The opportunity to leave a legacy in the form of a brick from the original I-Hotel in 2004 was presented to me by Emil de Guzman who was working as Human Rights Activist in San Francisco at the time. He was also one of the people who helped form a human chain against the eviction of the Manongs and the Chinese seniors living there. I was spending a lot of time in San Francisco at the time because I was also doing my advocacy against domestic violence through the Filipina Women’s Network in a play by Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, and the Tagalog translation, Usaping Puki. As a survivor myself, my passion is focused on helping end this cycle of violence. But spending a few thousand dollars to have my family name engraved in an old brick which will be placed in the rising of the new I-Hotel appealed to me on many levels. I was at an age where legacy is foremost in my mind. What do I leave behind for my children and grandchildren? I have done my share of community work but leaving something tangible, something they can touch or visit not unlike a marble grave stone marker moved me.
The eviction of the seniors also visited me where I live. As a real estate broker, my main function is providing shelter. Politics became personal. While I did not march in protest, or got in a politician’s face, I helped raise money through the real estate industry, appealing to the Filipino realtors to help out as a sign that we have not been totally colonized. We still honor our elders. We may not be blood related to them but there for the grace of God, go I. Their struggle is our struggle as a people. It was the decent thing to do. The rising of the I-Hotel will happen. There is no room for failure if we can band together.
I was fourteen years when I immigrated here in 1969 with my father leaving behind my mother, brothers and sisters in Pasay City, Philippines. My Tita Dolly, my father’s sister, and her Ilocano husband, Uncle Ray, petitioned for us. I live with them in Santa Clara and my father lived in Stockton with my Tita Charing. My Uncle Ray gave me a quarter every time I recited “I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.” It was his way to make me fit in my new American life. During the summer months, I worked in the fields of San Joaquin valley with the Manongs to earn enough money so we could send for the rest of the family. Three years later, my family came and settled in Stockton during my senior year at Edison High, 1972. I worked for the Associated Filipino Organization as a helper for the Manongs, some of which involved filling out their forms for health insurance, or application for the newly built building in South Stockton for low income people. In exchange my family received boxes of grapes, onions, or asparagus, depending on what harvests they were working on. The Manongs I worked with did not talk about their struggles in the fields or for affordable housing, but it is written in their hands and in their leathered faces. My Uncle Benny who is married to my Tita Charing owned a barbershop in downtown Stockton and the stories they told were about the dances, the cock fights (and outsmarting the cops that wanted to arrest them), and the jobs at the salmon ships in Alaska. There were much head shaking about their younger, crazier days. And lots of laughter.
I thought of them as I present the I-Hotel cause to people who I hope would donate time or money. I thank the Manongs for paving the way for us, younger immigrants seeking a better life, because they bear the brunt of anger, of inequality in the process of obtaining the American myth of prosperity. Fighting for them, contributing to make their lives a little bit easier, stirred my soul like chicken tinola on a cold, rainy day.
December 21, 2014