After a recent night out, I found myself in the apartment of San Francisco’s beloved drag queen, Persia, and her partner Daniel Toribio, better known as Dj Tori. I vaguely remember their charming art deco apartment building with its pink entryway and potted tropical plants, reminiscent of Blanche Devereaux’s boudoir. Perfect for a drag queen.
The pair, along with Daddies Plastik’s San Cha, Tyler Holmes, and Vainhein, forms the Black Glitter Collective – known for creating music with an ostentatious portrayal of gentrification in San Francisco. Last year’s hit Google Google Apps Apps left the city buzzing.
This rare glimpse into where Persia and Tori dwell, revealed much more than the inspiration for their craft.
Once inside, an explosion of drag wear hit me: boustiers hung from half opened doors, wigs erupted from jewel encrusted suitcases, and heels, heels everywhere. It’s easy to get dazzled by the glitz & glam of Persia’s wardrobe – but look past the fake Louboutins in what she calls the “drag closet” and you’ll see there’s more than just black glitter to Persia’s pretty face. This drag queen also has a voice.
For more than half a decade, Persia,32, regularly performed at the Mission’s only gay Latino night club, Esta Noche, which closed its doors earlier this year. With a slam of her finished drink, she recalls her experience: “I worked for about a year or so on Wednesday nights. Slowly you started seeing the decline in clientele and so of course who are they going to blame, the drag queens, not the changing community…The [local gay Latino community] that once lived down the street, are now living who knows where. Not near here.”
Despite her criticism, she acknowledges Esta Noche served invaluable to her community. Well known as a haven for gay Latino men to safely explore their identity, she connected to it in the same way: “The cool thing about Esta Noche is once you were inside it was an amazing time. It didn’t matter if you were straight, gay, brown, white. We were going to put on a show regardless and we were gonna try to make you happy. “
Persia’s career in music began with her singles ‘Santa Claus is Coming’ and ‘Rum and Diet Plz!’ Both songs, wrought with sexual allusions and dance driven beats, reflected her lifestyle as a drag performer, claiming “if these Ru Paul girls could drop these singles than I can too!”
However, ongoing friction with the owners of Esta Noche proved too overwhelming and without her realizing it, the seeds of what would become ‘Google Google Apps Apps’ were planted. She furrows her brow, “I felt like everyone was against me and the only way to get that out was being on stage. But there was no real song that I could connect to.” Fed up and frustrated, Persia decided to leave Esta Noche. Angered by her experience there, she fell into the hands of Daddies Plastik, a queer drag performance group based out of West Oakland.
At the time, Persia was already good friends with Daddies Plastik member, San Cha. “Little did I know that this bitch San Cha sang!” What began as a mutual love affair with the underground nightlife quickly developed into a creative combustion of sorts. Somehow they all clicked. Persia’s earlier work, which lacked somewhat in depth, suddenly redefined itself with authenticity and originality once she joined forces with Daddies Plastik. She finally found her niche with a group that could realize her feelings—“this time she was mad.”
Thus Google Google Apps Apps was born. The song exposes San Francisco’s culture clash, setting the stage for an explosive new playground. Their ammunition: campy, in-your-face lyrics and imagery. Persia eerily predicted the demise of Esta Noche when they first performed Google Apps, “after I say ‘gentrify my love’ I jokingly said ‘Oh Esta Noche will no longer be called Esta Noche, it will be called Tonight.’” Less than a year later it closed.
The closure of Esta Noche is hardly an isolated event, but rather speaks to the homogenizing of San Francisco. Every morning the fog burns off to reveal yet another casualty of gentrification, whether a local bar or restaurant. In Esta Noche’s place stands what has described as a “New York style lounge.” The recent influx of wealth and privilege in the city has left many of us with only one alternative: “Stop Being Poor.”
Riding high from the popularity of their single Google Google Apps Apps, Persia and Daddies Plastik felt inspired to continue what they started. Stop Being Poor premiered at the Mezzanine June 29th in celebration of Pride weekend. The video, produced on a zero dollar budget, features the gang prancing around a mansion in sky-high heels, with champagne flutes dangling in their hands.
The song responds to the viral image of Paris Hilton in a bright tank that bares the phrase, “Stop Being Poor.” They subversively highlight the economic divide in San Francisco, as Persia emphatically repeats, “you can’t be poor and live in San Francisco. You can’t.” Their desire to be ridiculous equally matches this notion to “stop being poor” because “we know people actually think this way. The whole point is we have affluent folk telling poor folk to stop being poor or get the fuck out. ”
Unlike the characters they portray lounging by the pool, their real lives are much less glamorous. It’s a shame they weren’t “born this way.” They all have day jobs and plenty of them. Determined “not to be a victim,” Persia gestures with her hands, “woe is me is not the answer!” They continue nonstop in their hustle to survive, insisting it’s a price worth paying to produce work entrenched in authenticity. The constant struggle drives them to take a genre of music beloved for its superficiality and infuse it with substance.
Stop Being Poor tells a story of illusion and ignorance with Persia and the Plastiks as its face. Persia wears privilege so convincingly, it’s hard to imagine she had any trouble with it. With wide eyes she explains, “it was very uncomfortable for me because I’m not that kind of a person…unless I’m mad…and maybe a little drunk, hahahaha.” As she roars her signature mischievous laugh, I’m reminded again of that night at her apartment. Her walls tell a different story. Portraits of iconic pop stars cover every inch of space, each one fighting for their spotlight on the wall. All grand indicators of Persia’s talent for spinning dark subject matter into digestible material for our pop-culture obsessed generation.
She rolls her eyes as she mentions how exhausted they are, but the delightful chaos that surrounds her suggests she won’t be resting for too long.