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The Mission  neighborhood is ethnically and economically diverse, with a population that is half Latino, a third White, and 11 percent Asian.[1]The Mission District is part of San Francisco's supervisorial districts 5, 9 and 10.
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Carnaval: 30 Years of Magic & Masquerade @news.el 2008  Museum of Performance & Design San Francisco


adela.gif (1720 bytes)
"Give a kiss on the cheek you care for ...Give a damn for the dreams you'd dare for...
Why should we limit our lives, Can't we make this a paradise?

2009 Carnaval San Francisco Grand Mother

Carnaval San Francisco Founder

Adela Chu


The Museum of Performance & Design is the first museum in the country dedicated exclusively to the performing arts and theatrical design.

Located in the Veterans Building in San Francisco’s Civic Center, the organization continues to collect, preserve, and make available to the public – free of charge – its collection of 3.5 million items and programs documenting the diverse cultural legacy of the performing arts in California and beyond, including an extensive collection of oral histories of performing artists from varous disciplines. Its archives include the Adela Chu Papers

1979 Precita Park
"Attracting about 500 people circling Precita Park, playing drums, dancing, and in general having a good time (I know because I was there), you could feel the energy of something that was happening at the right place and the right time. No permits, no police, no idea that 30 years later the seed that they planted would grow into a muli-faceted multi-cultural event that is now televised and attracting people from all over the world.

"Each year since 1979, Carnaval SF has emerged like a beautiful butterfly from its carnaval cocoon, more stunning and diverse from the year before. Set free on Memorial Day weekend, this ephemeral show lasts two days and then is gone, leaving you with a Carnaval afterglow, a little more human and a little more understanding of the many beautiful cultures that share the planet.

---Pete Gallegos

Next Generation


 Hoku -- Adela Chu's daughter in 2008


Adela Chu (1946- ) is a Panamanian-born dancer and dance instructor who began her dance career in the Mission specializing in Afro-Caribbean dance.  She first brought the exotic and colorful celebration of Carnaval,  to the streets of San Francisco's Mission District in 1976 and then successfully launched the annual celebration in 1979 at Precita Park with the help of Marcus Gordon and many others.

These days her field is world dance, having studied modern ballet, flamenco, samba, Caribbean, jazz, Balinese, hula as well as yoga, Tai Chi and capoeira. She is most famous for her eclectic choreographies that integrate jazz, Afro-Caribbean and Latin movements.

 At present, Adela teaches at the University of Hawaii in Manoa through the Leisure Center and Outreach College. Her experiences in Brazil have made her partial to Brazilian dance, especially samba, and she combines elements of this dance as well as popular salsa movements as part of her Afro-Caribbean Jazz dance classes. She is a believer in audience participation and typically includes an element of Carnival in her performances.

Adela last graced our Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade for the 20th anniversary SF Carnival, when she led her Samba/Tahitian dance contingent "Return from Paradise" down the streets of the Mission, to great acclaim.

Carnaval Memories

by Adela Chu



  “You must have been born under a lucky star.  Not everyone gets to realize their dreams!” This was a comment from Ubirajara Almeida, also known an Mestre Acordeon, or just plain “Bira,” minutes after he congratulated me on the third Carnaval. I had just hired Bira to teach capoeira at the Mission Cultural Center. In my job there as Dance Coordinator, I also hired Marlene Rosa Lima to teach Samba and Joni Haastrup to teach African dance and drumming, all progenitors of the dance forms that would later become so popular in the Mission.  I myself was into Afro Caribbean Jazz and when I left the studio on 24 and Mission, where I also taught, and which at the time was mostly a modern and ballet studio, they had to hire someone to take my place and they chose Blanche Brown.

     The Mission Cultural Center was in full regalia that year with three floats. The theme was the Americas, and I had written a song called Samba Dorado which began with the words “Golden dream of Spaniards lust, ah Brave New World”  co-authored with Claudio Amaral of Viva Brazil. Actually, the San Francisco Carnaval, which is what I named my baby, was not the first Carnaval I had done in San Francisco.   I tried to do  Carnaval on 24th and Mission as part of  Ana Halprin's City Dance (in '75). I was one of the performers in her Dancer's Workshop group at the time and had taken on the task of creating a dance experience for the 24th St. Bart Station. My vision was, of course,  Carnaval!  What else would you see at the 24th St. Station? A bunch of bums hanging out asking for spare change? But I was disappointed at how little time we stopped there with City Dance. I had prepared a whole elaborate ritual and was only able to show 5 minutes of it. 

IIn 1976 I created a Carnaval at the Masonic Temple for Esalen in which 100 people participated. They wanted to make  a weekly experience of it and I was tempted to do Carnavalitos but decided instead to go to Brazil. I was gone a year and saw two Carnavals—one in Rio and one in Bahia. They were fabulous but very different to the ones in my home town in Colon, where Carnaval was a street party and everyone participated. We had diablitos and Carnaval Queens and one of my dearest memories as a child was being part of the Chinese Queen's comparsa and staying up all night to bury the fish on Tuesday morning.

     The year I came back from Brazil there was no Carnaval in San Francisco and I was bummed. I told my students that we had to have one or I wasn't staying and they agreed to help me. The rest is history and the Precita Carnaval. I had huge classes in those days. (Up to 95 in some classes with 15 or more musicians¡) I split them into comparsas and created different choreographies for each. The entire Mission joined me in the affair with Marcus Gordon organizing the musicians and Margaret de Jesus bringing her Money comparsa. The lineup included Jose Flores with his Dandis, Jon Calaway, Johnny Santos, Bobby Cespedes, Tobaje, Rudy  Ortiz, to name a few of the Mission youth, destined to become luminaries in their own right. There was a 24th St contingent , or the Rainbow Comparsa, which Pam Minor lovingly clothed artistically with every color of the rainbow. This act lead to the creation of the Costume Bank later on where Pam Minor worked for many years.

Espirtu Libre with Adela Chu front and center

Other sources of great inspiration were poet Elaine Cohen, my constant friend and co-conspirator;  Sir Lawrence, “Sir” who built an outrageous costume and paced the Carnaval; and many of my fellow dancers from the Dancer's Workshop, including Benito Santiago, who for years participated in many ways in keeping the Carnaval alive. Of course, the beautiful visuals of Nancy Hom, who created the Carnaval posters of the first few years did much to give this Carnaval a distinctive flavor. I had already foreseen the next step, which was to set up a Carnaval Committee.
Carol Wiley volunteered to be our overall coordinator, Marcus, myself , “Sir” and Pam all agreed to put our 2 cents in. We were later joined down the line by John Santos and a few years later by Marta Estrella.  Organizing  can be stressful and after  having heal th problems with my spleen my doctor advised me to give it up, so I reluctantly left the Committee knowing it was in good hands.

       I feel the longevity of this kind of endeavor has everything to do with the intention, dedication and spirit of its organizers. do burn out. That is why I am glad that the Carnaval is in the hands of Mission Neighborhood Centers after being run by MECA for 20 years.  New ideas and directions are a good thing for a universal umbrella such as the Carnaval. Thanks for honoring me and please keep my baby alive.


¡Que viva Carnaval en la Mision de San Francisco! 



Return from Paradise Carnaval SF 1998

carnaval in san francisco - 1998 from jon ching on Vimeo. A beautiful 6 minute video with Return from Paradise in the first 1/3.


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