu I ended up showing up a day late and I came here anyway and they were waiting for me. … It was such a great experience.”

The Effervescent Youth

Mr. Ausman’s daughters Alex and Ava, ages 7 and 10. 

Silent Protestor

A silent protestor stands in Union Square for six hours, determined to send her message to the populace. Her message decries the president-elect’s alleged rape and intimidation of Jane Doe, who retracted the rape charges on the day she was slated to reveal her identity.

The Artist

Bekithemba Nkala, a soft-spoken animator-in-training whose main goal for 2017 is to attain a professional title, seems more ambivalent about the election. In contrast to most of the others Verde spoke to, he is far more accepting of the results of the election and offers no opinion of the new president.

“That’s life,” Nkala says. “That’s what happens. Sometimes you get bad things, and sometimes you get good things.”

The Mother

Veronica Leuenberger, who hails from Nevada, maintains a bright outlook on 2017 and the years to come despite her discontent about the election.

“We made a deal not to talk about politics at the dinner table,” Leuenberger says.. “[I’m] just trying to reinforce to my children that it’s going to be okay, and if we have to move, we’ll move. [I’m also trying] to stick with the morals and ideas that we raised them with.”

Unprepared to Reconcile

For Peter Locke, a San Franciscan, the meaning behind holiday season has changed throughout his life.

“It [the holidays] have evolved, or devolved, I suppose,” Locke says. “I grew up Catholic, so Christmas was a big deal but now it’s … just a celebration of the solstice.”

The duo had several insights to share regarding possible takeaways from the election. One important lesson, according to Douglas Becker, another San Franciscan, is to remain action-oriented.

“It does seem like being passive doesn’t get you the results you want,” Becker says. “It really does cry out for more of an active and determined effort to make changes that are positive.”

Locke echoes the sentiment that the holidays can be helpful distractors from the outcome of the election.

“The holidays have been good because … it’s reassuring to know that people you’re close to share your values and it’s not just you,” Locke says.

Becker believes that the holidays are also a useful time to get to know those on the other wise.

“Being faced with the reality that often, you do know people on the opposite side, and being forced to reconcile your divergence of ideas with reality … I think that humanizes that point of view and that’s a good place to begin,” Becker says.

The two were also eager to share their visions for the future, with Locke highlighting the inevitability of diversity and the need to embrace it and Becker suggesting that both political parties ought to collaborate and find shared values.

“Our society is becoming more and more diverse,” Locke says. “[We need] an approach that allows a diversity of voices to be able to have a say in what happens, to be able to advocate for a position that’s much more inclusive than exclusive.”

Becker recognizes but believes we ought to change the chasm between the country’s two major political parties.

“So much of this last election illustrated that there are a lot of things we disagree on, but especially with what Trump is saying about jobs, that was such a classic Democrat position,” Becker says. “Clearly that’s what these people [his voters] care most about, so I think there are areas to find ways where we can acknowledge that we agree on the same things and find a way to work forward from there.”

The Scientist

Chelsea Brendan, a scientist from San Francisco, takes a different stance on the outcome of the election. While most people Verde spoke to happened to lament Donald Trump’s election, Brendan appeared pleased.

“I don’t think it [the election] affects my holidays,” Brendan says. “I’m hopeful, and I think everything will be fine. … They always seem to figure out a way to make things work.”

Looking ahead, Brendan also highlights her goals for the new year.

“On a personal level, [my goals are] probably just to say healthy and get in shape, maybe even drop a few pounds,” Brendan says. “On a social level, because I have … a leadership position with my new job, I’ll learn how to be a more effective leader, make everyone feel included … and maintain good team dynamics, maybe be a little more patient or try to be a better person.”

The Muslim

Mustafa, who hails from Chicago and was visiting Union Square with his wife and three children, provided another perspective on holiday season.

“We’re Muslim, so we celebrate two holidays in the winter: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha,” Mustafa says. “For us, the holidays symbolize family, God, and happiness, as well as selflessness and togetherness.”

This year, he has a few wishes regarding his family and society.

“My personal goal is for my children to understand the deeper meaning of the holidays and to enjoy our time together,” Mustafa says. “My goal for society is for other people to understand and enjoy our [Muslim] holidays. They might be different, but the underlying ideals and values are the same.”

Even though the results of the election could affect Mustafa later on in the year, the way he celebrates the holiday season remain unaffected.

“I don’t think the election affects our holidays,” Mustafa says. “I accept the results but this was most definitely not the result I had hoped for as a voter. You have to take what you get and move on, but I certainly do hope that the rest of the country will stay true to American ideals after he takes office.”

The Family

Standing together in the square as their children play boisterously, Taka and Joyce Hoshi, parents from the East Bay, are taking advantage of the holidays to soak up the ambience and luxuriate in each other’s presence.

“[The holidays are meant for us to] spend more time with family and de-prioritize the less important things that take up unnecessary [amounts of] time,” Joyce says.

San Francisco and Union Square also happen to occupy a special role in the family’s hearts.

“I was born in San Francisco, so we come back often to visit and it’s very nostalgic,” Joyce says. “I love it.”

Looking back on how the year went, the pair felt lucky for all that they were able to celebrate, notwithstanding the election.

“It was a good year for us,” Taka says. “2016 had a lot of blessings that we should be grateful for.”

While the Hoshi’s were unenthused about the country’s choice to replace Barack Obama with Donald Trump, the holidays have helped them stay upbeat.

“We’re coping, not celebrating,” Taka says. “You just accept it and see what the outcome is, whatever happened happened.

“The holidays help because they divert some of the attention and help improve spirits,” Joyce says.