Manilatown Heritage Foundation Board President Tony Robles visited the Philippines for the first time in March. It was a long awaited journey with Tony uniting with friend and fellow poet Oscar Penaranda. Oscar established the “Al Robles Express” shortly following the death of Manong Al Robles–the poet laureate of Manilatown–in 2009. While on his trip, Tony visited Silliman University in Dumaguete where he shared Manong Al’s poem, “A Thousand Pilipino Songs” to a receptive audience of students and teachers.
Tony also had the privilege of speaking to students of English Professor Luis Francia’s class at Ateneo de Manila University. Professor Francia opened the class by having students watch portions of the Film “Fall of the I-Hotel” and the documentary “Rise of the I-hotel”. In “Rise of the I-Hotel”, manong Al Robles poses the question, “What are the manongs saying in their lives and struggle?” I posed this question to the students. Their responses are below. Much thanks to professor Francia and his wonderful students at Ateneo. Long live the I-Hotel from Manilatown to the Philippines as we follow the carabao towards the 40 year commemoration of the I-Hotel eviction.
“I think what the manongs are saying is that as Filipinos we have the capacity to integrate ourselves, to find and make our own homes anywhere we go because we can integrate ourselves into the community”
“I think the manongs are having this call that they need this feeling of belonging”
“I think they’re saying that to continue the struggle in labor, as has been their history in Hawaii and California”
“I think the manongs are saying that their struggle is also our struggle and that their achievement is also our achievement. I think they are also reminding us that we should look back in our history”
“I think the manongs are saying, always remember their struggle and our roots as well, and to never lose what our identity is”
“I think what they were saying is their struggle is to be able to build and make the community strong so that people who are new will always be welcome”
“I think they are saying that the Filipino’s spirit is not confined by any means by the Philippines but it goes wherever you go”
“The struggle is not just about finding a home but finding ourselves. Filipinos–we’re very sociable so–our culture is the culture of sharing with others and that’s home”
“I think the manongs have brought a certain part of the Philippines in another country. It’s not bound by territories and the struggle is to make sure that their sacrifices aren’t in vain and that their right to the land, the right to claim what is rightfully theirs should be protected not just because they worked hard for it but because they put a certain part off themselves into it”
I think the manongs are saying we should never stop fighting their fight, not in the sense that we’re fighting literally the same fight but we still have the same resistance from them. Now that we have more resources and knowledge, we should use that to win their fight”
Salamat to Professor Francia and to his students for having Tony in his class. Long Live the I-Hotel!